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Roytenberg: The making of the modern Middle East

United Nations flag WIKI COMMONS PHOTO
United Nations flag (WIKI COMMONS PHOTO)

We recently marked the 71st anniversary of the UN partition vote, which was decided on Nov. 29, 1947. The partition resolution constituted a statement of support by the international community for Jewish aspirations to self-government.

The vote was not unanimous, but 33 of the 56 members of the UN General Assembly voted in favour, with 13 opposed and 10 abstentions. Of the 13 that voted against it, 10 were Muslim-majority countries, along with Greece, India and Cuba.

In the aftermath of the decision, the Arab states rejected the partition plan and vowed to fight it, while the Jewish Agency, which represented the Jews of Palestine, accepted the plan, even though Jerusalem was not to be included in the proposed Jewish State.

The willingness of the Jewish Agency to compromise was driven by the desperate situation of hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees in Europe. These Jews had languished in European refugee camps for over two years since the end of the Second World War. British restrictions on immigration to Palestine were preventing these survivors of the Shoah from escaping the camps and starting a new life. The creation of a Jewish State would allow them to come to Palestine.

The 30 years from 1917, when the British issued the Balfour Declaration in support of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine, and 1947, when the partition resolution was passed, had been catastrophic for the Jewish people. The language of the Balfour Declaration was included in the British mandate for Palestine, which directed them to facilitate the creation of a Jewish national home.

In the early 1920s, the British acquiesced to Arab objections, setting aside almost 80 per cent of Palestine for an Arab state and banning Jewish immigration there. This area was renamed Transjordan and given to a wartime British ally, Abdullah I bin Al-Hussein, as a kingdom.

The remaining 20 per cent of Palestine theoretically remained open to Jewish immigration, but this was violently opposed by the Arabs living in the territory. Over the following decades, the British severely limited Jewish immigration into the area, even as European Jews came under ever greater peril. Amin Husseini, who emerged as the leader of the Palestinian Arabs through a series of violent intrigues, was determined that all of Palestine should be an Arab state. He incited anti-Jewish violence and worked relentlessly to prevent the increasingly desperate Jews of Europe from arriving there.

Today, when we look back on the Second World War, we are astonished that the world was so indifferent to the fate of European Jews. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently extended an apology to Canada’s Jews and to the descendants of the ill-fated refugee ship, the MS St. Louis, for failing to provide a haven for its desperate passengers. America, too, largely closed its doors when the need was greatest. The fact that both countries supported the partition plan and have supported Israel on the world stage since then is, in part, an act of repentance for their failure to help in the past.


Yet there has not been any repentance among the Arabs of Palestine. The passage of the partition resolution was the trigger for the outbreak of Arab violence against Jews in Jerusalem. Jewish communities all over the country came under siege and the country spiralled in the months that followed into civil war. While the Jews were fighting for survival, the surrounding states were preparing to invade.

To this day, the leaders of the Palestinian Arabs blame the Jews for the heavy price they paid in losing that war. They continue to claim that the Jews have no historical connection to Palestine and to incite and commit violence against Israeli civilians. It is long past time that they recognize that they themselves were the authors of their own misfortune, when they chose hatred over mercy and shut the doors of refuge to the European Jews who were fleeing for their lives.

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