Sunday, March 18, 2007

March 18, 1948: Arabs threaten Hadassah Hospital

59 years ago, in an astonishing feat of Arab projection, the Arab commander in Jerusalem threatened Hadassah Hospital, claiming that Jews there were attacking Arabs. This claim would have been dismissed as absurd if it wasn't for the fact that Hadassah itself was truly already under attack, and the British were not interested in defending her so close to their withdrawal from Palestine.

Husseini's threats proved to be true, for in April, a convoy of doctors, patients and nurses trying to reach the hospital came under attack and suffered a seven-hour massacre, ultimately killing 77 Jews including the hospital's director.

An eyewitness account of the massacre fills in some details (from the April 21, 1948 Palestine Post; in this case I OCR'd the article):
About 9.45 a.m. the ambulance In which I was travelling hit a mine, fell into a road trap, and the engine was damaged. The ambulance was a few metres behind the escort car and a few metres in front of two buses which were also damaged. The vehicles were peppered with bullets arid at 10.15 am. the first bullets penetrated the ambulance. Dr. Yassky was the first person to be wounded, some pieces of shrapnel hitting his leg. Many hundreds of shots were fired at the vehicles, some from heavy weapons, and explosions occurred nearby.

Those in the ambulance were the drivers, Dr. arid Mrs. Yassky, one wounded patient on a stretcher, the assistant matron of the hospital, and six other physicians.

Dr. Yassky sat next to the driver throughout, and opened the peephole of the ambulance from time to time to see what was going on and to report on events. His movements were quickly observed by the Arabs and it became clear that he had become a special target, because the largest concentration of bullets was directed at his part of the vehicle. He wis to move further back Into the ambulance, but refused, wishing to stay at his observation post and to encourage the driver.

At 11.15 am. the second casualty occurred In the ambulance, when Dr. Matoth, children’s physician, was also hit by shrapnel. At 12 noon Dr. Yassky reported that Arabs were approaching much nearer, and that large numbers were massing for what appeared to he the kill. At 1 p.m. Dr. Yassky said. “This looks like the end. We must say goodbye.”

A little later, a convoy of British Army cars was seen by Dr. Yassky to turn into the Ramallah Road. He shouted to them for help and waved a white handkerchief which he reported must have been clearly seen by the soldiers.

At 2 p.m. a second army convoy took the same road and again they were signalled. There was no help forthcoming.

At 2.45 p.m. more bullets penetrated the car near Dr. Yassky. and he was slightly wounded in the face. A little later he reported that one ol the buses was burning, and that Its occupants must be dead. Soon afterwards he had to report that the second bus was burning. He then said farewell to the occupants ol the ambulance and to his wife and the other passengers also began to say farewell.
Just after 3 pm., a bullet penetrated the lower part of the ambulance, apparently passing through the engine, and hit Dr. Yassky In the region of the liver. He began to bleed profusely. He asked for an Injection of morphium, which he was given. He said a final word to his wife and his staff, and to the patient on the stretcher.

The passage of time In the ambulance became blurred. One or two people actually dozed of at Intervals, and all were resigned to their death. Many made neat packages of their watches and personal belongings, which they stowed away in the ambulance, and sat awaiting their bullet. Indeed, several were impatient for this bullet to come, because on several occasions waves of Arabs had approached to within a few metres of the car. out to slaughter.

Around noon the driver of the vehicle, Zecharia. thought It was better to run for It than to sit and await butchery In the ambulance. He was killed a few moments later. Rather later, one of the physicians also thought that the slim chance of a run for safety was better than the certainty of being killed In a trap. Though wounded he got out of the car, and his run for safety was a crawl on all fours to Antonius House, which he reached to be saved by the small British unit in occupation of the building, about 20 yards from the ambulance.

At 3 p.m. two army ambulances passed by the stranded cars, help was asked for, and again was not given.

Some time during the afternoon, a number of Molotov bottles hit the ambulance, but failed to set it on fire. One of the wounded bus drivers crawled to our ambulance and was able to get into the driver’s seat. He became impatient, decided the occupants at the ambulance had no chance, crawled out again, and was killed.

All these macabre happenings took place against background of bullets, bombs. mortars, Molotov bottles and hordes of Arabs crazed with an orgy of shooting.

The ordeal lasted seven hours and then — at 4.30 p.m.. British help arrived. Once this help was extended, all occupants of the ambulance have been unanimous in declaring how helpful and considerate its manner was.

This sickening attack came about a week after the Deir Yassin incident. By almost any measure this was far, far worse - a deliberate attack on medical personnel and patients, deliberately done with no possible excuse, no warning and no provocation. Yet how many people are familiar with this massacre?

This was not the end for Hadassah Hospital in East Jerusalem yet. Arabs continued to attack the hospital itself, shelling its wards in constant bombardments. Finally, it made no more sense to keep it open.

This article is interesting in how it is an early example of how international law cannot protect people when one side disregards it. The hospital could have chosen to be protected by the Red Cross but the Geneva Conventions say that hospitals cannot be protected by armed personnel and still be protected by Geneva. Hadassah knew that Arabs would ignore the Red Cross protection and attack anyway. This resulted in armed guards who never entered the hospital itself and who did not answer Arab fire so as not to escalate the danger to the hospital.