Al-Ahram WeeklySpecial pages commemorating
50 years of Arab dispossession
since the creation of the
State of Israel
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

50 Years


Operation Chametz

Tiberias fell on 18 April, Haifa on the 23rd; then it was the turn of Jaffa, a city which was not included in the UN partition plan as part of the would-be State of Israel. Between 23 April and 13 May, the people of Jaffa fought desperately to save their town from the land grab of Plan Dalet and Operation Chametz to take over the city. Chametz means yeast in Hebrew. The Zionist offensive to occupy Jaffa, launched on 22 April 1948, coincided with the Jewish feast of Pesach (Passover). During the month preceding the Pesach, Jewish housewives are obliged to rid their households of any remnants of yeast (chametz) products. It was no coincidence, therefore, that the Haganah dubbed its drive to expel the Arab inhabitants of Jaffa "Operation Chametz". The codename signified exactly what the operation intended: an ethnic cleansing of the Arabs.

The Arab inhabitants of Jaffa numbered around 70,000. The Arab fighters trying to hold back the Jewish attack were 450 of the city's inhabitants, beside another 300 fighters from the Arab Liberation Army formed by the Arab League. Jaffa was in a most vulnerable position because of its proximity to Tel Aviv, where the largest Jewish population (170,000) was based. Tel Aviv was also the base for the Haganah's Kiryati Brigade, with its 3,000 fighters; 15 km south-east of Jaffa the Haganah's Givati brigade, with an equal number of fighters, was stationed. The Arabs fought desperately for 10 days, but on 3 May, the Arab commander in charge of the defence of the city, Michel Al-Issa, cabled to the Arab League Military Committee in Damascus: "There are no forces left to defend the city. All the inhabitants have already left. The British authorities advise that Jaffa is declared an open city." A few days later, there were only 500 Arabs left in Jaffa.

After the matriculation
At first it seemed that the Zionists' assault on Jaffa could not succeed. But, as Ibrahim Abu Lughod, then a student in his final year of high school, recalls, the Palestinian population was soon forced to realise that the enemy had got the upper hand

Ghost city
Abdel-Qader Yassin, veteran Palestinian political activist, recounts his last sight of Jaffa in 1948

Jaffa: Land of oranges
By Ghassan Kanafani

Tiberias: Sea of miracles
By Anis Sayigh

Haifa: Wadi Al-Nisnass & Abbas Street
By Emile Habibi

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