Lehi Assassinates U.N. Envoy Bernadotte
Photo: Public Doman

September 17, 1948

Count Folke Bernadotte, a diplomat sent by the United Nations to mediate between Israel and the Arabs during the War of Independence, is assassinated in Jerusalem by members of Lehi (the Stern Gang).

Born in 1895 to a politically prominent Swedish family, Bernadotte prospered in a multifaceted career in international relations. He was primarily known for his work with the Swedish Red Cross during World War II, when he negotiated the release of 15,000 prisoners from Nazi concentration camps in what was called the White Buses Operation. Many of the people he rescued were Jews.

The United Nations appointed Bernadotte on May 20, 1948, less than a week after Israel declared its independence and was attacked on all sides. He brought Jewish and Arab leaders to face-to-face meetings in Egypt and Jordan, through which he arranged a monthlong cease-fire that took effect June 11.

Bernadotte used that time to develop a peace plan for presentation to the Arab League and Israeli government. Israel rejected the proposal in part because it would have placed Jerusalem under Arab control and would have forced the Jewish political entity into a union with Transjordan; the Arabs rejected the plan in part because it would have allowed unlimited Jewish immigration for two years and would have ensured a permanent Jewish entity in the Land of Israel.

Bernadotte is preparing to present a revised version of the peace plan, adopting the 1947 U.N. partition resolution’s call for Jerusalem to be an international city, when Lehi kills him and a French U.N. observer, Andre Seraut, in an ambush while they are driving to a meeting with the military governor of Jerusalem’s New City, Dov Joseph. No one ever is charged in the assassination, although the gunman is believed to be Yehoshua Cohen, and the planners are believed to include future Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.