General Articles

My Home Is in Jerusalem

Here’s housekeeping under fire —riflemen on the roof, snipers’ bullets in the garden and feeding baby with a Colt on your hip

MOLLY LYONS BAR-DAVID July 1 1948
General Articles

My Home Is in Jerusalem

Here’s housekeeping under fire —riflemen on the roof, snipers’ bullets in the garden and feeding baby with a Colt on your hip

MOLLY LYONS BAR-DAVID July 1 1948

My Home Is in Jerusalem

General Articles

SECOND OF TWO ARTICLES

Here’s housekeeping under fire —riflemen on the roof, snipers’ bullets in the garden and feeding baby with a Colt on your hip

MOLLY LYONS BAR-DAVID

Editor's note: This is a story from heyond the battle lines of Israel. As this issue went to jwess, Maclean's was still trying to re-establish contact with Molly Bar-David, the girl from Saskatchewan who had chosen to make a home and raise a family in cm butt ltd Jerusalem. (hierilia fighting had giivn place to

full-scale war and her fate was uncertain. But she herself had written: “If we Bar-Davids are still (dice when you read this, we will still be praying and if necessary fighting for the Jewish National Home."

JERUSALEM In 1946 I had been 10 years away from my girlhood home in Tisdale, Sask. Palestine, where I had come with such high hopes to help my people restore the Land of Israel, now looked like a land under siege. The air was foul with the spirit of vengeance. The two Jewish terrorist organizations, Irgun Zvai Leurni and the Stern Gang, had embarked on a program of retaliation against the British, a program of bombings, kidnappings and murder. The British were seizing and hanging the terrorists they could catch and

intercepting and interning the shiploads of Jews who had fled Eurojie to the Promised Land.

Jerusalem became a fortress. The city was divided into security zones, divided by barbed wire. Just before zoning went into effect we Bar-Davids moved into a house in the isolated Jewish suburb of Arnona OIL the very outskirts of the city.

There were five in our family: my husband, Jaap Bar-David, a Dutch Jew whom I had met and married after coming to Palest ine, myself and t hree small children. My husband and I ran a literary agency on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem. Before that I had worked in a Jewish agricultural settlement (where I had been initiated into Haganah, the Jewish defense organization, and taught the use of firearms), at the military staff college at Acre and at the British Army headquarters in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, later blown up by terrorists with the loss of 91 lives.

I liad become accustomed to being under Arab (ire; within weeks of my arrival in Palestine our settlement had been attacked. But at the time we moved to Arnona the Arabs were unusually quiet. Gangs sometimes lay in wait for the bus that took us fo (he centre of Jerusalem, hut for the most part the

strife was between the British and the Jews

Into this atmosphere stepped the United NationSpecial Committee on Palestine. The British hat put the Palestine problem before UN and we Jew were encouraged by the words of support we’t heard from the conference hall at Lake Success.

When the UN committee came to Palestine ; heard from a newspaperman that the delegates wen leading a lonely life, sitting at Kadimah House twirling their thumbs with no place to go night afte night. Itwas terrifically hot weal her; the Commissio; were traveling in the sizzling sun at a niaratho¡ rate, visiting far too many places and having t listen to far too many speeches. Quite impulsively therefore, I wrote a note to Mr. Justice I. C. Rami t he Canadian delegate, and invited him to week en at our home which was set on a hill with cool winds plenty of lemonade and shady trees, and no speeches I thought, ton, that he would see for himself tin simple life o: our suburb and how we lived in amic and close c ontact with our Arab neighbors who canito visit each day.

I was rather surprised that I had no reply to nr note and when I later met Just ice Rand at a cockta party at the home of Bernard Joseph, a Canadia: lawyer settled in Jerusalem, I was even mor astonished to find that Justice Rand had nevereceived it in the mail. I happened to mention th. to Bernard Joseph who said the same had bee: true of his invitation, but t hat he had had occasio: to meet Justice Rand in any case. The sam turned out to be true with other delegates.

One Day of Hope

THE UN committee recommended the establish ment of Jewish and Arab States through tb partition of Palestine. This, in effect, confirme what had already been taking place. The Jews, th committee said, should be given one eighth of th land area originally promised to them under th British Mandate. Jerusalem was not to be in ft Jewish State. But this solution would give us thright to determine our own lives and the possibility of saving our people and building ou future. We rejoiced. For one whole day I saw ever Jew smilingthink of it Jews smiling after > many years of hell.

It was rapture that we shared. British polio came in for drinks; my Arab maid kissed me, r. Arab landlady came to bless me. An old Ara colleague from the Government phoned to co: gratulate us. British soldiers danced in the streel with our youth; children hoisted the Jewish flag on British tanks and were driven about town : them, singing and cheering, cheering and singing.

It lasted one day. Then the killing began.

As I write this, four months have passed sine that single day of rejoicing, when for a moment a the world was of better heart.

Mr. and Mrs. Fraser Shaw of Tisdale passthrough Jerusalem on their way to Ethiopia oi that day. It was still possible for them to come M see us, buses running out to our suburb every lj minutes. On their way back to town, Mrs. Sha’ and I seated her baby between us, for our bus were already being stoned as we passed throug Bakaa, an Arab district of Jerusalem.

There are some things one never believe; Atrocity stories creep up like ugly vampires to sue our calm in every war, and always, after a war. discard them from our minds as unbelievable. B'now I know atrocity stories are true. I know froü what touches my own life. I know it because n\ friend Yaaeov, who was a Continued on page*

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My Home Is in Jerusalem

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counselor in a school for maladjusted children, was one of 35 boys who were mutilated, dismembered, disemboweled, hacked to death. I did not believe it until I saw a photograph and recognized his face.

I know a woman, Airs. Friedman, who was dragged by Arabs out of her beauty parlor, taken down a side street and not killed—but blinded.

Burying the Jewish dead in the traditional site on the Mount of Olives had to be abandoned because every funeral became a target for Arab attack. Mass funerals were held as the trip could not often be made and sometimes the dead lay unburied for 10 days in subtropical heat. I attended a funeral of a friend and during the ritual a gravedigger was shot by snipers.

The British gave us Jews no help we considered worthy of the name. But they continued to arm Arab states, while we were sure that these arms eventually would be used in Palestine. In many cases, as events have shown since, we were right.

Our Arab Neighbors

Our house was the last one in the city, alone on a hill overlooking the Dead Sea miles ahead, with the beige Arab village of Sur Bahir clinging to the hillside across. Down at our feet in the valley was a cluster of Arab houses and tents. In one of them lived a witch who looked the part, so filthy that I would not even have her help with the gardening lest her dress or hands touch the flowers or fruit. Ina cave lived Hadji, a holy woman who has been to Mecca. She was a beggar, almost blind, left to starve by those who nonetheless respected her for having made the pilgrimage. Hadji scrubbed for me at times and when I gave her an egg she sold it to save for another visit to Mecca.

Abu Said and his family in a tent were the most modern and certainly the richest of our neighbors. His children went to school. His daughters used nail polish and wore the coat and veil of the townswoman, but when they visited us they raised their veils and talked with scorn of the ordinary fellahin — the peasants. They have sold land to the Jews, built and rented houses to the Jews, grown fat on the Jews and long in their own way to be like the Jews. Or at least as modern as the modern Arabs. Yet they have not gone far enough to be as corrupt in soul as the veteran townsman; Abu Said lived in a tent because it was on a piece of land whose ownership he was contesting and so he wished to add squatter’s rights to his claim. My daughter, then six, spent hours a day at Abu Said’s; their stories of spirits, snakes and talismans charmed her boundlessly. Once I gave the old man a Canadian magazine to look at and his blushes upset me for a long time; burlesque could not have knocked him over more.

Three days after Jewish Freedom Day, Abu Said offered to bring us our mail, it being too dangerous for Jews to go to the post office in the heart of an Arab district. Three days later we offered Abu Said bread; he did not care to go to the Jewish shop—the only one m the area. Arab spies were already everywhere. Two weeks later we advised our Arab neighbors to move out; we were being attacked from the Arab Government College by the Arab Legion guarding the High Commissioner’s and our return fire was exceedingly likely to strike their homes. The women continued to visit us from Sur

Bahir when they were moved there, though the Haganah was stationed on our roof and leaned over to watch us as we talked. “We know we are safe,” Nadiya would say. “The Haganah won’t harm women.” But eventually these visits stopped too, for the Haganah broke into the Arab houses at Sur Bahir to make sure they had not been prepared as assault points. They had been-—sandbagging and all.

Bullets Like Hailstones

Our lone and lovely house became lonelier than ever with nothing between us and Sur Bahir but no man’s land. The children, who had once played happily all around the house, were now limited to only one “safe” side, where I could keep an eye on them and snatch them quickly indoors. The hundreds of seedlings which I had planted began to blossom profusely, but I dared not go across the garden to pick an armful of stocks.

We had an inner room, tiny and windowless, but with indirect ventilation, where we sat when the battles were on. Our Airedale, Peter, would shiver and shake with every crack of a bullet against our walls and look at me with his huge eyes, pleading for mercy. Baby learned to say, “Shooting, shoot ing,” before she knew a dozen words. My three-year-old played “hand grenade,” “mortar,” “rifle” or “revolver.” My seven-year-old complained bitterly that she wanted to go into her room for her crayons or dolls. Sometimes, to quiet her, I would crawl on my hands and knees to fetch the things she wanted.

Bullets dropped around the house like hailstones. They dented our front steel door so that on the inside it looked as if it had broken out in boils. Our front-room wall was riddled with bullets, our drapes full of bullet snags.

At first, we had guards only at night and so I was given an automatic Colt which 1 wore on a belt all day long. Fancy putting baby to bed and washing dishes with a gun in a holster at your hip.

Bit by bit our house took on the quality of a fort. Trenches were dug all round it, sandbag walls protected vulnerable spots. A powerful searchlight topped the roof, telephone and radio communication were set up. I got to see and know many of t he lads who make up our units. One Haganah platoon which was temporarily stationed in the building used to play with my children and run errands for me. All but two of them were burnt to death when their vehicle was set on fire in March as they were taking food supplies to Hartuv, an outlying Jewish village near Jerusalem. Only Eliezer and Dov are left of the lot; saved by miracle and now terribly alone.

In the dozens of times we were attacked, we only once received help from the police. Our guns silenced when they arrived; we did not want to have our weapons confiscated. But next day, in any case, they came to search a neighboring post, found our arms and arrested 14 of our men. We had never fired a first shot. On the contrary, I’ve often gone up on the roof when the shooting at us was hot and asked to take just one crack. It was never allowed.

The Colt did something to me. I remember telling Mayor Van Blarieum back in Tisdale how the very sight of a rifle distressed me. I loved my Colt. It could do something for my children which I was unable to do—stop a killer. Today every Arab bootblack has a gun and I know what being “trigger happy” is. But to me my gun reinforced my elemental right to live, to save my babies and defend my home.

For this, in the eyes of the law, I was a criminal.

Whenever the shooting got rough in Arnona, the children at school would lie down on their stomachs, draw pictures or listen to a story. Kindly neighbors would feed and care for them until our armored bus would take each child to its mother. The classes dwindled from 20 pupils to about six. On one occasion my children could not come home for four days because we were continuously attacked and it was too hazardous for children to cross the field to our door. The Haganah brought supplies for baby and me and I kept preparing coffee for the boys and my husband who were defending on the roof.

War on the Roads

Then, one night, a terrific crash made our house shake like a leaf. We went out to see what it was, yelped for joy as we saw that it was the Beit Safafa mill which had served as a base for Arab attacks and returned to bed. An hour later I began fainting like a genteel lady in a Victorian drama. It was a mild shock, the doctor said, hut the? fact that he had come at night caused a furore among the womenfolk of our suburb. At dawn the procession of kind ladies began. They took over my children, my household chores, even mending and laundering and cooking, as womenfolk have always done in pioneering lands and as they always did on Saskatchewan homesteads. Sometimes they had to duck and walk along the wall to get safely into our house with their broth or stew, hut they came, nonetheless.

After that, however, the Haganah decided we ought to move out and they put us into a charming cottage with the other suburban dwellers about us, where the children could safely play in the hack yard, though bullets struck the front of the cottage and we were sniped at if we went into the front garden.

Though our village was surrounded by Arabs and we were often attacked from four sides at once, we felt secure enough, for reasons good enough. Units of all kinds passed through our suburb and I learned to know the spirit of the Haganah at close hand. They are youngsters who are happy, having grown uj) in a land where they are free of imposed complexes and all the involved thinking of the Jew in alien countries. Though they are unusually carefree, they measure the value of their own lives in terms of six million Jews killed by Hitler and they fight not so much for their own freedom as for t he right of Hitler’s remnant to live. For all of that their talk is soldiers’ talk: about operations and guns and girls. For there are girls in this army, girls who escort convoys, girls who stand with Sten guns at the peepholes in our armored buses.

People in town were amazed that we stayed on in the outskirts with three small children. They were apparently unaware that practically everyone remained with their children and those who did leave were miserable about doing so but left without a choice. It was a fact that up to this time not a single Jewish quarter or settlement in all of Palestine had been abandoned, while the reverse was true of Arab quarters and villages where a single raid was enough to pack a whole ; district off. in Jerusalem, Romema and Lifta—once purely Arab—had become pure Jewish districts. It was estimated that about 10.000 Arabs had left Jerusalem.

So we clung to our homes and to our suburbs.

But one t hing did try us, sorely too.

If Jews had not been beaten on any

battlefield, or had to retreat from any point, then they had been hard-hit on the roads, very hard indeed. We had set up our colonies and built our suburbs in Palestine wit hout thought of war, for war was not in our hearts. We are accused by the Arabs of invading Palestine, hut if that were true we should have planned our settlements strategically, with bases to fall back upon with routes that could be kept open with reasonable effort. But we had come home, and so Kfar Etzion is isolated in the Hebron Hills, Kfar Szold is alone on the northern frontier, Naharia is an oasis in a broad desert and our Arnona, a tiny suburb, could he reached by only two routes. One, through the British security zone, was forbidden to us though Arab buses plied it to pick up terrorist gangs who could shoot at us more conveniently from the other side of the zone. The other route, through Abu Tor, was hazardous. Rut we made it, sometimes shooting our way through, sometimes landing on asyet-ineffieient mines (but a group of police deserters at Ramallah had begun teaching the game to Arab greenhorns) and mostly getting through without mishap.

The trip was exciting at all times. We traveled in a convoy of armored buses and supplies went with us in armored trucks. A Haganah escort unit came along and in each of our buses were hoys and girls with rifles and Sten guns and hand grenades to supplement the considerably more vicious weapons of the escort unit. We passed Arabs on our way whom, if we wished, we could have mowed down as they would us, hut never was anything hut answering fire given. We sat on low benches in our buses, laughing, joking, talking and t hen falling silent for the two very tense

[moments when we passed Government 'printing Press and St. John’s Opthalmic Hospital. For it was here, curiously enough—where we bordered a security zone and where the British establishments were armed to the teeththat we met practically all our attacks. It happened so many times that, Anglophile that I consider myself, I too must admit that the police and soldiers allowed it to happen.

Once when an antitank bullet penetrated our bus and killed a passenger and another lay wounded on the floor, the police stopped our vehicle. We were grateful, being sure it was to render aid to the wounded. Instead the Tommy shouted: “Why the hell did you shoot first?” We were not even armed. After that we took arms along.

Convoys came later, when land mines became the fad—in front of the Government Printing Press! It takes time to lay a mine in an asphalt road.

In mid-March this year Ben Yehuda Street was blown up, taking a toll of about a hundred, striking at sleeping families. This time there were dozens of witnesses to the outrage. All of them described the men who parked a truck and escaped before it exploded as Britons. The Arab commander of the Jerusalem area declared that the deed had been done by “brave men” and this was seized by the authorities as a confession of Arab guilt, though the Arab Higher Executive denied it. A circular was then received by leading institutions and consulates, signed by the Palestine branch of Mosley Fascists, claiming credit for the deed and stating that Jewish women and children, old and young, would be annihilated and that Hitler’s job would be completed by them.

The Jewish community investigated and learned what vehicles had been used and who had been in charge of some of them before both the men and cars disappeared. The Stern gang put up posters of two of the perpetrators—both British deserters. One of them was killed a few days later in Nablus, where he was serving with the Arabs. The other was caught in Arab dress, with two more British police deserters. They were secretly tried on board a warship and sentenced to prison.

The literary agency my husband and 1 operated was among the offices utterly destroyed in Ben Yehuda Street. For days before friends had been coaxing us to move from Arnona into our office, which was a spacious penthouse. Had we done so this story would never have been written.

I have often thought that it would be tragic to stand in the ashes of a thing one built, but strangely enough our loss left us quite unfeeling. Property did not count a damn when whole families had been wiped out.

“We Stand Alone”

Our bombed-out premises, the mobilization of our staff, and our difficulty of commuting to town daily-—and then by waiting for three and five hours for a bus— forced us to move to the city. Though our neighbors in Arnona saw our need and advised us to leave, we were plagued with the terrible feeling of deserting. To alleviate this, we chose to live in a mixed district where every Jewish family counted in the strength of the quarter. To use the words of our neighbors, “The BarDavids have jumped from the frying pan into the fire.”

Life in the city was certainly not less hazardous than in the outlying districts. I was in the Jewish Agency Building before it was bombed and spoke to a man who was killed five minutes later bv falling debris. I saw a man shot dead a few paces ahead of me on Princess Mary Avenue by snipers from Mamillah Road. Jews and Arabs lived so close that “the enemy” could be seen face to face.

The road peril lies not only toward the suburbs. Jerusalem is isolated too, for the one road we can use to Tel-Aviv (it now takes 15 hours instead of one hour) has been mined and road blocks cemented. For 10 days no food has come into Jewish Jerusalem. Yesterday we captured Castel, so that now we have milk and eggs from our nearest settlement for invalids and tiny babies. The rest of us are living on stocks and thistles from the fields. The shops are quite bare—a strange sight indeed. Yet morale is good and spirits not downcast.

We now know that we stand alone. Britein was greatest, in the moment when she stood alone in the war. Her greatness then quickened the hearts of men and stirred the conscience of nations and they came to her and won. Had they not done so, the whole world would have been lost.

We stand alone. And if we go down the world will go down with us because our fate is the test of the United Nations and the peace of the world.

We are of good faith in the better day. So much has come true that was prophesied for Palestine. I take the Bible and read and what is written for the latter days is now happening. If we are then the people chosen as the instruments of a divine plan, and the land given to us as the vessel of divine purpose, we may live in happiness, for nothing will be in vain: not persecution, nor shame, nor suffering, nor death. ★