Hava: Acre was in danger and many people escaped with cars, and my job was to sit on top of the watch tower in Ein HaMifratz and observe cars going out from Acre: which cars and the approximate amount. I set all day on the high tower – it was an interesting and important job. I seat with a binoculars, watched and counted.
Amaya: Why was it required to count the people?
Hava: We wanted to know approximately how many people left Acre, what was the situation, how many entered and how many left, whether there are military forces entering into Acre or people escaping. Most people did escape – wealthy people, with money and cars, escaped to Safed.
Raneen: Weren’t there people who escaped on foot?
Hava: Small numbers of people escaped on foot because they were afraid to pass through the kibbutzim, and preferred to escape by cars.
Raneen: And what about the sea?
Hava: They escaped through the sea as well, though I didn’t see that. As long as Haifa port was still held by Arabs, there was a ship sailing regularly between Haifa and Acre, and then it stopped. The British helped to occupy Acre and Haifa, they directed all fugitive residents of Haifa through the port, they scared them, I don’t know exactly what they have been told, but soon after, most of them escaped through the port, and the British positioned army units such that the easiest way to escape was through the port – and from the port they escaped to Acre and Lebanon.
Amaya: And what happened after those days you have been observing the road?
Hava: A shelling began and there were some days of battles in Acre. I don’t remember how many people were killed. Six were killed among the Israeli forces and they occupied Acre, leading to a large escape of its residents. I went into Acre which was almost empty from residents. I remember that I have seen a shocking view in one of the apartments. The door was open, we entered, and on the table we saw pita bread and coffee, probably the tenants in the house were in the middle of breakfast, and on the floor there were tiny shoes of a baby, I guess they didn’t have enough time to put his shoes on. A child needs shoes, and what if his feet are cold? I started crying and shouting: “We must find the child and bring him his shoe, who knows where the child is?” Of course there was no chance. But for me it was a shock. It was the first time I have seen and understood the situation. Till then everything was a kind of a game. Even though I observed the cars, it was a game.
Raneen: Even though you watched and counted the cars it was a game?
Hava: What did I see there? Only cars going in and out.
Raneen: And you didn’t know what happened inside Acre?
Hava: No, I didn’t know what happened in Acre, we weren’t inside. They didn’t take us there, but after Acre was occupied, we entered, the houses were empty, and there you could see all sorts of things. For example, in one yard there were hungry chickens. People escaped and of course could not feed them. We went inside and found a bag of food for the chickens and fed them. We were waiting for their return, most people thought that way, because we didn’t think such thing can happen and people escaped. We thought that war is like war, after it ends, you negotiate with the other side, and decide – they will live here and the others will live there, and each one returns to his home.
Raneen: And you didn’t hear ? Actually Acre was occupied on May 15, and before that there were villages that were expelled, and before that the Deir Yassin massacre. Did you hear about those things? Did it affect you?
Hava: There was a village next to Ein HaMifratz, a small village; I can’t remember its name. There were good and friendly relations with this village. There weren’t any problems. The commander of Ein HaMifratz came to the village residents and told them that a group of cruel and savage people are about to arrive to Ein HaMifratz and it is for their best to leave their houses, and when this group will be gone, the residents can come back. He said that to the residents of the village, and the people, in their foolishness believed him and actually left. Right after, they brought tractors into the village and destroyed the houses.
Amaya: And you saw it?
Hava: We saw it but thought it is all a temporary situation, they will surely return after escaping. Tarshiha – the last village that was occupied, through the pitiful method of throwing water bottles, because there weren’t any weapons, so they took water bottles and threw them. It made the residents scared.
Amaya: How did you deal with that? In the summer, the Upper Galilee was occupied. Then they were horror stories and massacres that took place during the war.
Hava: Usually what happened was that they blew up a mosque in a village, then people ran to the mosque, and most of them were killed in the mosque in the north, and only one child was left, he stayed alive and deaf.
Amaya: Where there other places?
Hava: There were attempts to occupy Tarshiha.
Raneen: Tarshiha was the last village that was occupied in October 30. Do you remember what happened?
Hava: Sometimes, an airplane would come to Tarshiha and throw food and water for us, we were under siege. Tarshiha is located across from Yehiam, there was a siege from all sides, they couldn’t transfer food or water then, they just threw everything from the airplane, it was a new experience to throw an iron barrel from the airplane filled with water.
Amaya: Where did they throw the barrel?
Hava: They threw it to Yehiam so we’ll have what to drink.
Raneen: And then they threw it in more places? What about Yehiam convoy?
Hava: Yehiam convoy arrived. I arrived after one of the groups that arrived sneaking to the place, the first two cars arrived, three cars went back, drove next by, stopped in kibbutz Cabry, and left the cars, and went on foot back to Nahariya, and who ever was left in the middle was killed.
Raneen: Where were you then?
Hava: I was still in Ein HaMifratz, next to kibbutz Cabri, and waited for the information, we received the news, and it was quite horrifying. Bodies arrived in a bad condition.
Amaya: What do you mean?
Hava: A barbaric act of mutilation. Actually, mutilation of dead bodies is no worse than anything else, because a body cannot sense anything anymore.
Raneen: Were there also women's bodies?
Hava: It was actually men's bodies, in Yehiam there were no women.
Raneen: How many Jews were killed in the convoy?
Hava: 38 or 39 Jews were killed in the convoy, and the last cars managed to return. This was followed by a terrible revenge. When they occupied Cabri, they caught some young men in Cabri and killed them, then put them on top of the convoy cars.
Raneen: It happened after?
Hava: It was a month after, and they put the bodies on top of the cars, it was the payment for whoever was killed in this car or the other one. I killed someone during the attack on Yehiam. It was war and I acted exactly according to the instructions. I waited until they arrived near the fence, then I shot and had tremendous luck, as he was killed on the spot. I think now, how would I have felt had he lay below my post for few hours and screamed.
Raneen: Where you alone when you shot?
Hava: I was alone in the post when I shot. There were 3 people in the post and in order to defend it, two of us would sit in a sheltered place next to the post, and only one of us would stand.
Amaya: And he was the only one?
Hava: He was trying to climb up to my post.
Raneen: And till today you don’t know who he was? Did they take him? Did they come?
Hava: Till today I have no idea who he was, I forgot to ask him, they took the body, not everyone were killed in the attack.
Amaya: And the rest of the people, were they killed during the attack?
Hava: Approximately 3-5 people were killed in each attack.
Amaya: Did you capture anyone?
Hava: No prisoners were taken from our side, or from their side. After, they took prisoners from Acre that I met after the war, which were taken. Each woman escorted 50 prisoners, like walking with a herd. Actually the prisoners could quite easily overcome us, but they told them horror stories about us so they would not try to – so they would not do anything with us, the guards. We were in Acre, from Acre to the railroad, there they would dismantle the train, and we would guard them, each one who had fever, was taken to work as a guard.
Amaya: Where did they house the prisoners?
Hava: In Acre. One time the train didn’t work and I got 50 persons and walked after them with the gun.
Raneen: Did you hear any rape stories?
Hava: I was told there was a rape story in Acre. But we didn’t see nor hear.
Amaya: What did you hear?
Hava: We heard that there was a girl who was raped and they searched who it was and couldn’t find him. But again, we were told that it happened.
Amaya: And what about looting?
Hava: Looting incidents occurred all the time. They brought us all kinds of stuff, they brought housewares, and drove with trucks and took washing machines and all kind of stuff, jewelry, if someone would bring a porcelain set, plates and cups, I would ask them to take it away, I don’t want stolen things, I won’t have anything stolen.
Amaya: When you speak about the period of prisoners in Acre, do you mean the period during the war or after?
Hava: It was two or three months after the war. I don’t remember if it was in the south, because the war still continued there.
Amaya: The military government had begun right after the war, How was it? It was very close to you.
Hava: The worst case was in Nahariya. There was a commander who lived in Nahariya. Today he is 90 years old; his name is Dov Yirmia, a commander in the army, very nice person. And there was an attempt of create a war through the telephone or something like that, or a post war. They occupied a village in the Lebanese side, they occupied it by post, and they notified them: You are occupied, though they didn’t actually occupy the territory, this is how it was occupied. They thought that the problem is quite meaningless. If Israel wouldn’t like to stay there, then that’s it. If Israel would like to stay there, then it will remain a post war. Dov Yirmia occupied the place, I don’t remember which village, it was in Lebanon. They conducted a population census. He went with a group of young people to Acre, actually they released them after; they were under imprisonment for two or three months. He left there someone by the name of Lahis, a low level officer; he left him there in the village, while he was in Acre with the prisoners. There were younger people, also adults who were allegedly arrested, and the intention was to release them immediately. And Lahis executed 30 people. Lahis returned and told his soldiers not to say anything and that no one should know or hear about that. When Dov returned, one of the soldiers told him the story, and right away Dov arrested Lahis, took him to a higher headquarters. At any cost, they tried to silence this story; they claimed it wasn’t true, as if it never happened. That is why Dov was expelled from the army.
Amaya: Because he tried to silence the incident?
Hava: Yes. Lahis got 16 years in a military trial, and right after the trial he received a personal pardon from David Ben Gurion. Also, in order that Lahis could study law at the university, they struck the crime off his record, in order that he could study law, and later on, he was sent as an Israeli representative to America.
Raneen: Do you remember what the name of the village was? Was it located after Rosh Hanikra?
Hava: On the Lebanese side, I cannot remember the name.
Amaya: When did you arrive in Yehiam?
Hava: I arrived in Yehiam in the middle of all those events, the war began, I was in Ruchama settlement during the Declaration of Independence, and we knew that we had to move.
Amaya: How old were you when you arrived to Israel?
Hava: I was 10 years old, I received my education here. I arrived in 1941, and I was in Poland in the beginning of the war, in 1939.
Amaya: You managed to escape?
Hava: We managed to escape right before, on the last second.
Amaya: Can you tell us what happened with the Haganah organization?
Hava: I joined the Haganah with the rest of my class in school. I was in ninth grade. As soon as I started high school, they recruited us to the Haganah, and that’s what we did. My mother for example didn’t understand Arabic, or Hebrew. But there were Arabs from Al-Mas'udiyya village, there is still one remainder of the village, on the corner of Dizngoff and Arlozorov street. It was a village of 10,000 people. My mother knew a greengrocer from village, who would come to our house, every weekand bring us vegetables she ordered a week before. My mother and he would sit and drink coffee. Somehow they had interesting conversations. I don’t remember difficulties or hatred. I would walk at night through Al-Mas’udiyya and there was never any danger. We would walk there day and night, at all hours, and relations were correct and friendly. I don't remember any hatred. There was even an Arab guy who joined out battalion in Hashomer Hatza'ir. We accepted him with affection and sympathy. But they were angry at us that we tried to recruit him to the Haganah.
Amaya: Why? If it was OK for Hashomer Hatza'ir, why was it wrong for the Haganah?
Hava: They understood that it is for a reason that he came to Hashomer Hatza'ir. He wanted to spy on us. We didn’t think about it, but we also didn’t think it was a disaster. In the Haganah they didn’t want him to be involved. In 1947, when the war began, we didn’t see him anymore. I can assume that in a very short while, he had to leave the place. We worked as salaried employees in the kibbutzim and the neighboring moshavim (agricultural cooperatives) in the area. We drove every day and worked in agriculture. Among others, we passed a village; I cannot remember its name, the most beautiful village I have ever seen. You could see a Roman aqueduct, a Roman water canal; everything was built by the Romans, with the village surrounding it, water and everything. And then its residents escaped, or were forced to leave, I wasn’t there when it happened, the most beautiful village I have seen. And every time, we thought that they will return in few months, and everything will return to be what it was. Every day I would pass by this village when I was on my way to work. One morning I went to through the village, and when I returned in the afternoon, the village was gone.
Amaya: In the morning it was there and in the afternoon it wasn’t?
Hava: The aqueduct was there, but the Arab houses were gone, they ruined it that very day.
Raneen: Where was the village located?
Hava: Today it is called Lohamei HaGeta’ot.
Raneen: It was Sumayriyya village, next to Nahariya.
Hava: The place was so beautiful, and the village did not exist anymore. And then, on the same day, I realized that the intention was to prevent their return. The demolition of the village shocked me and changed my point of view; from then on I knew that there was no intention to bring them back. Otherwise they wouldn’t destroy the village. I was 19 years old, even less.
Raneen: Did it happen after the occupation of Acre?
Hava: It was after the occupation of Acre. Acre’s occupation took place during the war. The war continued in other places, but in the Galilee it was over. The war still lasted in the Negev.
Raneen: Let’s go back to Acre.
Hava: While we were in Yehiam, Acre was not occupied yet, and one had to bypass or sneak through Acre. The stories were quite funny. They occupied Acre at night; Acre was occupied by mistake. I mean a mistake on their side and not on our. We had a davidka ("Little David") – an improvised mortar. The most dangerous place to stand was behind it. It wasn’t an accurate weapon. The davidka was located each time in a different place. We occupied Acre with the davidka. By sheer accident, the davidka hit Acre's water pipe on its first and only shooting. They claimed that they thought it was a nuclear weapon. It expedited Acre's surrender. We really didn’t know where the water pipe was located.
Testimony of Hava Keller 28.3.2006 at her home.
By Raneen Jerise and Amaya Galili from Zochrot.
Transcription, edditing and translation by Debby Farber 2/2012
English aditing: Amy Asher