Sunday, March 6, 2011

Visit to Safed The Battle For Safed - signage at the Citadel

Yesterday I visited Safed to brush up on touring the city. I met with local guide Medad Shalem. His mom and dad Yisrael and Phyllis wrote a useful small book 6 walking tours of Safed last updated in 1997.

I also stopped at the Livnot v'livanot cum tourist office in the Jewish Quarter located about 15 meters from the Ari Synagogue. They have maps and tour books including the one above.

Below is the description of the Battle for Safed on a sign at near the Citadel observation post. Note that there is a recording in English/Hebrew on the history of Safed at that location as well.


For hundreds of years Safed was an integrated city with Jews and Arabs living side by side.
On the eve of the War of Independence, the Jewish population constituted one tenth of the total residents.

They were concentrated in the Jewish Quarter, in the northwest part of the city.
Toward the end of the Mandate, and upon the withdrawal of the British from the city, the Palmach’s 3rd Battalion arrived in Safed and assumed defensive positions in the Jewish Quarter. These combatants were joined by the armored corps, IZL (Irguan Zvai Le’umi, underground movement) combatants and residents of the Jewish Quarter.

On April 16, 1948, the day of withdrawal, the British commander of Safed sent a message to Rabbi Moshe Podhorzer, head of the Community Council, stating, “…I am extremely worried that you and your children’s lives are at stake. We recommend that you at least evacuate your women and children with the protection of our army.” After consultation with Hagana Headquarters, the residents and the combatants decided to remain in the city.

On the 28th of April the “YIftach” Operation began in the upper and eastern Galilee. During this operation, a decision was taken to seize the Arab Quarter of Safed, since it was assumed that the Arab Quarter constituted the central force of the Arabs. The fortress adjacent to the park and the monument was under the control of the Arabs, and since control of the fortress guaranteed control of the city, the decision was made to seize the fortress.

On the night between May 5 and May 6 our forces opened fire on the fortress but failed: the high location and the topographical conditions made it’s seizure extremely difficult. On May 9, 1948, the fortress was attached once again. One of the soldiers described the battle, “The climb towards the exposed crest is extremely steep and covered in stones and thorns. The soldiers measure their way in the dark in the rain, in the mud with the firing shooting past their heads while grabbing thorn bushes to climb upward.”

On May 10th, the battle ended with the Jews capturing key positions in Safed. Although the Jews assured the Arabs in the city that they would not be hurt, most of the 10,000 Arab residents of Safed fled to neighboring towns and villages. This then paved the way for Jewish forces to take control of all of Safed and the surrounding areas.

Seen in retrospect, the Yiftach Operation was a tremendous success. It achieved all of its stated objectives and it liberated the Upper and Eastern Galilee areas for the Jews. To this day, when you visit Safed, you'll see remnants from the battle in 1948. Some of the older buildings still have the bullet marks that they suffered during this battle, and some of the military equipment has been left as a reminder of the fighting that took place in this historic and religiously significant city.

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