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Israeli War of Independence: The Battle For Jerusalem

(1947 - 1948)

The Mount Zion Cable Car - “Avshalom Route”


On November 29, 1947, the United Nations approved a plan to partition the country. A day later, while Jews in Jerusalem, as in all parts of the country, were still celebrating the resolution that effectively established a Jewish state, Arab mobs attacked the Jewish commercial center near Jaffa Gate. The Haganah tried to defend the site, but the Arabs, under British protection, destroyed the center. The War of Independence had begun.

Jerusalem was totally isolated from other Jewish settlement centers in the country, surrounded by numerous Arab villages and still subject to British rule, which, though ostensibly neutral, in fact, tended to side with the Arabs. Haganah forces fought valiantly in every Jewish neighborhood and area. The Arab Legion from Transjordan, under British command, was poised on the outskirts of the city, ready to join the battle for Jerusalem.

Arab troops blocked access to Hadassah Hospital and the Hebrew University campus on Mount Scopus. On April 13, a convoy carrying doctors and supplies was ambushed and 78 Jews, including 23 women, and one British soldier, were killed.

On April 17, the Harel Brigade under the command of Yitzhak Rabin brought supplies to the besieged Jews in the Old City but the relief was shortlived as the city was cutoff three days later.

Jewish Jerusalem fought for its life for more than half a year. War raged not only all around, but deep inside. Two bombs, one at the National Institutions and the other on Ben Yehuda Street, took their toll of casualties. Jerusalem was cut off from the rest of the country, and Haganah forces had to break through in large convoys engaged in bloody battles. The siege tightened. It was time for Jerusalem's "protective belt" - the agricultural villages established on its outskirts on JNF land - to prove themselves.

Through the winter of 1948, Atarot and Neveh Yaacov in the north withstood recurrent attack. Transportation was conducted under battle and there were casualties. Upon the establishment of the State of Israel and the invasion of the Arab Legion, they could no longer hold out, and the settlements were abandoned under cover of night. Atarot and Neveh Yaacov were conquered by the Jordanians and remained under Jordanian rule until the reunification of the city in June 1967.

In the southwest, Jewish Jerusalem was defended by the small border neighborhood of Makor Haim, which faced large Arab villages, including Malha and Beit Tzafafa. Makor Haim was far from the city's other Jewish neighborhoods, and the road to it passed through Arab areas. Haganah forces took up position there, withstood attack and shelling, used it as a base for a counter-attack, and prevented infiltration from this direction. The staunch war fought by Makor Haim stands out in the annals of Jerusalem under siege.

Kibbutz Ramat Rahel stood at the southern and southwestern entrances to the city. Flanked by the neighborhoods of Talpiot and Arnona, it defended the city on the southern front against numerous Arab forces from Hebron and Bethlehem.

Upon the British departure from the city at the conclusion of the Mandate, Haganah forces captured various neighborhoods and centers in the new city. On that day, May 14, 1948, the Arab Legion, accompanied by armored corps, began to advance on Jerusalem from the north and the east, while Egyptian forces made their way up from the south, based themselves at Bethlehem, and attempted to break through to Jerusalem to join up with the Jordanian forces in the heart of the city. The Jordanians, advancing from the north, cut off access to Mt. Scopus and moved into the city. The points at which they were stopped by Haganah forces were to delineate the border between Israeli and Jordanian Jerusalem for 19 years: Mandelbaum Gate in the north and the Notre Dame Church opposite the Old City walls.

At the same time, an Egyptian armored column set out from Bethlehem to try to break through northwards. At the boundary of Jerusalem, it was stopped by the defenders at Ramat Rahel. The Egyptians shelled the kibbutz for several days, succeeding in breaking through and forcing the defenders to retreat. Palmach reinforcements were called in, and soldiers of the Fifth Brigade, together with the Ramat Rahel defenders, recaptured the kibbutz on May 22. The Egyptians in the west and south, and the Jordanians in the east, from the direction of the Judean Desert, for days shelled the city in waves, but were unsuccessful and retreated south, along the Hebron Road, in order to reinforce the areas they held in the foothills.

Ramat Rahel had stopped the assault on Jerusalem from the South.

The Mount Zion Cable Car - “Avshalom Route”

In December 1947, during the siege of the Old City of Jerusalem, two young soldiers stationed at St. John’s Eye Hospital operated a newly designed cable car, known as the “Avshalom route.” This cable car, resembling a metal coffin, was a simple metal box capable of carrying a maximum load of 250 kg. It was loaded with food and equipment and sent over to Mount Zion under the cover of darkness. Each night, the car was raised, lowered in the morning, and hidden during the day to avoid detection and targeting by Jordanian forces.

The cable car journey spanned a deep valley of 200 meters and took two minutes. It stretched over the Valley of Hinnom, connecting the Israeli post at St. John’s Hospital to the Mount Zion post. Upon arrival, the supplies were unloaded, and the car was reloaded with wounded soldiers who were then transported back for medical treatment. This operation continued nightly for six months until a truce was reached in July 1948.

The cable car’s existence remained a secret until 1973 when its inventor, Uriel Hefez, was awarded the Israel Security Prize. 

Today, a small museum dedicated to the cable car is located in the Mount Zion Hotel on Hebron Road in Jerusalem. The museum houses exhibitions and photographs from this era, providing a profound sense of history and a glimpse into the heroic times of Israel’s War of Independence.

Sources: Shmuel Even-Or Orenstein, “A Crown for Jerusalem,” JNF, 1996.
Yael Adar, “Mt. Zion Cable Car,” Gems in Israel
“The Cable Car Museum,” East Jerusalem Development.
Ruth Corman, “A Hidden Lifeline,” Jerusalem Post, (January 30, 2014).