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War diary: 'An oppressive atmosphere of evil and hate seems to be creeping over Jerusalem’ (Part II)
From the 1948 war, the British clergyman describes the fall of the Jewish Quarter, the gruesome fate of one local man — and a few determined rounds of tennis.

by Matti Friedman, The Times of Israel
April 25, 2012

War diary: 'An oppressive atmosphere of evil and hate seems to be creeping over Jerusalem’ (Part II)
Israeli troops in the neighborhood of Yemin Moshe,
facing the Old City walls, June 1948.

(Courtesy of the Government Press Office, Jerusalem)

The first part of Hugh Jones’s 1948 war journal, written amid fierce fighting in Jerusalem’s Old City, appeared here on yesterday.

Part II of Jones’s journal — abridged and edited — finds the British reverend still inside the compound of Christ Church, near Jaffa Gate, as Arab Legion troops complete their defeat of the Haganah fighters in the nearby Jewish Quarter.

This part of Jones’s journal opens on May 27. Two weeks had gone by since Israel’s declaration of independence, and in the Old City things were worse than ever. That day, Arab bombers finally finished off the Hurva synagogue and Abdullah, King of Transjordan, came for a visit.

May 27, 1948

A very heavy explosion in the evening marked the end of the big Synagogue in the Old City, which completely disappeared.

The sound of distant heavy artillery was heard for many hours during the night.

King Abdullah visited Jerusalem today; entered the Tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, knelt inside and offered up the following prayer: “Lord Jesus, in the Name of all your prophets, Abraham, Isaac… give us the victory over the Jews, who have forsaken their religion.”

The next day, Jones went to visit the sick at the Austrian Hospice, near the Damascus Gate. On his way back to Christ Church, he climbed the tower of the German Protestant church in the Christian Quarter, from where he could see “the wreckage and scene of devastation in the Jewish Quarter.” That was the day the Jewish Quarter fell.

May 28

Hugh JonesThe Jews in the Old City, including between 1,000-2,000 civilians and about 600 armed men (Haganah and I.Z.L.) finally surrendered in the afternoon. We saw two batches of 115 each of the civilian population, including many old Orthodox Jews, filing into the Kishleh barracks adjoining the Citadel.

A very heavy and concentrated attack was made by the Jews on the Old City from the Damascus and Zion Gates. The attack began about 9 p.m. and lasted for about two hours. A number of Jewish dead were reported lying outside the Jaffa Gate and in various other parts of no-man’s-land for periods of anything up to a week.

As fighting becomes more bitter and drawn out, an oppressive atmosphere of evil and hate seems to be creeping over Jerusalem. Are we hastening towards the doom of this once beautiful city?

With the surrender of the Jews in the Old City it has been possible to go into the playground at the back of the Compound, where a number of shells, mortars and bullets were picked up.

Had a game of tennis with Edward Hadawi in the evening.

June 1

Report of a two-hour cease fire in the afternoon to enable dead to be collected from the streets. As many as 40 Jewish dead reported to be lying outside the New Gate after the attack on Friday last.

Another very noisy night, apparently an attack by Jews on the Old City, which began at midnight, mainly directed on the Zion Gate, where 60 to 80 Jewish dead were reported to have been left in the vicinity. A plane flew over several times during this attack.

June 5

From Jaffa it is reported that many big buildings, including cinemas, etc., have been blown up as a reprisal for the bombing of Tel Aviv. The total Arab population of Jaffa is now only about 4,000, the bulk of Arab population of Jaffa, which was originally 70,000, having fled by land and sea just previous to the end of the Mandate.

A lot of heavy firing from about 2 a.m. onwards.

June 6

Another noisy day with distracting bursts of firing during morning and evening Services.

Mr. Brice from the British Legation came to the morning Service and brought some mail from abroad. He operates the transmitting set at the Embassy and therefore had quite a lot of information to give. Amongst other bits of information was the following gruesome story, which gives some idea of the grim side of things that are going on in Jerusalem these days.

A certain madman, a familiar landmark in the streets of Jerusalem, a tall, gaunt figure who strides about in a sack cloth, used to walk up and down Suliman Road, between the Notre Dame and the Damascus Gate. This is a stretch of no-man’s-land with the Arab Legion entrenched in the neighborhood of the Damascus Gate and the Haganah in the Notre Dame building.

For several days this madman strode up and down this road unmolested, then one day he was shot in the leg and immediately afterwards received a bullet in the other leg. He fell to the ground but was not fatally injured. He was struck by other bullets but still lived, and at the end of two days was still lifting and dropping one of his legs. A mortar was dropped near him to try and put him out of his agony but without effect. Finally the poor fellow expired, but being a madman no one would touch him and he was left to decompose in the street.

June 11

A four weeks’ truce for Palestine began at 8 a.m.

June 15

Went to British Consulate outside City wall opposite Damascus Gate in morning – had to go via Herod’s Gate, as Damascus Gate was closed.

Met Christopher Angel, press photographer at Consulate. Went and lunched with him at St. George’s School and returned with him later to Christ Church where he took some photographs of the Old City from the Church roof. We then went to look at the ruins of the Armenian houses at the bottom of the playground which Angel photographed. Next we climbed over the ruins and soon found ourselves amidst the wreckage of the Jewish Quarter where again Angel took a number of photographs including some of the great Synagogue, the interior of which was open to the skies.

War diary: 'An oppressive atmosphere of evil and hate seems to be creeping over Jerusalem’ (Part II)
The Old City's New Gate, damaged by fighting, December 1948.
(Courtesy of the Government Press Office, Jerusalem)

On June 29, Jones left Jerusalem for a brief visit to Bethlehem, taking a sum of money intended for a school for the blind.

June 29

The Blind School was delighted at being looked up. They were well, but badly in need of funds, and so were very glad of the 50 Pounds which I brought out, having previously learnt from Mr. Siraganian that they would need about this amount to balance their monthly budget.

I found an Englishman there receiving massage treatment from one of the blind women who is a masseuse. He had been wounded several months previously in the head, fighting with the Arab forces, and slight paralysis had been setting in one of his arms. Whilst massaging his arm, this blind masseuse had spoken to him of Christ and it is believed that as a result this young fellow had come to believe in Christ as his Saviour.

In what strange and wonderful ways God works and draws people to Himself.

July 3

Three of the Consular staff turned up for tennis. We had some mixed and men’s doubles. It was quite like old times, but the evening was unfortunately marred by an outbreak of fairly heavy firing, seeming to come mostly from the Notre Dame vicinity. Reports that two U.N. members had been killed near the Notre Dame may have been the cause of the flare up.

July 9

Hostilities recommenced at 10 a.m., the truce having been extended two hours to enable members of the U.N. Truce Commission to beat it to safety.

There was some heavy sporadic firing throughout the day and night. A very heavy explosion in the morning was reported to be from the detonation of a mine laid in the block of buildings against the City wall just outside the Jaffa Gate. Pieces of metal fell in the Compound.

July 14

Sounds of a lot of heavy firing in the distance. Sometimes the distant “crump”, “crump” of the firing of a heavy shell could be heard, followed a few seconds later by the swish and then the noise of the explosion of the shell. Further mortars could also be heard exploding on the Old City. A plane was heard during the night, which dropped some bombs, one in the courtyard outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and another nearby, killing several persons, including at least one priest.

At about 11 p.m. a mortar fell in the Compound between the oleander bush and the Hostel, spattering the Hostel and Church and blowing in a number of Hostel and Church windows.

War diary: 'An oppressive atmosphere of evil and hate seems to be creeping over Jerusalem’ (Part II)
Israeli troops in action on Mount Zion, outside the Old City walls, October 1948.
(Courtesy of the Government Press Office, Jerusalem)

July 16

With the announcement that a cease fire had been demanded by the Security Council at Lake Success, to take effect from Saturday morning, a blitz of mortars in the Old City began at 9 p.m., and continued with only a short break of half an hour in the middle of the night until 4 a.m.

It is estimated that at least 750 mortars were fired on the Old City during the night which was more like a nightmare than anything else. Of about 20 mortars which fell in the Compound and playground behind the Hostel, the majority fortunately fell behind the Hostel. One struck the boundary wall to the south and hurled heavy stones half way across the tennis court. Another fell on the tennis courts and about a dozen just beyond the tennis court. One mortar struck the Church, doing little damage.

Soon afterwards mortars started coming over again, and what with the noise from the mortars, the shelling of the Jewish Quarter, the firing of automatic weapons and the piercing din of the explosive dum dum bullets, the accumulative crescendo was good enough for Dante’s inferno.

In order to leave no doubt about this and to make the effect complete during the rare brief lulls in the firing I distinct heard the shrill screech of a couple of cats as they shrieked invective at each other on a nearby wall.

The net result of this further week’s fighting seems to have been the capture of the towns of Nazareth, Ramleh and Lydda by the Jews.

Jones’s diary ends here, with the new State of Israel in control of west Jerusalem and Transjordan holding the eastern sector, including the Old City — a state of affairs that would continue until the Six Day War 19 years later.

He added observations at the end, thanking God for “the many signs of His care and protection” through the war.

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