Safed - The Key to the North in 1948
April 15, 1948
When the British officially withdrew from Safed, and from other areas throughout Palestine, the Palmach was ready. They had already infiltrated into Safed and were ready to help increase the defensive line for the Jews who were besieged in the Jewish quarter. The Arabs had already put themselves in control of the strategic points in the city including the police fortress on Mount Cana'an. This was an ancient fortress in the town. They also had a very strategically located claim to the Shalva House. In addition, the Arab population in Safed was thought to be about 12,000 while the Jewish population was only 1,700. Most of these Jews were elderly and religious.
April 28, 1948
On this day, the Hagana forces went and took over the Rosh Pinah police fortress and a neighboring army camp. Going around Mount Cana'an, the Palmach was able to occupy the villages of Birya and Ein Zeitun in the North of Safed. This created an open corridor for them that lead into the besieged Jewish quarter of Safed. Supplies were, therefore, able to be brought from this holding ground into the starving Jewish quarter of Safed.
The first Jewish attack in Safed occurred on May 6, 1948. Unfortunately, it was not successful since the Arabs brought in reinforcements and started to use artillery. Then, on the evening of May 9th, Haganah launched a mortar barrage on key sites in Safed. Plamach infantry, fighting bitterly, were able to take the citadel, Beit Shalva and the police fort. These were Safed's three most strategic and dominant buildings. On May 10th, mortars continued to hit Arab neighborhoods. As many as 10,000 Arabs fled town at this time. Among those who left was the family of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. This enabled the Jews to take control of a continuous area in the eastern and upper sections of the Galilee. The city was officially conquered by the Jewish fighting forces on May 11, 1948 and they secured the empty Arab quarters at this time.
Safed, a Jewish City
As a result of Operation Yiftach, Safed became a completely Jewish town. Today, the population of Safed numbers approximately 20,000 Jews. It has immigrants from all over the world and has an incredible artist's colony. Many of the original buildings bear the marks of the battle from 1948, and can still be visited today as a standing and living memorial to the fighting that took place there.