Britain eventually decided to hand the issue to the United Nations in January 1947. On May 15, 1947, the UN resolved to establish a special committee for Palestine. The committee, known as UNSCOP, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, comprised representatives of 11 countries that were not permanent members of the Security Council. It heard testimony in the US and in Palestine, and submitted its recommendations to the UN General Assembly on 1 September, 1947. UNSCOP proposed the partition of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state in economic union (each state consisting of three segments). While the Jewish state comprised sixty percent of the total area, over half of that was the Negev Desert. The city of Jerusalem was to remain an enclave under international rule. (See map below.)

An Ad Hoc Committee of the UN, under the chairmanship of Dr. H.V. Evatt, Foreign Minister of Australia, now drafted a Partition Resolution. On 29th November 1947, at a meeting of the UN General Assembly, also chaired by Dr. Evatt, the resolution was passed by the necessary two-thirds majority by a vote of 33 to 13 with ten abstentions and one absentee. (See Partition Resolution for extracts and voting detail.) In effect there was now an international charter for the creation of a State of Israel.

It is notable that the partition resolution was strongly supported by the Soviet Union and the Communist bloc, as they opposed British interests in the Middle East. At the same time the US supported the resolution partly in order to relieve pressures for large scale immigration of the Jewish survivors to America.

1947-1948 From the Partition Resolution to Independence

The Jews accepted the partition plan with celebration in the streets. The Arabs denounced the plan and refused to set up a provisional government for the proposed Arab state. Britain announced that it would not co-operate in the actual execution of the partition plan, and would withdraw its forces on 15th May 1948.

Arab hostilities began immediately in the form of a general strike, widespread rioting, and attacks on Jews throughout the country. Armed Arab forces appeared, the largest being the Arab Liberation Army led by Fauzi AI-Kaukji, a former Turkish officer, and supported by Syrian officers and irregular troops, which invaded from Lebanon.

By March 1948, with British forces still in Palestine, an all-out war for access to Jerusalem and control of Galilee was in progress. By mid-May the Jewish population had sustained some 2,500 dead, half of them civilians. Arab casualties are not readily available.

On 18 March 1948 the United States called on the Security Council to postpone the implementation of the Partition, and to set up a temporary UN Trusteeship. The British, certain that the Arabs would succeed in destroying the new State, gave assistance to Transjordan, and Major-General Glubb led the Transjordanian Arab Legion. Britain and the United States both denied arms to the provisional Government of Israel, which now looked to Czechoslovakia for supplies.

This period saw the beginnings of an exodus of Arabs away from areas of Jewish control. The numbers of those who left, and the circumstances in which they left, are matters of controversy. Estimates of the number of Arab refugees who left their homes during the conflict both before and after May 1948, range from about 419,000, based on population figures before and after the conflict, to 726,000, based on United Nations relief figures.

Arab writers accuse the Jewish forces of a concerted terror campaign. They give as an example the events on April 1948 at Deir Yassin, a village commanding the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv road, in which 250 civilians were killed by the Irgun forces. Menachem Begin, commander of the Irgun at the time, insisted that a full warning of the attack was given by loudspeakers, and that those civilians who remained were killed in the cross-fire in the fierce battle for the village.

Arab newspapers and radio gave extensive coverage of the attack, and this was an important element in precipitating the flight of Arabs away from the area. Shortly after, Arab forces attacked a medical convoy to Hadassah Hospital near Jerusalem, killing 77 doctors, nurses, teachers and students.

Israeli sources point to an intensive media effort by Israel to persuade the Arab population to remain and participate in the development in the State of Israel. They also refer to Arab calls for the inhabitants of the area to leave their homes and make way for an Arab invasion, which was expected to result in the annihilation of Israel.

(See British Police Memorandum and Arab Sources.)

1948 Israel’s Independence

When the actual partition and the inevitable conflict approached, the US government had second thoughts, as the intensity of Arab opposition and the corresponding threat to US oil interests in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf became apparent. In the UN Security Council the US representative called on the Jewish provisional government to postpone its declaration of independence. The US call was rejected by two votes in Israel’s provisional cabinet, in the face of serious doubts by Israel as to the outcome of the expected war.

On 14th May 1948 the British flag was lowered and the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel was proclaimed. It included the following words:

“We appeal in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the up-building of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions…

We extend our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of co-operation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.”

(See Declaration of Independence for full text.)