On This Day: Zionists bomb King David Hotel and kill 91 in bid to build Jewish state in Palestine

Julian Gavaghan

JULY 22, 1946: Zionist terrorists bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem and killed 91 people on this day in 1946 in a bid to build a Jewish state in then British-ruled Palestine.

Irgun members destroyed the south wing of what had been the British headquarters after detonating 770lb of TNT and gelignite they had smuggled into the basement.

It followed a decoy blast outside the hotel, which was targeted because it held papers seized during a massive raid on various Jewish groups that had led to 2,700 arrests.

The death toll from the main bombing was far greater than it might have been because spectators had gathered at the scene of the earlier diversionary explosion.

They were showered with huge fragments of steel, masonry and body parts while the perpetrators, who had dressed as Arabs, escaped on foot.

The victims included 41 Arabs, 28 Britons, 17 Palestinian Jews and five people of different nationalities.

Among them were 21 senior government officials, three policemen and 13 soldiers, whose funeral were shown in a British Pathé newsreel.

But the majority were civilians, including low-ranking secretaries for the administration and hotel employees. Five bystanders were also killed.

The atrocity was met with widespread condemnation.

British Prime Minister Clement Attlee described the bombing as ‘one of the most dastardly and cowardly crimes in recorded history’.

And the Jewish Agency, which officially represented Palestine’s 450,000 Jews and had documents seized during a June 29 ‘Black Sabbath’ British raids, expressed its ‘horror at the base and unparalleled act perpetrated today by a gang of criminals’.

The victims included 41 Arabs, 28 Britons, 17 Palestinian Jews and five people of different nationalities (Getty)


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The gang involved, Irgun, were led by future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and were a hardline breakaway from the main Jewish paramilitary group, Haganah.

They deeply opposed the British policy of restricting the immigration of Holocaust survivors and their official policy of eventually creating a single, Arab-majority state.

While Haganah largely concentrated on smuggling desperate Jews into the country, Irgun took a bloodier approach.

Both groups, along with a third, Lehi, wanted to force the UN to accept a two-state solution when the British Mandate of Palestine expired in 1948.

The British had taken control of the region after ousting the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, when they had promised both Arabs and Jews conflicting things.

The Arabs had revolted first in anger over the continued influx of European Jews that had begun in the late 19th century as part of a Zionist bid to reclaim what they considered their rightful homeland after a 2,000-year absense.

The majority of the victims were were civilians, including low-ranking secretaries and hotel employees (Getty)


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Then Jews began attacking the British – and the fight intensified after World War II when they could, in the eyes of many around the world, claim the moral high ground.

The world’s attitude would harden against Palestine’s Jews, however, following the King David Hotel bombing, which remains the deadliest terror attack in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

But that changed the following year when the biggest ever Jewish refugee ship, the SS Exodus, was returned to Europe where 850,000 were still languishing in displaced persons camps.

First they were sent to France, from where they had initially departed, but the French authority said they would only allow voluntary disembarkation and the Jews resisted.

So, in a move that sparked widespread outrage, they were taken to northern Germany, which had been occupied by British troops since the end of World War II.

Media coverage of their treatment triggered a tidal wave of Western support for a Jewish homeland in the Middle East.

And Jews continued to illegally emigrate to Palestine.

Most of the 4,500 on board the Exodus were eventually smuggled into the U.S. occupation zone in Germany, where Americans turned a blind eye to fleeing Jews.

The gang involved, Irgun, were led by future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin (Getty)


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In November 1947, the UN voted to back partition of Palestine between an independent Jewish homeland and a separate Arab state, which Britain agreed to.

And by the time Israel declared independence from Britain on May 14, 1948, only 1,800 Exodus passengers remained in displaced persons’ camps.

But on May 15, the armies of the Arab nations of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq invaded determined to destroy Israel before it was a day old.

Yet within a year, the country, which had already been fighting a civil war since 1947, had defeated its neighbours and seized 60 per cent of UN-designated Palestinian land.

Clement Attlee said it was ‘one of the most dastardly and cowardly crimes in recorded history' (Getty)


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The remaining Arab territory was later mostly swallowed up by Jordan before being seized by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War.