Operation Hametz

Operation Hametz

Military Operation
Operation Hametz
Start Date
24 April 1948
End Date
13 May 1948
Zionist Unit(s)
Alexandroni Brigade
Kiryati Brigade
Giv'ati Brigade
Arab Unit(s)

The immediate objective of Operation Hametz was the seizure of the large Palestinian villages that lay on both sides of the railway that linked Jaffa to its Arab hinterland. The villages north of the railway were (from west to east) Salama, al-Khayriyya, Saqiya, Kafr Ana, and al-Abbasiyya (al-Yahudiyya); those that were south of the railway were Yazur, Bayt Dajan, and al-Safiriyya. The conquest of these villages was to bring about the total isolation of Jaffa—with 70,000 inhabitants the largest Palestinian city—thus ensuring its fall into Haganah hands like a "ripe plum." Thus, the ultimate objective of Operation Hametz was to take Jaffa without recourse to a frontal attack. (Hametz means “leaven” in Hebrew, and Operation Hametz was to be implemented during Passover, when the consumption of leaven is prohibited to practicing Jews.)

The implementation of Operation Hametz was complicated by a frontal attack on Jaffa that was launched by the Irgun Zvai Leumi (IZL) on 25 April. The IZL attack was aimed at separating the panhandle of Jaffa—the Manshiyya quarter—which abutted on Tel Aviv from the main part of Jaffa. Once Manshiyya had fallen, the IZL would start the assault against the rest of Jaffa. The Manshiyya offensive entailed an attack from the east across the base of the panhandle towards the sea in the west. The attack on Manshiyya was accompanied by massive and indiscriminate shelling of the residential and commercial sections of Jaffa, causing large-scale civilian panic and flight by land and sea. The IZL attack on Manshiyya met withvery determined resistance and succeeded only some 80 hours later at dawn on 29 April. Meanwhile, the British, who had colluded with the Haganah during the latter's offensive against Haifa (Operation Misparayim, 22–23 April) had decided to intervene in Jaffa against the Irgun. At the same time, exhausted by their offensive, the Irgun agreed to come under Haganah command on the Jaffa front.

On 29 April, the Haganah launched Operation Hametz. Units from three brigades, the Kiryati, Alexandroni, and Giv'ati, were involved under the command of Dan Epstein, commander of the Alexandroni Brigade. The Alexandroni units, using Kefar Azar as their base, attacked and captured the villages of Saqiya and al-Khayriyya. The Kiryati units emerging from Tel Aviv attacked Salama and the northern Jaffa suburbs of Abu Kabir and Jabalya. By nightfall the same day, Salama had fallen to units of the Kiryati and Giv'ati brigades

The Giv'ati's offensive south of the railway, launched from Miqwe Israel, was not as successful. While the brigade succeeded in capturing Yazur on or soon after 29 April, it ran into trouble at Tall al-Rish, a fortified hill between Yazur and Jaffa. Using 20 mm Hispano-Suiza artillery which had just arrived, it initially overran the hill. But a counterattack by an all-Palestinian Arab Liberation Army (ALA) "battalion" of some 250 men under the command of Michel Isa drove them out of the hill with heavy casualties. According to the History of the Haganah, Giv'ati losses were 33 killed or missing and 100 wounded. Isa and his men had arrived on the scene the day before (28 April) to try and relieve the mounting pressure on Jaffa. Isa remained in Jaffa until 10 May, making a last desperate attempt to prevent the fall of Jaffa's northern suburbs of Abu Kabir. On the same day he decided to pull out because of the tightening noose of Operation Hametz.

On 11 May the first feelers of surrender were made by the remaining Jaffa Palestinians. On 13 May Jaffa formally surrendered to the Haganah. The British left the area the following day. Since the beginning of Operation Hametz they had been escorting panic-stricken civilians from Jaffa along the main highway towards the then safe havens of Lydda and Ramla. To prevent a total blockade of Jaffa by the Haganah, they maintained a presence at parts of the village of Yazur near the road. According to the History of the Haganah, "the IZL operated during this period under Haganah command and its effective shelling of the center of Jaffa was of value to Haganah operations." The offensive against Jaffa (particularly the prolonged mortar shelling), the sight of fleeing city dwellers and the fall of the villages connecting Jaffa to the rest of the country would have cumulatively interacted with one another (as they were presumably intended to do) to undermine the morale of the residents—both of Jaffa and of the villages that were the targets of Operation Hametz.


Selected bibliography

Dinur, Ben-Zion, Yehuda Slutski, Sha'ul Avigur, Yitzchaq Ben-Tzvi, and Yisra'el Galili. Sefer Toldot ha-Haganah [The History of the Haganah]. Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1972, p. 1574 ff.,1575.

Kurzman, Dan. Genesis 1948: The First Arab-Israeli War. New York: World Press, 1970, p. 169.