Death of a Consul

In April 1948, an American diplomat, Thomas C. Wasson, was appointed Consul-General at the American Consulate on Mamillah (Agron) Street in Jerusalem. It was one month before Israel’s independence, a period of intense fighting in all of Jerusalem.

On May 11, 1948, Consul-General Wasson wired the British press that the British Consulate in Jerusalem was under heavy fire and the British Consul had a narrow escape. Firing and shelling of diplomatic buildings by Arab snipers was frequent.

On May 22, 1948, Consul-General Wasson attempted to stop the Arab shelling of the Hadassah Hospital and Hebrew University buildings on Mount Scopus. He contacted the Commander of the Arab Legion and demanded that the firing be stopped immediately.

The Commander sent back his reply. In it he stated that the Jewish buildings on Mount Scopus were being used by the Haganah to shell the Arab-occupied Jerusalem quarter of Sheikh Jarrah and he demanded that all Jews in the Hadassah Hospital and in the Hebrew University buildings surrender immediately as prisoners of war. All Jewish doctors, nurses and medical personnel were to be handed over to the Red Cross.

Later that same day, shortly after 2 o’clock in the afternoon, Consul-General Wasson was walking back to the American Consulate from a meeting of the UN Truce Commission at the nearby French Consulate.

A sniper’s bullet from a 30 caliber rifle shot him in the chest. He was rushed to the Hadassah Hospital on Street of the Prophets in Israeli-occupied Jerusalem where he died the next day, May 23, 1948.

There had been a dispute over who had assassinated him. The New York Post in its June 8 edition reported from sources in Amman that he had been shot by Israelis. However, American government documents reported that on his death bed he told his Jewish nurses that he had been shot by an Arab from the tower of the YMCA.

The Palestine Post had made several previous references to the sniping from the YMCA tower. After lengthy investigation the accepted conclusion was that he died from an Arab sniper’s bullet.

In a published account in 1960, the former Military Governor of Jewish Jerusalem, Dov Joseph, wrote that “Unfortunately Mr. Wasson was shot on May 22, 1948 by an Arab sniper” and listed the YMCA tower as the scene of the assassination.

Protestant members of the American Colony in Jerusalem did not accept the conclusion claiming that West Jerusalem had been under Israeli control.

The dispute was never successfully resolved.

Consul-General Thomas C. Wasson was laid to rest in the Garden of the Convent of the Sisters of the Rosary in Jerusalem on May 23, 1948.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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