Minsk-born Paula Munweis, or Monbesz (1892 – 1968), was trained at Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, as a nurse and was an active member of the Poalei Zion Zionist organization when David Ben-Gurion met her in 1917 during a visit to New York City. Soon after, they were married and she returned with him to Eretz Yisrael.
Known for an “acerbic tongue,” she was a feisty woman, known for living with Zionist and socialist zeal. Ben-Gurion published a book for her, Letters to Paula and the Children (1958).
In the December 23, 1957 correspondence from Jerusalem shown here, she writes:
We certainly had some days full of anxiety and fear after the bomb outrage in the Knesset. However, Ben-Gurion has recovered by now and has returned to his normal activities.
Two months earlier, on October 29, 1957 (4 Cheshvan 5718), only half the members were present for a session of the Knesset, then located in Frumin House at 24 King George Street. An Israeli military policeman was recalling the peril that faced Israel exactly a year before during the Sinai Campaign, when its troops stood ready to launch their attack on the Sinai Peninsula. Suddenly, a small object flew through the air from the direction of the visitors’ gallery. Like the well-trained old soldier he was, Ben-Gurion ducked to the floor as the missile hurtled past and, a second later, exploded between the government’s table and the speaker’s dais, wounding Ben-Gurion in his foot and arms.
In the midst of the ensuing commotion, two doctor-parliamentarians found their way to Minister of Religious Affairs and Social Welfare Chaim Moshe Shapira, whose blood was gushing from wounds in the stomach and head. Knesset members Arieh Bahir and Yosef Almogi rushed to Ben-Gurion’s side and tried to move him out of the hall but, with his characteristic equanimity, he refused to budge. A few minutes later, however, experiencing severe pain from his leg wound, he agreed to let Bahir and Almogi take him to Ziv hospital, where a waiting Paula took over.
Foreign Minister Golda Meir, Transport Minister Moshe Carmel, and Health Minister Israel Barzilai were also driven to the hospital to have their lesser injuries treated. Rabbi Shapira, who, as per religious custom, was given the additional name “Chaim,” underwent several major surgeries. He resumed his Knesset service and was later appointed interior minister.
When Ben-Gurion was revived at the hospital, he was relieved to learn the attacker was mentally unstable rather than politically motivated. He initially did all he could to hush up the affair and continue as if nothing had happened – until he agreed to let the press in to see him more than a week later (see below).
Moshe Dwek, a disgruntled Yemenite Jewish immigrant also referred to in some reports as Douek or Dueg, had thrown a grenade he’d stolen from the army in an attempt to kill Ben-Gurion and Meir (he later apologized to Rabbi Shapira, an unintended victim). He had been part of a group of Syrian Jewish youth who in 1943 immigrated to Eretz Yisrael, where he lived on a number of kibbutzim before fighting in Israel’s War of Independence. The attack was allegedly prompted by Dwek’s inability to obtain national insurance for his declining health.
Dwek’s defense counsel presented ample evidence to support the proposition that Dwek was “psychologically unbalanced.” He reportedly had suffered a childhood accident that left him mentally unbalanced. After sustaining another accident in a youth camp shortly after his arrival in Eretz Yisrael, he tried to sue the Jewish Agency; after losing the case, he sent threatening letters to the judge and was arrested but found unfit to stand trial. In another incident, he tried to stow away on a plane to New York City.
Nonetheless, a panel of experts agreed he was fit to stand trial for the Knesset attack. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, part of which time he spent institutionalized. His requests for a retrial were rejected, as was his request for a pardon ten years later.
Ben-Gurion wrote to Dwek’s parents – who were living in a hut, without electricity, in a village near Tel Aviv – telling them he forgave their son and, while calling the attack “despicable and nonsensical,” acknowledged the family’s anguish. The Dweks spoke only Arabic, so the courier translated the letter for them.
After Dwek’s release from prison, he founded his own political party, which he named Tarshish. His platform called for an end to Ashkenazi hegemony and for integrating Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews into the country’s leadership by giving them half of all government ministries as well as widespread representation in the Knesset, municipalities, and the Jewish Agency.
His other demands strangely included the setting up of a Technion and religious polytechnic institute in Netanya. His unusual but memorable television spots would begin with Dwek repetitively intoning the words No’ar, No’ar, No’ar (literally “youth, youth, youth”). After a failed attempt to win a seat in the 12th Knesset (1988) – he actually received 700 votes – he retired from politics.
Soon after the 1957 Knesset attack, bulletproof glass was installed between the upper gallery and the hall. In addition, the Mishmar HaKnesset (Knesset Guard) was established as a special security unit by the Israeli police to provide protection for the Knesset building and MKs.
In the original November 7, 1957 news photograph exhibited with this column, Ben-Gurion, recuperating in a Jerusalem hospital, is visited by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ezra Taft Benson.
Benson, who also served as president of the (Mormon) Church of Latter Day Saints, was a strong supporter of Israel and a personal friend of Ben-Gurion’s. While visiting Israel he received a handwritten note from Ben-Gurion inviting him to stop by the hospital if time permitted.
Benson writes that he found Ben-Gurion sitting in a rocker with one leg elevated. As they greeted each other Ben-Gurion asked, “Would you mind if the press came in while we visit? They’ve been trying to see me, but I haven’t seen anyone except my wife and the nurse.”
Benson had no objection, and the press entered, yielding this first photograph of Ben-Gurion in the hospital after the grenade attack. As Benson describes it, Ben-Gurion asked many questions regarding the Mormon attitude toward Jews, and the two had a most interesting exchange.