|Operation Bi'ur Hametz|
|Part of 1947–1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine|
|Haganah (HISH, Palmach)||Palestinian Arabs, Arab Liberation Army|
|Moshe Carmel||Capt. Amin Bey Izz
al-Din (OC Militia)
Yunnis Naffa (Deputy)
|400 regulars, unknown number of reservists||~2000-3,500 militiamen|
The Battle of Haifa, called by the Israeli forces Operation Bi'ur Hametz (Hebrew: מבצע ביעור חמץ, "Passover Cleaning") was a Haganah operation carried out on 21–22 April 1948. The objective of the operation was the capture of the Arabic neighborhoods of Haifa and was a major event in the final stages of the civil war in Palestine, leading up to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
The city of Haifa, on the Mediterranean coast at the north-western edge of the Sharon plain, was a strategic location in Palestine. In 1948 Haifa was a mixed city with a population of 135,000, split between Jews (70,000) and Palestinian Arabs (65,000). The Arab proportion of the population had, since early 1948 started to dwindle. The main Jewish areas of the city were Hadar HaCarmel and Neve Sha'anan; with, Khalisa and Wadi Nisnas being predominantly Palestinian Arab. Haifa was the country's largest deep water port, The head of the spur line to the Hejaz railway, was the oil terminal for the Mosul/Haifa pipe line (which the Iraqi Government had closed in April) and the Consolidated Refineries oil refinery. With the capture of the port of Haifa it would be possible for the Haganah to receive supplies and armaments during the impending Arab Israeli conflict. The leadership of the Provisional Government of Israel considered it vital for the new state of Israel. Moreover Haifa was within the area allocated to a Jewish state under the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine. The civil war in Palestine escalated with the final stages of the British Mandate. British firms such as Iraq Petroleum Company and Steel Brothers, transferred their offices and employees to the Lebanon. In Jerusalem by January 1947 the British had evacuated 2,000 subjects for their own safety. In the wake of the British civil evacuation the families of well to do Arabs and many of the Arab civic leaders also decamped. It is claimed that the Arab leaders encouraged the Palestinian Arabs to leave by running away themselves; then so frightened the leaderless mass, who had stayed behind, with atrocity propaganda that it fled as well and finally, it is claimed that they prevented a truce settlement in Haifa. The refusal of the “Arab League“ to intervene had been a cause of widespread demoralisation of the Palestinian Arab population. By mid March 25,000 to 30,000 Palestinian Arabs had already evacuated from Haifa. The Haganah April offensive appeared to take the Arab Higher Committee (AHC) by surprise.
The Haifa Arab National Committee (NC) in communique number 7, 22 February, demanded of the Palestinian Arab inhabitants that they cease all shooting and return to regular work. The Palestinian Arab half of Haifa was remote from other Major Palestinian Arab centres and that contact had been cut off by the Jewish villages along the approach roads to Haifa. The Businesses and workshops had closed with no prospect of continued employment in the Jewish areas. The unemployment was rife and the cost of food had escalated.
In preparation for the total evacuation of all British forces from the mandate, the British began an evacuation of troops through the port of Haifa in early April. A voluteer Police Force had been established in preparation of handing over to the United Nations Palestine Commission as the provisional Government of Palestine.
The Arab garrison for the Palestinian Arab areas of the city was commanded by Captain Amin Izz al-Din who had been appointed by the Arab Liberation Army's (ALA) military committee on the 27 March in Damascus. Through the next month his original force of 450 was depleted by desertion until it was no longer a fighting force.
The British had previously controlled the city and maintained a buffer between the Jewish and Arab populations. On the same day as the fall of Tiberias 18 April 1948, Major-General Hugh C. Stockwell, British Commanding Officer, Northern sector, Haifa, summoned Harry Beilin, the Jewish Agency liaison officer to the British Army, to his headquarters. Stockwell informed Beilin of his intention to immediately start to evacuate the British forces from the borders and no-man's-land zones in Haifa and that the evacuation would be completed by the 20 April. The original British Government intentions had been to evacuate Palestine gradually using Haifa as the embarkation port from south to north of Palestine, to be completed by mid May. The Haganah saw this as an opportunity and quickly prepared a plan for a 3-pronged attack on the Arab neighborhoods of Wadi Nisnas, Wadi Salib and Khalisa.
The German Colony at Waldheim and Bethlehem had been confined until 18 April 1948 when Haganah forces attacked the area killing two un-armed internees and wounding 4 others and occupying the German Colony, the internees then requested evacuation to Australia. The 270-300 internees were evacuated to Egypt on the 20 April for transit to Australia as a matter of urgency. The remaining 50 Templers emigrated after the establishment of the State of Israel.
On the 20 April Captain Amin Bey Izz al-Din and Beilin were summoned to the British HQ and were advised of the British intention to withdraw as per the previous meeting where only Beilin and Stockwell had attended on the 18 April. Izz al-Din promptly left for Damascus to report to the Military Committee of the ALA and handed over command to Yunnis Naffa, a Palestinian sanitary engineer. The departure of Izz al-Din led to demoralisation and on 21 April prominent members of the Haifa NC (Hakim Khalil and Ahmad Bay Khalil) evacuated.
The sudden British deployment caused the Carmeli commanders to re-work the details of the operation (previously a plan called Operation Misparayim or Operation Scissors) and the re-worked plan was named Mivtza Bi'ur Hametz (Operation Passover Cleaning).
The Haganah's force consisted of 5 companies from the Field Corps, one Palmach company, as well as a contingent of the Guard Corps. The Jewish forces attacked Wadi Salib and Wadi Nisnas from Hadar HaCarmel, while the bulk of the attack on Khalisa came from Neve Sha'anan. The Arab headquarters were in the center of the city, near the port and the railway depot.
Commenting on the use of 'psychological warfare broadcasts' and military tactics in Haifa, Benny Morris writes:
Throughout the Haganah made effective use of Arabic language broadcasts and loudspeaker vans. Haganah Radio announced that 'the day of judgement had arrived' and called on inhabitants to 'kick out the foreign criminals' and to 'move away from every house and street, from every neighbourhood occupied by foreign criminals'. The Haganah broadcasts called on the populace to 'evacuate the women, the children and the old immediately, and send them to a safe haven'... Jewish tactics in the battle were designed to stun and quickly overpower opposition; demoralisation was a primary aim. It was deemed just as important to the outcome as the physical destruction of the Arab units. The mortar barrages and the psychological warfare broadcasts and announcements, and the tactics employed by the infantry companies, advancing from house to house, were all geared to this goal. The orders of Carmeli's 22nd Battalion were 'to kill every [adult male] Arab encountered' and to set alight with fire-bombs 'all objectives that can be set alight. I am sending you posters in Arabic; disperse on route'.
John Kimche also describes the "psychological blitz on Arab quarters" until "the Arab nerve broke and the flight from the town assumed panic proportions".
The first attack was on the Rushmiyya Bridge area cutting the Arab areas off. Prior to the main thrust from the higher ground, of the Jewish neighbourhood, Hadar HaCarmel, the Arab Muslim neighborhhod of Khalisa came under mortar shell bombardment. The 3,500-5,000 Arab irregulars could not mount a real defense. The following day the Arab National Committee of Haifa were prepared to ask for a truce via Stockwell. Stockwell agreed to meet with the Israelis, and returned 15 minutes later; however, the terms proposed by the Haganah -- complete disarmament, surrender of weapons, and a curfew -- were not accepted by the Arab leadership.
That afternoon, a meeting was held in the town hall to discuss terms of the truce. Due to the inability of the National Committee (Haifa) to guarantee that no incidents would occur, the Arab delegation declared their inability to endorse the proposed truce and requested protection for the evacuation of Haifa's Palestinian Arab citizens. It was noted by The Times that the Haganah had made use of Arabic language broadcasts using Haganah Radio and loudspeaker vans calling on the inhabitants to 'kick out the foreign criminals'. Similarly the Haganah had broadcast that the Palestinian Arab population should 'evacuate the women, the children and the old immediately and sent them to a safe haven'.
By the April 22, 1948 the British were only in control of the Haifa port area. The rest of the city was in the hands of the Carmeli Brigade of the Haganah, commanded by Moshe Carmel.
The banner headlines of the Palestine Post on April 23 1948 announced "Haifa Pivotal Points fall to Haganah forces in 30 hour battle"... the report continued that Haganah crushed all resistance, occupied many major buildings forcing thousands of Arabs to flee by the only open route-the sea". The report was written up on the 21 April but not printed until the 30 April, presumedly for security reasons.
On the 23 April Moshe Carmel declared Martial Law in the town. On the same day units from the Irgun moved into parts of downtown Haifa. Two days later the Haganah forced them to withdraw in a confrontation that resulted in some Irgun casualties.
15,000 civilians were evacuated from Haifa during 21-22 April. Leaving some 30-45,000 non-Jewish citizens.  By mid-May 4000 Palestinian Arabs remained in Haifa. These were concentrated in Wadi Nisnas and Wadi Salib whilst the systematic destruction of Arab housing in certain areas, which had been planned before the War, was implemented by Haifa's Technical and Urban Development departments in cooperation with the IDF's city commander Ya'akov Lublini.
"general situation Palestine deteriorating rapidly stop government departments closing daily stop and normal activities country coming to a stand still stop the Jewish agency is action as a general organizing body for Jewish areas and attempting to replace suspended governmental activities stop Arab areas are depending on municipal authorities within townships and villages without any central authority stop telegraph facilities ceased in most areas as have telephone trunk lines stop telephones still work locally but with decreasing efficiency stop Lydda airport is out of operation and regular air communication and airmail service in and out of country have stopped stop intensity of fighting is increasing steadily stop camps and other important areas vacated by British forces immediately become battle grounds stop operations on larger and more important scale than Haifa expected shortly stop rumors tending to increase the nervous tension in the county.