Remembering the Massacre of the Hadassah Convoy April 13, 1948
Dr. Alex Grobman
During World War II, the staff of Hadassah Hospital played a significant role in helping Allied military forces throughout the Middle East. They offered weekly lectures and meetings to British medical personnel that acquainted them with regional medical issues including blood diseases, jaundice, dysentery, anemia and high blood pressure. Courses were also given on how to deal with infestations of sand-flies, worms, poisonous snakes, mosquitoes and other disease carrying insects.
The Hebrew University’s Department of Bacteriology and Hygiene provided anti-typhus and anti-dysentery vaccines. The Zoology Department’s research on relapsing cave fever taught the British army to avoid encampments near caves.
Malaria was a major debilitating threat to Allied forces. As a result, the British Army established ten anti-malaria units that were sent to Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, India, Burma, Greece and Italy in advance of their troops. Four of these units were under the command of Jewish malaria experts, who pioneered the use of aerial use of pesticides to kill nests of mosquitoes. Medical expertise was provided by the Parasitology Department.
While Hadassah and Hebrew University were assisting the British, Arabs led by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el-Husseini, were fighting a guerrilla war against the British and Jews. In late 1941, as a refugee in Berlin, the Mufti used radio broadcasts to urge Arabs to become fifth columns in the lands where they lived and to commit sabotage and to murder Allied troops and Jews.
His spies provided the Nazis with information about British troop movements. His reports also described successful acts of sabotage in the Middle East by many of his agents. They cut water pipes and fuel and telephone lines, and destroyed bridges and blew up railroads. He organized an Axis-Arab Legion, the Arabisches Freiheitskorps, who wore German uniforms with “Free Arabia,” patches. They were part of the German army, and were responsible for protecting the Nazi communication system in Macedonia and for hunting down American and British paratroopers who landed in Yugoslavia.
Once the partition of Palestine was approved by the United Nations on November 29, 1947, the violence against the Jews intensified. The equivalent of a Red Cross medical convoy comprised of non-combatants including doctors, nurses and university faculty and students was ambushed by Arabs in the Sheikh Jarrah section of Jerusalem. Although The British High Commissioner and the British Secretary of State personally gave their assurances that these convoys would be protected by British troops and police, seventy-eight Jews were murdered.
The attack, which lasted seven hours, began at 9:30 a.m. and took place less than 600 feet from the British military post. The British watched from the sidelines. Jewish appeals for help were ignored until mid-afternoon. But by then the Jews had either been burned alive in buses or shot. There were 28 survivors, only eight had no injuries.
Among the dead were the founders of the new faculty of medicine, a physicist, a philologist, a cancer researcher, the head of the university’s department of psychology, and an authority on Jewish law. A doctor who waited four years to marry the nurse he loved was killed when he went to say good bye to his patients before leaving on his honeymoon.
One victim, a doctor, treated the Arab peasants in the village of Isawiye on Mount Scopus two weeks prior to the attack. Yet Arabs claimed that the ambush was a heroic act, and the British had no business intervening even at the last-minute: They did not want a single Jewish passenger to remain alive.
Thousands of furious Jews attended the funeral and lined the streets of the procession. British indifference was responsible for this loss of life. The British Army dismissed the ambush as retaliation for an Irgun attack on the Arab village of Deir Yassin. Official Arab response was that they had heard that Jewish gangs were assembled near Hadassah Hospital and Hebrew University. R.M.Graves, the British appointed Chairman of the Jerusalem Municipal Commission, said “…the Arabs do not realize that the killing of doctors, nurses and university teachers was a dastardly outrage.”
Despite this sad and bloody piece of history, Hadassah has endured through hundreds of terrorist attacks and always has been there for the health of Jews and Arabs in the region.
Dr. Grobman is a historian with an MA and Ph.D. from the Hebrew University. He is the author of Nations United: How The UN Undermines Israel and the West. His latest book is on the legitimacy of Israel.
“Fortnightly Intelligence Newsletter” Number 66. (April 21, 1948), National British Archives; Philip Graves, Palestine, the Land of Three Faiths (London: Jonathan Cape, 1923); Rivka Ashbel, As Much As We Could Do (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press of The Hebrew University, 1989). Dov Joseph, The Faithful City: The Siege of Jerusalem 1948 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960). Harry Levin, Jerusalem Embattled: A Diary of the City Under Siege (London: Cassell, 1997).