War of Independence

Overwhelming Odds

One of the most inspiring stories of Israel's War of Independence is the tale of the Liberation of Tzfat.

Tzfat was seen as a military goal by both the Jews and the Arabs because of its location - on a high mountaintop with a stunning view of the entire north, and it was a location that neither side could afford to loose. In addition, for the Jewish forces, the conquest of Tzfat was considered an important psychological boost for Israel. It was an ancient Jewish city, one of the four holy cities of Judaism, and the center of Torah study in the North.

There were a number of factors that made the capture of Tzfat seem to be an unrealistic goal for the Jews. For one thing, the Jewish forces were outnumbered by more than 10 - 1. The Arab forces, buoyed by troops from Syria and Iraq, were heavily armed, while the Jewish troops were reduced to counting every bullet that they shot. Most importantly, the occupying British army was handing over the strategic high points of the city to the Arabs as they left.

There were approximately 4000 Jewish civilians living in Tzfat in 1948. Most of them were elderly or young children, and many were Orthodox Torah scholars, unfamiliar to the basic elements of self-defense. The Jewish soldiers had to contend with the question of how to defend these people while fighting the Arab forces. When the pre-State Haganah, the Jewish Defense Force, sent 35 soldiers in to bolster the few hundred Jewish soldiers who were defending Tzfat, their first job was to organize the Jewish community's civilian affairs, rationing food, setting up communications, and trying to secure as many civilians in safe quarters as possible.

The Davidka

The battles raged for months, until the spring of 1948, several days before Israel was declared a State. In late April, an artillery piece, nicknamed "The Davidka" was delivered to the Jews. They shot it off several times, but the mortars did little damage.....the main effect was the tremendous noise. However, the weather changed, and, unusually for that time of year, it began to rain. The rumor quickly spread through the Arab community that the Jews had acquired the atom bomb, and the entire Arab community left that night. With their exit, morale deteriorated among the Arab troops, and the Haganah was able to secure the city.

Several years later, a local tour guide, curious as to how the rumor of the atom bomb had spread, asked some of Tzfat's old-timers to recount the story. Several of them told him the same story.

Seems that before the Arab riots of 1929, when the Jews and Arabs used to shop together in the common marketplace, the women became friendly, and although they hadn't had contact since the riots, they remembered each other. When the hostilities broke out in the winter of 1948, they got into the habit of coming to the "no-man's land" in the evenings, when there would be a lull in the shooting, and yelling at each other. The Jewish women would yell at the Arab women in Arabic, and the Arab women would yell at the Jewish women in Yiddish.

The evening after the Davidka was shot, one of the Arab women asked "vos is dus?" to which one of the Jewish women, sarcastically, replied "we have the atom bomb". With that, the rumor spread, and what had once seemed to be impossible became a reality - the battle for Tzfat was won.