Three young staffers at the Palestine Post that day in 1948; three lives spared.
Alexander Zvielli, Mordecai Chertoff and Marlin Levin were all at work on the evening of February 1 that year. In separate interviews before they all passed away over the last decade, they recalled the harrowing attack that claimed four lives.
“At 24, nothing can happen to you,” Chertoff told The Jerusalem Post
in 2010, reminiscing about the time when his life story and Israel’s history ran on the same path without a road map. “You’re immune to every illness, every bullet.”
That immunity includes surviving unscathed the deadly explosion of a stolen British army truck loaded with a half-ton of TNT planted by Arab terrorists, outside the Post’s
offices on Hasolel Street (now Havatzelet Street), just off Zion Square. The blast killed four people, including three Post
employees, wounded several dozen and destroyed the two adjacent buildings.
“I remember that Marlin Levin, an editor, was sitting in someone else’s chair who had gone to Tel Aviv that day,” said Chertoff. “When the explosion came, a piece of metal from the window came flying across where Marlin would have usually been sitting. It would have taken his head off.”
One employee died immediately, and Chertoff said that two others later succumbed to their wounds.
According to the Post’s
late historian Alexander Zvielli, the building survived the blast, perhaps because it was built in 1933 following an earthquake, and the owner had invested in especially reinforced steel construction. But the flying pieces of lead, shattered glass and ensuing fire resulted in the death and injury of many editorial staffers and press workers.
After taking care of the wounded, Zvielli and other staff members made their way to Café Atara on Ben-Yehuda street, where deputy editor Ted Lurie’s wife, Tzila, gave them hugs and coffee.
“Then she said, ‘All right, we’re putting out a paper,’” recalled Chertoff. “The newspapermen came, shlepping typewriters, and we sat and wrote the paper from memory. And it came out the next morning about six, seven o’clock – only two pages. By the end of the week we were back to normal size.”
Levin, in an interview with the Post
in 2012, also gave a first-hand account of the bombing, including his own near miss that Chertoff had described.
Editor and founder Gershon Agron was in Tel Aviv for the evening. Being Sunday – a traditionally slow news day – the level of commotion in the newsroom was on a low burner, he recalled.
“I generally sat opposite the window, but that night I decided to sit over in the corner in someone else’s seat who had also gone to Tel Aviv that night. Just before 11 p.m. there was a tremendous blast – I thought somebody had thrown a hand grenade.”
According to Levin, his inexplicable decision to change seats may have saved his life.
“A huge chunk of iron blasted through the window and lodged in the wall right behind my desk. If I had been sitting there, I would have been decapitated.”
Already possessed with a seasoned journalist’s instincts, the first thing the unhurt Levin did before helping the wounded – despite the chaos, flames and darkness engulfing the newsroom – was to rip the copy he was working on out of his typewriter.
According to Zvielli, it was also a stroke of luck that the main rotary press, situated below street level, needed little attention and could be repaired quickly.
In his account of the act of terror, he wrote, “Acting editor Ted Lurie swiftly arranged for the lead story to be set at two other presses in town, and for the set-up pages to be brought to the rotary press by hand. Thus the Post appeared as usual in the morning. The edition was smaller, only two pages. But it was an important victory in the newspaper’s main objective – not to be silenced, even for a single day.”
The bombers were never found. Arab leader Abd al-Kadir al-Husseini claimed responsibility, but some claim that two British army deserters were also involved.
Years later, however, Levin had an uncomfortable close encounter.
“I was attending a Time
magazine conference in Beirut for Middle East correspondents,” he said. “As we were sitting around the table just talking, one of the Lebanese participants mentioned that he had been involved in the bombing of the Post building.
“I just kept quiet – I knew I was in enemy territory.”
(The accompanying video is courtesy of Toldot Yisrael, a Jerusalem based nonprofit dedicated to recording and sharing the first-hand testimonies of the men and women who helped found the State of Israel. Since 2007, Toldot Yisrael has recorded more than 3,500 hours with over 1,000 of Israel's founders. The archive is housed in the National Library of Israel.)
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