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The Conquest of an Arab Village: Yehudiye
By Joseph A. Poisson
Yehudiye was situated not far from the city of Lod, near the Ben Gurion airport. On May 3rd, 1948, I received orders to go out to battle in Yehudiye. The next day we had to report at 6.00 A.M. at our meeting place.
The small village of Yehudiye never presented any security problem in the days, prior to the war of independence. When the Arabs went out to war, it became a target for us and for the Israeli settlements around it. They presented a threat to passengers on the way to the airport. The armed villagers were turning hostile and provoked their Jewish neighbors. Once they began using their guns against us, their armed groups were dangerous to Jewish civilians.
That morning some of my friends and myself were attached, to another unit of the battle corps, as some of this unit's members were busy performing other missions. We were dressed in our usual outfit: our civil khaki. Some of us had been in the battle at Jaffa, but most have never had the experience of real battle. Most of the members were very young, and this was their first large scale military mission. Most of our units had been exclusively engaged in underground activity, that is, until the Arabs began their attacks against the Jewish settlements. Just a few hundred had the recent experience of urban fighting in the streets of Jaffa. We needed to perform some drills and exercises, to train us for field battles, but our time was limited due to the events which shaped our lives.
The mixed team was ready, a bit tense, anticipating instructions and guidance before going out to battle. That morning, two battle corps commanders, whom I had not met before, explained the situation in the field. They showed us a map of the area, indicated the points through the village that we would have to pass. The village was about three kilometers away from us; we could see its houses from a distance. The people of our intelligence corps gave us an approximation of the size of the village, the number of inhabitants as well as the number of armed people, and the kind of arms they possessed. We were supplied with arms, ammunition and some light equipment. Every unit was assigned its own target in the village.
The unit that I joined was manned with young people from Ramat-Gan and Bnei-Barak. We were positioned in the centerline of attack, in the direction of the main street in Yehudiye. We were instructed to swiftly break into the center of the village, and take hold of it. Then, we needed to storm the mosque and the local school, and secure the road going through the village.
Our mission was quite serious for a unit where most of the people had no previous experience of urban fighting, and all of us had no experience in the battlefield. We had to move a couple of kilometers in an open area, where we were totally evident, left to the mercy of the Arab rifles and machine guns.
All of the units organized and reported to their positions preparing for the attack. A few machine-guns were placed on our side, to protect us while we attacked. Minutes before the signal of attack, our machine-guns started firing heavily at the positions in the Arab village, for about 15-20 minutes. All of a sudden, with no prior notice, we heard some shouts, and saw some people running with a stretcher. We were told that one of our people behind the lines was shot in the head and instantly died. It was pretty depressing, and just moments before our attack. The bitter news did not change our plan of assault, and when the signal was given, we were all ready to attack.
Some of us ran, while others walked quickly - something had gone wrong, that morning. Our commander gave orders to stop and lie flat in the field. He knew very well that we would be easy targets for the bullets of the enemy. We had no experience in an open field battle, and the conditions were against us. He decided to stop and explain again, right there in that open field and under fire, what should be done. It was really troubling and rather horrifying to see us in that embarrassing situation.
He explained the following: we should run in zigzag, one in the front while the other covers for him in the back, about 30 meters at a time. Then lie flat and observe the area, then advance in the same manner, always in couples, one after the other. We were counted out into couples this time to reorganize for the attack. Between couples we left about 40 meters, and we were told to shoot only towards the village, in front of us, and never to the sides when we advance in an open field, so the bullets would not hit our own people. When we would get to the first houses in the village, we should apply what we have learned of urban fighting, in Jaffa, or what we were taught to do by our commanders. Following a short relief in the field, the second signal of attack was given.
I was positioned together with an old timer of the battle corps at the head of the unit, for both of us took part in the battle on Manshia/Jaffa. We had a few days of battle experience. I guess they trusted that we would be courageous, and know what to do in times of trouble. I ran first in zigzag, and then spread myself flat on the ground. My friend did the same, a couple of seconds later. We ran through almost one kilometer, one after the other, hearing the sound of shooting in our ears as we approached the village. We heard the sounds of single shots and the rattle of machine guns. As I was getting close to the village I heard my team mate shouting that he was hurt. For a moment I thought that it was an enemy bullet that got him. I crawled back to check on him. His foot slipped on a rock in the field and it seemed as if he had dislocated his left ankle. He also had some bruises and was unable to run. I was confronted with a problem: What to do? Should I stay out in the open field close to the enemy's positions exposed to their fire, or leave my friend and advance to the Arab position in front of us, to neutralize their gunfire?
I had to think fast, and be logical. If both of us stay in the open field, our fate would be one, and there would be no one to support the line of attack. I had only one choice - Without further delay I decided and acted. I calmed my friend and promised him that as soon as that position in front of us is conquered, he would be evacuated. I ran forward as fast as I could, double the distance, and when I spread myself flat on the ground it shook like in an earthquake, enemy bullets were flying around me, causing the soil around me to dance. I looked forward and could not see any of our people. I checked both sides and could not see anybody there. After a few seconds which seemed like minutes I realized that I was a few hundred meters in front of the rest of the people in the unit. We were very fast, and therefore, attracted all this fire to us.
It was the second time that I had to make a difficult decision: What to do? During those moments I did not think about myself, I thought about someone who was far from the battlefield, about my mother. Briefly, what passed through my mind was that if I were to be killed there, under the fierce enemy fire, what would my mother say? How could I distress her so, and place this burden on her soul? I could not bear to see her cry. Strange thoughts in times of peril.
Between thoughts about my mother and about the Arab enemy in front of me something told me: you have to clean the position in front of you. My common sense then asked: How can a single man conquer this structure? This is not a one-man mission. I looked back and noticed that the distance between myself and the others was still large. The situation and time pushed me to react quickly. I continued crawling, firing my sub-machine gun. I rolled over to the left, with short bursts of fire. I changed the cartridge in my sub-machine gun. All of a sudden, the Arab fire died. I had no idea why, but without thinking I ran forward and thrust a hand-grenade through one of the windows into the house that served as an enemy position. I stayed on the ground on the side of the wall for a few minutes. After the blast, there were no sounds from the inside. I waited a while longer before I crawled into the right side of the house, glanced inside through a window of one of the rooms, the room was empty. I jumped inside and crawled from room to room and out into the yard. There was nobody inside. The enemy ran for his life.
I had no time to rejoice since I needed to rush back to the field, to help pull my friend out. He was very glad to see me. Meanwhile, the others had not reached me yet. I guess I advanced very quickly and got there long before anybody else. I raised my hands up high and shouted loudly: "The Arabs are gone! The Arabs are gone!" My friends still hesitated. I returned to the village after my friend was evacuated. When I got to the center of the village, I saw an old blind Arab sitting next to one of the poor houses on a shattered bench. He was shaking all over. I felt bad for him and when I saw him crying silently. I approached him, and when he heard me, he asked for some water. I found some water in the house next door, and I helped him drink. He held the cup in shaking hands, and thanked me in Arabic. Apart from him I did not see any human being in the village, but some bodies along the way to the village. They were probably the bodies of those killed during the fire exchange between us, prior to their escape. The battle was over fast, and thank God, we did not have to fight in the streets, between the houses.
To see this miserable Arab was a depressing scene for me. I felt sad to see an old, blind person, so alone. And as for the armed gang of Arabs, it was a shame to find out that they threatened us, but they could hardly defend themselves when we attacked them. Our inexperienced units were too swift for them, and they were more worried about themselves. That eliminated their ability to defend themselves and their families and homes, let alone to fight against us. We realized now that the fire directed at us was meant to give them enough time to run away, time for retreat and escape.
I was the first one to enter Yehudiye, but I did not feel as a hero or a conqueror on that short day of battle. I did not feel the satisfaction of a victor. Actually the only satisfaction that I felt that day was to see all of my friends in the village, and to learn that they, like me, had adjusted to the new situations.
After all of the events surrounding the attack in Yehudiye, I was glad to return home the next day. It was pleasant to be back with my family. We felt good that, gradually, more and more Arab settlements would not present a threat to us, for they were unable to open fire at their Jewish neighbors. We were satisfied to know that we could do much to ease the life of people in Israel, to secure life behind the front lines, as the civilian Jewish population at that time lived very close to the front lines, meaning close to the Arab villages and neighborhoods. The Arabs in those settlements were very hostile in 1948, and never bothered to conceal their hostility towards us, and even openly supported the different gangs fighting against us.
Days went by in nerve-wracking anticipation. Those were long weeks of difficult confrontations with our Arab neighbors who turned very aggressive and tried to injure the Jews, living in cities, villages, settlements and Kibbutzim, and endanger our lives.
The Jewish settlements, who had but a few guards, needed to recruit everybody to serve in the security of the people. They recruited old and young, men and women. Unfortunately, these forces hardly had any weapons for self defense.
And what did the British authorities who were in charge at that time do? They not only denied us help for our self defense, or to save human lives, but they encouraged, supported and supplied arms and explosives to the "Arab Rescue Army." We needed to do everything by ourselves, so we learned to trust ourselves alone. This was an important element during battle, for instance, during the attack on Jaffa, Yehudiye and other raids that I took part in.
Many of the areas had mixed population. Some Kibbutzim were situated near Arab villages, and some of the cities, Jerusalem, Haifa, Tiberias, Zafed, etc. had both Arab and Jewish inhabitants.
The goal of our attacks and those of the Haganah were planned to eliminate the Arab rioters' nests and to secure our settlements. We were driven to create a new situation in the mixed cities, where there needed to be a separation between the Arab and Jewish populations. However, the separation did not work everywhere. In the old city of Jerusalem, the Trans Jordanian Legion defeated us, we were also defeated in Gush Etzion and were disconnected from the rest of the Jewish population, and that whole area was conquered by the Arab Legion. Still, in most of the places we were successful, and managed to conquer, free and secure our settlements. The rest you will have to read all about in the history books. I would like to finish by telling of the events that I took part in, during those fateful days.
The conquest of Yehudiye was the second battle with the Arabs for me. Since then, we left the mystery of underground fighting for overt fighting, with a neighbor who morphed into an enemy, armed and cruel. Our duties where somewhat different now. We were two nations who could not live together, side by side. After the decision for partition in the United Nations, the Jewish inhabitants were happy, while their Arab neighbors revolted at the thought. It was they who decided to attack us. Our natural instinct was to defend ourselves; we rediscovered the secret of the Maccabim; we discovered the power within us. The outcome was that we were not only saved when we overcame our attackers, but we changed the status quo, and our defense evolved into an attack. We learned quickly that the best defense is a good offense, especially at the time in Israel.
On the same day on which Yehudiye was conquered, other villages were conquered too. On May 4th, 1948 the battle corps members had no quiet moments: they continued to strike the Arab rioters, showing them the force of the Jewish hammer, the Irgun. Other units of the battle corps attacked the following villages: Sindiani, Bariki, Um el Shum, Hubeiza and Subrin, all of which were taken. I am not familiar with the details of battle concerning the conquest of those villages, but I do know that we put an end to the attacks on neighboring Jewish settlements.
At the same time the British continued their efforts to supply the different Arab forces around the country. They were actually responsible for pushing the inhabitants of this country into a massacre. Government employees and private agents for the Mandate authorities sent military instructors to train the armed Arab gangs, in addition to providing military supplies mostly for the Trans-Jordanian Legion. All of this accelerated their fighting against us, and their attacks against our people, along the Jordan river and in the Jerusalem area.
The Irgun adopted new strategies. Instead of hit and run, we went into difficult and challenging confrontations, it was a military and-national fight. We went out to battle in Jerusalem, our future capital, in the Ramle area, around Tel-Aviv/Jaffa, in Samaria and others. Our only goal was to ensure the existence and continuation of our lives in every spot in Israel. We had to wipe out the nest of the murderers and rioters who took refuge in the Arab settlements.
Many of the Israeli citizens had to rely on a small number of fighters to protect them, but they began to trust us. Those of us who used to be called "dissidents" by many, were now their only hope for protection. They knew full well that they were in good hands, in our protecting hands. Our fight to protect the settlements and towns in Israel spelled peace and security for them! We were responsible throughout our missions, and ready to sacrifice ourselves for their well being.
Joseph A. Poisson was born in Berlin, Germany in 1930 and immigrated with
his parents and brother a few years later as Hitler became Chancellor of
Germany. He was recruited to the Irgun at the age of 14 and fought with
them and his fellow Israelis from 1944-1948. Then, as most members of the
underground, became part of the Israeli armed forces. He attended Yeshiva
in B'nai-Brak, besides his secular education. In 1960 he moved to the
United States where he was married and has 4 children.
from the May 2003 Edition of the Jewish Magazine