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This edited article about Jewish terrorism originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 766 published on 18th September 1976.
Inside a Cairo night-club, a girl spoke quietly to the British army officer with whom she was dancing. It was a commonplace scene in Egypt during the Second World War, and none of the other couples dancing and drinking took any notice.
But this was not an idle remark. The girl was a Jewish secret agent and the officer was Major A. W. Sansom, Chief Field Security Officer and the top spy-catcher in wartime Cairo.
“There will be a political assassination in Egypt in the near future,” the girl said. “The victim will not be an Egyptian, but he will be a very important person. I can’t tell you any more than that. Our organisation would stop it if it could.”
As she drifted discreetly away among the dancers and onlookers, Sansom turned over in his mind the possibilities that could be behind her information.
All that year of 1944 the situation in Palestine had been marked by a series of terrorist outrages. The independent state of Israel had not yet been formed and extremist Jews, impatient of the slow methods of the Jewish Agency for converting Palestine into that Jewish state, were staging incidents almost every month.
There were three terrorist organisations involved – the Hagana, the Irgun – and the Stern Group, which was the most ruthless of the three.
The first incident was the discovery of a bomb-plot in Jerusalem Cathedral. On February 12th, bombs exploded in immigration offices in Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv. The Irgun Group then admitted responsibility, declaring, “We have started the battle to open the gates of Palestine to persecuted European Jews”. Before the end of that month two British policemen were shot dead and another was wounded.
The Zionists – activists for the creation of a Jewish State – tried to close their ranks against all these events which were harmful to their cause; but the outrages went on. The police headquarters at Haifa were wrecked by an explosion; three more British policemen were killed and three injured. The Government reintroduced the death penalty and offered big rewards for the capture of six Stern Group members who had escaped from prison. But more policemen continued to be murdered during April and May.
In August, a car carrying the British High Commissioner, Sir Harold MacMichael, to his retirement party was ambushed and Sir Harold was wounded. Two weeks later, a collective fine was imposed on the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem because of its inhabitants’ failure to help police investigating the attempt on the High Commissioner’s life. But still the Jewish community failed to help actively in the arrest of the terrorists.
In the autumn the atrocities increased. When 50 armed men raided a depot in Tel-Aviv and stole ¬£100,000 worth of textiles, the army was called in to work with the police. In October, 251 people, detained as terrorists, were removed from Palestine.
This was the background against which Britain’s security chief, Major Sansom, now pondered the information given to him by his night club informant. Speedily, he passed on the information to Military Intelligence in Palestine. There it was received with no great astonishment, for already there was a strong rumour that two members of the Stern Group had left Palestine with the intention of assassinating a top British official in Cairo.
Even as the Intelligence men grappled with the answer to that question, two Jewish youths arrived in Cairo, dressed in British army uniform and carrying papers which identified them falsely as Moishe Cohen Itzhak and Chaim Saltzmann. The task to which they had been assigned by their Stern Group commanders was to kill 61-year-old Lord Moyne, the Resident British Minister in the Middle East.
Lord Moyne was a man with a colourful record in military as well as civilian life. An earl’s son, he had fought in three wars, winning the D.S.O. and bar and three mentions in despatches. Before gaining his peerage, he was Colonel Walter Guinness – a member of the famous brewing family. He had also been an M.P. for 24 years.
A rich and courageous diplomat . . . it was not long before Major Sansom was able to narrow down the field of likely victims for the Stern Group’s political assassination. Almost certainly, he decided, Lord Moyne must be put on the short list of candidates most likely to be murdered.
Lord Moyne was characteristically indifferent when Major Sansom arrived to tell him so.
“Soldiers are being shot on the battlefield every day,” the peer replied. “Even our King is liable to be killed by a bomb. I must be allowed to share in the common risk.”
When Sansom pointed out that it was his duty as Field Security chief to ensure that the Resident Minister was properly protected, Lord Moyne became irritable. Once he told Sansom: “I’m damned if I’ll put up with guards traipsing about after me on the golf-course or when I call on a friend.”
But Sansom stood firm. He insisted upon doubling the Minister’s guard, on having a military police car follow Lord Moyne’s car at all times, and on other necessary security measures. All this was accepted by the Minister. But the one proviso he insisted upon was that whenever he wished to do so he could dismiss his guards.
It was this proviso that was to result in his death.
For even as Sansom was trying hard to persuade the Minister of the necessity for security, the two Jewish youths, Itzhak and Saltzmann, were pedalling backwards and forwards on bicycles outside Lord Moyne’s luxury house near the exclusive Gezira Sporting Club. And to their amazement they noticed that, when he returned home to lunch every day at about 1 p.m., the Minister often dismissed the four guards who were on patrol around his house. They had no doubt then of the best time and place to kill their chosen victim.
Thus it was that at 12.30 p.m. on Monday, November 5th, 1944, Lord Moyne got up from behind his desk in his office and set off for lunch. On the way to his car, waiting in the courtyard of the Ministry building, he collected his secretary, Miss J. Osmond, and his ADC, Captain Hughes Onslow.
At the car door stood his chauffeur, 27-year-old Lance Corporal A. H. Fuller. As Lord Moyne was about to get into the car he noticed the Military Police escort car behind his own and with a wave of his hand called out: “I won’t be needing you chaps today.”
Half an hour later Lord Moyne’s car entered the drive of his house. Lance Corporal Fuller switched off the engine, got out, and opened the Minister’s door.
At that moment Itzhak and Saltzmann leapt from the bushes in which they had been hiding. From their open-necked shirts they produced revolvers and opened fire all in the same fluid movement. Fuller the chauffeur was killed instantly, and Lord Moyne slumped, badly wounded, with three bullets in him.
Coolly, the two assassins got on their bicycles and pedalled off along the street. They went completely unchallenged – for at breakfast that morning Lord Moyne had sent his house guards, also, off duty for the day.
Only minutes after the shooting, Major Sansom arrived on the scene. His timely appearance was caused by the fact that in the courtyard of the Ministry building he had met the crew of the Military Police car only seconds after Lord Moyne had dismissed them. Sensing that the Minister would also have dismissed his house guards, he had actually given chase to Lord Moyne’s car with the intention of remonstrating with him.
From a passing Cairo policeman who said that the killers were two men in khaki shirts on bicycles, Sansom ascertained the direction they had taken and gave chase at the height of the Cairo lunch-time rush-hour.
Another man, who had arrived at the Minister’s house only seconds before Sansom, was also giving chase. He was Corporal Amin Abdullah, inspector of the Egyptian guard, who had not been told that his subordinates had been dismissed. Taking in the scene and guessing the direction the fugitives would make for, he set off after them. And he had a singular advantage over both Sansom and the killers – he was riding a motor cycle.
On the crowded Boulac Bridge across the Nile. Corporal Abdullah spotted the two cyclists. He swerved his machine into the rear wheel of one of them, throwing him. The cyclist picked himself up and fired four or five shots at Abdullah, who was unseated. Then the crowd attacked and would certainly have lynched the assassin had not a dazed Abdullah managed to intervene.
All this was rapidly taken in by Sansom who had now arrived. Thumb on horn, foot hard on the accelerator of his car, he roared after the other cyclist. Catching him up, he rammed his car into the man’s back wheel, grabbed the man and arrested him.
In hospital, Lord Moyne was given a blood transfusion, and a bullet was taken from his stomach. King Farouk came to visit him that afternoon and was told by sad-faced doctors that there was little hope for the Minister. Nearly six hours after he had been shot. Lord Moyne died.
Meanwhile, at Cairo police headquarters, detectives were finding out something about their captives. Their real names were Eliahu Hakim and Eliahu Ben Tsuri. Hakim was only 17. Why had they become killers? “Because,” they said, “Lord Moyne represented the anti-Jewish policy of the British nation.”
Few Jews agreed with this wild statement. In fact the crime seemed to shake the Jewish community from its passivity, for it was seen as a serious setback to Zionist sympathies all over the world. The Jews desperately needed their own country, and they knew that murder was not the way to win friends to help them get it.
That feeling was echoed by Mr. Winston Churchill in the House of Commons when, 12 days after the murder, he declared: “This is a shameful crime which has shocked the world and has affected none more strongly than those like myself who, in the past, have been consistent friends of the Jews.
“If there is to be any hope of a peaceful and successful future for Zionism these wicked activities must cease.”
Two months after the killing, Hakim and Tsuri went on trial. They seemed indifferent to the charge, or to their probable fate. During their trial, the Stern Group delivered death threat notes to the President of the Court and to Hakim’s counsel.
These notes were ignored and sentence of death by hanging was duly passed in a court whose police and military officials stood with revolvers drawn against the chance of any demonstration.
The sentence was carried out on March 22nd and in the execution-shed the two killers began singing the Hatikvah – the Jewish national anthem. But the fulfilment of their sentence cut them off in mid-song.