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Nazareth in the War for Palestine: The Arab City that Survived the 1948 Nakba

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Nazareth is the largest Palestinian Arab city inside Israel and one of die holiest Christian cities on earth. In the New Testament the town is described as the childhood home of Jesus and as such is a centre of Christian shrines and pilgrimage, with many shrines commemorating biblical events. Although according to the 1947 UN Partition plan the city was part of the Palestinian Arab state, it was conquered in 1948 by the Israeli army and annexed to the Israeli state. On 16 July, three days after the mass expulsion of the Palestinian cities of Lydda and Ramle by the Israeli army, Nazareth surrendered to Jewish forces and its inhabitants were allowed to remain in situ. In 1948 the Zionist attitude towards the Palestinian Christian communities in Galilee was generally less aggressive than the attitude towards the local Palestinian Muslims. This article addresses the question: how and why did Nazareth survive the 1948 Nakba and mass expulsion of Palestinians from the Galilee? While exploring this Christian dimension, the article focuses on the key roles played by the Muslim Mayor Yusuf al-Fahum, Israeli Prime Minister and Defence Minister Ben-Gurion and army commanders involved in deciding the fate of the city.
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October 25, 2010 Time: 05:03pm hls082.tex
Holy Land Studies 9.2 (2010): 185–207
DOI: 10.3366/E147494751000082X
© Edinburgh University Press
www.eupjournals.com/hls
NAZARETH IN THE WAR FOR PALESTINE:THE
ARAB CITY THAT SURVIVED THE 1948 NAKBA
Dr Mustafa Abbasi
Tel Hai Academic College
Upper Galilee, 12210
Israel
mustafa@telhai.ac.il
ABSTRACT
Nazareth is the largest Palestinian Arab city inside Israel and one of the
holiest Christian cities on earth. In the New Testament the town is described
as the childhood home of Jesus and as such is a centre of Christian
shrines and pilgr image, with many shrines commemorating biblical events.
Although according to the 1947 UN Partition plan the city was part of
the Palestinian Arab state, it was conquered in 1948 by the Israeli army
and annexed to the Israeli state. On 16 July, three days after the mass
expulsion of the Palestinian cities of Lydda and Ramle by the Israeli army,
Nazareth surrendered to Jewish forces and its inhabitants were allowed to
remain in situ. In 1948 the Zionist attitude towards the Palestinian Christian
communities in Galilee was generally less aggressive than the attitude towards
the local Palestinian Muslims. This article addresses the question: how and
why did Nazareth survive the 1948 Nakba and mass expulsion of Palestinians
from the Galilee? While exploring this Christian dimension, the article
focuses on the key roles played by the Muslim Mayor Yusuf al-Fahum, Israeli
Prime Minister and Defence Minister Ben-Gurion and army commanders
involved in deciding the fate of the city.
Introduction
Between the months of April and October 1948 the entire region of
Galilee was conquered. The Galilean cities of Arab and Jewish-Arab
population, Tiberias, Safed, Acre, and Nazareth, and all their rural
surroundings, fell one after another into the hands of the Haganah forces.
The first to fall was Tiberias on 18 April 1948, the second was Safed on
October 25, 2010 Time: 05:03pm hls082.tex
186 Holy Land Studies
11 May, and the third was Acre on 17 May, while Nazareth fell about two
months after Tiberias on 16 July 1948, the last in the series of fallen cities.
It is interesting that even though, according to the UN Partition
Resolution 181 of 29 November 1947, Nazareth was to have been
included in the area of the Palestinian Arab state, this did not prevent the
IDF forces from conquering it and annexing it to the Israeli part. It is also
interesting that Nazareth was the only one of all the four cities mentioned
above that was hardly damaged during the course of the war. While the
Arab population in Tiberias and Safed was totally expelled, as was most
of the Arab population of Acre, the population of Nazareth increased
significantly during the war and in its aftermath, and even doubled itself.1
In this way this city became the largest Arab city within the Green Line,
and has been from that time until today the political and cultural capital
of the Palestinian Arabs in the State of Israel.
The present article examines the story of the conquest of Nazareth
during the war of 1948, and tries to answer a number of questions:
How did the city of Nazareth organise itself in the period between the
UN Partition Resolution of 29 November 1947 and its conquest on 16
July 1948?
Who were the leaders of the city during that period, what was the
composition of Arab forces active in the city, and what was the system
of relationships between them and the city leadership?
Why was no battle fought in Nazareth as it had been in Safed and Acre,
and how did this influence the fate of the city after its conquest?
What were the real factors that saved Nazareth from expulsion? Were
they related to the decision of David Ben-Gurion not to expel the
Arabs contrary to the request of some of his military commanders, or
to the talented leadership and maneuvering ability of the mayor, Yusuf
Muhammad ‘Ali al-Fahum, or to both of these factors?
It is important to note that this article is not the first of its kind that
has dealt with the conquest of Nazareth in the course of the ‘Dekel
Campaign’, since this campaign has been written about in nearly all the
literature concerning the events of the 1948 war in the Galilee region
(Gelber 2000: 496–498; Pappe 2006: 154–159; Pappe 2004: 136–142;
Tal 2004: 334–339; Morris 1987: 198–203; Morris 1997: 267–272, 509;
Morris 2004: 414–461; Morris 2008: 278–285; Kadish 2004: 119–169;
1 In the census of 1922 the population of Nazareth was 7,424 persons, in 1932 it
rose to 8,756, in 1945 it was 12,000, while in 1949 the population was estimated by the
Minorities Minister, Bekhor Shitreet, as being between 25,000 and 30,000, which showed
that it had doubled itself. See: From the Minister of Minorities to the Minister of Trade
and Industry, IDF and Ministry of Defence Archives, File No. 308/44, Nazareth General
Reports, Report, 21 July 1948.
October 25, 2010 Time: 05:03pm hls082.tex
Mustafa Abbasi Nazareth in the War for Palestine 187
Carmel 1949: 195–217; Israel Defence Forces 1959: 247–252; Dunkelman
1977: 168–177). Nevertheless, the contribution of this article is in its
attempts to examine in depth and at the micro level what occurred mainly
within the city itself and not in the entire area that was conquered during
that campaign. This area covered large portions of the Western Galilee in
the north, and extended as far as the villages to the south of Nazareth. But
it was Nazareth that was the largest and most important urban center that
was conquered during the ‘Dekel Campaign’.
In addition, the discussion of the written sources about the conquest of
Nazareth will be placed within a much wider context than the ‘Dekel
Campaign’, and will cover the history of the war in general, mainly
derived from State publications written by military commanders, and to
some extent also from the publications of Ilan Pappe, Benny Morris, and
David Tal, in spite of their different approaches. Moreover, in most of the
sources that refer to the conquest of Nazareth, there is a distinct absence
of the local Arab narrative concerning it, in addition to a lack of Arab
sources, and in particular of local memoirs, except for those of Elias Srouji
(Srouji 2003: 134–140) .This deficiency is partly the result of the lack of
local Arab archives, and even in the city of Nazareth itself no such archive
yet exists. It is also the result of the inaccessibility of archives in Arab
countries.
However, in spite of the difficulties, the article will attempt to cope
with this problem through interviews and the gathering of private and
personal material, mainly from the Fahum family in Nazareth. It is
important to stress from the very start in connection with the Fahum
family that I am aware of the fact that over reliance on interviews with
members of the family could be interpreted as acceptance of their narrative
in full. I have taken precautions against this in spite of the fact that they
played a decisive role in Nazareth, as will be shown further on.
The contribution and originality of this article is therefore the attempt
to discuss in a comprehensive and inclusive manner what took place in
Nazareth during the eight months between the Partition Resolution of 29
November 1947 and the conquest of the city on 16 July 1948. Through a
convergence of the various sources, both Arab and Jewish, the article will
provide as far as possible a complete picture of what occurred in the city
during this period of time.
The discussion will first deal with the various local and external Arab
elements that were active in the city on the eve of its conquest, and
examine the relations between them. These include the municipality,
the Rescue Army, the forces of the Mufti, and others. This discussion
is essential for understanding all the developments that occurred during
the conquest and its aftermath, and will explain why the behavior of
Nazareth differed from that of other Galilean cities. The second part of
October 25, 2010 Time: 05:03pm hls082.tex
188 Holy Land Studies
the discussion will concern the conquest itself, and all that took place
from the time the city was attacked until the signing of its surrender by
the mayor, as well as the reasons why Nazareth was the only large Arab
city from which its citizens were not expelled.2
Organisation of the City Leadership
On 27 November 1947 the Arab Higher Committee, the main political
organ of the Palestinians during the Mandate, decided to set up national
committees in all the Arab settlements in the country. In its call upon
the leaders and public figures in these settlements, the Committee
demanded that they act without delay in setting up such committees.
It also transmitted clear guidelines regarding their composition and the
area of their activities. These areas included among other things the
organisation and management of the lives of the citizens in the civilian
sphere, maintaining order and security, collection of funds, organisation of
volunteers, keeping in continuous contact with the Palestinian leadership,
and so on (al-Hut 1984: 598).3
In the city of Nazareth, which had been identified since the beginning
of the Mandate period with the Palestinian opposition, and whose leaders
had fairly cool relations with Mufti Amin al-Husseini, a slightly different
situation prevailed from that found in other cities of the Galilee. The
Mayor, Yusuf Bey al-Fahum, who was the head of the strong and anti-
Husseini Fahum family, decided in advance to take matters into his own
hands, and his slogan was: ‘The days of the 1936 revolt will not return’.
His intention was to prevent the Mufti and his followers, and also the
leaders of the former revolt, from taking control over the city and the
decision-making process. As soon as the British retreated from the city, he
took charge of everything with the help of a few city notables and public
leaders who shared his views, most prominent among them being As‘ad
Kamal al-Sa‘adi who was a senior officer and commanded the police forces
in the city.
However, in spite of the differences in approach between the mayor
and most of the city leadership on one hand, and the Arab Higher
Committee on the other, a national committee was nevertheless set up
(Srouji 2003: 136). This was done during the month of December 1947,
and was chaired by Ibrahim ‘Abd al-Majid al-Fahum.4Ibrahim was a
2 It should be noted that the majority of the residents of Shafa‘amr were not expelled,
but this city was at that time only a town.
3 On the guidelines and regulations for setting up the committees, see: State of Israel
Archives, File No. Peh-320/11 Regulations for the Establishment of National Committees,
8 December 1947.
4 Since we only have a few documents from the file of the national committee, it is
difficult to determine exactly when the committee was established and what was its full
October 25, 2010 Time: 05:03pm hls082.tex
Mustafa Abbasi Nazareth in the War for Palestine 189
senior member of the Fahum family, one of the largest leading families
in the city since the 18th century, and had served during the Mandate
period as the director of the financial department in Jenin. A number of
colleagues from all the communities in the city served together with him.
The most outstanding of these were: Nakhla Bishara, a wealthy textile
merchant, head of the Bishara family and leader of the Greek Orthodox
community in Nazareth; Khalid ‘Othman ‘Awn-Allah, a property owner,
a member of the municipal council, a leading member of the well-known
‘Awn-Allah family, and one of the Muslim notables in the city; Amin
Salam, a property owner and a notable of the Orthodox community; Najib
Banna, of the Latin community, and a deputy mayor of the city at the end
of the Mandate period; Naif Batheesh of the Latin community, a member
of the municipal council, an industrialist, and one of the owners of the
cigarette factory; ‘Awad Taha Mansur, a notable of the Muslim Eastern
quarter.5
It is interesting that the mayor, Yusuf al-Fahum, was not the head of
the national committee. Apparently, it was his wish to keep a distance
from the Arab Higher Committee leadership, to allow him the space to
maneuver and the independence to make decisions. Besides which, most
of the committee members belonged to the same political line as his own,
and moreover Ibrahim was not only a relative but also his father-in-law, so
that it all remained within the family circle.
The Arab Forces: Composition and Internal Relationships
Immediately after its establishment, the committee began to act by
organising a volunteer force from among the local inhabitants which was
called the ‘Nazareth Protective Force’ (‘Hamiat al-Nasirah’) under the
leadership of Diyab al-Fahum, the director of the Water Department in
the municipality. Again we see a member of the Fahum family given an
important position, becoming the third member of the family involved
in the high-level decision-making process. Since we do not have any files
of the national committee, it is difficult to determine the exact number
or even the composition of this protective force. But according to ‘Atif
al-Fahum there were a number of Bedouin of the Arab Sabarja tribe
from the Jezreel Valley region.6IDF archival sources note that some of
the Fahum family joined this protective force, including Taher al-Fahum,
composition. But according to Kamal Ibrahim al-Fahum, the son of the committee head, it
had already been established by the end of December. Interview held with Kamal Ibrahim
al-Fahum, 30 August 2009.
5 Interview with ‘Atif al-Fahum, 26 August 2009. ‘Atif al-Fahum is the son of Yusuf
Muhammad ‘Ali al-Fahum, the mayor of Nazareth from 1946–1954, and was witness to
all the events relating to the conquest of the city.
6 Interview with ‘Atif al-Fahum, 26 August 2009.
October 25, 2010 Time: 05:03pm hls082.tex
190 Holy Land Studies
Tawfiq Naif al-Fahum, and Sami Ibrahim al-Fahum, the son of the
national committee chairman.7
In addition to the organisation of the national committee and the local
protective force, an additional force began to organise around Nazareth
under the command of Tawfiq Ibrahim, called ‘Abu Ibrahim al-Saghir’
(‘the Younger’). This Abu Ibrahim was a resident of the village of Indur
in the Jezreel valley, and had commanded one of the armed groups (fasel)
during the revolt of 1936–1939 (Zu’ater 1992: 457).
‘Arif al-‘Arif noted that the number of recruits under whose command
who had acted in Nazareth and the surrounding area after the UN
Partition Resolution of November 1947 was about 210 fighters, and that
this force was directly subordinate to the Mufti and refrained from having
any connection or coordination with the commanders of ‘Jaysh al-Inqath
al-Arabi’, or the ‘Arab Rescue Army’,8in the north (Al-‘Arif n.d.: Vol. l:
130; Vol. 3: 627).
It appears that the number of forces under Abu Ibrahim that Al-‘Arif
mentions is slightly exaggerated, and in my opinion there were no more
than a few score.9It is interesting that according to some of the Israeli
sources, the group of Abu Ibrahim mentioned above also included Syrian
and Iraqi volunteers of the Sa‘adun tribe, in addition to the Palestinians
among whom Isma‘il Tahbub of Hebron was prominent. The sources
tell us also that after their entry into the city, Abu Ibrahim and his men
took some of the equipment that the British had left behind, including a
quantity of petrol and oil and various other supplies.10
It is important to stress that the relations between Abu Ibrahim and
the mayor Yusuf al-Fahum had been very strained ever since the revolt of
1936–1939. The lands of the village of Indur from which Abu Ibrahim
came were owned by the al-Fahum family,11 which was one of the large
feudal families in the north, and all the inhabitants of Indur were their
tenant farmers (harratheen). The al-Fahum family claimed that during the
7 See the list of Nazareth personalities and the functions they fulfilled during the period
in question. The list appears under the title ‘Nazareth File’, IDF and Ministry of Defence
Archives, File No. 116/100001/54, and is undated.
8 The ‘Arab Rescue Army’, also known as the ‘Arab Liberation Army’, was an army of
volunteers from Arab countries led by Fawzi al-Qawuqji. It was set up by the Arab League
as a counter to the Palestinian Arab Higher Committee’s ‘Jaysh al-Jihad al-Muqaddas’
(‘Holy War Army’), a force of Palestinian irregulars, led in 1948 by ‘Abdel Qadir
al-Husseini and Hasan Salama. In reality, however, the Arab League and Arab governments
prevented thousands from joining both ‘Jaysh al-Inqath al-Arabi’ and ‘Jaysh al-Jihad
al-Muqaddas’ (Sayigh 2000: 14).
9 Interview with Kamal Ibrahim al-Fahum, 30 August 2009.
10 Report on the visit of the Minister of Minorities in Nazareth, 19 July 1948, IDF
and Ministry of Defence Archives, File No. 308/44, General Nazareth Reports.
11 The lands of the Indur village were owned by two leading members of the family,
Rafa’ and ‘Abd al-Majid al-Fahum.
October 25, 2010 Time: 05:03pm hls082.tex
Mustafa Abbasi Nazareth in the War for Palestine 191
period of the revolt Abu Ibrahim was the chief of a rebel group, which
was responsible together with other groups for injuring and eliminating
some of their members. Additional attempts were made at elimination,
including an attempt on the life of Yusuf al-Fahum himself. Against this
background one may understand the strong opposition to accepting his
authority or giving him a position of influence in the city during the
period under discussion. On the contrary, the mayor adopted a policy line
that was diametrically opposed to that of Abu Ibrahim and his superiors
in the Husseini camp.
Immediately following the British retreat, Abu Ibrahim entered the
city together with his forces. At first he tried to take over the local
police station that was under the control of the police commander, As‘ad
Kamal al-Sa‘adi. The stubborn efforts of Abu Ibrahim nearly caused a
violent confrontation between the two. At this stage the mayor, Yusuf al-
Fahum, intervened and warned Abu Ibrahim against injuring al-Sa‘adi,
and telling him that: ‘the days of 1936 will not return’. He demanded that
he leave Nazareth immediately, and when Abu Ibrahim felt that this time
he could not oppose Yusuf and his men he yielded and left the center of
the city, stationing himself in one of the buildings outside Nazareth on
the west side the Schneller Building. From this we learn that from the
very start the mayor maintained a distance from the forces identified with
the Mufti and prevented them from controlling the city. We also learn
that Yusuf al-Fahum was prepared to confront and not to surrender. He
demonstrated leadership and was not ready to accept a situation in which
any groups active in the city did not acknowledge his authority or were
not coordinated with him.
From a report written in July 1948 by the Israeli Minister for
Minorities, Bekhor Shitreet, we learn more about the tension that
prevailed in Nazareth between the various factions prior to its conquest.
He also notes that once the British had left, Abu Ibrahim the Younger took
over the police building in the city and treated the local police force with
hostility. According to Shitreet, the change of attitude in Abu Ibrahim was
also caused by pressure from the Rescue Army.12 This shows that both the
mayor and the forces of the Rescue Army did not regard the activities
of Abu Ibrahim favourably. We know that the Mufti and all the forces
subordinate to him refrained from cooperating with the Rescue Army
and that in most cases a sense of suspicion, and at times even hostility, was
felt between them.
It should be noted that the Rescue Army forces active in Nazareth and
its environs throughout the period under discussion was from the Hittin
12 Report on the visit of the Minister of Minorities in Nazareth on 19 July 1948, IDF
and Ministry of Defence Archives, File No. 308/44, General Nazareth Reports.
October 25, 2010 Time: 05:03pm hls082.tex
192 Holy Land Studies
Regiment. This regiment was under the command of the Iraqi officer,
Madlul ‘Abbas (Al-Hut 1984: 907: Al-‘Arif n.d.: Vol. 3: 627; Srouji 2003:
139), and included four companies13 that were spread out in the city and
in the surrounding regions of the Lower Galilee. The first company was
stationed in the area of Tel and Shajara, the second in the area of Lubya,
the third in three places within the city – the police station (the Maskubia),
the Galil Hotel, and the high school. The fourth company was stationed
on the western slopes of Nazareth facing Shafa‘amr14 and Haifa.15
From this we see that only the third and fourth companies were directly
involved in protecting the city, while the other two companies were part
of the forces that defended the villages of Shajara and Lubya and the
surrounding area in the central part of the Lower Galilee. This was where
the main strategic road lay, linking Nazareth and Tiberias and other places
at the crossroads now known as the Golani Crossroads (‘Tzomet Golani’).
According to Haganah sources, the number of men in these companies
together with the volunteer force of Abu Ibrahim came to 500.16 It seems
that the Haganah estimates are close to the realities, and that even if
we add the number of volunteers who came from Acre, about 17 in
all, who joined the Abu Ibrahim forces outside Nazareth, the picture is
not essentially altered.17 Yet it is important to stress that these numbers
changed from time to time, and according to ‘Arif Al-‘Arif, the numbers
gradually decreased in time, and on the eve of the conquest, the city had
only 200 Arab fighters from all the groups (Al-‘Arif n.d.: Vol. 3: 627).
Contrary to the adamant position of the mayor not to cooperate with
Abu Ibrahim and his men, we are told that he cooperated with the Rescue
Army. According to his son, ‘Atif al-Fahum (b. 1930), this cooperation was
mainly in the field of logistic and supplies. He says that there were good
relations between his father and the commander of the Rescue Army
forces in the city, Madlul ‘Abbas, and his two officer aides, ‘Ammar Bey
Hasak and Shikhali Bey. Madlul was described as a tall, handsome and
energetic young man, well behaved and polite, who took care to maintain
strict discipline and order. Regular contact between the two sides was
conducted by the communications officer, Ahmad Tawfiq al-Fahum, one
of the mayor’s relatives. It appears that the municipality even decided some
of the army positions, and designated three of its members to act as a
supply committee: ‘Atif Yusuf al-Fahum, the son of the mayor, Khalid
13 IDF and Ministry of Defence Archives, File No. 133/1046/70, undated.
14 This place name appears in two forms in this article. When the reference is to an
Arabic source it is Shafa‘amr and when it is a Hebrew source it is ‘Shfar‘am’.
15 Instructions to the Hittin Regiment, IDF and Ministry of Defence Archives, File
No. 276/100001/57, undated.
16 IDF and Ministry of Defence Archives, File No. 133/1046/70, undated.
17 From the Jabal al-‘Arab Regiment to Commander Abu Ibrahim, IDF and Ministry
of Defence Archives, File No. 116/100001/57, 21 May 1948.
October 25, 2010 Time: 05:03pm hls082.tex
Mustafa Abbasi Nazareth in the War for Palestine 193
‘Awn-Allah, and Amin Zaybek, who were responsible for providing the
needs of the army.18 According to ‘Atif al-Fahum, a member of this
committee, contrary to other claims, the Rescue Army forces in Nazareth
received supplies in an ordered way, paid for all the merchandise, and
prepared food for themselves, and that no exploitation was made by them
of the city residents.
From the IDF archives we learn that the cooperation between the city
leaders and the Rescue Army forces also included the area of security
and intelligence. According to those sources, most of the people who
cooperated with the Rescue Army forces in this area were from the
Fahum family. Prominent among them were the above-mentioned Ahmad
Bey Tawfiq al-Fahum who was a communications officer, Khalid ‘Abd
al-Majid al-Fahum, Mamduh Fadel al-Fahum, Sobhi Hasan al-Fahum,
Tawfiq ‘Abd al-Razzak, the Director of al-Umma al-‘Arabiyya Bank, and
Salim Rajai Farah, an agricultural engineer, who was one of the close
friends and advisers of the mayor.19
It seems that the estimations made by the Haganah were correct with
regard to the tension and hostility between the heads of the Fahum family
and the Mufti. According to the members of the family, they tended to
cooperate with the Rescue Army forces in the various areas of municipal
affairs, but the Haganah claims that this cooperation was also in security
affairs. Whatever might have been the case, most of the sources show that
Madlul ‘Abbas was a man of pleasant manners, a gentleman who knew
how to deal with the residents of the city and refrained from any step that
would hurt the local leadership, which undoubtedly made it easier for it
to coordinate its actions with him.
It should also be mentioned that in the camp of the Mufti forces the
situation was not completely regulated, especially after the conquest of
Tiberias by the Jewish forces on 18 April. Subhi Shaheen, who had been
active in Tiberias for the Mufti and had commanded scores of fighters
until the city fell, now came to Nazareth with his men. He was told to
accept the authority of Abu Ibrahim, but refused to do so. From a letter
sent by Abu Ibrahim to the Mufti dated 9 May 1948, we learn that Subhi
was more engaged in matters of trade and other private affairs, and even
though he had received arms and ammunition, he did not take part in the
war effort. He eventually left the city and went to the village of Mughar
far away from Nazareth.20
18 Interview with ‘Atif al-Fahum, 26 August 2009.
19 Nazareth file, personalities, IDF and Ministry of Defence Archives, File No.
116/100001/57, undated list in both Hebrew and Arabic.
20 From Abu Ibrahim, Nazareth Command, to Haj Amin, IDF and Ministry of
Defence Archives, File No. 116/100001/57, 9 May 1948.
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194 Holy Land Studies
On 11 June, Fawzi al-Qawuqji, the commander of the Rescue Army,
visited Nazareth together with Lebanese Druze leader and emir (prince)
Majid Arslan, who was then the Lebanese Defence Minister. They
remained in the city for three days, and their visit was apparently intended
to coordinate positions among the various camps in the city, and also to
learn about the security situation in the city and its environs (Al-‘Arif
n.d.: Vol.3: 629). Their visit was followed by Taha Pasha al-Hashemi,
the General Inspector (al-Mufatish al-‘Am) of the Rescue Army.21 These
two visits show us the importance of the city for the commanders of the
Rescue Army after Tiberias and Safed had fallen to the Jewish side, and
Acre had been conquered on 17 May, the greater majority of its Arab
residents being either expelled or leaving it of their own accord.
In addition to this, it should be noted that the civil situation in Nazareth
was no less troubling for the commanders than the security situation. As
stated before, most of the large cities such as Haifa, Tiberias, Acre, and
Safed had already been captured, which put pressure on Nazareth mainly
because of the thousands of refugees that streamed into the city from
all directions. This stream of refugees increased daily, and in the letter
sent on 10 May from the IDF Golani Brigade to the army General Staff
Headquarters it was written that:
In Nazareth the stream of refugees continues to increase from day to day.
They are to be found in the city and some of them have also gone to Tzipori
[Saffuriya], Kafr Kana, and other villages in the surrounding area. There is
a feeling . . . that the Jews will not attack the city. No fortifications have
been made in the city and no strong guard is posted. The arms held by the
citizens are only for defence, and each family is suspicious of the other since
there are a lot of internal disputes. What is more worrying is the economic
situation. The local residents receive restricted rations and nobody takes care
of the refugees. The black market is flourishing, the price of bread is high,
although bread is obtainable and meat and vegetables can be had in plenty.
If there was any possibility to return to Haifa, many would return there.22
This report, which was written on 10 May, shows us that contrary to
the situation that prevailed during the first months of 1948 when food
and supplies were relatively easy to obtain, the stream of refugees caused
serious concern and a rise in the level of internal tension in the city.
According to Bekhor Shitreet, Minister of Minorities, after the
permanent residents of Nazareth, both Muslims and Christians, saw what
had happened to their refugee brothers and their dismal state of near
starvation, they opposed fighting against the Israeli army and brought
21 Report on the visit of the Minister of Minorities in Nazareth, IDF and Ministry of
Defence Archives, File No. 308/44, General Nazareth Reports, 19 July 1948.
22 From the Golani Brigade to the General Staff Headquarters, IDF and Ministry of
Defence Archives, File No. 1025/922/75, 10 May 1948.
October 25, 2010 Time: 05:03pm hls082.tex
Mustafa Abbasi Nazareth in the War for Palestine 195
about the surrender of the city. In his view, it was the failure of Fawzi
al-Qawuqji in the battle over Shajara on 12–14 July that apparently
contributed considerably to their opposition. Shitreet says that on the day
of the attack on the city, the mayor, Yusuf Bey al-Fahum, was called to the
police building and met with 30–35 Syrian soldiers who asked his opinion
whether the residents of the city were prepared to oppose the Israeli army
and fight against them. According to him, the mayor refused to answer
their question with the excuse that Nazareth could not protect itself. He
was then requested by these soldiers to confirm this in writing, and did
so.23
Shitreet’s words again show that Yusuf al-Fahum was once more
prepared to assume full responsibility for the fate of the city, and even
to give written confirmation that Nazareth was not capable of defending
itself in view of the situation created in the country and in the northern
regions. For him it was preferable to save the city from the fate of the
other Arab cities in the Galilee, especially Safed and Tiberias that had
been totally emptied of all their Arab residents, while Acre remained with
only a small number of Arab Palestinian residents.
Attack on the City and its Conquest
Firstly, it should be said that the conquest of Nazareth and the surrounding
villages was carried out in a wide operation called the ‘Dekel Campaign’.
The commander of this campaign was Haim Laskov (Naor 1994: 218),
and soldiers from three brigades participated in it:
a) Forces from the First Regiment of the Carmeli Brigade (Commander
of the Northern Front) under the command of Mordechai Maklef
(Carmel 1949: 1–10).
b) Forces from the First and Second Infantry Regiments, and the Ninth
Armored Regiment of the Seventh Brigade under the command of
Ben Dunkelman who was appointed commander of the Brigade from
June 1948 (Dunkelman 1977: 172; Naor 1994: 111; Hadari 2004:
153).
c) Three divisions of the Golani Brigade that had conquered Kafr M’alul
and linked it with Kfar Hahoresh on the west side of Nazareth. (Israel
Defence Forces 1959: 247–252; Pappe 2006: 154–159; Tal 2004:
334–339)
From the composition of forces we learn that most of them were
from the Seventh Brigade, and also that this was an extremely large
force. If we compare it to the Arab forces of 500 fighters from all the
23 Report on the visit of the Minister of Minorities in Nazareth, IDF and Ministry of
Defence Archives, File No. 308/44, General Nazareth Reports, 19 July 1948.
October 25, 2010 Time: 05:03pm hls082.tex
196 Holy Land Studies
different groupings, it is clear that the Israeli side enjoyed an overwhelming
numerical superiority.
As part of the preparations for the campaign, a week prior to the land
attack, Israeli planes bombed the city from the air with the aim of hitting
the police station that served as the base for the forces of the Rescue Army.
During the bombing raids, the French hospital was hit and damage was
caused to other buildings adjacent to it.24
Regarding the land operation itself, the conquest of the city of Nazareth
preceded that of Shafa‘amr and its surroundings, and some areas to the
west of Lower Galilee. Benny Morris notes that except for the conquest
of Nazareth, the order given to the Israeli forces was to ‘completely root
out the enemy from the villages around Nazareth’. According to him,
there was some apprehension that Qawuqji was planning to attack Afula,
and that it would be necessary to attack him before he did so (Morris
2008: 278). The conquest of Shafa‘amr began on 14 July 1948, and at the
same time an attack was begun on the villages of Ma’lul and Mujeidel that
lay close to Nazareth, and they were conquered on 15 July (Morris 2008:
280–281; Gelber 2000: 494; Dunkelman 1977: 170). IDF reports indicate
that Arab opposition to the attack was weak, and the citizens began to flee
from these two villages.
On 15 July the infantry forces and the armored corps of the Seventh
Brigade continued to advance towards Nazareth, and on 16 July, while the
attack was being made on Nazareth, the conquest began of the villages
of Saffuriya, Yafa, and ‘Ilut, and all the villages along the Nazareth-
Tiberias highway, Mt. Tabor and its environs.25 Control over the city
necessitated control over the surrounding hills, especially the compound
of the Schneller House in which the volunteer forces of Abu Ibrahim
had installed themselves, as well as the police station building, which was
large and well fortified. These locations not only provided good lookout
positions but also firing positions that gave complete control over the city.
In order to capture these hills it was necessary to take control over the
villages of Saffuriya and ‘Ilut that barred access to Nazareth and the hills
that circled the city.
Here in the village of ‘Ilut a massacre took place during the conquest
and afterwards. In 1945 the village had 1,310 inhabitants who remained
in their village during the attack and after it, and surrendered without
opposition. From IDF archival sources we learn that at the end of July
searches were conducted in the village, 46 young men were arrested and
led in an unknown direction. According to that same source, on 3 August
24 Information from Nazareth after its conquest, IDF and Ministry of Defence
Archives, File No. 1/5205/49, 22 July 1948.
25 Comprehensive Report on the Dekel Campaign, IDF and Ministry of Defence
Archives, File No. 56/1046/70, undated, pp.95–106. Israel Defence Forces (1959: 249).
October 25, 2010 Time: 05:03pm hls082.tex
Mustafa Abbasi Nazareth in the War for Palestine 197
the slain bodies of some of these men were found by Arab shepherds in
the mountains. The source also relates that on that same day 14 of the
captives were murdered in the olive grove near the village of ‘Ilut in the
presence of the villagers, including the women and children.26
On 4 September 1948 the deputy commander of the Golani Brigade,
Nahum (Spiegel) Golan, wrote to the commander of the northern front,
Moshe Carmel, about the massacre. Under the title: ‘Clarification of the
facts concerning Nazareth and the surrounding villages’, he notes that:
The Arab village of ‘Ilut in the vicinity of Nazareth was conquered in
the morning of Friday, 16 July by units of the 13th Regiment after the
opposition of the villagers and the foreigners that were in it. About 15 of
the village inhabitants were killed during the battle, and the rest fled. After
two days a patrol unit visited the village and warned those who had returned
to the village that they should not be there. After a few days the village was
attacked by our forces and both villagers and foreigners were found there
who had been searched for by the Haganah intelligence services. Ten of the
men who tried to escape during the search and identification process were
shot and the rest were brought to the prison camp.27
Regarding the continuation of the attack on Nazareth, according to
Israeli sources, because of the armored vehicles and canons held by the
Arab side (ten in number),28 the attacking forces decided to make use of
all the strong firepower they had in hand. They had precise information
about the roads and the mined areas obtained from the Druze followers
of Sheikh Salih Khnefis who had cooperated with them before and after
the conquest of Shafa‘amr.29 According to the Israeli army’s publication:
History of the War of Independence: ‘The conquest of Shfar’am [sic] by the
IDF was coordinated with the representatives of the Druze living there.
After an artillery barrage at the Muslim quarter, the IDF troops burst
into the village on both sides . . . Muslim opposition was broken very
quickly, and at dawn on 14 July Shfar’am was in our hands’ (Israel Defence
Forces 1959; 249; Gelber 2000: 495–496). After completing the conquest
of Shafa‘amr, the deployment of forces, and battle team preparation, the
forcesbegantomove.
From a detailed report on the conquest of the city of Nazareth, the
route of advance, and the composition of the Israeli forces, we learn that
when these forces reached Point No. 17862361 on the west side of the
26 Personal letter from Nahum Golan, deputy commander of the Golani Brigade to
the commander of the northern front, IDF and Ministry of Defence Archives, File No.
1/5205/49, 4 September 1948.
27 Ibid.
28 According to ‘Arif, there were six armored vehicles and two cannons. See: Al-‘Arif
(n.d.: Vol. 3: 629).
29 Comprehensive Report on the Dekel Campaign, IDF and Ministry of Defence
Archives, File No. 56/1046/70, undated, p. 96.
October 25, 2010 Time: 05:03pm hls082.tex
198 Holy Land Studies
city, six armored vehicles of the Rescue Army appeared and an exchange
of fire began. The Israeli forces rapidly succeeded in neutralising the
Rescue Army force, which then began to retreat northwards. The report
goes on to describe the attack, saying that sniping shots came from all
directions until an armored company was sent to take over one of the
houses. A second company was sent to capture the Schneller House, after
which some forces were dispatched with armed jeeps to break through the
barriers set up in the city. This breakthrough was made under cover of two
cannons placed at the northern entrance to Nazareth. The jeeps were also
given the task of capturing the police station. When the obstacles were
overcome and the forces reached the police station, they reported that it
was abandoned. At about 16:18 hours the entire city was in the hands of
the Israeli forces, the sporadic sniping lessened and then ceased completely.
This means that no battle occurred in the city, but only an attack by the
Israeli side and the retreat of the Arab forces accompanied only by light
firing and sniper shots.
Israeli sources also tell us that throughout the course of the ‘Dekel
Campaign’ and until the conquest of Nazareth, the Israel side suffered one
dead and two wounded, while on the Arab side there were more than 15
dead (besides the victims in ‘Ilut), some of them civilian. In addition, a
number of Iraqi soldiers from the Rescue Army were taken captive by the
Israeli forces, besides a variety of military equipment. During the conquest
of the city itself, the Israeli side suffered no losses, only one soldier was
wounded, and slight damage was caused to a number of jeeps that had
burst into the city.
Immediately after the conquest of the city, a general curfew was
announced.30 At 18:25 hours the mayor appeared with a flag of surrender
in his hand. At 20:40 hours approximately the headquarters of the
Seventh Brigade informed the General Staff Headquarters that: ‘Nazareth
is entirely in our hands’. At 22:00 hours the surrender agreement was
signed.
Special Attitude towards a Christian Holy City?
Unlike the attitude shown towards other Palestinian Arab cities, the
commanders of the forces that had conquered Nazareth seem to have
displayed a different attitude towards this city. Even before the conquest,
they took care to prepare the forces who took part in the attack.
Instructions for a special attitude towards Nazareth came from the very
highest level, from Ben-Gurion, who was then the Prime Minister and
Defence Minister. In a letter that he sent on 15 July 1948 to Yigael Yadin,
30 Comprehensive Report on the Dekel Campaign, IDF and Ministry of Defence
Archives, File No. 56/1046/70, undated, pp. 101–102.
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Mustafa Abbasi Nazareth in the War for Palestine 199
Chief of the Operations Division in the General Staff Headquarters, and
to Moshe Carmel, Commander of the Northern Front, he wrote:
If Nazareth is about to be conquered, you must prepare a special force,
trustworthy and disciplined . . . and refrain from any possibility of plunder
or desecration of monasteries and churches. Any attempt of plunder by our
soldiers must be met with merciless fire. You must notify how you have
carried out this instruction.31
Moshe Carmel was quick to obey the demands made by Ben-Gurion,
and on 16 July, in the order of the day, he issued the following message
to the forces participating in the conquest of Nazareth, giving strict
instructions to abide by these demands and to preserve the holiness of
the city:
To the fighters attacking Nazareth, commanders and privates: You are
now advancing towards the city of Nazareth, the city in which Qawuqji
has placed his headquarters . . . the army of Qawuqji has been beaten and
crushed by our units on the northern front. He has suffered heavy losses in
Shajara and fled in panic, was beaten in Berwi and in Shfar’am, and ran away
from our forces. The conquest of Ma’lul has driven him from his outposts
overlooking the Jezreel valley. Our forces have continued to advance and
defeat him, and we are now going to attack Nazareth where the remainders
of the enemy in the city are disheartened and depressed. Strike them with
force, and they will fall with the fallen.
Commanders and privates: You are now about to enter the city. . . the
cradle of Christianity, a city that is holy to many millions of people, and
Christians throughout the world are turning their gaze upon you. There are
numerous churches, monasteries and holy places. Our soldiers entering the
city will fight fearlessly against the invaders and gangs if they find opposition,
but will refrain altogether from desecrating holy places. Our soldiers will
not enter churches, will not fight inside them or take fortified positions in
them, except by necessity and special orders. No soldier will lay hands on
any object in this city. The commander of this operation has received orders
to take immediate measures again anyone who disobeys this instruction. Our
soldiers are enlightened and civilised and will treat the religious sensibilities
of others with respect and civility. Any person who behaves criminally
will be put on trial immediately without hesitation and will suffer severe
penalties. Forward! Strike at the enemy! Conquer Nazareth!32
It is interesting that, after taking full control over Nazareth, and in spite
of what was written in Carmel’s missive, the battle headquarters of the
Seventh Brigade sent an urgent telegram on 17 July to the General Staff
Headquarters in which it informed them of the completed conquest of
31 From David Ben-Gurion to Yigael Yadin, IDF and Ministry of Defence Archives,
File No. 1025/922/75, 15 July 1948; Morris (2008: 281).
32 From Moshe Carmel, Commander of the Northern Front to commanders and
fighters, order of the day, IDF and Ministry of Defence Archives, File No. 1025/922/75,
16 July 1948.
October 25, 2010 Time: 05:03pm hls082.tex
200 Holy Land Studies
the city. But the most important subject in the telegram was the explicit
question whether the residents of the city should be sent out of it or not.
It also expressed the opinion that the residents should be expelled except
for the religious clergy, as follows:
From the battle headquarters of the Seventh Brigade to the General Staff
Headquarters in Tel Aviv. Please notify immediately by urgent means
whether the residents should be expelled from the city of Nazareth. In my
opinion all of them should be expelled except for the religious clergy.33
It is interesting that on the back of the telegram Ben-Gurion wrote
one sentence: ‘Do not expel people from Nazareth’, and signed it with his
initials, D.B.G.
The telegram was not signed with any particular name, but Benny
Morris in dealing with this issue mentions three names in connection with
it: Haim Laskov, the commander of ‘Operation Dekel’, Benjamin (Ben)
Dunkelman (1913–1997), a Canadian Jewish officer who had served in
the Canadian Army in the Second World War, who commanded the IDF
Seventh Brigade, and Moshe Carmel, Commander of the IDF Northern
Front. In the Hebrew edition of his book, The Birth of the Palestinian
Refugee Problem, Morris notes that Moshe Carmel was the one who issued
the order. Morris writes that:
Ben-Gurion claims that on July 17 Moshe Carmel issued an order to uproot
all the residents of Nazareth, and according to him it was not clear whether
Moshe Carmel meant to exile the population or merely wanted to evacuate
the city . . . According to Ben-Gurion, the Commander of the Seventh
Brigade, Ben Dunkelman, hesitated, and the Commander of the ‘Dekel
Campaign’, Haim Laskov, asked the Defence Minister how to behave, and
Ben-Gurion intervened in time and cancelled the order. (Morris 1997: 271)
In his work, 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War, Morris notes
that the order to expel the residents was given by Carmel and Laskov, and
was sent to Colonel Ben Dunkelman who was at that time the military
governor of the city. Dunkleman refused to carry out the order, and
Laskov then sent Ben-Gurion that telegram demanding the expulsion of
the residents, but was answered in the negative (Morris 2008: 282).
From this we understand that Moshe Carmel at first accepted the
request of Ben-Gurion, and demanded that his soldiers refrain from
causing any harm to the holy city of Nazareth. But he then regretted
this, and did the complete opposite when he issued an order to expel
the residents. It was only the adamant demand of Ben Dunkleman that
this action should first receive the consent of Ben-Gurion that changed
33 From the battle headquarters of the Seventh Brigade to the General Staff
Headquarters in Tel Aviv, IDF and Ministry of Defence Archives, File No. 1025/922/75,
17 July 1948.
October 25, 2010 Time: 05:03pm hls082.tex
Mustafa Abbasi Nazareth in the War for Palestine 201
the direction of developments. In this connection Hadari notes that
the relations between Haim Laskov and Ben Dunkleman were tense.
Dunkleman was given his command by the decision of Ben-Gurion
and against the view of Yigael Yadin who wanted to appoint Laskov as
Commander of the Seventh Brigade. Besides which, Laskov says that he
used the headquarters of the Seventh Brigade as his own headquarters,
claiming this was to avoid complications, and perhaps this annoyed
Dunkleman (Hadari 2004: 153).
As to what occurred in the city from the Arab viewpoint, this
was described to me by ‘Atif al-Fahum, son of the mayor, Yusuf Bey
al-Fahum. He also noted that no real battle took place in Nazareth, and
that the Rescue Army retreated in a very orderly manner when the Israeli
forces began to advance, and they informed the mayor of their retreat.
On the other hand, the forces of Abu Ibrahim the Younger scattered in a
disorderly fashion after their commander left his position in the Schneller
Building, took a horse by force from a member of the al-Fahum family
(Milad Amin al-Fahum) and left the city.
During the attack of the Israeli forces, four civilian residents of the
city were killed in isolated incidents. According to ‘Atif al-Fahum, the
commander of the Israeli forces, who arrived in the city from the direction
of the northern entrance, had preferred to wait before entering it. The
army took control over the home of the Jiser family in which the qadi
of the city, Sheikh Sa‘ad al-Din al-‘Alami, originally from Jerusalem, was
then living. ‘Alami was asked to surrender in the name of the city, but
he declined because he thought he did not have the right to sign the
surrender since he was not a permanent resident of Nazareth. The army
officers and the qadi then decided to send a messenger to the mayor and
invite him to come to this same building. The messenger was called Jabir
Salim Sayigh and he went to the mayor’s house to deliver the message. The
mayor immediately went to his car, a Ford, and together with Salim they
tied a white flag to a tall stick he took from his garden, and they both drove
to the headquarters of Haim Laskov. During his journey the mayor’s car
was attacked by an unidentified plane, but he was not hit, and continued
towards Laskov’s headquarters. Here, he was received by Laskov and a
number of officers who asked him to sign the document of surrender.
He signed immediately, and declared that he accepted the Partition Plan
and the 181 Resolution, meaning the UN Partition Resolution. Laskov
requested that he take the document and obtain signatures from the other
city leaders of all the communities. The mayor returned to the city
center, made them sign, and returned the surrender form to Laskov.34
The surrender form included 11 paragraphs as follows:
34 Interview with ‘Atif al-Fahum, 27 August 2009.
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202 Holy Land Studies
1. The city of Nazareth surrenders without conditions to the Israeli
Armed Forces.
2. The military commander, Haim Laskov, who represents the Israeli
Armed Forces and the Provisional Government of Israel, or whoever
will be appointed by it, takes under his command the city of
Nazareth at 21.15 hours on 16 July 1948.
3. All the soldiers, sergeants, and officers of the Arab army of all
countries will be handed over to the military commander.
4. All weapons stores, ammunition, and any other kind of military
equipment that is found in the possession of any individual or body
will be transferred into the hands of the military commander.
5. In any instance of violation of paragraphs 3 and 4 of this document,
the military commander will be authorised to impose the death
penalty according to his personal decision.
6. The military commander pledges to protect the holy places,
churches, monasteries and other sacred places in Christian tradition
in the city of Nazareth and its environs.
7. The present mayor of Nazareth will continue to serve in his position
as the elected head of the city council.
8. The mayor of the city will continue to conduct normal
administration for the benefit of the citizens of Nazareth, and in
all military matters he will conform to the orders of the military
commander in the city. The military commander has the authority
to determine what are military and what are civilian matters.
9. The Government of Israel represented by the military commander
recognises the equal civil rights of all the residents of Nazareth
together with all the citizens of Israel without prejudice of religion,
race or language.
10. The representatives of the city of Nazareth who are signatories of
this document take upon themselves full responsibility for carrying
out the terms of this surrender in word and spirit.
11. The representatives of the Israeli Army and the Government of Israel
who are signatories of this document take responsibility for fulfilling
all its paragraphs.
12. Nazareth, 16-7-1948.
13. Undersigned are the representatives of Nazareth and signatories to
this document: Yusuf al-Fahum, Ibrahim al-Fahum, Nakhla Bishara,
Samuel Khamis
14. Undersigned are the representatives of the army and Israeli
government and signatories to this document.35
35 Conditions of surrender of the city of Nazareth to the Israeli army, IDF and Ministry
of Defence Archives, File No. 1025/922/75, 16 July 1948.
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Mustafa Abbasi Nazareth in the War for Palestine 203
From a review of the paragraphs in this surrender document we learn
that it contained two main parts. In the first part, paragraphs 1–5 indicate
unconditional surrender and the handing over of armed men, weapons
stores, plunder etc. It is important to note that on the subject of plunder,
Moshe Carmel instructed Haim Laskov to remove only military plunder
from Nazareth. Carmel charged an administration officer of the front with
the task of taking the plunder out of the city and distributing it among the
various brigades. Carmel demanded that an organised list be drawn up of
the plunder that had already been removed from the city.36
The second part is more important, and it determines that the holy
places of Christianity, the churches and monasteries in the city, would be
safeguarded, but without mentioning the places holy to Islam. In addition
to this, there is the return of normal life, for which the mayor is required
to continue serving in his capacity, and the clear declaration that the Israeli
government recognises the principle of equal rights without prejudice of
race, religion or language. It should be noted that in the city no irregular
actions were recorded on the part of army men, and even the mayor
expressed his satisfaction with the behavior of the army, mentioning only
one case of the theft of 5 lira and 6 bottles of wine from the home of
Yusuf al-Jena, brother of the deputy mayor, Najib al-Jena.37
The main additional question is that of the non-expulsion of the
residents from the city. From the telegram that we saw earlier, we learn
that Ben-Gurion was the one who decided the fate of the city on the
Israeli side, and it was he who prevented the commanders in the field,
Carmel and Laskov, from carrying out an expulsion of the residents. In
my view, this was a very important order and, as far as I know, a rare
one which proves that acts of expulsion and removal of Palestinians were
carried out with Ben-Gurion’s consent or at least with his knowledge, and
that in the case of Nazareth his position was adamant. The question is why
did Ben-Gurion decide not to remove the residents of the city?
In my opinion, the answer lies in the status of Nazareth as a holy city
for the Christian world, and as we have seen prior to the attack on the
city and its conquest, the commanders of the forces in their instructions
lay stress on the need to preserve the holiness of the city. It is interesting
that this sensitivity was not shown towards other Arab cities even though
a large part of their population was Christian such as Haifa, Jaffa and the
western parts of Jerusalem. If indeed the Christian factor played a part,
the villages of Ma’lul and Mujeidel near Nazareth were inhabited by large
36 Moshe Carmel, Commander of the Norther n Front, to Haim Laskov, IDF and
Ministry of Defence Archives, File No. 1/5205/49, 17 July 1948.
37 Report on the visit of the Minister of Minorities in Nazareth, IDF and Ministry of
Defence Archives, File No. 308/44, Nazareth General Reports, 19 July 1948.
October 25, 2010 Time: 05:03pm hls082.tex
204 Holy Land Studies
Christian populations, yet these populations nevertheless were expelled
from their villages.
On the question of the apparently different Zionist attitudes in 1948
towards Palestinian Arabs of the three faiths: Muslim, Christian and
Druze, more research still needs to be carried out. However it may be
said that in general the Druze community – whose notables collaborated
closely with the Zionist leadership during the Mandatory period was
given special treatment by the Zionist forces; consequently not a single
Druze village was uprooted or destroyed during 1948 War. However the
picture regarding the fate of Christian villages and neighbourhoods is more
complicated. By comparison with Muslim localities and neighbourhoods,
the damage caused to Christian areas by Zionist attacks was less. More
crucially, often the general Zionist attitudes towards the Palestinian
Christian communities was less aggressive and in the (above-discussed)
conquest of Shafa‘amr in Galilee there were clear instructions to the Jewish
forces to attack the Muslim quarter and avoid causing damage to both
Druze and Christian quarters in the town.38
Despite all that has been said above and the clear position of Ben-
Gurion concerning non-expulsion, I believe that the survival of Nazareth
should be attributed to the mayor, Yusuf Bey al-Fahum, to the same
degree as to Ben-Gurion. Although this statement seems exaggerated and
perhaps naïve, yet a study of the material shows that this person did indeed
take a personal initiative, and at the same time coordinated with the local
commander of the Rescue Army who helped him to prevent the residents
from leaving.
The contribution of this man was to prevent the mass exodus of the
residents before the Israeli attack. Yusuf decided adamantly and notified
all the city residents that no one should abandon the city. He requested
them not to panic about rumors of rape and injury to the honour of
women.39 His energetic stand against some members of his family who
favoured leaving Nazareth created a fait accompli for the Israeli authorities
in entering a city where most of the inhabitants still remained and had also
absorbed many refugees from the surrounding areas.
It is difficult to decide which of the two factors determined the fate of
Nazareth, and together with it, the fate of the many villages surrounding
it. In my opinion the behaviour of Fahum and the city leaders was the
first important step, while the decision of Ben-Gurion was a kind of
concession to the situation, and was also due to his wish to appear before
the Christian world as one who preserved the holiness of the city. But
it may be assumed that if the city residents had left during the battle
38 IDF and Ministry of Defence Archives, File No. 1046/70/56, pp. 96–97.
39 Report on the visit of the Minister of Minorities in Nazareth, IDF and Ministry of
Defence Archives, File No. 308/44, Nazareth General Reports, 19 July 1948.
October 25, 2010 Time: 05:03pm hls082.tex
Mustafa Abbasi Nazareth in the War for Palestine 205
or had submitted to pressures such as in the case of Acre and Tiberias,
Ben-Gurion would not have regretted it. He would have received a city
with the Christian presence consisting of foreign clergymen and monks
without the Arab residents as is the situation today in Tiberias where
only Christian sites were usually preserved, while the Arab population
was expelled. In this connection, regarding the position of Ben-Gurion,
Benny Morris mentions in a footnote that: ‘When Ben-Gurion visited
Nazareth a few days after its conquest, he asked surprisingly: Why
are there so many Arabs? Why didn’t you expel them? (Morris 1997:
509). This shows a certain regret about the instructions that were given
earlier.
After the surrender of the city, a new stage began in the history
of the city of Nazareth, a stage no less difficult than the former one.
From a city that had numbered 12,000 residents before the war, it now
held 25,000 residents. From a city that had been economically well-
established with a Christian majority, it had now become a city flooded
with refugees who arrived there from all parts of the Galilee and even
from Haifa. These refugees lived in the direst conditions. But in spite of
the difficulties, Nazareth opened its arms to its people. The monasteries,
churches, mosques, schools, hospitals, and even private homes took in the
thousands of destitute refugees and offered them all the help they could
give.40 Most of these refugees are still living in Nazareth today. This article
does not intend to deal with the subject of the refugees in Nazareth and
with the changes that occurred in it immediately after its conquest. The
subject demands a separate study, yet in view of the events that occurred
during the war we learn that it was the Israeli side that caused the greatest
change in the social and communal conditions of Nazareth in 1948.
Conclusion
This article deals with the conquest of the city of Nazareth during the
course of the ‘Dekel Campaign’ in the 1948 War. The article attempts
to learn in depth and at the micro level what took place in this city that
was one of the four important cities in the Galilee and the only one to
survive the war nearly intact. This is therefore an exceptional case within
the general picture of what took place in the 1948 war in the course
of which scores of Arab settlements were conquered, their populations
expelled, and the settlements themselves razed to the ground.
The article shows that Nazareth was indeed unique, and the fate of the
city was totally different from that other nearby Galilean cities, Tiberias,
40 On the situation in Nazareth after the conquest, see the reports of the Minister of
Minorities, IDF and Ministry of Defence Archives, Nazareth file, General reports, No.
Gimel-308/44, 18 July 1948 and 30 July 1948.
October 25, 2010 Time: 05:03pm hls082.tex
206 Holy Land Studies
Safed and Acre. It also shows that a combination of factors led to Nazareth
being saved from a similar fate. Firstly, the presence of a determined
and responsible leadership headed by the mayor, Yusuf Muhammad ‘Ali
al-Fahum, who had personally experienced the lack of leadership
during the Arab Revolt of 1936–1939. He exhibited an initiative and
responsibility that few Palestinian mayors had shown during the 1948
War for Palestine. He simply did not rely on the national leadership
of the Arab Higher Committee, nor trust the person who headed it,
Haj Amin Husseini. Through his charismatic leadership he succeeded
in maneuvering among all the factors until he brought his city to the
shores of safety. It appears that in the situation of the total collapse of
Palestinian leadership during the 1948 war and the leadership vacuum that
was created, it was difficult to find leaders who could guide their people in
surrendering after defeat. Surrender after defeat also demands leadership
of no less courage than a fighting leadership, and only a handful of Arab
leaders and mayors were prepared for this and to submit to the Israeli side
that enjoyed outstanding superiority.
This article also lays stress on a very central point the expulsions in
the 1948 war showing that they were done in accordance with decisions
agreed upon or with the knowledge of Prime Minister and Defence
Minister Ben-Gurion. It is not true to say that they were carried out
only at the initiative of commanders in the field. The case of Nazareth
demonstrates that Ben-Gurion was capable at any moment of halting the
process of expulsion or deportation, and that he did so in Nazareth out
fear of antagonising the Christian world and because of the holiness of the
city, and that he regretted this later on.
In my opinion, the story of Nazareth illustrates once again the fact that
research and writing about the history of the 1948 war both by the Arab
and the Jewish side demands a profound study of Palestinian social history,
especially the history of the social elites and notables who failed in leading
their people at a time of crisis. Moreover, the history of the war should
not be detached from the whole complex of events and developments that
occurred during the Mandate period. There is an impression that few Arab
leaders, including from the peripheral regions and in Galilee understood
what was about to happen in the country, and that only a handful showed
the initiative and courage to cope with the fateful crisis facing them and
their people.
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208
... After the occupation, Israeli premier David Ben-Gurion ordered that the residents not be deported, probably because of the city's sacred status in Christianity. 63 The city was also a refuge for many Palestinian Arabs who fled the war from different regions of the Galilee. After the Israeli conquest, some of the Nazareth residents who had fled the city were allowed to return. ...
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