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70 Years Later, Perpetrator and Victim’s Child Recall King David Hotel Bombing

Levy Kampos remembers clearly what happened when the deadly blast went off on that fateful July morning in 1946 - so does Sarah Agassi, who called the hotel to inform them of the bomb her group left there.

Monday, July 22, 1946 began as an ordinary work day for Shoshana Levy Kampos. Early in the morning the 21-year-old Jerusalemite reported to the city’s King David Hotel, the headquarters of the British Mandate government.
Levy Kampos who came to Palestine from Germany in the late ‘30s, graduated from the prestigious Evelina de Rothschild school in Jeruslem in 1944 and landed a coveted, well paid job as a typist and shorthand typist in the British administration.
That day she was supposed to deal with documents about equipment and food supplies for the British army in Palestine. But a phone call in the late morning cut short her routine. “We got a message that there was ‘going to be an explosion,’” she recalled this week in an interview in her Jerusalem home. “But the man in charge, Shaw [Chief Secretary for the Government of Palestine, Sir John Shaw], said we weren’t to leave work under any circumstances,” she says.
For 21-year-old Sarah Agassi it also started out as another day in the office. In the morning she came to the Amamit health maintenance organization in Jerusalem, where she worked as a secretary. A few hours later Yitzhak Avinoam, the Jerusalem commander of the pre-state underground militia Etzel, “came and told me to get out of my office,” she said this week at a Ramat Efal retirement home, where she lives. He gave Agassi, who was an Etzel operative, a secret mission together with another operative.
“We were told to stand opposite the King David Hotel, watch our guys going in, wait for instructions and telephone the hotel, the nearby French consulate and the Palestine Post offices and warn them that bombs had been placed,” she says.
Agassi waited near the YMCA building, opposite the hotel, while seven Etzel operatives entered it. One of them was her brother, Yehoshua Gal. They were disguised as Arab waiters, carrying six large milk pitchers loaded with 350 kilograms of explosives and a self-detonating device. They put the pitchers in the hotel café’s kitchen and fled.
When she saw her brother running out of the hotel, Agassi called the hotel. “This is Etzel. We put bombs in there. Clear the people’ we told them,” she says.
The response was disparaging. “They laughed and said, ‘those bloody Jews won’t tell us what to do,” she recalls.
Levy Kampos, who will be 91 in two days, remembers clearly what happened at 12.37 P.M. that day. “It was pitch dark and there was a terrible explosion. I couldn’t see a thing. I thought everyone was killed, until I heard someone clear his throat. Everything was full of smoke and soot,” she says.
When she started seeing the extent of the disaster she ran from the place crying. Agassi was in a safe place by then. “I saw a huge mushroom rising and said to myself, ‘I did it,’” she says.
Not for nothing was the grand King David Hotel chosen to be the target of the attack. It was a symbol of the British government. The attack was in revenge for Operation Agatha, (or Black Sabbath, as it was called by the Jews), in which the British carried out raids, arms searches and mass arrests in Jewish cities and kibbutzim a month earlier.
The explosion demolished all seven floors of the hotel’s southern wing and 90 people – British, Arabs and Jews – were murdered. “Dozens of people were killed for nothing. But some still see it as a ‘success,’” says historian Ruth Lamdan, of Ramat Hasharon. Her father, Zvi Shimshi, a clerk for the British Mandate, was murdered in the attack. He was 35-years-old; she, a child of three.
Every year Lamdan publishes a mourning ad in memory of the bombing’s fatalities in Haaretz, the newspaper that slammed the perpetrators and their commanders at the time. “A horrific crime” and “atrocious attack” the paper called the operation.
“The so-called cause for which such deeds as yesterday’s are done is the Jewish state. But even if this cause is achieved, will it be a Jewish state?” Haaretz’s editorial asked the following day. “What value would this state have, if we must turn our backs on all our traditional values and violate all the commandments concerning the relations between people, to win it? What point would there be to this state if its citizens lose their Jewishness and human qualities?”
Levy Kampos, Agassi and Lamdan will take part Firday in an event marking the attack’s 70th anniversary, at the Rabin Center in Tel Aviv. The event will be broadcast live on the center’s Facebook page. Asked after all these years if she has any regrets about her part in the act that took the lives of dozens of innocent people, Agassi doesn’t hesitate.
“I was a soldier, I have no regrets. I did my duty. The British helped the Arabs a lot; for us they made laws. They hurt the Jews, so we tried to overcome.
“It totally undermined them. After that they were afraid to walk around in Jerusalem, and walked only in twos and threes,” she says.
Avinoam died last year at the age of 94. In an interview with the documentation project Toldot Yisrael he said, “after that action the countdown for the British’ leaving the country began. After that the British government and its central nervous system was undermined.”
Lamdan disagrees. “It was the most awful, pointless terror attack that ever took place here,” she says. “It changed nothing and did no good at all. It’s all nonsense.”

Ofer Aderet
Haaretz Correspondent

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Schermata 12016 07 22 alle 10.01.26 

 

Schermata 2016 07 22 alle 10.02.41

Video of the Week New Clashes Erupt Between Israeli Security Forces, Muslim Worshippers

Temple Mount temporarily closed to Jewish visitors after clashes with police




The Temple Mount was temporarily closed to Jewish visitors on Wednesday at the order of Jerusalem District Commander Yoram Halevy after Jews broke visitation rules at the holy site, police said. The Jewish visitors were expelled from the compound for bringing sacred books to the Mount and trying to pray there. After one of the individuals was cautioned, another took out a holy book, and the group was expelled. Meanwhile, renewed clashes erupted between protesters and Israeli security forces near the Lion's Gate in the Old City, where police used stun grenades against the demonstrators. A regular dynamic has developed involving clashes between Palestinians and Israel Police over the past several days near the Lion's Gate. Dozens of Palestinians are present at the site on a regular basis, urging devotion to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount and condemning Israel. During Muslim prayer times, particularly the midday and nighttime prayers, hundreds and sometimes even thousands have been gathering there.

There have been outbreaks of violence during these periods, including stone-throwing or physical confrontations with the police. In most of these incidents, the police have been using stun grenades and sponge-tipped bullets to disperse the crowds. In a number of cases, journalists in the area have also suffered violence at the hands of the police. On Tuesday, Hassan Shaalan, a reporter for the Ynet news website, was struck by a policeman even after he identified himself as a member of the press. A group of Jerusalem-based journalists released a statement of condemnation over the incident and called on the police to permit reporters to do their jobs. The Jerusalem Police responded: "This involved an incident that took place in the course of violent disturbances of the peace that occurred in Jerusalem while the police were acting to remove the demonstrators from the street after some of them refused to vacate. The forces working on the scene are under constant threat to their lives. http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.802141

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