83. ‘Operation Nachshon’ and the ‘Plan D’ of the Haganah

The battle of Deir Yassin fought on the 8th of April, 1948 changed the equations between the Palestinian Arabs and the Jews. The Arabs went from being offensive to defensive; alternately it changed the Jews from being defensive to offensive.


As the date of the British exit from Palestine (the 14th of May, 1948) neared, the battle turned more fierce. The Jews gradually became more forceful across Palestine as it became clear to them that the Palestine-departing British won’t intervene in the Arab-Jew conflict.

There were several reasons behind the Arabs losing their clout and force. The unwillingness for conflict grew among the common Arabs due to the lack of strong leadership, the deficit of faith and factionalism in the current leadership, bloody stories of the so-called Jewish savagery, a flood of rumours and many other reasons. The number of Arab leaders rejecting Hajj Amin al-Husseini as their leader increased as he distributed the weapons and other supplies sent by the Arab nations only among his supporters. This invited displeasure and anger of the other local Palestinian Arab leaders.

Besides, the fear for the Jews in the minds of ordinary Arab masses grew because of the rumours, and gradually like Deir Yassin, they started fleeing with their families and whatever belongings they could carry.

However, the Jews gradually became aggressive, and there were few reasons for it. Of course, the fresh inculcation of intense nationalism among the Jews by David Ben-Gurion and the restructuring and modernization of the Haganah made the difference. But along with it, there was another important reason– the ‘Plan D’ (also known as the ‘Plan Dalet’) of the Haganah.

This was the last of the four (A, B, C, D) plans drawn by the Haganah. Even though many debates and discussions about the real purpose of the plan took place in the later time, its main motives were –

1) To take control of the parts of Mandatory Palestine designated for the Jewish homeland in the Palestine Partition Plan by the United Nations;
2) Declare a Jewish state in the land of Palestine;
3) Defend the Jew nation and its people from the Arab militias and also the invasions of the armies of the Arab countries;
4) To take control of and protect the Jewish settlements outside of the borders of the Jewish homeland.

Israel map (1948)

Since the time it was established in 1921, the Haganah from time to time conducted numerous operations as the need be. However, the ‘Plan D’ was to be the biggest and the most organized of them all, and most agree about this fact.

The plan considered the armed Arab militias in Palestine and the forces sent by the neighbouring Arab nations on the directions of the Arab League as the ‘enemy’. The plan was prepared after much in-depth thinking and detailed the various approximations of the possible strategies and tactics the ‘enemy’ could pursue against the Jews.

The plan featured many different possibilities like –
1) The enemy capturing crucial areas like Galilee and the Negev and cutting them off from the Jewish homeland;
2) The enemy taking over the three most important cities, that of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa;
3) The enemy launching air attacks;
4) The enemy cutting-off the supply lines and disrupting the provisions of food, water, etc.

In addition to this, the plan also contained the list of various counter-measures to be taken in case the enlisted possibilities came true. Moreover, the plan also had clear directions about the steps to be taken in case the British or other international armies intervened.

Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni with his troops

Though the plan did not aim to capture the areas outside the borders of the Jewish homeland, it suggested for taking over the enemy quarters very close to the Jewish settlements, at least temporarily, so that the enemy could not use them as military bases to launch attacks against the Jewish settlements, as it happened in the case of Deir Yassin.

The actions taken before a formal start of the plan were named ‘Operation Nachshon’. Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni, an Arab fighter, participated in the Jew-Arab Civil War along with hundreds of armed Arab militiamen from Egypt. The siege of Jerusalem to starve the Jews in the city without food and water was, in fact, laid by the men under al-Husayni’s command, and the Jews till then, had not succeeded at breaking it.

Mathematics professor Michael Fekete, the Provost of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, with his water quota, during the siege

As the days went by and the food stocks in Jerusalem began declining, a ‘rationing system’ (every person had a daily quota of consumption of bread, butter, milk powder, etc.) was introduced on learning that the stocks would not last long. It was a first-of-its-kind experience for the Jews. Later, a stage came when they had to, in fact, survive on plant leaves (mallow leaves). Celebrations broke out in the neighbouring Arab nations when the news reached them as they thought that any time now, the Jews would surrender.

However, that was not to happen! The main purpose of ‘Operation Nachshon’ was to break the siege of Jerusalem laid by the men of Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni.

Arms and other war stores necessary for the operation were mobilized. However, it faced a lot of hurdles as the British had imposed a ‘curfew’ in the area in response to an operation independently carried out by the Irgun. In some way or another, the Haganah tried to overcome the hurdles. The Haganah opened and made available an airstrip at ‘Beyt Daras’ that the British had shut. Using makeshift flashlights, the airstrip was used to land a ‘DC-4’ aircraft carrying arms and ammunition from Czechoslovakia. The offloading of weapons, refueling of the airplane, everything happened within no time, and the plane even took off for its return journey. In a similar manner, the Haganah personnel secretly unloaded the weapons at the Tel Aviv Port that had come in a boat from Czechoslovakia. The secrecy was maintained by hiding the weapons in the sacks of onions and potatoes present on the boat.

A convoy bringing food and supplies to besieged Jerusalem

With their confidence boosted by the new weaponry, about 1,500 Haganah warriors participated in the ‘Operation Nachshon’carried out between the 5thandthe 20th of April, 1948. Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni died in the fierce conflict. With the killing of their commander, the Arab militiamen lost all their courage. They became directionless due to the lack of strong leadership and the balance of the conflict overturned. Following this, within fifteen days, the Haganah successfully delivered the supplies to the Jews in Jerusalem.

However, the day the British had declared as their ‘final day in Jerusalem’, the 14thof May 1948, came closer. Though the British did not favour the Jews much, their mere presence ensured that the situation did not get out of hand. However, in the regard, David Ben-Gurion felt it was necessary to doing something and that too at the earliest…. But what exactly was it? (To be continued…)

– Shulamith Penkar-Nigrekar

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