Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
In carving out a home for the displaced Jews of the twentieth century, the United Nations sparked a feud that shows no decrease in hostilities. Each group claims a heritage of hundreds of years for the land that was once called Palestine. The claims stretched beyond religion and centered around a place they both call home, and were recognized from the beginning as being a contention that would find no peace.
From the beginning, the United Nations saw the creation of the nation of Israel in the land known as Palestine as a proposal with “irreconcilable” problems. This was not a decision made with idealistic naivety; that somehow, both Arabs and Jews would get along and live in peace. It was a decision where the knowledge of the deep “historic roots” of each group to the land was known and their “vital contributions to the economic and cultural life of the country” was taken into account. The United Nations was completely aware of what it was starting.
The United Nations’ solution was a partitioning of the land hoping to placate “two intense nationalisms.” The purpose of the partitioning was to give each nation a chance to re-establish themselves as entities. The United Nations sought a solution where both groups would see “to take their places as independent nations in the international community.” The result before the partitioning took place was an acknowledgement of intense opposition between Jews and Arabs.
Limitation on immigration was the solution proposed by the United Nations to the fact that the entire project was “strongly opposed by Arabs.” From there, the United Nations focused on the economic issues between the two groups. The historical roots and the religious differences were dismissed as the final recommendation was made to develop “a transitional period of two years…..into an independent Arab State, an independent Jewish State, and the city of Jerusalem….”
The Arabs not only protested the partitioning, but they saw it as injustice to be removed from a life of “undisturbed possession of the country where Providence and history had placed it.” Seeing their “right to live in freedom and peace” being taken from them brought the Arab community to a point where they saw themselves as having to fulfill “the sacred duty of the Arabs of Palestine to defend their country against all aggression” that came under all guises including that of the United Nations partitioning.
Where the United Nations saw the partitioning as a solution for both groups, the Arabs saw their wishes, needs, and position as being left out of the conversation. What the Arabs saw as favorable to their side was seen as “ignored by the Mandatory Power” of the United Nations. They became the victims where they were pulled from their own ancestral homes and forced to restructure everything based on the decisions of the United Nations.
In the formal stance of the Arabs, their protestations were not based on anti-Semitism. The Arabs claimed the historical peaceful relations with Jews where each found a home in the same occupied lands. Their objects stemmed from the intrusion of other nations into their daily lives. They saw Britain as having “no right to dispose of Palestine which it had occupied in the name of the Allies as a liberator and not as a conqueror.” It would become a fight to defend what they saw their rights. The Arabs found solidarity in their desire to “lawfully defend with their life-blood every inch of the soil of their beloved country.”
As the Arab nation claimed a long historical tie the Palestinian area, the Jews objected to this. They brought forth their argument of a true historical tie to the area instead of one based on wishes. Rabbi Hillel Silver told the United Nations how the Arab Palestine was never a nation unto itself. It was “a province of the Ottoman Empire” and had never been a “politically distinct Arab nation.” The Arabs could claim it as their home only because of the dispersion of the Jews.
Rabbi Silver pointed out how by the time the Arabs found a home in Palestine in 636 A.D. “the Jewish people had already had 2,000 years of history behind it” as well as being the vine from which Christianity and Judaism stemmed. The displaced Jews desired their own ancestral home back they saw as more solid of a claim than that of the Arabs.
The protestations from the Arab community and their proclamation to defend themselves with their blood brought the Jewish community to a defensive status. Desiring peace, the Jews also declared their intent to “defend their rights to the end.” Each side stated their determination to live in peace but on their terms without the intervention of the international community. The United Nations note on how the intense feelings of each group “separated by political interests” would prevent “full and effective political cooperation.” In essence, the United Nations saw the path the Jewish and Arab nations were heading down and quickly moved ahead to pave the way for them to have a much smoother contentious journey.
Al-Husayne, Jamal. “Testimony on Palestinian Arab Reaction to the UNSCOP Proposals.” in Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2010.
Silver, Rabbi Hillel, “Testimony on Zionist Reaction to the UNSCOP Proposals.” in Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2010.
UNSCOP. “UNSCOP’s Plan of Partition with Economic Union.” in Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2010.