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King David Hotel bombing

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On July 26, 1946, members of the Jewish terrorist organization Irgun Tsvai-Leumi in the British Mandate of Palestine planted and exploded a bomb at the King David Hotel. The hotel was the base for the British military command and the British Criminal Investigation Division. 91 people were killed: 28 British, 41 Arab, 17 Jewish, and 5 other. Around 45 people were injured.

The attack was ordered by David Ben Gurion and directed by Menachem Begin, both of whom would later become Israeli Prime Ministers. The attack was conducted by the Irgun Tsvai-Leumi, an Israeli terrorist organisation. It was commanded by Yosef Avni[?] and Yisrael Levi.

The attack on the hotel was the largest terrorist attack against the British in the history of the Mandate. Some claim this terrorist act should be considered in light of the escalating violence in the region, and the continuing conflict between the three main forces in the region: British, Israeli, and Palestinian. In particular, the attack was made in retalitation for the British Operation Agatha[?].

Table of contents

The Attack

Moshe Sneh[?], the chief of the Haganah General Headquarters, sent a letter to Menachem Begin, the leader of the Irgun, with instructions. Text in (bracketed italics) has been inserted to clarify some of the references. The original letter can be found in the Jabotinsky Institute Archives (k-4 1/11/5).

  • At the earliest possible opportunity, you are to carry out the operation at the "chick" (code for the King David Hotel) and at the house of "your servant and messiah" (code for the David Brothers building). Inform me of the date. Preferably at the same time. Do not reveal the identity of the implementing body - either by announcing it explicitly or by hinting.
  • We too are preparing something - will inform you of details in good time.
  • Exclude TA (Tel Aviv) from any plan of action. We are all interested in preserving TA - as the center of Yishuv life and the center of our own activities. If, as the result of any action, TA is immobilized (ie, curfew, arrests), this will paralyse us and our plans as well. And the important objects of the other side are not focused here. Hence, TA is 'out of bounds' for the forces of Israel. 1.7.46. M. (Moshe Sneh)."

Despite its initial approval, repeated delays of the operation were requested by the Haganah in response to the changing political situation. Finally, the Irgun went ahead on its own without approval.

The commander of the attack Yisrael Levi (Gidon) (1926-1990) ordered that the following message be delivered to the operator of the King David Hotel before the attack: "I am speaking on behalf of the Hebrew underground. We have placed an explosive device in the hotel. Evacuate it at once - you have been warned." This message was also given to the French consulate, which was next door, in order to prevent loss of life there was well.

The nature of the warning, and especially its timing, have been a matter of debate ever since. According to a secret British police report quoted in Bethel, The Palestine Triangle, a warning was received by the hotel operator but was only just being delivered to the British officer in charge as the bomb went off.

Responses to the attack

The British House of Commons responded:

  • "On July 22, 1946, one of the most dastardly and cowardly crimes in recorded history took place. We refer to the blowing up of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Ninety-two persons lost their lives in that stealthy attack, 45 were injured, among whom there were many high officials, junior officers and office personnel, both men and women. The King David Hotel was used as an office housing the Secretariat of the Palestine Government and British Army Headquarters. The attack was made on 22 July at about 12 o’clock noon when offices are usually in full swing. The attackers, disguised as milkmen, carried the explosives in milk containers, placed them in the basement of the Hotel and ran away.

The Chief Secretary for the Government of Palestine, Sir John Shaw[?], declared in a broadcast:

  • "As head of the Secretariat, the majority of the dead and wounded were my own staff, many of whom I have known personally for eleven years. They are more than official colleagues. British, Arabs, Jews, Greeks, Armenians; senior officers, police, my orderly, my chauffeur, messengers, guards, men and women-- young and old-- they were my friends."

The Jewish leadership publicly condemned these attacks. The Jewish agency expressed "their feelings of horror at the base and unparalleled act perpetrated today by a gang of criminals". In fact, the Irgun were acting in response to direct instructions from the United Resistance[?], as described in the letter from Moshe Sneh cited above.

The Irgun issued an initial statement accepting responsibility for the attack, blaming the British for the deaths due to failure to respond to the warning, and mourning the Jewish victims. A year later, on July 22, 1947, they issued a new statement saying that they were acting on instructions from "a letter from the headquarters of the United Resistance, demanding that we carry out an attack on the center of government at the King David Hotel as soon as possible".

The British army commander in Palestine, General Sir Evelyn Barker[?], in an order written only a few minutes after the bombing, commanded that Jewish property be "out of bounds for all British officers and soldiers". He stated that: "The aim of these orders are to punish the Jews in a way the race dislikes as much as any, namely by striking at their pockets". The order was rescinded two weeks later.

see also: Israeli terrorism, Terrorism against Israelis, Terrorism

External Links

Further Reading

  • By Blood and Fire, by Thurston Clarke (see review (http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v03/v03p-88_Clarke))

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