Reflections on the UN Partition of Palestine
The day was November 29, 1947, the time, 5:50 p.m. EST. The United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution that would divide the Land of Israel between a Jewish and Arab state. Thirty-three nations voted in favor, thirteen in opposition, and ten abstained. The UN would recognize a small, but nonetheless imminent Jewish State following the British evacuation on May 14, 1948.
With the long awaited prospect of Jewish Statehood now a reality, the Jews rejoiced and danced throughout that night. People embraced and wished each other ‘mazal tov.’ David Ben Gurion, at a gathering at the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem, called for everyone gathered to sing the Hatikvah. Jewish Agency official Golda Meyerson (Meir) announced to those Holocaust survivors still languishing in DP camps in Europe that “together with us, you will live in a free Jewish state.” According to the UN Resolution, the Jews would soon receive a small sliver of land consisting of the Negev Desert, the coast and parts of the Galilee region – about 12 percent of the original Jewish home called for by the 1917 Balfour Declaration. Jerusalem was designated to be an international city. Yet, as Jews of the Yishuv celebrated and danced horas, their very lives were in jeopardy.
The Arabs strongly rejected Resolution 181 and made it abundantly clear that they had no intention to abide by the resolution. This came as no surprise. Since the 1917 Balfour Declaration, Arab opposition to a Jewish State of any size was made known by word and deed in the form of terror in the ensuing decades. In the early days of the British Mandate, Jews issued manifestos and made overtures calling for cooperation with their Arab neighbors, hoping that they could build the region together as neighbors, but to no avail.
Those Arab leaders who condemned the waves of violence against Jews or supported a Jewish state were dealt with in the harshest ways.
On November 29, Arab UN delegations called the UN move ‘undemocratic.’ Ambassador Amir Arslan of Syria, proclaimed, “My country will never recognize such a decision,” Jamali of Iraq objected that Resolution 181, “Undermines peace, justice and democracy,” and they and their Arab colleagues abruptly walked out the halls of the UN in Lake Success, New York, in protest. Almost immediately, Arab labor strikes in Palestine were called, and acts of terror were launched against Jews.
In the first month after the UN vote, 118 Jews were killed and 217 were wounded. Civilians were attacked on the streets, and convoys to cities were also attacked as were medical clinics. Violence also extended into the Arab world. In the Yemenite city of Aden, anti-Jewish riots broke out with reports of 76 Jews killed and 74 wounded.
Soon, the Arab Legion of irregular troops led by Nazi trained commandoes Hassam Salameh and Abdul Kader Husseini, nephew of the infamous Mufti, Haj Amin Al Husseini, led the Arab war effort while the surrounding Arab nations preferred to wait until the British evacuation. On February 11, a bombing on Ben Yehudah Street in central Jerusalem killed and wounded hundreds.
The Jewish State, not even officially re-born, was fighting for its existence.
Resolution 181 represented the rebirth of the Jewish State and also a blow to the proposed two state solution. The Palestinian Arabs rejected an Arab as well as a Jewish State and sought to eliminate Israel, demonstrating that they were far more anti-Jewish than they were ‘pro-Palestinian.’
Sixty-seven years later, Israel thrives but still faces many foes in the Middle East and emerging foes in Europe and other places. These opponents of Israel, like the rejectionists before them, oppose not the borders, but the very notion of Jewish Statehood. Time has passed but the enmity remains.