Bombing of the King David Hotel
Jerusalem, July 22, 1946
In response to Operation Agatha/Black Sabbath, in which the British arrested hundreds of Irgun and Lehi fighters, the Jewish militias were determined to strike back. The southern wing of the King David Hotel — Palestine’s fanciest hotel — was the British military’s headquarters. The Haganah approved the attack (but later dropped out), and the Irgun and Lehi executed a plan to bomb the British side of the hotel. Disguised as Arab workers, Irgun fighters set the explosives in the basement, while a smaller bomb was placed across the street as a distraction; the Irgun called the hotel switchboard to report the bomb, hoping to evacuate the hotel and minimize the casualties.
Whether the bomb threat was ignored, never reached the necessary authorities, came too late, or the bomb itself was mis-timed has long been debated. But the hotel was not evacuated and the explosion killed 91 people: 41 Arabs, 28 British, 17 Jews, 2 Armenians, and one Russian, Egyptian, and Greek. Most were civilians but several high-ranking officers were among the dead. It was the single worst terrorist attack in modern Middle Eastern history — and would not be surpassed until Arab terrorists bombed the U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut in 1983.
The bombing horrified the British and much of the Yishv, and was condemned by the likes of Chaim Weizmann and David Ben Gurion. It led to harsh reprisals from the British, but also turned British public opinion against continuing to operate the Mandate, thus marking a major turning point that led to the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.
The King David opened again as a hotel after 1967.