The Assassination of the Swedish Count

The turbulent fighting in Palestine in 1947-1948 brought death and destruction to Jews and Arabs alike with no end in sight. Five Arab armies invaded the Jewish State immediately after it proclaimed independence in May 1948.

Jewish militant groups, in particular Lehi, sought to end British mandatory rule in Palestine and when the British finally left in defeat and disgrace after a thirty year rule, pandemonium reigned supreme in intense fighting between the Jews and both local Palestinian Arabs and the neighboring Arab countries.

Six days after Israel’s independence, the United Nations sent its first peace mediator to the troubled area. He was Count Folke Bernadotte, a Swede and a relative of the King of Sweden. It is said of him that he was a decent and honorable man who, during the war years, had negotiated with the Nazi leader Himmler on behalf of the Jews, seeking release of some thousands of them. In this effort, he was unsuccessful.

When he arrived in Palestine and saw first-hand the problems he concluded that the UN’s partition plan of 1947 was not reasonable or practical and he proposed a plan of his own by suggesting a “union” of Arabs and Jews. That plan was to create Haifa and Lydda (Lod Airport) into so-called free zones.

Jews were to be given the western Galilee while Trans-Jordan was to control the southern Negev and Jerusalem. Jewish immigration, in limited numbers, would be allowed to continue for two years.
Of the Arab refugees from the 1948 fighting, approximately 300,000 would be permitted to return to the territory allotted to the Arabs and they would be compensated for the loss of their land and homes.

Both Jews and Arabs rejected Count Bernadotte’s plan and the fighting resumed on July 8th. Israel had success in winning more territory until the fighting was forced to end by a new UN cease-fire declared on July 18th.

In Israel, the militant group known as LEHI (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel) and led by Yitzchak Shamir considered Bernadotte’s plan a severe threat to Israeli independence. They were repulsed by the new government of David Ben-Gurion and the Haganah whose policies had been known as the “havlagah”… restraint.

Bernadotte was flying between Tel-Aviv and Beirut, meeting with leaders on both sides, in an attempt to find a way to resolve the fighting.

He had scheduled a meeting with Dov Joseph, the Israeli military governor of west Jerusalem for the evening of Friday, September 17th. He left the Jerusalem Agricultural School (where I had the privilege to study in 1951) for the UN offices at Armon HaNatziv, the headquarters of the former British Mandatory Government, (now the headquarters of the United Nations peace-keepers) and joined an official UN convoy which left the Old Katamon area of Jerusalem at 5:30 p.m.

En route, the convoy found its way blocked by a jeep which prevented it from continuing. Four Lehi members jumped out of the jeep and fired automatic pistols into the UN car, killing Count Bernadotte instantly.

The government of Israel condemned the assassination and the majority of Jews in Israel were outraged by it. As a result, the pre-State Lehi was forced to disband. Its arms and ammunition were confiscated and turned over to the Haganah.

Lehi’s terrorist act was a message to the United Nations, to the Arabs and to the entire world that the Jews would never consider giving up Jerusalem nor accept the territorial limitations of the UN partition plan.

Sometimes, though some may consider it distasteful, it is necessary to fight terrorism with terrorism.
In so doing, the Israeli military forces were successful in maintaining strength along the borders, reclaiming lost territory, and in later years, re-uniting both eastern and western parts of Jerusalem into Israel’s eternal capitol city.

Yitzchak Shamir allegedly planned the assassination of Count Folke Bernadotte but was never tried. In later years, he was elected to be Israel’s 8th Prime Minister.

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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