29th of November 1947 marks a historic date in the creation of the State of Israel.
The British felt that they could no longer handle the Mandate of Palestine, and handed the issue over to the UN. It was decided that the piece of land between Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan was to be shared between Jews and Arabs. Not Palestinians mind you - the Arabs of the British Mandate of Palestine didn't call themselves Palestinians back then, nor did anyone else.
A plan for the partition of the land was made. The Jews did not feel they got a fair share. They had no direct access to Jerusalem and two thirds of the land was just desert sand.
The Jews wanted a country. The Jews accepted the partition plan. It was better than nothing, they would make what little was given to them work in some way or other.
The Arabs didn't accept the partition plan. Because of Jerusalem? No, Jerusalem wasn't meant for the future Israeli State according to the partition plan. Because of the massive land grab? No, they weren't interested in the dry, sandy Negev desert. Because of the Israeli occupation maybe? No, it was the British who were "occupying" at the time. No no. The Arabs didn't accept the partition plan because it meant a Jewish country in the middle of their Muslim world.
We all know that finally, 60 years ago, the vote was for partition. 33 for, 13 against, 10 abstentions and one absence. Less than thirty years later, the UN voted that Zionism was equal to Racism. At this same platform, Israel is continually singled out and criticized. But 60 years ago, the UN had one shiny moment. My favorite recounting of this event is in the book "Exodus" by Leon Uris, which tells the story of the Exodus ship.
Here is the part where the story of the UN partition plan is told. The Yishuv is the term used in Hebrew referring to the body of Jewish residents in the British Mandate of Palestine before the establishment of the State of Israel. Barak is a fictional character, but every other name is very real.
Finally in November of that autumn of 1947, "The Miracle of Lake Success" began to unfold.
Granados of Guatemala, Lester Pearson of Canada, Evatt of Australia, Masaryk of Czechoslovakia, Smuts of South Africa, Fabregat of Uruguay, and a lot of little men from little nations would not let the truth die at Flushing Meadow.
First came a cautiously worded statement from the United States in favor of the "principle" of partition.
Then came a move that rocked the world. After outlawing Zionism for over two decades, the Soviet Union made one of its startling reversals and announced itself as favoring partition. The news was released after a secret caucus of the Slav bloc; Vishinsky orated in impassioned tones of the rivers of Jewish blood shed and the justice of a Jewish homeland.
Behind this humanitarian mask the Russians had made a shrewd political maneuver. First, they openly mistrusted the Arabs. They realized that the Arab anger was merely a verbal expedient; Russia could vote for partition today and buy the Arabs back tomorrow. Meanwhile the Soviet strategy was to brand Great Britain a tyrant, at the same time making a move that could possibly lead to a Russian foothold in the Middle East. Russia knew that if she voted for partition the United States had to follow suit or lose face around the world as a friend of justice. This in turn meant a break in Anglo-American solidarity. Finally, the Soviet Union stood to gain tremendous prestige value from its "humanitarian" proclamation. And so, inadvertently, the Yishuv suddenly found a strange bedfellow.
As the two great powers made their carefully worded statements for partition, the halls of the United Nations were filled with rumors that cropped up every hour.
The mammoth chess game went on. In the dramatic maneuverings Granados and Pearson became key figures. After much labor these two succeeded in the momentous achievement of closeting the United States and the Soviet Union in a meeting. They emerged from their conference with an electrifying joint statement of definite support of partition.
The Arabs guided for a last-ditch fight to keep the partition resolution from reaching the floor of the General Assembly. Soon it became apparent that a test vote would take place: to get the resolution to the General Assembly only a majority vote was needed, but this vote would indicate the strength of both sides. The vote came and the move passed and the resolution went to the General Assembly -- but the roof caved in on the Yishuv. The count was twenty-five in favor, thirteen against, and seventeen abstentions, with two absent. If the same line-up held on the final vote for partition, the Yishuv would not get its needed two thirds majority. France, Belgium, Luxembourg, The Netherlands and New Zealand had abstained. Paraguay and the Philippines were absent.
The Arabs saw that many "sure" partition votes had abandoned the Yishuv, and the Jews did not have the required number. Confident that they could bag an extra vote or two, the Arabs now switched tactics and pressed for the showdown on the assembly floor.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 27, 1947
The final debates raged. The Yishuv delegation sat in its special section of the General Assembly looking like men prepared for the executioner. The jolt of the test vote had shaken them to the core. As the arguments continued, their prospects darkened by the hour.
Greece, expected to abstain out of friendship to the United States, declared openly against partition, fearing what the Egyptians would do to their nationals.
The Philippines, expected to follow the United States, reversed again.
Haiti was suddenly without instructions. Liberia went back on the fence and Siam crossed back to the Arabs.
It was "Black Wednesday" for the Jews.
As the day wore on, the friends of the Yishuv employed a desperation move to talk the clock out and stall the vote. The next day would be American Thanksgiving Day and a holiday. It offered twenty-four precious hours to munster the needed votes. The filibuster went on until an adjournment was called.
The Yishuv delegation assembled quickly in a caucus room. Everyone spoke at once.
"Quiet!" Barak roared. "We have twenty-four hours. Let's not panic."
Dr. Weizmann came into the room excitedly. "I have received a message from Paris that Léon Blum is personally interceding to get the French vote. Feeling for partition is running very high in Paris." It was cheering news, for the former Jewish premier of France was still a powerful voice.
"Can't we appeal to the United States to get Greece and the Philippines into line?"
The delegate who worked with the Americans shook his head. "Truman has issued absolute orders that the United States is not to pressure any delegation. They won't budge from that position."
"What a time to become honorable."
The phone rang. Weizmann lifted the receiver. "Good ... good," he said. He held his hand over the mouthpiece. "Shmuel from downtown. Good ... good ... Shalom." He replaced the phone. "The Ethiopians have agreed to abstain," he announced. Ethiopia, under pressure from her neighbour Egypt, had been expected to vote against partition. The abstention decision showed great courage on the part of Haile Selassie.
A newspaperman close to the Yishuv delegation knocked on the door and entered. "I thought you fellows would like to know that there has been a revolution in Siam and the Siamese delegate has been discredited." A yell of happiness went up at this Arab loss of another vote.
Barak made a quick run down of the roll call of nations -- he knew it by heart -- and calculated the vote shifts.
"How does it look Barak?"
"Well, if Haiti and Liberia go with us and France comes in and we don't lose any more ground, we may just squeeze through."
"It was still too close for comfort. Grimly and tensely they talked over the final assignments. They could not afford to lose a single vote at this stage.
There was a knock on the door and their champion, Granados of Guatemala, entered. There were tears in his eyes.
"The president of Chile has just sent personal instructions for his delegation to abstain. The delegation has resigned in protest."
"Impossible!" Dr. Weizmann cried. "The President is the honorary chairman of the Chilean Zionists."
The stark reality, the naked hopelessness of the situation crashed down on all of them. Who knew what pressure had been brought to bear on the President of Chile? Who knew where the screws would be turned in the next twenty-four hours?
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. Barak marked it on a pad.
"The government of Argentina wishes to abstain."
"We have to cut the abstentions down," Barak whispered; "they could kill us."
Everyone leaned forward as Evatt got to his feet with the first vote of a British Commonwealth nation.
"Australia votes in favor of partition," Evatt said.
A buzz of speculation went up. Weizmann leand close to Barak's ear. "Do you think it might be a trend in the Commonwealth?"
"We'll just have to count them one at a time ... we can't tell."
"Belgium votes for partition."
Another buzz arose in the great hall. A few days earlier Belgium had abstained on the test vote. At the last minute Spaak had defied British pressure.
"Bolivia votes for partition."
"Brazil favors partition."
The South American countries were sticking. A vital vote was coming up with the next call. If the Soviet Union had a double cross up its sleeve, the world would know it now, for a satellite, White Russia, was next.
"White Russia votes for partition."
In unison the Jews breathed a sigh of relief. The Slav bloc was going to come in. The signs were bright.
Lester Pearson arose and spoke firmly. "Canada votes for partition." The second of the Commonwealth countries had gone against Great Britain.
Another delegate arose in place of the chief who had resigned in protest to his orders to abstain. "Chile has been ordered to abstain," he said slowly.
China, jockeying to become the dominant power in Asia, feared to go against the Muslims of India and Pakistan.
It was a setback for the Yishuv.
The Costa Rican delegate had been approached by the Arabs who tried to bribe his vote by a promise to support him for an important United Nations post. He stood and looked at the Egyptian delegation.
"Costa Rica votes in favor of partition."
The man who could not be bought sat down smiling.
"Cuba votes against partition."
This came as a complete and unexpected shock to the Yishuv.
"Czechoslovakia votes for partition," Jan Masaryk said.
"Denmark favors partition."
"The Dominican Republic favors partition."
"Egypt votes against and will not be bound by this outrage!"
The gavel rapped and order came about slowly, following the Egyptian's angry outburst.
"Ecuador votes for."
"Ethiopia ... abstains."
It was a bombshell! The faces of all the Arab delegates turned to the Ethiopian with stunned expressions. The Syrian delegate shook his fist angrily.
"The Republic of France votes for partition," Parodi said in a voice filled with satisfaction.
An expectant murmur went up. It was the first excited awareness that the miracle might actually take place!
Granados, the champion of partition, spoke. "For," he said.
"Greece votes against partition."
In the last moment the Greeks had bowed to Egyptian blackmail.
Haiti was a key vote that had suddenly been left without instructions in the last two days. "The government of Haiti has just sent instructions for this delegation to vote in favor of partition."
"Honduras wishes to abstain."
"Iceland votes for partition." The world's oldest republic had worked to make the world's newest republic.
"India votes against partition."
"Iran votes against."
"Iraq votes against and we will never recognize the Jews! There will be bloodshed over this day. We vote against!"
"Lebanon votes against partition," Malik said.
"How does the vote stand?" Weizmann asked Barak.
"Fifteen for, eight against, and seven abstentions."
It was not too encouraging. So far the Jews were running one vote shy of their two thirds, and the deadly abstentions were piling up.
"What do you think, Barak?"
"We will know when they come to the next three South American countries."
"I think we shall have to start pulling away. We are near the halfway mark and we show no decided strength," Weizmann said.
"Liberia votes for partition."
Another small country under duress in the British economic sphere.
"Luxembourg votes for partition."
And again the British had been directly rebuked. The Yishuv now stood one vote over two thirds.
The entire Yishuv delegation winced.
"The Netherlands votes for partition."
"New Zealand votes for."
"Nicaragua ... for."
"Norway ... for."
"Pakistan votes against partition."
The pivot votes were coming up. "If we get over the next four, I think we are in," Barak said shakily.
"The Republic of Panama favors partition."
"Paraguay has just received new instructions not to abstain ... instead, Paraguay votes for partition."
"Peru favors partition."
For a breathless second the world stood still. Romulo had been called away from Flushing Meadow. The alternate stood up.
"The Philippines votes for partition!"
A roar went up! The members of the Jewish delegation looked to each other with dazed expressions.
"Dear God," Barak said, "I think we have made it."
"Poland votes in favor of partition."
The Jews were beginning to pull away. Poland had paid its small indemnity for the years of persecutions.
The white-robed Arab screamed out against partition in a hate-filled voice.
Siam was not represented.
"Sweden is for partition."
And now the Arabs had their backs to the wall as they went into the last ditch.
"Turkey votes against partition."
Barak scanned the balance of the roster quickly. The Arabs still had a breath of life. They now had twelve votes with one more certain. If some last-minute change came through it could upset everything.
"Union of South Africa."
"Union of Soviet Socialist Republics."
Vishinsky got to his feet. "The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics votes for partition."
"The United Kingdom of Great Britain."
The hall became silent. The British delegate got to his feet and looked around the room ashen-faced. At this awesome moment he stood alone. The Commonwealth nations had deserted. The United States of America had deserted.
"His Majesty's Government wishes to abstain," the Englishman said in a shaken voice.
"The United States of America."
"The United States of America votes for partition."
It was all over. The reporters scrambled for their phones to flash the news around the world as the last vote was cast. Yemen gave the Arabs their thirteenth vote. Yugoslavia abstained in deference to a large Muslim minority. Professor Fabregat of Uruguay and the delegate of Venezuela gave the partition plan its thirty-second and thirty-third votes.
In Tel Aviv pandemonium broke loose.
In the final analysis, the Jewish victory was crushing. The Arabs had thirteen votes, and eleven of these were Arab or Muslim 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 convince by force of argument.
Those men who had won this battle at Flushing Meadow and had seen the miracle unfold were realists. The Jews in Tel Aviv celebrated only for the moment. Ben Gurion and the leaders of the Yishuv knew that an even greater miracle would have to take place to win independence for the Jewish state, as the cry "Perish Judea!" arose like thunder on Arab lips.
If you liked this bit, go read the book. I'm going to watch the "Exodus" movie tonight!