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Dov Joseph

Dov Joseph, a lawyer from Canada, was appointed by the Zionist Jewish Agency to supervise the rationing of food in Jerusalem during the siege by Abdul Khader Husseini in the months preceding the declaration of the state in 1948, and the siege by the Transjordanian army in the first month of the war.

"With the tempo of Arab assaults on the road rising daily, Joseph came under considerable pressure to evacuate Jerusalem's women and children to the coast while they could still escape. There were sound reasons for doing it. Their evacuation would make the food and water problem immensely easier. The decision not to let them go was Joseph's alone. He took it because he reasoned the fighting spirit of Jerusalem's men would be raised if they knew that their homes lay helpless just behind them. Those men would have no illusions about their families' fate if the city were overrun. The pain of that decision, the awareness of the terrible moral burden that would be his if Jerusalem fell, would weigh on Joseph for months to come. But, as he would remark years later in recalling that decision, 'We did not favor the easy way.'" (O Jerusalem, by Collins and Lapierre, p. 148)

Calmly, Dov Joseph looked at the group of ultra-Orthodox rabbis gathered before him in the Jerusalem home of Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog and waited for one of them to break the silence.

Finally the exasperated Chief Rabbi said to the assembly, "You wanted to speak to Dr. Joseph. Here he is. Speak."

Embarrassed, the group's leader, an elderly man, began by giving Joseph a lecture on Jewish moral precepts and the value attached by the Jewish faith to preventing the loss of a human soul. Mea Shearim had been badly hit by the Legion's shelling, he said; many women and children had been killed. While clearly the Haganah could not be expected to abandon the struggle with the Arabs, perhaps they, in the quarter, could go to the Arabs and make some arrangement whereby it might be excluded from the fighting.

Joseph sensed immediately what was coming, a plea for a partial surrender. He knew he could not tolerate such a gesture. The result might be a wave of panic that would infect the whole city. Awkwardly the man before him stumbled toward his conclusions. At least, under his plan, their women and children would be spared further suffering and many innocent souls saved. What did Joseph think of his proposition?

The Canadian fixed him with a steady gaze.

"You do what you believe to be right," he answered, "and I shall do what I believe to be right."

There was a long silence. And what, Joseph's interlocutor inquired, did Joseph think was right?

"I think that if anyone attempts to raise the white flag, he will be shot," he said.

(O Jerusalem, by Collins and Lapierre, p. 479)