Chapter 95

American Newlyweds in Israel, 1948

American Newlyweds in Israel, 1948

For Americans Marlin and Betty Levin, their road to Jerusalem in 1948 passed through Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The two met there at a cafe one night in 1946. Marlin was a returning veteran of World War II and Betty a young Hebrew teacher who had moved to Harrisburg from New York. The couple married in June 1947 and six weeks later left the safety of Pennsylvania for Palestine. Marlin, a former member of the youth group Young Judea and Betty, active in Junior Hadassah, came from staunchly Zionist families.

Within days of arriving in Jerusalem, Marlin found a job at The Palestine Post, at that time the only English-language daily in the country. Two months later, the United Nations General Assembly vote on November 29, 1947 to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states caused joyous celebration in Palestine's Jewish community. The euphoria did not last long. The next day, to protest partition the Mufti of Jerusalem, leader of Palestine's Arab community, declared a general strike, which led to riots. From Mount Scopus, Marlin and Betty saw fires burning in Jerusalem.

As the months passed, the fighting in and around Jerusalem grew worse. Residents of the city, the Levins included, received most of their supplies from convoys that traveled up a narrow, winding road from Tel Aviv. Arabs regularly sniped at the passing convoys, threatening Jerusalem with starvation. Food and water were strictly rationed for four months.

The siege prevented transport of the major Jewish newspapers from Tel Aviv, where they were published, to Jerusalem. The Post became the only news source for Jerusalem's Jewish residents. Its survival was critical to the morale of Jews in Jerusalem. As the siege continued, most of the Post's staff joined the fighting and the staff was reduced to three or four. Marlin worked at every job from reporter to copywriter to editor. With the exception of the Sabbath, The Post stubbornly put out a new edition every day.

On February 1, 1948, Marlin was in the Post’s city room when a stolen British police pickup loaded with a half ton of TNT pulled up in front of the Post building. Five minutes later, a second car pulled up and its driver lit the fuse and drove away. Marlin had just finished the last sentence of his article at 11:00 PM when the TNT exploded. Everything went black. Marlin tore his story from the typewriter, groped for the door in the darkness, grabbed an injured proofreader and the two made it out together.

The bomb was intended to kill Post editor Gershon Agron, who was out of the building at the time. The blast killed three persons, injured dozens of others and destroyed the printing press, but The Post produced a two-pager in a small print shop nearby. Marlin's article made it into print.

The Levins had brought a two-way army surplus radio from the United States. The Haganah sent word that it needed the radio. The Levins turned the radio over and the Haganah used it so that English-speaking operatives, including Betty, could monitor transmissions by the British forces. Betty was on duty when a mine exploded in front of a convoy transporting over a hundred passengers, including doctors, nurses, administrators, patients and visitors to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus. Arab forces began firing from all sides on the stranded Jews and Haganah guards fired back. British soldiers arrived on the scene, observed the Arab attack and radioed to headquarters for orders. Betty listened as the British officer in charge informed his commander that the Jews were waving white flags as Arabs set the buses and cars on fire. The British commander responded simply, "Leave the scene," sealing the convoy passengers' fate. Seventy-seven Jews lost their lives.

Marlin also went to work for the Haganah’s intelligence service. In the U.S. Army, Marlin had attended cryptography school and learned to decode messages. He served in the cipher room at the Supreme Allied Headquarters in Versailles. In the spring of 1948, the Haganah showed Marlin a Jordanian Legion message it had intercepted. Many Legion senior officers were British soldiers who had been essentially "loaned" to the Jordanians so the code was in English. After reviewing a number of intercepted radio messages, Marlin succeeded in working out the British code key. Subsequently, Haganah radio operators were able to decipher approximately seventy messages. One described an impending attack on Neve Yaakov and Atarot, two Jewish settlements north of Jerusalem. Women and children were evacuated from the settlements in advance of the attack. Marlin’s training helped avert a catastrophe.

Today, Marlin and Betty Levin and their three children live in Jerusalem. Despite their ordeals at the founding of Israel, the Levins always believed the Jewish state would survive. They used in the Hebrew phrase embraced by most new Israelis at the time: "Yihyeh Tov" -- it will be good. According to Betty, "Only afterward, after reading Oh Jerusalem!, we realized what we had lived through."