Thursday, July 09, 2015

The Hotel That The Hagana Blew Up

If you ask "which Jewish underground fighting force in Mandate period Palestine blew up a hotel with civilian casualties?", 99.9% would respond "the Irgun which blew up the King David Hotel", right?

Well, I'm the .1%.

From "The Collapse of the Palestinian-Arab Middle Class in 1948: The Case of Qatamon", by Itamart Radai in Middle Eastern Studies,Vol. 43, No. 6, 961–982, November 2007:-

Exchanges of fire between Qatamon and the adjacent Jewish neighbourhoods soon became commonplace. On the night of 2 January, Jewish Lehi blew up a number of abandoned buildings west of Qatamon. The explosions caused panic in the neighborhood, and in their wake ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni, the commander of the irregular Arab forces in the Jerusalem area, paid his first visit to Qatamon.According to some accounts, ‘Abd al-Qadir and his men met with the residents at the Hotel Semiramis, a small family establishment in the centre of the neighbourhood, and made plans to defend the area.36 [go left on Rehov Hahish, and descend to Rehov Mehalkei Hamayim. On the corner to your left stands a large, modern villa that replaced the Semiramis Hotel.]

The  Haganah apparently got wind of the event through Shai, and this was one reason for the attack on the hotel on the night of 5 January. It was intended as retaliation against the Arabs for causing the flight of Jews from Qatamon and other neighbourhoods.37

The Qatamon guard force received a report (perhaps a police warning) of an imminent attack on the neighbourhood. On the night of 5 January 1948 most of the force was sent to the neighbourhood’s northern boundary, opposite the Jewish neighbourhood Kiryat Shmuel, from where, they believed – rightly – the attack would originate. Seven guards were stationed on the roof of the Hotel Semiramis, which at three stories was one of the tallest buildings in the neighbourhood. However, the guards dispersed towards midnight due to a thunderstorm, believing that it ruled out the possibility of an attack that night. Shortly afterwards the Haganah force arrived at the hotel in two vehicles, blew it up, and withdrew without interference. The guards rushed out of their homes and opened fire wildly, but to no effect.38

The explosion illuminated the sky above the neighbourhood for several minutes and shook the walls of houses hundreds of metres away. Frightened residents leaped out of bed and rushed to find shelter in the bowels of their homes. Close to the site of the explosion some people went into shock.39

The hotel’s eastern wing collapsed; 18 people were killed and dozens wounded. Most of the dead were from two Arab Catholic families of Lorenzo and Abu Suwwan, the hotel’s co-owners. They had taken refuge in the hotel, believing it was safer than their homes in the Nikophoria Jewish-Arab neighbourhood.40


36. Levi, p.337; D. Ben-Gurion, War Diary, 1948–1949 (Tel Aviv: Ministry of Defense, 1982), 4 January1948, p.113; ‘A. al-‘Arif, al-Nakba (Sidon and Beirut: al-maktaba al-‘asriyya, 1956–60), p.81;L. Collins and D. Lapierre, O Jerusalem! (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1972), p.10.37. ‘Hotel Semiramis – A Regional Arab Base in Qatamon’, 8 January 1948, Central Zionist Archive,Jerusalem (CZA), S25/4013; Y. Berman to G. Myerson, 8 January 1948, ibid., S25/9200.38. ‘Foreign Document delivered by Yossef’, IDFA 1949/2605/3; Levi, p.183.39. Karmi, pp.86–7; H. Sakakini, 5 January 1948, pp.110–111; Toubbeh, pp.27–8.40. Filastin, 6 January 1948; ‘Hotel Semiramis’, 8 January 1948, CZA S25/4013; report on other twowomen who perished in Semiramis, al-Difa‘, 9 January 1948; obituary reporting that two AbuSuwwan children lost their parents and uncles, Filastin, 10 January 1948; Jawhariyya, p.595.

P.S.   The Spanish vice-consul, Manuel Allende Salazar, was also killed in the attack.

And this following development preceded Deir Yassin by three months:

the explosion brought about the first wave of departure from Qatamon, which included Arabs, Armenians, and Greeks. The deep shock and fear are reflected in the correspondence between Albina and the District Commissioner...

Oh, and unlike the Irgun, no warning was given.



Stephen Franklin said...

Although it is tragic that the families who owned the hotel were killed, none of the dead were guests and this occurred during Israel's War of Independence so it is not really comparable to the blowing up of the King David Hotel in 1946.

YMedad said...

a. you are in error. there were guests including a foreign diplomat (!).

b. the KDH operation was directed solely at the southern wing which since 1939 had been expropriated as the offices of the Mandate Secretariat and the Army's HQ so as a target, it could not be identified as a civilian objct, unlike the Seremaris.

Stephen Franklin said...

Apologies for the error about casualties. That said the number of civilians killed by the King David Hotel (KDH) detonation was vastly greater than the number killed at the Hotel Semiramis and, as I said, the the KDH bombing happened in 1946, while the Hotel Semiramis was bombed during Israel's War of Independence.

YMedad said...

I accept your first apology.

As for the timee period, the point is "undergrounds" and not Army. what difference are you attempting to distinguish? and what difference numbers?

civilians killed.

If Arabs killed at Semiramis, which is according to you differnt, should we subtract all Arabs killed at KDH?

I cannot grasp your argument.

Stephen Franklin said...

My argument is that if asked "which Jewish underground fighting force in Mandate period Palestine blew up a hotel with civilian casualties?" it would seem a bit strange to answer with the underground force responsible for far fewer civilian casualties.

I most certainly did NOT say or suggest that Arabs killed at Semiramis are different (from other casualties). I would also accept an apology for your mistaken comment.

YMedad said...

Properly, the Irgun did not blow up a hotel. The KDH, as a hotel providing for guests, was only at the northern wing, as the southern wing was closed to all civilians except those on official business with the Army or the Mandate Secretariat. Only the "non-hotel" was the target. I am sure Begin would not have authorized an attack on a civilian target. Not so the Semiramis which was solely and wholly a hotel and was targeted by the local Hagana command.

Batya Medad said...

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Annette Gendler said...

Incidentally, I just read about the bombing of the Hotel Semiramis in "O Jerusalem" (a terrifically chilling account), so I would have been among those .1% with you. After all, the King David Hotel "only" lost a wing. The Semiramis was completely destroyed.