By Dr. Elan Ezrachi
The past week was marked with the pause of military operations and a partial return of the hostages. While the relative (though most likely short-lived) calm was felt all over, the horror stories of the returnees and the anguish over those who are still in captivity were the main motif of the public’s mood. Quickly, we settled into a new routine: watching every evening the small group of hostages that were thrown into the Red Cross vans circled by Gazan mobs gathering in a threatening position. The scenes of embracing the released hostages were mixed with their sad and tormented images.
Not knowing how this situation is going to continue or deteriorate, I will resort to my happy place: History. This week marked 76 years since the 1947 United Nations resolution that led to the establishment of the State of Israel, known in Hebrew as: Kaf Tet B’November (the 29th of November).
A quick reminder: In 1947, the (newly established) United Nations appointed an international body to explore ways to end the British Mandate. The United Nations Commission on Palestine (UNSCOP) visited British-controlled Palestine between June and August of 1947 and collected testimonies and data from the representatives of the Jewish and Arab communities, as well as from the British authorities. The Jewish Zionist leadership seized the opportunity and presented the Jewish case with a robust public relations and political campaign. The Arabs refused to cooperate with the Commission forcing them to use alternative modes of investigation. The Commission reached the conclusion that after the termination of the British Mandate, Palestine, west of the Jordan River (or from the River to the Sea, if you wish) will be divided into two states: Jewish and Arab (those were the terms used by UNSCOP). Another feature of UNSCOP’s recommendation was that the Jerusalem metropolitan area will remain under international control and not given to neither of the rival parties. The UNSCOP recommendation was brought to a vote in New York on the 29th of November 1947.
This 76 year-old event is far and remote from our current reality. However, I would like to draw a few insights from that process:
1. The Zionist leadership was savvy in its ability to use this international body to present the case and the moral argument that stands at the base of a Jewish State. Even then, the international community was not in favor of the Zionist project, but that did not derer the Zionists and the massive campaign worked.
2. The Zionist leadership managed to convince UNSCOP that a Jewish State is not only needed for those Jews who were present in Palestine at that moment, but also for Jews outside of Israel, particularly Holocaust survivors. They even managed to bring several Commission members to visit DP camps in Europe who stated their desire to immigrate to the Jewish State. The notion of Israel as a State of the entire Jewish People received international recognition.
3. Arab refusal was a motif that began there and continued for decades. This negative attitude was not employed by the Zionists. Their strategy was to move in incremental steps and take whatever was offered to them. The idea of ‘all or nothing’ was never the Israeli position.
4. The idea of two states west of the Jordan River was born then. It never happened and doesn’t look realistic today. Still, it is probably the most optimal trajectory to end the Israeli – Palestinian conflict.
5. And finally, UNSCOP presented an interesting model for Jerusalem: an international city that is not controlled by any of the conflicted parties. Viable? Not at the moment. Interesting? For Sure.
UNSCOP deliberations at the Jerusalem YMCA, a place I visit 3-4 times a week to exercise in the fitness center where people of all religions and nationalities share the great facility.