The King David Bombing

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posted on:
20 In july 1977
States - Britain/England. Underground - British Mandate, Etzel, Haganah, Underground Operation, United Resistance Movement. Human Rights - Military Government
A reprinting of a chapter from Begin's book, THE REVOLT, which appeared as part of a series of reprints of Begin's book in the New York Post. Begin describes how the King David Hotel was the fortified center of British power in Mandatory Palestine and how striking it would prove to them that it was indeed possible to fight against the powerful British Empire. The Haganah approved the attack on the hotel. The Etzel did not want to cause any cause any casualties in the attack, especially civilian casualties. To that end they set off a warning fire cracker and called several locations, including the hotel, giving warnings about the bombs and instructions to evacuate. Though plenty of time to evacuate was given, the British forces refused to evacuate and many people, including civilians, were killed. Begin and the Irgun were distraught at the needless death and struggled to understand why the British refused to save their own lives or the lives of the civilians by evacuating.
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The King David Bombing


During World War II the southern wing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem was taken over to house the central institutions of the British regime: Military G.H.Q. and the Secretariat of civil government.  As the revolt against British rule intensified the great hotel was developed into a veritable fortress in the heart of the city.

In a neighboring building, the British Military Police and the famous Special Investigation Bureau established their headquarters.  In the open space between the two buildings a strong military unit was encamped.  Machine-gun nests were constructed at a number of points.  Soldiers, police, and detectives maintained a close and constant watch on the building which housed the supreme British rulers in Eretz Israel.

We would undertake to penetrate the government wing of the King David Hotel to carry out an extensive sabotage operation.  The employment of explosives would be distinguished by a new device.  On the one hand our "mines" could not be moved or dismantled as they would blow up on contact.  On the other hand we would be able to fix the moment for the explosions of these "mines" by a time mechanism, half-an-hour or even an hour after their introduction into the building.  This would allow for evacuation by hotel guests, workers, and officials.  The rules we had laid down for ourselves made the evacuation of the hotel essential.  There were many civilians in the hotel whom we wanted at all costs to avoid injuring.  We were anxious to ensure that they should leave the danger zone in plenty of time for their safety.

We were well aware that this was the largest of our operations to date and that it might turn out to be unique in the history of partisan wars of liberation.  It is no simple matter to penetrate the very heart of military government, to deliver a heavy blow within the fortified headquarters of a heavily armed regime.  I doubt if this operation had any precedent in history.

We dared not fail.  People began to question out ability to fight the British regime.  Many expressed their despair as to the outcome of any "struggle": "Who are we, what is our strength, that we should be able to stand up to the British army?"  These questions were pregnant with danger.  They reflected the defeatism that is fatal to every war of liberation.

We considered how to give the warnings so as to eliminate casualties.  First, to keep passers-by away from the building, we decided to set off a small cracker-bomb, noisy but harmless.  Then we chose three offices to receive a telephoned warning, which would be given as soon as our men had got away from the basement of the hotel.  These three were: the King David Hotel management, the Palestine Post, and the French Consulate-General which is close to the hotel.  Finally, warning placards would be placed next to the milk-cans: "Mines.  Do not Touch"-in case British experts should attempt to dismantle the explosives after our telephoned warning had been sent out.

Operation "Chick" was carried out exactly three weeks after we received the Haganah's instructions to execute it.  The Assault Unit executed the attack with great bravery and carried out their orders with absolute punctiliousness.  They brought the milk-cans as far as the approach to the hotel.  They then divided into two groups, one for the "breakthrough" and the other to "cover" the first.

The Arab workers were then freed and ordered to run for their lives.  They did not hesitate.  The warning cracker-bomb was exploded outside the hotel and under cover of its smoke our men withdrew.  The noise caused by the bomb and the unexpected shooting drove away all passerby in the streets.

For some reason the hotel was not evacuated even though from the moment when the warnings had been received there was plenty of time for every living soul to saunter out.  Instead the toll of lives was terrible.  More than 200 people were killed or injured.  Among the victims were high British officers. We particularly mourned the alien civilians whom we had had no wish to hurt, and the 15 Jewish civilians, among them good friends, who had so tragically fallen.  Our satisfaction at the success of the great operation was bitterly marred.  Again we went through days of pain and nights of sorrow for the blood that need not have been shed.

Why was the King David Hotel not evacuated?  In this tragic chapter there are certain facts which are beyond all doubt.  There is no doubt that the warnings reached their appropriate recipients.  The Middle East Mail, the British Forces newspaper in the Middle East, reported that at several minutes past twelve the telephone operator in the hotel heard the voice of a woman warning her that bombs had been placed in the hotel which should be evacuated without delay.

I subsequently learned that when the warning to evacuate the hotel reached a high official he exclaimed: We are not here to take orders from the Jews.  We give them orders."

In the 25 or 27 minutes which, as testified to by all witnesses, had elapsed from the receipt of the warnings to the moment of the explosion, the authorities had ample time in which to evacuate every person in the hotel.  Finally, there is reason to believe that a specific order was given, by someone in authority, that the warning to leave the hotel should be ignored.

Why was this stupid order given?  Who was responsible for it?

Tomorrow: The "Massacre"

From "The Revot" by Menachem Begin.  Copyright by Menachem Begin.  Reprinted by permission of Nash Publishing.