I recently stumbled upon a photography book shot by the acclaimed Life magazine wartime photographer John Phillips. The large, innocuous-looking book was simply titled, A Will to Survive. After flipping through the pages, I realized I entered a time capsule that memorializes the Arab destruction of Jerusalem’s ancient Jewish Quarter in 1948.Not only is it a dramatic firsthand account of the fall of the Jewish Quarter in 1948, but it documents the Arab Legion’s scorched-earth tactics that razed and burned to the ground every structure there, including all its synagogues and yeshivahs. The Arabs expelled all of the city’s residents, mainly defenseless, old Orthodox Jews. They were given about an hour to vacate homes that most extended families had lived in for centuries.And there never has been a reckoning by any international body about the Arab Legion’s barbaric actions after it captured the Quarter.To get his shots in May 1948, Phillips posed undercover in Jerusalem as a British officer in the Arab Legion. He also smuggled out his photos to avoid Arab censors who were eager to keep the sacking of the Jewish Quarter secret.Phillips faced personal danger to do the shoot. He entered the Middle East undercover and wore the uniform of the Arab Legion, a British-created Arab army led by British officers, many of whom stayed on with their units to fight the Jews. “Mistaking me for a British officer, the Arab populace left me alone,” he wrote.He was appalled about the Arab censorship. “Aware that the sack of the Jewish Quarter would shock the western world, Arab authorities across the Middle East tried to prevent the news from leaking out. Jerusalem could not be mentioned under any circumstances,” he wrote.“I knew my pictures of the agony of the Jewish Quarter would end up in a censor’s wastepaper basket. I did not want this to happen and decided to smuggle them out of the Middle East.”
I found a copy of the book online. The photographs in the book are stunning.
Here is the Hurva synagogue in ruins.
A view of the destruction of the Jewish Quarter from what is now the Kotel plaza, with the Porat Yosef synagogue and yeshiva in the center.
Jews gathering for deportation in front of the destroyed Tiferet Israel synagogue.
More photos of Jews as they rush to leave - they had one hour to gather their belongings.
Here are Arabs looting the remains - including taking the Torah covers from a Sephardic synagogue, and a woman with a box of matzohs on her head.
This is what ethnic cleansing looks like.
Phillips returned in 1976 and interviewed dozens of Jews who had lived or fought in the final battle for the Old City in 1948.