Ruins of Jerusalem's King David Hotel
Ruins of Jerusalem's King David Hotel
Bombing of British Army Headquarters by Zionist Terrorist Group
By: Mendelson Hugo
Date: July 22, 1946
Source: Photograph, part of the Israeli government National Photo Collection, item 003410, picture code D21-020, captioned "The Ruins of Jerusalem's King David Hotel, Blown Up by the Etzel, Causing the Death of 91 People."
About the Photographer: Mendelson Hugo was an Israeli photographer who took pictures for the Israeli government on state occasions in the 1940s.
In the Balfour Declaration of 1917, Great Britain, which had occupied Palestine during World War I, pledged to support the creation of a secure Jewish homeland in Palestine. In the decades that followed, when Britain administered Palestine as a British mandate, tensions developed between Zionists—people who wanted to establish the Jewish state—and the British. At issue were Zionist perceptions of inconsistency and double-dealing by the British, who professed ongoing support for formation of a Jewish state while instituting policies that were perceived as pro-Arab. The last straw for Zionists was the 1939 White Paper that sharply limited Jewish immigration to and settlement in Palestine for five years, at the very time when many European Jews were attempting to flee Nazi oppression.
In response, Zionist insurgents launched a campaign of terror against the British in 1939, including bombings, kidnappings, and murders. This campaign was carried out by the Haganah, the Jewish defense force that had operated in Palestine since World War I (1914–1918) and the predecessor of today's Israel Defense Forces. With the outbreak of World War II (1939–1945), the Haganah saw Adolf Hitler as a greater enemy than the British, so it suspended hostilities and vowed to remain loyal to the British until the Nazis were defeated.
A more radical splinter group of the Haganah called the Irgun honored the truce, but within the Irgun was a yet more radical splinter group, the Etzel, which continued the campaign of terror during the war. When the war ended in 1945, these groups united in common cause against the British, and the level of violence intensified. The goal of all three groups was to drive the British out of Palestine so that Zionists could establish an independent Jewish state with unfettered immigration.
Among the acts of violence was the "Night of the Trains" on November 1, 1945, when terrorist units blew up railroad tracks and stations throughout the country. On December 27, they attacked British Intelligence offices. On February 25, 1946, they struck British air bases on the "Night of the Airfields." On March 6, terrorists disguised as British soldiers attacked an army base, and on April 2, they launched further attacks against the railway system. On June 17, the "Night of the Bridges," terrorists bombed 11 bridges linking Palestine with neighboring countries. In response to these and other attacks, British forces launched severe reprisals, seizing arms and arresting Zionist leaders; much of this activity took place on what became known as "Black Sabbath," June 29, 1946.
In response to the Black Sabbath, the leaders of Irgun decided to bomb the British Army headquarters in Jerusalem's King David Hotel. Leading the assault was Menachem Begin, who in 1977 would become Israel's prime minister. On the morning of July 22, 1946, terrorists assembled and received their weapons. Disguised as Arabs, they carried seven milk churns into the basement of the hotel, each holding 110 pounds (50 kg) of explosives. Thirty minutes later the explosives detonated, destroying the entire southern wing of the hotel and killing 91 persons (28 Britons, 41 Arabs, 17 Jews, and 5 others). The damage is shown in the official government photo.
RUINS OF JERUSALEM'S KING DAVID HOTEL
See primary source image.
As the terrorists exited the hotel before the explosives detonated, they instructed two women accompanying them to carry out their piece of the mission. At a nearby telephone booth the women called the King David Hotel operator and the Jerusalem Post and gave them this message: "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." British Army personnel in the hotel did not take the warning seriously and many remained at their desks, accounting for the high number of casualties.
The leaders of the Jewish Agency, the successor organization to the World Zionist Organization, expressed shock at the bombing and denounced it, as did the Hebrew press and the British public. Moderates within the Haganah were beginning to recoil from the violence and on August 5, 1946, ordered it to stop. After that, the Haganah focused its efforts on smuggling illegal Jewish immigrants into Palestine and, to appease its more radical members, occasionally sabotaging British ships used to deport those immigrants. The Irgun, however, continued its campaign of separatist terrorism. On October 30, 1946, it bombed the Jerusalem Railway Station; on March 1, 1947, it bombed the Jerusalem Officers Club; and on May 4, it launched an assault on a prison in Acre where Jewish prisoners were held.
On November 29, 1947, the United Nations partitioned Palestine into the state of Israel and a Palestinian-Arab state. British administration of its mandate in Palestine ended in 1948.
Laqueur, Walter. A History of Zionism: From the French Revolution to the Establishment of the State of Israel. New York: Schocken, 2003.
Shepherd, Naomi. Ploughing Sand: British Rule in Palestine, 1917–1948. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1999.
Lapidot, Yahuda. "The Irgun Site." <http://www.etzel.org.il/english/index.html> (accessed May 16, 2005).