On December 30, 1947, a month after the dramatic vote by the United Nations to partition British Mandatory Palestine and establish both a Jewish and an Arab state, Haaretz published a worrying news report announcing a new British policy.
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“The use of taxicabs owned by Jews is banned in Jerusalem,” ran the headline in Haaretz, quoting the press release issued by the British military commander in Jerusalem. He banned Jewish-owned cabs from using any of the roads within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, under the authority of the 1945 emergency defense regulations. The ban went into effect that same day and was to last until further orders were issued.
The second half of the announcement provided details about why this discriminatory order was issued. The British claimed that Jews had used taxis in December to carry out deadly attacks against Arabs, citing attacks on December 13 and 29, which killed “innocent citizens and policemen.”
Jewish terror against Arabs? Looking at a number of editions of Haaretz in the months before the founding of the State of Israel shows that this was a rather common occurrence, carried out in response to the murderous terror attacks by Arabs against Jews.
Haaretz’s archives also reveal that the Etzel, the pre-state underground militia led by Menachem Begin, had carried out such retaliation attacks from the day it was founded in 1937, during the period of the Great Arab Revolt. The Etzel carried out attacks on Arabs, originally in retaliation for the murder of Jews by Arabs – and indeed used taxis to carry out attacks in 1947.
For example, in an article on the attack carried out on December 29, 1947, with the headline: “17 Arabs killed in explosion by Damascus Gate,” Haaretz reported on a “deadly attack” carried out next to the Old City of Jerusalem in which “Etzel members threw a bomb near Damascus Gate and as a result 17 Arabs and two British were killed and over 50 Arabs were injured.” The bomb was thrown from a “taxicab at 12:00 and it was said Etzel members carried out the attack,” said the Haaretz story.
Another headline from the same period told of “5 Arabs killed in a Lehi attack in the area of Romema-Lifta.” The report told how at 11 A.M. a small group of Jewish youths, members of the pre-state Lehi underground, also known as the Stern Gang, came to a square in the Romema neighborhood in northwest Jerusalem and “took up positions and opened fire on the gasoline station there.” At the same time, a group of Jewish youths “entered the Lifta Café, owned by Mohammed Salah, and threw hand grenades. A number of Arabs there were seriously injured.”
Haaretz reported the same day about a failed attack by Jews: “On the beach in Jaffa another attempt was made by Etzel members to come on shore from boats to throw bombs at an Arab café near Hassan Bek Street.”
These articles document events that took place in the violent days after the UN partition vote on November 29, 1947. Arabs and Jews attacked each other frequently during that period. Some historians call this a “civil war.” The newspapers were filled with endless numbers of articles on attacks by Arabs on Jews.
The British ban on Jewish-owned taxis in Jerusalem did not stop the bloodshed. On December 30, the day the ban went into effect, Etzel members killed six Arab workers in the Haifa Bay area. Immediately afterward, 39 Jewish laborers were killed by Arabs. Later in retaliation attacks by the Palmach on neighborhoods where some of the participants in the massacres lived, dozens of Arabs were killed.