Haganah Seizes Haifa

April 22, 1948

As communal violence increases with the approaching departure of British troops and expected declaration of Israeli independence, the Haganah seizes Haifa, and as many as 25,000 Arabs flee the city, possibly in response to orders from the Arab Higher Committee.

Haifa, Palestine’s largest deep-water port, holds strategic importance for Jews and Arabs as a Mediterranean entry point for arms and troops. The city of 135,000 people is ethnically mixed but has a slight Jewish majority. After the Jewish Agency announces to the United Nations that a Jewish state will be established by May 16, the Jewish leadership offers a cease-fire to the Arabs with several conditions: the surrender of all weapons to the Jews, the deportation of all foreign Arab fighters, a 24-hour curfew, the handover of all Germans and Nazis working with Arab troops, freedom of movement, and Haganah oversight of the safety of all citizens. The offer is rejected, but when the British reveal their plans to pull their forces out of Haifa except for the port by April 20, the Jewish military commanders quickly plan a three-pronged attack to seize the Arab neighborhoods.

Up to half the Arab population leaves Haifa before the battle for the city, and an additional 5,000 to 15,000 flee during the fighting. The first Jewish attack takes place at the Rushmiyya Bridge to cut off fleeing Arabs fighters. Arab resistance soon crumbles, and the Haganah leads attacks on the main railway station and government offices. Arab officials release Arabs from prisons.

By the end of April 22, the Haganah secures control of the whole city except the port, which remains in British hands. Martial law soon is established in Haifa. After the fighting, 15,000 to 25,000 Arabs flee Haifa, leaving only about 4,000 Arabs in the city when Israel declares independence May 14.