Exploded memories

Sixty years later, a now-elderly former British soldier remembers the bombing of the King David Hotel.

king david hotel bomb 88 (photo credit: )
king david hotel bomb 88
(photo credit: )
Derek Fisher, an 80-year old retired baker from Manchester, England, seemed calm and happy to be back in Jerusalem for the first time in nearly 60 years. Although he tired from his long, delayed trip to Jerusalem, he sat patiently in the lobby of the YMCA and tried to take it all in. In those days, during his three years of service in the British military, he would frequent the institution quite often for a cup of tea or a drink. And now, with a clear view of the King David Hotel through YMCA's open doors, events he had not thought about in years came flooding back to him, as he recounted the events of July 22, 1946 - the day that the Kind David Hotel was bombed by the IZL underground organization. "When I walked into the hotel, I had flashbacks of how my time here unfolded," he said, revealing little emotion. Then he added, chuckling, that though time had passed, the "d cor of the King David Hotel had not changed much." Fisher was drafted into the British Military in 1944 and was originally assigned to go to Germany. Instead, he underwent an extra six months of infantry training and was sent to Palestine, then under the British Mandate, to help keep the peace in the troubled region. He was a sergeant in a communications unit and his office was in a small annex building behind the King David Hotel. On the afternoon of July 22, Fisher recalled, he heard a small explosion from across the street. Fisher and his superior, Captain Macintosh, hurried into the hotel to see what had happened. The two separated. Macintosh entered the kitchen and was shot by IZL members. Fisher continued upstairs. Then the building exploded, at 12:37 p.m.. "I remember going into a room and then the whole end of the hotel went up. I didn't see it but I felt it. It was a big boom, with no rumblings afterwards," he said. Fisher and his fellow soldiers searched for survivors and gathered the dead bodies, most of whom were British. "There was a young woman in a white floral dress, with her arm draped, hanging out of the hotel. She was dead," he said vividly. Somewhat philosophically, he added that he believes the King David bombing was "the IZL's way of telling the British to leave Palestine. That attitude grew stronger, he says, as time went on, and "came more from the Jews than the Arabs." Despite these memories, Fisher said that he never suffered any traumatic reactions, and he doesn't seem to bear any anger towards the Jews who planted the bombs or the Jewish state. And he still "looks back on Jerusalem with real pleasure. I think it is a beautiful place. The good outweighs the bad." And he remembered that he had enjoyed his service here. "There were two Greek lads who spoke Hebrew, Arabic and English. It was fun to go out with them because they took care of us," said Fisher. He and his friends would go to bars and movies with his fellow soldiers. "I never felt like a guest. I felt like I was a part of the culture." Yet Fisher has not been back to Jerusalem since he left Israel in 1948, just before the British pulled out. He said that he "had always wanted" to return to Israel. After his granddaughter gave him a book about Jerusalem in the 20th century as a Christmas gift, he decided to make the trip. The country and the city are quite different now, he said drolly. "The change is phenomenal - all the new buildings and new roads. I remember when they used to be a track. The road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was just a dirt road and now there's a major highway. "I don't even know my way around anymore," he said about the area he once knew so well. He added that he was amazed at how difficult it was to cross from the YMCA to the King David, because of the busy traffic on the street. There wasn't so much traffic in those days. Although he carefully avoided political debates and refused to comment on the controversy surrounding the bombing or the current diplomatic frenzy, Fisher said that the atmosphere in Jerusalem is "much more peaceful now, despite the tension in other regions of the country." Then he said, "The political climate of the country is exactly the same now as 60 years ago, but it's gotten more violent." And though many things have changed in Jerusalem, he said, smiling, "it is still as hot as it was." He was not deterred from visiting because of the recent escalating violence but added, laughing, that "My son thinks I'm mad for coming but I told him if I could survive for three years, I could survive for one week."