On the evening of September 17, 1948, a car carrying Count Folke Bernadotte, the first United Nations–appointed mediator in the Middle East, traveled up a narrow Jerusalem street. As the car shifted gears for the climb toward the New City, an Israeli Army jeep nosed into the road, forcing Bernadotte’s car and the two following him to come to a full stop. From the jeep sprang three uniformed men clutching automatic weapons. In a moment that set the stage for a legacy of violence that has since characterized ...
On the evening of September 17, 1948, a car carrying Count Folke Bernadotte, the first United Nations–appointed mediator in the Middle East, traveled up a narrow Jerusalem street. As the car shifted gears for the climb toward the New City, an Israeli Army jeep nosed into the road, forcing Bernadotte’s car and the two following him to come to a full stop. From the jeep sprang three uniformed men clutching automatic weapons. In a moment that set the stage for a legacy of violence that has since characterized Arab-Israeli negotiations, Count Bernadotte was shot six times and killed. The assassins were never brought to justice. A Death in Jerusalem reveals the forces behind this assassination, the passion that first dictated the tactics of terrorism in Israel and that continue to shape the thinking and actions of those even now determined to block accommodation with the Palestinians.
At its birth in 1948, the State of Israel was endangered as much by a fratricidal war between Jewish moderates and extremists as it was by the invading armies of its Arab neighbors. In the first test of its authority, the fledgling United Nations forged a temporary truce between Arabs and Jews and dispatched Count Bernadotte to negotiate a permanent peace. A Swede with a reputation for skillful negotiations with the Nazis for the release of prisoners, including Jewish concentration-camp victims, Bernadotte had seemed the ideal choice for mediator. But he was dangerously unversed in the Israeli underground’s passionate visions of a homeland restored to its biblical geographical proportions.
To the Stern Gang, led by future Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, any concession of land was as threatening to Israel’s integrity as the Arabs’ invading armies. And the Sternists did not trust Count Bernadotte, whom they saw as threatening Israel’s claim to the holy city of Jerusalem. As Bernadotte prepared his plan for the allocation of disputed territory, the Stern Gang plotted his murder.
Drawing on previously untapped sources, including Bernadotte’s family and former Stern Gang members, Kati Marton tells the vivid and haunting story of what propelled the Sternists, how they achieved their goal, and how and why the assassins were shielded from prosecution.
In September 1948, Swedish humanitarian activist Count Folke Bernadotte, a United Nations-appointed mediator attempting to facilitate peace between Israelis and Arabs, was assassinated by members of Lehi (better known as the Stern Gang), a militant Zionist underground group. Stern Gang commander Yitzhak Shamir, the future Israeli prime minister, dispatched the death squad. Alarmed by Bernadotte's plan to designate Jerusalem an international city, Lehi extremists wanted an Israel of biblical proportions on both sides of the Jordan River; they viewed more moderate politicians like David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir as traitors to the Zionist cause. Marton (Wallenberg) has written a dramatic, vivid account of Bernadotte's assassination, a compelling cautionary tale for those working to break the cycle of retribution and terror in the Middle East. Drawing on interviews with Shamir's former comrades, she details his key role in the conspiracy and in other assassinations. The conspirators went unpunished; trigger man Yehoshua Cohen became a kibbutznik; another conspirator, Israel Eldad, is today a supranationalist demagogue. Photos. (Nov.)
Marton, a former NPR and ABC correspondent, focuses here, as in two previous books, on dramatic true stories of international intrigue set in the turmoil of World War II and the early stages of the cold war. In "Wallenberg" (1982), she explored Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg's rescue of 30,000 Hungarian Jews from the Third Reich; in "The Polk Conspiracy" (1990), she centered on the murder of American journalist George Polk in postwar Greece. Marton's subject this time is the 1948 assassination of Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte, then recently appointed United Nations mediator, by Lehi ("Stern Gang") terrorists under orders from future Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir. Drawing on interviews with Bernadotte's family and aging Lehi veterans and on primary and secondary research, Marton offers minibiographies of Bernadotte and Shamir, vividly capturing the personal and historical trajectories that collided in this violent confrontation between the well-meaning and pragmatic, but politically and philosophically unsophisticated Swedish nobleman and the dour, zealous freedom fighter obsessed with a dream of Israel restored to its biblical proportions. "A Death in Jerusalem" tells a fascinating story whose insights remain relevant today.
Kati Marton is a Hungarian-American author and journalist. Her career has included reporting for ABC News as a foreign correspondent and National Public Radio, where she started as a production assistant 1971 in her 20s, as well as print journalism and writing a number of books.
She is the former chairwoman of the International Women's Health Coalition, and a director (former chairwoman) of the Committee to Protect Journalists and other bodies including the International Rescue Committee, Human Rights Watch and the New America Foundation.