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King David Hotel bombing

On July 22, 1946, members of the Jewish underground military 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 Secretariat, the military command and a branch of the Criminal Investigation Division (police). 91 people were killed, most of them civilians: 28 British, 41 Arab, 17 Jewish, and 5 other. Around 45 people were injured.

The attack was initially ordered by David Ben Gurion, who was in the United States, but he later changed his mind and ordered the bombing to be cancelled. But Menachem Begin, the head of Irgun, went ahead anyway. Both Ben Gurion and Begin would later become Israeli Prime Ministers. The attack was commanded by Yosef Avni and Yisrael Levi.

The attack on the hotel was the largest attack against the British in the history of the Mandate. Some claim this 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
1 The Attack
2 Responses to the attack
3 External Links
4 Further Reading

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).

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 telephone 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 by Bethel, 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:

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

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 after much outrage at it's anti-semitic nature.

see also: Israeli terrorism, Terrorism against Israelis, Terrorism

External Links

Further Reading