A Jealous God - an excerpt

The bombing of the King David Hotel in 1946

Andrew Harding is the central character of the novel. In this excerpt he is leaving the British Military Headquarters in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem just at the moment that a security alarm goes off.

The events described in this passage are an exact account of the notorious bombing of the hotel by the Irgun Svei Leumi terrorist gang.
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'Load of balls,' someone was saying as Harding walked towards the lifts. 'Usual bloody cock-up.'

The lift took him from the bleakness of Military Headquarters down through the hushed and carpeted bedroom floors and into the main foyer of the hotel. It was a bizarre journey. It went from olive green to polychrome, from. functional to theatrical, from secretive to public, from quiet to chaos. The foyer was seething. Stewards in their absurd fancy dress tried to placate the agitated. People crowded round anyone who looked as though he might be important, even plucking at Harding's sleeve as he passed. 'Have you seen the manager?' someone called, pushing through the throng. 'He's wanted on the 'phone. Have you seen the manager?'

And from the main bar a familiar voice cried out, 'Andrew, come and have a jar!'

Harding looked in at the door. Killin was perched on one of the bar stools, brandishing a glass of beer. 'What's going on?' Harding asked. 'Everyone seems in a tizz.'

Killin screwed up his face, as though at all the confusion of the Orient, the chaos, the usual bloody excitability. 'One of the Arabs went berserk in the kitchens or something. Tried to shoot the chef. I feel like shooting the chef sometimes. What'll you have?'

'Not now.' Harding gave a little wave and disappeared amongst the crowd.

The time was 12.18. That was what Killin told the military police; that was what he told Lorna as well. He happened to look at his watch at just that moment. 12.18.

Two minutes later there was an explosion in the road outside the front of the hotel followed by the sound of breaking glass. There were cries from within the foyer. Killin took his beer and went with the crowd through the main doors to look. There was a cloud of smoke over by the YMCA building and people were shouting and running around. A bus lay on its side in the road amidst a litter of broken glass while cars edged past under the frantic control of a policeman.

'Salameh's store,' someone said. 'They've blown the window in.'

'Usual bloody nonsense.'

A siren went off, rising and falling, like the air raid sirens that so many people had grown familiar with in recent years. The thing with terrorist attacks, the 'way they were different from air raids, was that when the sirens went off the attack was already over. There was nervous laughter from the people watching from the hotel steps, a sense of relief. Passengers had begun clambering out through the windows of the bus but no great damage seemed to have been done. You could laugh when they did no real damage. There was something absurd about a bomb that went off like that, as absurd as a firework, a catherine-wheel or a jumping-jack or something. Little more than a hoax really. A woman was being helped across the road towards the KD. She was clutching a bleeding arm but she seemed to be all right.

'Usual bloody nonsense,' said the man at Killin's side. 'One wonders what all the fuss is about half the time.' Someone seemed to agree with him, for quite soon another siren blew, this time long and constant - the all-clear - and people relaxed. Killin and the other customers took their drinks back inside. People returned to their offices, -wondering whether there was really any point in going back to work at all now. Secretaries went back to their typing, committees reconvened, clerks returned to their filing cabinets, drinkers ordered another round. It was just another disturbance in the Holy City, worthy of another half-inch of column space in the British newspapers back home, another thoughtful leader in the Palestine Post.

Five minutes later, at 12.37, seven hundred and seventy pounds of TNT, packed into milk churns and placed in the Regence Café directly beneath the Government Secretariat, detonated. Focused by the confines of the basement the blast -was directed upwards through the six stories of concrete, stone and steel. It blew through floors and collapsed walls as though they were made of cardboard. It blew a column of smoke and yellow limestone dust high into the blue Jerusalem sky, high above the Hinnom Valley and the walls of the Old City, high above the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, high above the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Hurvah synagogue. It blew people and furniture and filing cabinets to pieces with a fine indifference. Men and women screamed. Whistles blew and policemen shouted. People ran towards the pall of smoke and a crowd gathered at the scene of the wreckage. Pieces of paper floated down through the smoke like birds fluttering to earth. Dust shifted in the bright air. Shorn of one of its limbs, the trunk of the hotel loomed through the cloud like a great, mangled beast. Staircases were draped down exposed inner walls; corridors gaped open like surprised mouths; torn wallpaper was displayed like pallid flesh to the cruel light of day. On the heap of rubble men in knee-length khaki shorts scrabbled with concrete beams and stone blocks while blood and dust made a peculiar form of mud. A human head, blown across the road from the hotel, had stuck high on the wall of the YMCA building opposite.

Dennis Killin was one of the men clambering over the wreckage. He split his nails and tore a gash in his leg and sprained a wrist so badly that it had to be put in plaster later. 'Where's Andrew Harding?' he kept asking people. 'Have you seen Andrew Harding?'

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Simon Mawer 2008 - 2015. This website is written and maintained by the author.