The Moseri family, members of the wealthy and influential Jewish establishment in Cairo and Alexandria, built the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. They set up a shareholding company to finance construction, consisting mainly of Egyptian businessmen and wealthy Jews from all over the world. The seven-story building, with 200 luxurious rooms, was opened to the public in 1931. In 1938, the Mandatory government requisitioned the entire southern wing of the hotel, and housed the military command and the Mandatory government secretariat there. The British chose the King David because of its central location, and because it was easy to guard. In the hotel basement, they built a military communications center and, for security reasons, added a side entrance, linking the building to an army camp south of the hotel. Less than a third of the rooms were reserved for civilian use.
After preparatory work and several postponements, Irgun fighters gathered at 7 am. On Monday, July 22, 1946 at the Bet Aharon Talmud Torah in Jerusalem. They arrived there one by one, gave the password and assembled in one of the classrooms. They realized that they were being sent on a mission, but none of them knew what the target was. Shortly afterwards, the senior command arrived and it was only when the briefing began that the assembled fighters discovered that they were going to strike at the King David Hotel.
The strike force left next in a van, loaded with seven innocent milk churns, each containing 50 kilograms of explosives and special detonators. The commander of the operation, Yisrael Levi (Gidon) rode in the van, dressed as a Sudanese waiter, while the other members of the unit, were dressed as Arabs. The van drove through the streets of Jerusalem, its tarpaulin cover concealing the milk churns and the passengers, and halted at the side entrance of the hotel, through which foodstuffs were brought into the La Regence restaurant in the basement. The fighters easily overcame the guards by the gate and hastened to the basement, where they searched all the rooms, and assembled all the workers in the restaurant kitchen. Then they returned to the van, and brought the milk churns into the restaurant, placing them beside the supporting pillars. Yisrael Levi set the time fuses for 30 minutes, and ordered his men to leave. The staff gathered in the kitchen was told to leave the building 10 minutes later to avoid injury.
During the withdrawal from the basement, heavy gunfire was leveled at the group and two fighters were injured. One of them, Aharon Abramovitch, later died of his wounds.
After exiting the hotel, Gidon summoned two Irgun girls who were waiting nearby, and ordered them to carry out their mission. They ran over to a nearby telephone booth, and delivered the following message to the hotel telephone operator and to the editorial office of the Palestine Post:
"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."
They also delivered a telephone warning to the French Consulate, adjacent to the hotel, to open their windows to prevent blast damage. The telephone messages were intended to prevent casualties.
Some 25 minutes after the telephone calls, a shattering explosion shook Jerusalem, and reverberated at a great distance. The entire southern wing of the King David Hotel - all seven stores - was totally destroyed. For reasons unclear, the staff of the government secretariat and the military command remained in their rooms. Some of them were unaware of events, and others were not permitted to leave the building. This accounts for the large number of victims trapped in the debris of the building.
For ten days, the British Engineering Corps cleared the wreckage, and on July 31 it was officially announced that 91 people had been killed in the explosion: 28 Britons, 41 Arabs, 17 Jews and 5 others.
The success of the Hebrew underground in striking at the heart of British government in Palestine, and the high toll of victims sent shock waves through England and the rest of the world. At first, the Mandatory government denied having received a telephone warning, but testimony submitted to the interrogating judge made it clear beyond a doubt that such a warning had in fact been given. Moreover, the Palestine Post telephone operator attested on oath to the police that, immediately after receiving the telephone message, she had telephoned the duty officer at the police station. The French Consulate staff opened their windows as they had been told to do by the anonymous woman who telephoned them, and this was further evidence that they had been warned in advance.
It is almost impossible to recapitulate what occurred in the government secretariat offices in the half hour preceding the explosion, but all the evidence suggests that there were numerous flaws in the security arrangements in the King David and that a series of omissions occurred. The telephone warning was disregarded, and although the warning signal was given, an all-clear was sounded shortly before the explosion.. These facts indicate that there were serious errors in the decision-making process and that internal communication did not function properly. The high toll stemmed from the fact that nobody ordered the employees to leave the building, and those who wanted to leave were prevented from doing so.
The heads of the Jewish Agency and the Vaad Le'umi were stunned. They feared that the British would adopt even more severe retaliatory measures than on the Black Saturday, and hastened to denounce the operation in the strongest terms. The statement they issued on the following day expressed "their feelings of horror at the base and unparalleled act perpetrated today by a gang of criminals." Even David Ben-Gurion, who was then in Paris, joined the chorus of condemnation, and in an interview to the French newspaper France Soir, declared that the Irgun was "the enemy of the Jewish people".
The denunciation by the Jewish Agency totally ignored the fact that the bombing of the King David was carried out as part of the activities of the resistance movement, and on the explicit instructions of Moshe Sneh. At the request of the Haganah, the Irgun issued a leaflet accepting responsibility for the operation.
A year later the Irgun issued the following statement:1
THE TRUTH ABOUT THE KING DAVID HOTEL
[...] On July 1 - two days after the British raid on the National Institutions and on our towns and villages - we received a letter from the headquarters of the resistance movement, demanding that we carry out an attack on the center of government at the King David Hotel. As soon as possible...
Execution of this plan was postponed several times - both for technical reasons and at the request of the resistance movement. It was finally approved on July 22...
Notwithstanding, several days later, Kol Yisrael broadcast an statement - In the name of the resistance movement - abhorring the high death toll at the King David, caused by the actions of the 'dissidents'...
We have kept silent for a whole year. We have faced savage incitement, such as this country has never before known. We have withstood the worst possible provocations - and remained silent. We have witnessed evasion, hypocrisy and cowardice - and remained silent.
But today, when the resistance movement has expired and there is no hope that it will ever be revived... there are no longer valid reasons why we should maintain our silence concerning the assault against the center of Nazo-British rule - one of the mightiest attacks ever carried out by a militant underground. Now it is permissible to reveal the truth; now we must reveal the truth.
Let the people see - and judge.
July 22, 1947."
As a result of the Black Saturday, the moderates now held the upper hand, and at a meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive in Paris on August 5, 1946, it was decided to terminate the armed struggle against the British in Palestine.
This marked the end of the glorious ten-month period, when all the Jewish forces in Palestine (Haganah, Irgun and Lehi) fought together against foreign rule.
The terminating of the armed struggle provoked considerable resentment among many members of the Haganah, and Yitzhak Sadeh gave vent to this emotion in his article "Proposal and Response" in Ahdut Ha'avoda, October 15, 1946 (signed Noded - 'Wanderer').
"There will be no capitulation, because there is nobody to order capitulation, and should such a person be found, he would find nobody to carry out the order".
When the Jewish Resistance Movement ceased to exist, the Irgun and Lehi continued the armed struggle alone. The Irgun was now both morally and materially stronger than ever before. Support for its cause grown, since the Jewish resistance movement had legitimized its activities. The number of recruits increased, and its stock of weapons and ammunition was expanded as a result of its acquisitions from British army depots. Free of the restrictions imposed by the Haganah command, the Irgun now intensified its anti-British activities.
1. Begin, In The Underground, 3, p.214