60 years ago: UN makes creation of Israel possible


This Thursday, Nov. 29, 2007, marks the 60th anniversary of the approval by the General Assembly, of the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, which made the creation of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948 possible under international law.

There was high drama across the Jewish world on Nov. 29, 1947 as people huddled around their radios to listen intently as the representatives of the nations of the world cast their votes for or against the proposal put forward by the United Nations Special Commission on Palestine (UNSCOP) to divide what was left of the British Mandate territory of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states.


Miriam Roth, on the staff of the Saul Brodsky Jewish Community Library, recalls very vividly listening to the radio at her home when she was still a girl in London. “We were all listening very carefully as the votes were read out, and when the final vote of approval came, you could hear the (Jewish) Palestinians in London taking to the streets, singing and dancing.”

Ironically, near the 60th anniversary of the approval of the U.N. Partition Plan, yet another International Middle East Peace Conference is taking place, this time in Annapolis, Maryland, where representatives of Israel, the Palestinians, the United States and several Arab states will discuss the ways and means of fulfilling the second part of the Partion Plan: the creation of a Palestinian Arab State to exist in peace and security alongside the Jewish State of Israel.

How did it come to pass that even with the approval of a majority of the General Assembly member states, the Jewish State came into existence, while the proposed new Arab Palestinian state did not?

The short answer is that the Arab Higher Committee, under the “leadership” of the fanatic, anti-Semitic Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, with the strong backing of the Arab states, adamantly rejected any plan which called for a Jewish State, and vowed to destroy it by military force. “I declare a holy war, my Muslim brothers! Murder the Jews! Murder them all,” shouted the Grand Mufti. He was given the full backing of the League of Arab States, whose Secretary General Azzam Pasha, said, “This will be a war of extermination, and momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian Massacres.”

By choosing to go to war against the tiny new Jewish State, the Palestinians lost their best opportunity to establish an independent state of their own in Palestine. In the War of Independence which Israel won at great cost, the Jewish State survived, but the proposed new Arab Palestinian State was stillborn when Jordan annexed the West Bank of the Jordan River and the Old City of Jerusalem, which was to have been an international city under a U.N. trusteeship, and Egypt took over the Gaza Strip, making a new Palestinian state imposssible to set up without their consent, which was not forthcoming.

The road for the Zionist leadership toward the United Nations Partition Plan was a long and arduous path, starting as early as the year 70 CE, when Rome destroyed the State of Judea, which had been set up after the Maccabean Revolt, tore down the Second Temple in Jerusalem, and sent much of the Jewish population scattering to other parts of the ancient world, the beginning of the Diaspora.

With the rise of modern nationalism in the 19th century, the prayers and spiritual quest for a return to Zion became a practical and modern political movement, especially at the hands of Theodor Herzl, a Viennese Jewish journalist from an acculturated background, who was assigned to cover the controversial trial of Alfred Dreyfus, a captain in the French Army who was falsely accused of treason. The “Dreyfus Affair” literally tore France apart.

When Herzl came to Paris in 1894 to cover that trial, he saw protestors in front of the courthouse demanding that Dreyfus be convicted. A few days later, signs began to appear saying, “Death to Dreyfus” or “Death to the Jew Dreyfus,” and still later, mobs shouted, “Death to the Jews!” Herzl was stunned. If in Paris, the most liberal city in France, the most liberal nation in Europe toward its Jewish citizens could harbor such anti-Semitism, what chance will Jews have as a minority in Austria and Germany where anti-Semitism was even more overt and virulent? He began to compose a famous pamphlet called Der Judenshtadt, or The Jewish State, in which he concluded that Jews could survive and gain security only if there was created at least one independent nation in which Jews were in the majority.

In 1917, on Nov. 2, Dr. Chaim Weizmann, who along with David Ben-Gurion, Max Nordau and others had continued Herzl’s work for Zionism, was successful in getting the British Government to issue the famous Balfour Declaration, which stated “His Majesty’s Government view with favor, the establishment in Palestine of a Jewish national home” provided that the rights of non-Jews in Palestine are protected and respected. This document became the legal basis for the Zionists to claim the right to set up a Jewish State in Palestine, over which the League of Nations gave the British a Mandate after World War I, when the Ottoman Turks were defeated.

In 1937, the British Government set up a commission under the chairmanship of Lord Robert Peel. The Peel Commission attempted to bring about an agreement between the Zionist leadership and the Arab Higher Committee and other Arab representatives, on a two-state solution to the Palestine issue. Previously, in 1921, Britain had ceded the East Bank of the Jordan River to Emir Abdullah as a reward for his support of the British in earlier military campaigns. The Zionist leadership was divided on whether to accept the small proposed Jewish state envisioned by the Peel Commission, but Weizmann and Ben-Gurion prevailed in their demand that it be accepted as perhaps the last best chance. Tragically, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who would have benefitted from the plan’s generous allotment of land to the Palestinian Arab state, rejected the plan because of his adamant refusal to accept a Jewish State. Since agreement by both sides was required, neither the Jewish nor the Palestinian Arab state could be established.

Suppose there had been an independent Jewish State in Palestine in 1937, four years after Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, but one year before Kristallnacht in 1938, the infamous “Night of Broken Glass” which launched the Holocaust, which killed six million Jews by 1945, two-thirds of the Jews of Europe and one-third of world Jewry? How many of the six million could have been saved if there had been an independent Jewish State with a Law of Return, granting instant citizenship on any Jews presenting themselves? All six million? Five million? Most of the 1.5 million Jewish children?

No, once again Jewish aspirations were betrayed. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, world opinion turned in revulsion against anti-Semitism as the Nazi death camps were liberated. The same British government which had issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917, later issued the infamous White Paper of 1939, which severely restricted the number of legal Jewish immigrants into Palestine during World War II.

In 1945, the pro-Zionist British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was replaced by the Laborite Clement Atlee, whose foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin was vehemently against Zionist aspirations in Palestine, even after the 11-nation United Nations Commission on Palestine once again returned to the two-state solution with the Partition Plan.

When the Partition Plan came to the floor of the General Assembly for a final vote on Nov. 29, 1947, one could hear a pin drop as the roll call of nations was read out. Perhaps no other direct account of those proceedings has more impact than that of Leon Uris in his novel Exodus, which traces the events leading up to the establishment of the State of Israel, and its War of Independence that followed. Excerpts of his account follow:

“FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 29, 1947 — The gavel rapped. the General Assembly of the United Nations was ordered into session. ‘We shall have a roll call of nations on the partition resolution. A two-thirds majority is needed for passage. Delegates will answer in one of three ways: for, against or abstain.’

A solemn quiet fell over the great hall.


‘Afghanistan votes against.’

The Yishuv had lost the first vote…


Everyone leaned forward as Evatt got to his feet with the fist vote of a British Commonwealth nation.

‘Australia votes in favor of partition,’ Evatt said.”

As reported by Uris and the world press, the roll call continued with the Arab states predictably voting against partition. France voted in favor, as did Belgium. Ethiopia abstained. The United Kingdom of Great Britain was called. “His Majesty’s Government wishes to abstain.” But the USSR and the pro-Soviet bloc voted in favor of partition, the Soviets desiring to supplant Britain’s influence in the Middle East. “The United States of America. ‘The United States of America votes for partition.'” “It was all over,” writes Uris. The reporters scrambled for the phones to flash the news around the world as the last vote was cast….In Tel Aviv pandemonium broke loose.

“In the final analysis,” Uris continues, “the Jewish victory was crushing. The Arabs had thirteen votes, and eleven of these were Arab or Moslem nations. The twelfth was a vote coerced from the Greeks. The thirteenth vote, Cuba, represented the only nation on the face of the earth that the Arabs were able to persuade by the force of argument.”

Yes, pandemonium did break out in Tel Aviv, as it did on May 14, 1948, when David Ben-Gurion in Tel Aviv’s Museum, standing under a portrait of Theodor Herzl, fulfilled his prediction that “If you will it, it need not be a dream.” After 2,000 years of exile, the Inquisition, the Crusades, pogroms and the Holocaust, the Jewish people had their own sovereign state once again.

And the approval of the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan 60 years ago this week made it all possible.


The St. Louis Jewish Light is now in its 60th year of continuous publication and service to the Jewish community of St. Louis. This article is the fourth in a series of retrospective features written by Editor-In-Chief Emeritus Robert A. Cohn, who takes a look back at some of the important issues and events that the St. Louis Jewish Light has covered.