Mombasa hotel bombing

King David Hotel bombing

The King David Hotel bombing was a deadly bomb strike by the Irgun, a militant Zionist group, on the headquarters of the British Mandatory authorities of Palestine, located at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. The offensive was carried out on 22 July 1946 and was the deadliest attack against the British during the Mandate era (1920-1948).

Operating in disguise, Irgun members planted a bomb in the basement of the main building of the hotel, part of which housed the Mandate Secretariat and the British military headquarters. Telephoned warnings were sent to the main switchboard of the hotel, the Palestine Post newspaper and the French consulate, but no evacuation was carried out, giving rise to much controversy over the reasons why people were not cleared from the building. The ensuing explosion caused the collapse of the southwestern corner of the southern wing of the hotel. 91 people were killed and 46 were injured, with some of the deaths and injuries occurring in the road outside the hotel and in adjacent buildings.

Prelude

Moshe Sneh, chief of the Haganah General Headquarters, sent a letter to the then leader of the Irgun, Menachem Begin, which instructed:

  • 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 (i.e., curfew, arrests), this will paralyze 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)."

Layout of the hotel

In plan form, the six-storey hotel, which was opened in 1932 as the first, modern, luxury one in Jerusalem, was a flattened and elongated H, with a long central axis connecting wings to the north and south. Julian's Way, a main road, ran along the west side of the hotel. An unsurfaced lane, where the French Consulate was situated and from where access to the service entrance of the hotel was gained, ran from there past the north end of the hotel. Gardens and an olive grove, which had been designated as a park, surrounded the other sides. The Secretariat occupied most of the southern wing of the hotel, with the military headquarters occupying the top floor of the south wing and the top, second and third floors of the middle of the hotel. The military telephone exchange was situated in the basement. An annexe housed the military police and a branch of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Palestine Police.

The plan

Despite an initial approval for the project, repeated delays in executing the operation were requested by the Haganah, in response to changes unfolding in the political situation. The plan was finalised between Amichai Paglin (Irgun alias Gidi), Chief of Operations of the Irgun, and Itzhak Sadeh, commander of the Palmach. In the plan, Irgun men, disguised as Arabs, except for Gideon, the leader, who would be dressed as one of the hotel's distinctive Sudanese waiters, would enter the building through a basement service entrance, carrying the explosives concealed in milk cans, which were to be placed by the main columns supporting the wing where the majority of the offices used by the British authorities were located. The columns were in a basement nightclub known as the Regence. In the final review of the plan, it was decided that the attack would take place on July 22 at 11:00, a time when there would be no people in the coffee shop in the basement in the area where the bomb was to be planted and when it would be possible to enter the hotel more easily. Originally, the attack was supposed to coincide with another, carried out by the Lehi, on government offices at the David Brothers Building, but, that one, codenamed "Operation Your Slave and Redeemer", was cancelled. The Irgun said that the time chosen and other details of the plan were aimed at minimizing civilian casualties. Irgun reports included explicit precautions so that the whole area would be evacuated. This led to recriminations between the Haganah and Irgun later. The Haganah said that they had specified that the attack should take place later in the day, when the offices would have been emptier of people.

The attack

The attack used approximately 350 kg of explosives spread over six charges. Due to a delay, caused, according to Begin, by "consultations" about the cancellation of the David Brothers Building attack, the operation started at about 12:00.

After placing the bombs, the Irgun men quickly slipped out and detonated a small explosive in the street outside the hotel to keep passers-by away from the area. The police report written in the aftermath of the bombing says that this explosion resulted in a higher death toll because it caused spectators from the hotel to gather in its south-west corner, directly over the bomb planted in its basement, and it also caused the presence there of injured Arabs who were brought into the Secretariat after their bus, which was passing, was rolled onto its side. The Arab workers in the kitchen fled after being told to do so.

Leaks

Shortly after noon, Palestine time, the London bureau of UPS received a message that 'Jewish terrorists have just blown up the King David Hotel!'. The bureau chief decided against running the story without further confirmation. There were many other leaks. None resulted in any action. Several reporters were already in the area of the hotel because of leaks regarding the warnings..

Warnings

As part of the Irgun plan, a sixteen year old recruit, Adina Hay (alias Tehia), made three calls warning of the attack. The first message, at 12:22, was delivered, in both Hebrew and English, to a telephone operator at the King David Hotel at the hotel's own switchboard (the Secretariat and the military each had their own, separate, telephone exchanges). In the summer of 1946, there had been many false bomb warnings. This one seemed no different, and there was no immediate response. At 12:27 Adina Hay made a second warning call, this time to the French Consulate. This second call was taken seriously, and the staff rushed through the building opening windows and closing curtains to lessen the impact of the blast. At 12:31, Adina made a third and final warning call to the Palestine Post newspaper. The telephone operator at the newspaper was tired of bomb threats that turned out to be hoaxes. But she called the Palestine Police CID to report the message. She then called the King David switchboard. The operator at the King David reported the threat to one of the managers. This warning resulted in the discovery of the milk churns in the basement. But by then it was too late. (Thurston Clarke, "By Blood and Fire," Putnam, NY, 1981, pp.160-214.)

Since the bombing, much controversy has ensued over the issues of whether and when warnings were sent and how the British authorities responded. Irgun representatives have always claimed that the warning was given well in advance, so that adequate time was available to evacuate the hotel. Menachem Begin writes that the telephone message was delivered 25 - 27 minutes before the explosion.. It is often stated that the British authorities have always denied that a warning was sent. However, what the British Government said, five months after the bombing, once all the inquiries had finished, was not that no warning had been sent, but that no such warning had been received by anyone at the Secretariat "in an official position with any power to take action."

Explosion

The explosion, which occurred at 12:37, caused the collapse of the southwestern corner of the southern wing of the hotel. 91 people were killed, most of them being staff of the hotel or Secretariat: 21 were first-rank government officials; 49 were second-rank clerks, typists and messengers, junior members of the Secretariat, employees of the hotel and canteen workers; 13 were soldiers; 3 policemen; and 5 were members of the public. By nationality, there were 41 Arabs, 28 British citizens, 17 Jews, 2 Armenians, 1 Russian, 1 Greek and 1 Egyptian. 46 people were injured. Some of the deaths and injuries occurred in the road outside the hotel and in adjacent buildings. No identifiable traces were found of thirteen of those killed.

Irgun casualties

During the attack, two significant Irgun casualties occurred, Avraham Abramovitz and Itzhak Tsadok. In one Irgun account of the bombing, that by Katz, the two were shot during the intitial attack on the hotel, when a minor gunfight ensued with two British soldiers who had become suspicious. In Yehuda Lapidot's, the men were shot as they were withdrawing after the attack. The latter agrees with the version of events presented by Bethell and Thurston Clarke. According to Bethell, Abramovitz managed to get to the taxi getaway car along with six other men. Tsadok escaped with the other men on foot. Both were found by the police in the Jewish Old Quarter of Jerusalem the next day, with Abramovitz already dead from his wounds.

The role of the Chief Secretary, John Shaw

According to Begin, the British had been warned of the bombing but refused to evacuate the building because it was a matter of: 'We don't take orders from the Jews' . However, according to the Irgun's then propaganda chief, Shmuel Katz, in his book Days of Fire, "The Haganah radio later broadcast a report that on receiving the warning Sir John Shaw, the Chief Secretary of the British administration, had said: 'I give orders here. I don't take orders from Jews'," and that he had insisted that nobody leave the building. Katz writes that this version may be dismissed because it probably developed from the fact that, while some of Shaw's close colleagues and subordinates had been killed, he himself emerged unscathed; it gained some credence when Shaw was transferred from Palestine a month later. He said that the greater likelihood was that the British did not take the warning seriously because they did not believe the Irgun could infiltrate their heavily-guarded HQ. In fact, there was a simple explanation for Shaw's survival. At the time of the explosion, he was in his office, which was in the south-east corner of the south wing, rather than the south-west corner, the one which was destroyed.

Begin said that Shaw had been responsible for the failure to evacuate the hotel: 'A police officer called Shaw and told him, "The Jews say that they have placed bombs in the King David." And the reply was, "I am here to give orders to the Jews, not to take orders from them."' The 1947 Irgun pamphlet Black Paper said that Shaw had forbidden anyone to leave the hotel: 'For reasons best known to himself Shaw, the Chief Secretary of the Occupation administration, disregarded the warning. That is, he forbade any of the other officials to leave the building, with the result that some of his collaborators were killed, while he himself slunk away until after the explosion . . . Shaw thus sent nearly 100 people to their deaths - including Hebrews, including friends of our struggle.' Begin said that he had heard the information about Shaw from Israel Galili when they met on July 23, the day after the bombing. This was confirmed by Galili. In an interview with Bethell, Galili said that his source for the Shaw story had been Boris Guriel, who had heard it in turn from the American, Associated Press bureau chief, Carter Davidson. Thurston Clarke interviewed both Galili and Guriel, the former in 1977. Guriel denied that he had been the source of the story. Galili was unable to produce any evidence that Shaw had received a warning. Carter Davidson died in 1958 and so couldn't be asked to confirm or deny what Galili had said.

In 1948, a libel action was taken out by Shaw against a Jewish, London newpaper which repeated the allegations made by Begin and the Irgun pamphlet. The newspaper did not mount a defence and made an unreserved apology to Shaw. About the allegation that he had said that he did not take orders from Jews, Shaw said: "I would never have made a statement like that and I don't think that anyone who knows me would regard it as in character. I would never have referred to the Jews in that way".

Bethell says that all of the British witnesses who were in the vicinity of the hotel at the time of the explosion confirmed what Shaw said. None of them had any knowledge of a warning having been sent in time to make evacuation of the hotel possible. They said that, like themselves, Shaw had not known about the bomb beforehand and that he bore no responsibility for putting colleagues' lives at risk immediately before the explosion. The only criticism made was that Shaw should have closed the Regencé restaurant and put guards on the service entrance weeks before. Shaw agreed that not having done this was a mistake. The decision not to do it had been made because, "everyone was under orders to preserve the semblance of normality in Palestine", "social life had to be allowed to continue" and because nobody had believed that the Irgun would put the whole of the Secretariat, which had many Jewish employees, in danger.

Responses to the attack

British Prime Minister Clement Attlee commented on the attack to the House of Commons:

Hon. Members will have learned with horror of the brutal and murderous crime committed yesterday in Jerusalem. Of all the outrages which have occurred in Palestine, and they have been many and horrible in the last few months, this is the worst. By this insane act of terrorism 93 innocent people have been killed or are missing in the ruins. The latest figures of casualties are 41 dead, 52 missing and 53 injured. I have no further information at present beyond what is contained in the following official report received from Jerusalem:

"It appears that after exploding a small bomb in the street, presumably as a diversionary measure — this did virtually no damage — a lorry drove up to the tradesmen's entrance of the King David Hotel and the occupants, after holding up the staff at pistol point, entered the kitchen premises carrying a number of milk cans. At some stage of the proceedings, they shot and seriously wounded a British soldier who attempted to interfere with them. All available information so far is to the effect that they were Jews. Somewhere in the basement of the hotel they planted bombs which went off shortly afterwards. They appear to have made good their escape."

Every effort is being made to identify and arrest the perpetrators of this outrage. The work of rescue in the debris, which was immediately organised, still continues. The next-of-kin of casualties are being notified by telegram as soon as accurate information is available. The House will wish to express their profound sympathy with the relatives of the killed and with those injured in this dastardly outrage.
(House of Commons Debates, Hansard 425:1877-78 (23 July, 1946)).

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 political 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 was acting in response to instructions from the Jewish Resistance Movement, as described in the letter from Moshe Sneh cited above. Richard Crossman, a British Member of Parliament, reported later that in a private meeting with Chaim Weizmann, shortly after the attack, he expressed a different response than the ones he made publicly over the attack. Weizmann was reported as crying and saying that he can't help but be very proud for "our boys", and if it had been a German HQ they would have received the Victoria Cross (Richard Crossman - A Nation Reborn, The Israel of Weizmann Bevin and Ben-Gurion).

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."

Menachem Begin reportedly was very saddened and upset. He was angry that the British did not evacuate and so there were casualties, which was against the Irgun's policy. One of the dead was an Irgun sympathizer, Yulius Jacobs. The Irgun's radio network announced that it would mourn for the Jewish victims. It would not mourn for the British ones, though, the reason given being that Britain had not mourned for the millions of Jews who died in the Nazi Holocaust. No mention was made of the largest group of victims, the Arab dead.

In a visit made sometime before the attack, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery had told the British army commander in Palestine, General Sir Evelyn Barker, to emphasise to the British servicemen that they were "facing a cruel, fanatical and cunning enemy, and there was no way of knowing who was friend and who foe." Since there were, according to Montgomery, female terrorists too (Montgomery, Memoirs, p.387ff), all fraternising with the local population would have to cease. Within a few minutes of the bombing, Barker translated this instruction into an order that "all Jewish places of entertainment, cafes, restaurants, shops and private dwellings" be "out of bounds to all ranks". He concluded: "I appreciate that these measures will inflict some hardship on the troops, but I am certain that if my reasons are fully explained to them, they will understand their propriety and they will be punishing the Jews in the way the race dislikes as much as any by striking at their pockets and showing our contempt for them." His wording was interpreted as antisemitic and caused much outrage {Tom Segev, One Palestine, Complete, pp.479ff}. The order was rescinded two weeks later.

In the days following the attack, over 120,000 citizens of Tel-Aviv were interrogated by CID. The British government took the decision to imprison illegal Jewish immigrants to Palestine on Cyprus, including children. The camps were to be funded by taxation of the Jewish community in Palestine.

The attack on the King David Hotel did not impede progress toward an Anglo-American agreement on Palestine, which was then in its concluding phase. In a letter dated July 25, 1946, Prime Minister Atlee wrote to U.S. President President Harry S. Truman: "I am sure you will agree that the inhuman crime committed in Jerusalem on 22 July calls for the strongest action against terrorism but having regard to the sufferings of the innocent Jewish victims of Nazism this should not deter us from introducing a policy designed to bring peace to Palestine with the least possible delay." (confidential letter, Atlee to President Truman, Truman Presidential Library, www.trumanlibrary.org).

Earlier, attempted, attack on the hotel by the Irgun

'Gidi' Paglin, the Chief of Operations of the Irgun, developed a remote-controlled mortar with a range of four miles, which was nicknamed the V3 by British military engineers. In 1945, after they had been used to bombard some police stations, six V3s were buried in the olive grove park south of the King David Hotel, three being aimed at the government printing press and three at the hotel itself. The intention was to fire them on the King's birthday, but the Haganah learned about the plan and warned the British through Teddy Kollek of the Jewish Agency. Army sappers dug them up. On another occasion and during a smaller-scale attack, members of an unknown group threw grenades at the hotel, but missed.

Army and police reports

Various government papers relating to the bombing were released under the 30 year rule in 1978, including the results of the military and police investigations (a copy of the police report is held at the Public Records Office, London, where it is identified by the code 'CO 537 2290'). The reports contain statements and conclusions which are contradicted by other evidence, including that submitted to the inquest held after the bombing. Affidavits which reflected badly on the security of the hotel were removed from the army report before it was submitted to the High Commisioner and then the Cabinet in London. The police report makes the unlikely claim that the warning sent to the French Consulate was received five minutes after the main explosion. This is contradicted by multiple eyewitnesses who reported seeing staff opening the Consulate windows five minutes before that happened. The report also claims that the warning received by the Palestine Post was not received until after the explosion. That claim is contradicted by the testimony of two members of the Palestine Post staff, one of who said that she was put under pressure by the Palestine Police to withdraw what she had said.

Terrorism

The bombing appears in the study and history of terrorism. It has been called one of the most lethal terrorist attacks of the 20th century (Rapoport 2004, pp. 50-51). A book on political terrorism published in 2006 theorises that it provided a model for bombings in the 1980s.

Controversy over 60th anniversary celebration of the bombing

In July 2006, Israelis, including former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former members of Irgun, attended a 60th anniversary celebration of the bombing, which was organized by the Menachem Begin Centre. The British Ambassador in Tel Aviv and the Consul-General in Jerusalem protested, saying "We do not think that it is right for an act of terrorism, which led to the loss of many lives, to be commemorated." They also protested against a plaque that claims that people died because the British ignored warning calls, saying it was untrue and "did not absolve those who planted the bomb." The plaque read "For reasons known only to the British, the hotel was not evacuated.” To prevent a diplomatic incident, and over the objections of Reuven Rivlin of the Likud Party, who raised the matter in the Knesset, changes were made in the text, though to a greater degree in the English than the Hebrew version. The final English version says, "Warning phone calls has [sic] been made to the hotel, The Palestine Post and the French Consulate, urging the hotel's occupants to leave immediately. The hotel was not evacuated and after 25 minutes the bombs exploded. To the Irgun's regret, 92 persons were killed." The death toll given includes Avraham Abramovitz, the Irgun member who was shot during the attack and died later from his wounds, but only the Hebrew version of the sign makes that clear.

In popular media

In the 1960 film Exodus, one of the characters joins the Irgun and participates in the bombing. However the British follow him and capture most of the Irgun commando.

See also

Further reading

  • Thurston Clarke, By Blood and Fire, G. P. Puttnam's Sons, New York, 1981
  • Menachem Begin, The Revolt, W. H. Allen, London, 1951. Nash, Los Angeles, 1972. Dell, New York, 1978.
  • Nicholas Bethell, The Palestine Triangle, Andre Deutsch, London, 1979. G. P. Puttnam's Sons, New York, 1979.
  • The Palestine Post, Jerusalem: the newspaper reported on the inquest into the bombing throughout September 1946.
  • The final findings of the inquest into the bombing: a copy is held by the State of Israe Archives, Jerusalem.

References

External links

  • Attack on the King David Hotel (Site: 1, 2) - an account of the bombing, written by Professor Yehuda Lapidot, an ex-Irgun member. The first copy of the account is on a website dedicated to recounting the history of the Irgun. The second is on a site carrying a translation of Lapidot's book, Besieged - Jerusalem 1948 - Memories of an Irgun fighter.
  • The Outrage - an account of the bombing on a website set up by ex-British servicemen, whose original purpose was to detail largely forgotten campaigns fought by the British since the end of the Second World War.

Search another word or see Mombasa hotel bombingon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2014 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature
FAVORITES
RECENT

;