The establishment of the State of Israel and the Arab response

Photo: Map from In Ishmael’s House showing 9 of the 11 Arab countries (excluding Iran and Afghanistan) from which Jews were expelled between 1947 and 1957, called “The Second Exodus”.  Martin’s note corrected the Egypt numbers to “at least 45,000”.

865 words / 4 minute read

On 24 November 1947 the Political Committee of the United Nations General Assembly debated Resolution 181:  the proposed partition of Palestine into two independent States, one Jewish and one Arab.  The Jewish State would be in the areas predominantly lived in by Jews.  The Arab State would be in areas predominantly lived in by Arabs.

 During the debate, the chairman of the Egyptian delegation, Dr Muhammad Hussein Heykal Pasha, warned the committee that “the lives of one million Jews in Moslem countries would be jeopardized by Partition.”  The partition of Palestine, he believed, “might create anti-Semitism in those countries even more difficult to root out than the anti-Semitism which the Allies tried to eradicate in Germany.”  If the United Nations voted to partition Palestine, Heykal Pasha cautioned, “it might be responsible for very grave disorders and for the massacre of the large number of Jews.”

 Heykal Pasha continued by arguing that a million Jews were living “in peace” in Egypt and other Muslim states, enjoying “all rights of citizenship.”  But he added:  “If a Jewish State were established, nobody could prevent disorders.  Riots would break out in Palestine, would spread through all the Arab States, and might lead to a war between the two races.”

 The representative of the Palestine Arab Higher Committee, Jamal al-Husseini, was equally threatening.  “It must be remembered, by the way,” he told the committee, “that there are as many Jews in the Arab world as there are in Palestine whose positions, under such conditions” – following Partition – “will become very precarious, even though the Arab States may do their best to save their skins.”  Governments “in general,” he added, “have always been unable to prevent mob excitement and violence.”

 Five days after these dire warnings, on 29 November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 181:  the establishment of two States in a partitioned Palestine, one Jewish and the other Arab.  As with the British plan in 1937, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and a corridor to the sea were to be excluded from both States, and would be “established as a ‘corpus separatum’ under a special international regime and shall be administered by the United Nations.”

 From the moment of the promulgation of the United Nations Partition Resolution, pressure against the Jews living in Muslim lands intensified.  It was fuelled by refusal of the Arab States to grant international legality to a Jewish State, and also by the rising anti-Jewish violence inside Palestine.  This violence was stimulated by outside Arab propaganda and military intervention, even while the British Mandate was still in place.  Although the United Nations resolution offered an Arab State as well as a Jewish one, the Arabs of Palestine rejected their own statehood; encouraged by the existing Arab States, who demanded sovereignty in all of Palestine, not in a partitioned country.

On 14 May 1948, Israel declared its independence.  Two days later, a New York Times headline warned:  “Jews in Grave Danger in All Moslem Lands:  Nine Hundred Thousand in Africa and Asia Face Wrath of Their Foes.”

 These ominous words reflected a sense of foreboding that had spread among Jews in Arab countries from the moment Israel declared independence.  Hatred of Zionism had been integral to the Arab States’ world view for three decades, and on May 14 that hatred became a hatred of Israel.

Even more worrying was the rapidly approaching conflict between Arab and Israeli forces.  On May 16 – two days after David Ben-Gurion declared independence in Tel Aviv – the five armies of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Transjordan began their advance against the new Jewish State.

From the area that had been British Mandate Palestine, 726,000 Arabs were made refugees in 1948 having lost their homes, their lands and their livelihoods.  The number of Jews who were forced to leave Arab lands after the establishment of the State of Israel was 850,000.  While the Arab refugees were protected as refugees – and remain protected until today, along with their several million descendants – the Jews from Arab lands made new starts in life, bereft of the financial benefits and international sympathy of refugee states, either for them or for their descendants.

Despite facing severe economic difficulties and a war that caused much destruction and impoverishment, the young State of Israel took in 580,000 Jewish refugees from Muslim lands from the first days of its independence, as well as more than 100,000 survivors of the Holocaust in Europe.  All of these refugees came with nothing, and were taken in, sheltered, fed, housed and found places in the workforce, despite the heavy financial costs to the Israeli Government.

 The Jews living in Muslim lands in 1948 might have hesitated to make their way to a land at war, or to trust the emissaries who came from the new Jewish State to promote such a long and often hazardous journey.  But they did not hesitate, even in the lands and towns and homes in which their families had lived for so many generations.  They knew what their situation would be if they remained where they were.  They knew that under Muslim rule their existence would be harsh and full of danger.

excerpt from In Ishmael’s House

Read:  In Ishmael’s House

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