Ben Gurion Statement - 1947
As the British Mandate drew to a close, it became imperative from the point of view of the Jewish community in Israel, to look to its defense. UNSCOP, the UN Special committee on Palestine, had recommended termination of the Mandate. It had little choice, as Great Britain had announced that it would abandon the mandate. It recommended two alternative solutions, a federated state and partition. Ben The Arab states had vowed to destroy a Jewish state and the Arab League had already formed the Arab Liberation Army (ALA).
Ben-Gurion, then Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, addressed the Elected Assembly of Palestine Jewry in Jerusalem. He assessed the dangers and advantages of the alternative plans put forward by the UNSCOP, but takes it for granted that in fact the partition plan will be adopted. As neither the US nor the USSR had as yet come out for the plan, and the USSR was known to favor a "binational state" similar to the minority opinion, partition was not a foregone conclusion. Ben Gurion addressed the need for national defense organization and logistics, a preoccupation that was characteristic of Zionist leadership and that made the difference between disaster and victory in 1948.
The speech concludes with a flowery and optimistic call for peace and economic cooperation with neighboring Arab countries. Significantly, Palestinian Arabs are not mentioned at all.
The text below is adapted from the Israel Ministry of informationhttp://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/go.asp?MFAH01dl0. The origin of the translation, which uses elaborate English, is uncertain. It could not be a literal translation of the original Hebrew. It has been adapted to American spelling and usage. Omissions in the text are as in the original, and may have included statements that were embarrassing to the Zionist cause. It appears that introductory text is missing.
Statement to the Elected Assembly of
Palestine Jews by Mr. David Ben-Gurion,
2 October 1947
Political developments have swept us on to a momentous parting of the ways - from Mandate to independence. Today, beyond our ceaseless work in immigration, settlement and campaign, we are set three blazing tasks, whereof fulfillment will condition our perpetuity: defense, a Jewish State and Arab-Jewish Cupertino, in that order of importance and urgency.
Security is our chief problem. I do not minimize the virtue of statehood even within something less than all the territory of the Land of Israel on either bank of the Jordan; but security comes unarguably first. It dominated our concerns since the Yishuv [Jewish community in Palestine] began from the start of colonization we knew we must, in the main, guarantee it ourselves. But recent upsets and upheavals in Palestine, in the Middle East and in the wide world, and in British and international politics as well, magnify it from a local problem of current safety into Zionism's hinge of destiny. In scope, in intensity, in purport, it is entirely different now. Just think of the new factors that invest the problem with a political significance of unprecedented gravity - and I could add a dozen others: the anti-Zionist policy pursued by the Mandatory Government during the past ten years, the obliteration of European Jewry with the willing aid of the acknowledged leader of the Palestine Arabs, the establishment of an Arab League active and united only in combating Zionism, Bevin's ugly war against the Jews, the crisis in Britain and its political and economic aftermath, the creation of armed forces in the neighboring States, the intrusion of the Arab Legion. And not a single Jewish unit exists.
We can stand up to any aggression launched from Palestine or its border, but more in potential than yet in fact. The conversion from potential to actual is now our major, blinding headache. It will mean the swiftest, widest mobilization, here and abroad, of capacity to organize, of our resources in economics and manpower, our science and technology, our civic sense. It must be an all-out effort, sparing no man.
It is the duty of this Assembly to decide upon a defense scheme that will gear our economy, our public life and our education to instant needs.
There is the possibility, how near in time I cannot say, but very real, that we may be sucked into a political vacuum. Politics, predominantly, abhor a vacuum. If we do not fill it, others will. Let us, once for all, slough the fancy that others may run our errand, as Britain promised twenty-seven years ago. The polemics which agitated our Movement this last decade - the 'to be or not to be' of the Mandate - are meaningless now. You had to be purblind ten years ago not to see that the Mandate was disintegrating, the Mandate as we came specifically to interpret it in Palestine: a form of administration deputed by the nations to facilitate Jewish entry and settlement for so long as the Jews themselves could not stand alone in their Homeland and conduct the work of government by right of majority. Some, doubtless with the best of Zionist intentions, wanted to turn their backs on the truth, although it had been proclaimed long since and unequivocally by Britain and recognized by the Mandates Commission ... that the Mandate had become impracticable once the Mandatory itself was persuaded that it was...
Now final judgment is passed by the United Nations and the Mandatory. The Mandate is to end. That is the common denominator uniting majority and minority at Lake Success and in Whitehall, and dispelling the friction between the Council of the United Nations and the British Government. No one can predict how things will go in the General Assembly. It may not decide at all, but one thing is certain: the Mandate is doomed, not just the British Mandate, but the principle. There is neither prospect nor proposal that Britain be replaced as Mandatory by another Power or an international body - in either event pledged to Zionism and the principles and aims which shaped the British Mandate a quarter of a century ago.
Whether we like it or not, there is one vivid conclusion we must draw - if governance has to be in Palestine, for the sake of the immigration and settlement which are unthinkable in a void, it will be our very own, or not at all. That, for good or ill, is the significance of recent political developments, external, world-wide, mightier than any will or influence of ours.
Specifically, now, as to the recommendations of the United Nations investigators.
There were eleven unanimous recommendations, of which only the first four need concern us here, for their carrying out - and the British Government has said it accepts them - entails our taking new and difficult steps, which we would not take so long as we thought that others might manage Palestine for our benefit.
The findings are these:
termination of the Mandate at the earliest practicable date;
the soonest feasible grant of independence in Palestine, on the ground that the Arabs and the Jews, after a tutelage of over twenty-five years, wish to translate their national aspirations into fact, and assuredly no arrangement will be Accepted by either with the slightest willingness which does not imply swift independence;
a brief interregnum to create the prerequisites of full sovereignty;
the transitional administration to be responsible to the United Nations, a link representing the indispensable element of compulsion where any scheme is bound to be unpopular with Jew and Arab alike.
We may dismiss the idea of a successor Mandatory. After not more than three years, Palestine is to be independent. The British Secretary of State for the Colonies announced that his Government would prepare a speedy evacuation of the army and Administration. Should there be, in the end, an unagreed adjustment, it would suggest that someone else give effect to it. In other words, British control would cease immediately a new entrepreneur came forward.
There are two proposals before the United Nations - the majority proposal to set up two States, the minority to set up a federal, or, in Zionist jargon, a 'bi-national' State.
The minority proposal indulges in sonorous theory concerning the assurance of equality between the two nations and their historical link with a common Homeland, but warrants no solid inference. Behind it, instead, is denial of our age-long connection with Palestine. For equality between Arabs and ourselves it substitutes Arab precedence in all things, even in immigration, and, in short, produces an Arab State in the false feathers of bi-nationalism.
The federal State embraces a Jewish district to which the name of 'Jewish State' is given. As to its area, to my regret I did not see the map that ought to have been annexed, but it looks to be about that of the Jewish province under the Morrison-Grady plan, though I would not vouch for it.
There will be two Chambers: one elected proportionately and therefore ruled by the Arab majority, the other based on equal representation. To pass into law a measure must get a majority of votes in each Chamber; if not, an arbitral committee of three Arabs and two Jews would decide and the decision become law. The President of the State would be elected by the Arab majority of both Chambers in joint session.
Over and above this, a Supreme Court with wide jurisdiction was invented, to interpret the Constitution, and we know what interpretation can lead to. It would adjudicate whether a federal or 'State' law was compatible with the Constitution, and pronounce in cases of conflict between local and federal laws. Its judgment would not be subject to appeal. It would, under the Constitution, have an assured Arab majority of at least four to three. This majority could interpret and veto Jewish 'State' laws as it pleased. The federal Government, with an Arab majority, would wield full authority in national defense, foreign affairs, currency, federal taxes, waterways, communications transport and immigration.
At any moment, therefore, Jewish immigration might come under ban. Only in the three transitional years would it be guaranteed, and then into the Jewish district alone, in numbers not exceeding its economic capacity and not necessarily to the full absorptive extent; the rights of the citizens of the Jewish district would have to be considered, and the rate of natural increase. And all as determined by a committee of nine, three Jews, three Arabs, and three of the United Nations representatives.
Liability for the immigrants during the triennium would fall on the Yishuv. The Jewish Agency disappears. Thereafter - immigration is in the hands of the federal Government, as I have explained, and that is as much as to say in the hands of an Arab majority. The Arabs have lost no time in declaring that not another Jew will be let in....[not clear if this is missing text in the original]
The status quo cannot go on: it has been condemned on all hands. It is hard to guess when the British will actually leave - three months, three years, or thirty, there is no telling. We know of 'provisional' occupations that lasted sixty. So let us be neither over-sanguine nor cast down. We are vitally concerned that Britain should not, under any pretence whatever, keep on implementing the policy of the White Paper. What we want is mass immigration. The majority proposal provides for 6,250 persons monthly to enter during the transition period beginning on I September 1947. There is an account to settle with Britain for shutting out thousands of Jews since the White Paper appeared, and we may let history make that settlement. But a new chapter is opening - the instant chapter of what is to befall in immigration now: this month, this year, next year. For us, now, there is no countenancing the White Paper's policy one moment after the Assembly of the United Nations ends, for is it not shorn of all international sanction, constitutionally and morally indefensible?
Moreover, we must at all costs prevent chaos and anarchy ensuing.
To sum up, it is all a question of effectuation, for both the United Nations and ourselves. Perhaps the whole design of Mr. Creech-Jones' statement was to stampede the United Nations, and make the decision harder. Very well, let us provide the catalyst. Britain assures us she will not carry out any United Nations' decision, but neither will she resist any, so be it she is rid of the concomitant task. We, therefore, tell the world that we will ourselves discharge it, that we are willing, fit and ready to gather up the reins of government instantaneously.
We are twain - the elect of the Jewish people and the elect of the Yishuv. Alone, neither can perform the task. The Yishuv, indeed, is also a part of the people, but is so nearly concerned that it must here be a vanguard as well, as it was before in reconstructing Israel and vindicating Zionism. But this is no personal issue of us who live in Palestine. The majority on the Committee sees it as a problem of world Jewry, and so, we think, does public opinion generally.
The majority framed its conclusions under the impact of two compelling revelations. First, it found here not just one more Kehillah [congregation], but the nucleus of a Jewish nation, a Jewish State in embryo. Second, words exchanged with an unknown Jew in an unnamed camp in Europe, words that should be broadcast in every spoken tongue, a simple story of past sufferings, and of why he wants to come here and nowhere else. Thus the Committee learned that Aliyah [ immigration to Israel] is not shallow submission to Zionist propaganda, but a deep compulsion, elemental, mocking death. This the members saw again with their own eyes in ships that bore to Palestine the exiled and the slain, in camps that shelter those who ran the gauntlet.
There was, however, a tertium quid -- and careful study of the report brings it out: the existence of an international commitment to the Jewish people, the flickering still of a spark of conscience in the world, the widespread recognition that the commitment must be honored, even if only in part, even if only a helpless, homeless, stateless folk was its object.
All of Jewry was that object, not the Yishuv alone, all of Jewry broke into the Land, all of Jewry seeks independence. So, too, let all of Jewry demand that an interim Jewish Government be set up to execute an interim policy under United Nations supervision and with aid thence, and primarily an interim policy of large-scale immigration and withdrawal of the White Paper. If a final policy we could accept were propounded meanwhile, we should start on that likewise.
No more protests and clamor, not another day of a vacuum in theory, jurisdiction and ethics. We shall bear the grave responsibility ourselves, untried though we have been in the arts and burdens of sovereignty for the last eighteen hundred years. The strain will be terrific. There is a local pretender to the throne, backed by millions of common creed and speech. But between acquiescing in the White Paper, with its locked gates and racial discrimination, and the assumption of sovereign power, there can, in truth, only be one choice. Perhaps we are unready, immature - but events will not wait on us. The international calendar will not synchronize itself to ours. We are set the problem and must solve it. I have told you how: supervised by the United Nations, helped by the United Nations, but in our own name, answerable to ourselves, with our own resources.
One more thing. If we have reached the parting of the ways, let us at least part with dignity, and not in the estrangement of recent years. Bevin's is not the only Britain; there is the Britain of Balfour, of- Wedgwood, of Wingate. We expect no help from Bevin's Britain, we ask only that it keep its word and not interfere.
We have not absolved the Labor Party of its pledges, nor will we, but we shall not entreat it to carry out a new policy against both inclination and ability. Well and good - the British wash their hands of us and depart! Go in peace, we say: we can manage and at once - if you will just let us be.
To establish a Jewish Government will not be enough. Defense incalculably stronger and more up-to-date than anything improvised in the past seventy years even that, be it never so vital, and succeed in it as I am sure we will, even that will not be enough.
The British episode was important, but transient: intrinsically, and from the outset, short-lived. The Mandate was a temporary thing, and so were its obligations. The Cupertino it promised was fleeting, we may hope the quarrel it provoked will be as evanescent. But we cannot look upon dealings with the Arabs in that way.
This is our native land; it is not as birds of passage that we return to it. But it is situated in an area engulfed by Arabic-speaking peoples, mainly followers of Islam. Now, if ever, we must do more than make peace with them; we must achieve collaboration and alliance on equal terms. Remembering what Arab delegations from Palestine and its neighbors say in the General Assembly and in other places, talk of Arab-Jewish amity sounds fantastic, for the Arabs do not wish it, they will not sit at the same table with us, they want to treat us as they do the Jews of Baghdad, Cairo and Damascus.
That is the attitude officially proclaimed, and it is not to be scoffed at; considerable forces in the Arab realm, and beyond, are behind it. Neither should we overrate it, or be panicked by it. As Jews, and more so as Zionists, we must forego facile optimism and barren despondency. Basic facts are our allies and no concatenation of events can shake or alter them: the tragedy of the Jews, the desolation of the Land, our unbreakable bond with it, our creativity - they have brought us thus far, whether other things helped or hindered.
There are basic facts in the Arab realm also, not only transient ones, and understanding of them should blow away our pessimism. They are the historical needs of the Arabs and of their States. A people's needs are not always articulate, its spokesmen may not always be concerned for them, but they cannot be stifled for long, eventually they force their swelling way out into expression and satisfaction.
History has been harsh to us, perhaps, setting burdensome conditions which complicate our homecoming; but it has set conditions too which, in the final accounting, will not only allow but will compel Arab and Jew to work together, because they need and complement each other. Just two examples. Egypt is the biggest country in the Arab world and in the Arab League. More than three-quarters of its population are fellahin with an average monthly income of a pound sterling; nine-tenths of the fellahin are disease-ridden, all but five percent illiterate. You cannot go on forever feeding this people on anti-Jewish incitement.
Iraq is thrice as large as Britain; of its 450,000 square kilometers only 67,000 are tilled; after twenty-five years of independence, 85 percent of the population are illiterate, half are infected and there is one doctor for every 8,500 persons. And this is among the richest countries in the world, watered by two rivers - and what rivers! An anti-Jewish diet will not do indefinitely in Iraq either.
I will not discuss ostensibly independent Trans-Jordan, its poverty and neglect many of us have visited it and know.
A final fact. From our work in Palestine, from the society we are constructing, our economy and science, our culture and humanity, our social and fiscal order, and from no other source, must enlightenment come to our neighbors, for if they do not learn from us and labor with us, it is with strangers, potent and tyrannous, that they will find themselves partnered.
They in turn have much to give us, they are blessed with what we lack. Great territories, ample for themselves and their children's children, even if they are far more prolific than they are today. We do not covet their expanses nor will we penetrate them - for we shall fight to end Diaspora in Arab lands as fiercely as we fought to end it in Europe, we want to be assembled wholly in our own Land. But if this region is to expand to the full, there must be reciprocity, there can be mutual aid - economic, political and cultural - between Jew and Arab. That is the necessity which will prevail, and the daily fulminations of their leaders should not alarm us unduly - they do not echo the real interests of the Arab peoples.
Come what may, we will not surrender our right to free Aliyah, to rebuild our shattered Homeland, to claim statehood. If we are attacked, we will fight back. But we will do everything in our power to maintain peace, and establish a Cupertino gainful to both. It is now, here and now, from Jerusalem itself, that a call must go out to the Arab nations to join forces with Jewry and the destined Jewish State and work shoulder to shoulder for our common good, for the peace and progress of sovereign equals.
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