CHAPTER 11 - THE LEGAL RAMIFICATIONS OF THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE
On 29th November 1947 the United Nations General Assembly resolved that British Mandated Palestine should be partitioned into a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Jews accepted UN Resolution 181, and the Arabs rejected it.
The surrounding Arab countries – Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt – swore that they would invade and destroy an independent Jewish State as soon as it was declared. The British government had assessed that, if attacked by its neighbours, the Jewish State would probably last no more than three weeks. Instead of helping the Jewish community of Palestine to defend itself, Britain had imposed an arms embargo on the Jewish fighting forces, while at the same time arming and training the armies of Egypt and Jordan.
On 14th May 1948, Britain withdrew its forces from Palestine, thus ending its administration as the Mandatory power. Later that same day David Ben-Gurion declared the Independence of the State of Israel in what is now Independence Hall in Tel Aviv.
"By virtue of the natural and historic right of the Jewish people, and of the Resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations, we hereby proclaim the establishment of the Jewish State in Palestine to be called ‘Medinat Yisrael’ – ‘The State of Israel’. David Ben Gurion
Harry S Truman, US President
Within minutes of the conclusion of the declaration, Harry S Truman, President of the United States formally recognised Israel’s statehood. The following day the newly established Jewish State was fighting for its life. "The Jordanian invasion of Israel, the newly declared State of Israel, happened on May 15th 1948. Jordan was one of a number of states that invaded Israel on that day – along with Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. The invasion was quite explicitly for the purpose of making sure that the State of Israel would not survive. It was done without any authorisation of the Security Council, and without any pretence of self-defence. It was simply an invasion of aggression to destroy a newly-born state. Now, obviously that is illegal. It was done with the approval of the British. The British at the time more or less controlled the Jordanian army. The Arab Legion, as it was called, was headed by a British General." Professor Avi Bell, Professor of Law at San Diego University School of Law.
British Troops Withdrawing
"It’s very obvious which side the British had taken by that stage. They gave arms to the Arabs – that’s one major thing. They took arms away from the Jews – also very major. When you do that, when you take arms from one side and you give arms to the other side, what do you expect is going to happen?" Dr Denis MacEoin, former Lecturer in Arabic and Islamic Studies, Newcastle University. "There are reports, and I think they are reasonable, although it is hard to get to the bottom of this, that Jordanian troops were already operating in the Palestine Mandate before Israel declared independence, before the British withdrew. Which means that the British were already allowing Jordanian troops to participate in this aggression in territory the British should have been controlling and protecting." Professor Avi Bell
British Head of the Arab Legion, Sir John Bagot Glubb
"So when Great Britain was involved in assisting Jordan to attack Israel it was not only violating its own prior declarations and legal acts, namely in San Remo and in the Mandate in the League of Nations – it was also fundamentally violating the principles of the UN Charter itself, which had been established only three years earlier – in 1945 to replace the League of Nations. The UN Charter is based on the principles of non-aggression and the prohibition of the use of force to acquire territory." Andrew Tucker, Director, The Hague Initiative for International Co-operation (Thinc.)
Israel is fighting for its life
"In fact there is a document by the Arab League to the United Nations saying, ‘We have invaded this country to reverse what we consider to be something which is unacceptable – the Partition of the area into a Jewish State and an Arab State. We completely deny this.’ And so they basically went to war against the UN Resolution, which is quite an interesting fact, but it is a fact. ": Dr Alan Baker, Former Legal Advisor to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs . "Those Arab nations attacked a state that existed under International Law. There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the State of Israel existed as a matter of law and fact on 14th May 1948. Therefore the act of aggression by the Arab states the following day was a fundamental violation of the basic principle of the UN Charter, which is non-aggression – which is about peaceful resolution of disputes. It’s about respect for the territorial integrity of sovereign nation states." Andrew Tucker.
Pillars of Smoke in Jerusalem
A thousand soldiers from Jordan’s Arab Legion attacked the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. For 13 days fewer than 200 Jewish men and women, with limited arms and ammunition, held off the assaults of the British-trained Arab Legion. By 28th May food and ammunition had run out, and reinforcements had been unable to break through. Pillars of smoke marked the surrender of the Jewish inhabitants of the Old City. Today, a monument in Jerusalem's Old City bears witness to the 69 heroic defenders aged from 10 to 84 who died defending their city.
The Hurva Synagogue
Dr Jacques Gauthier: "I think it is impossible for the Jewish people – the Israelis today – to forget what happened in 1948 [and] thereafter. In the years that followed dozens of synagogues were completely destroyed, including their most significant synagogue in the Old City – the Hurva Synagogue. Jewish cemeteries were desecrated." The Jewish people were ethnically cleansed from their ancient capital city. Apart from a period of 200 years following the crushing of the Bar Kokhba uprising by the Romans in 135 AD, Jewish people had lived in the walled Old City of Jerusalem continuously since the Babylonian Exile. Now they were exiled again.
"Everything that had significance from a Jewish point-of-view was destroyed or desecrated. That’s what happened when the Arabs took over. Jews were not permitted to enter the Old City and pray at the Western Wall." Dr Jacques P Gauthier, International Human Rights Lawyer. Dov Chaikin lived in Jerusalem from 1928, and had served as a volunteer in the British Army at the Battle of El Alamein. Dov Chaikin: "For nineteen years I couldn’t visit the Old City, couldn’t visit the Wall."
Jews ethnically cleansed from Jerusalem
Those 19 years of forced exile from the walled Old City of Jerusalem would change the perception of the legal rights of the Jewish people to their ancient capital city, which became falsely known as ‘Arab East Jerusalem’. In 1950 matters were made worse when Jordan illegally annexed the historic Jewish capital, and all of the Jewish people’s heartland of Judea and Samaria. Andrew Tucker: "Jordan, Syria, Egypt had no claim to Jerusalem or the ‘West Bank’ – on the basis of any doctrinal principle of international law."
The United Nations
"That annexation was only recognised by Britain and Pakistan. No Arab state recognised that annexation." Dr Gerald Adler, Former Associate Professor of Law at Western Ontario University, Canada. The United Nations didn’t recognise Jordan’s annexation either. The Jordanians renamed the captured territory ‘the West Bank’. But with Britain as one of the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council with the power of veto, what should have been a UN denunciation of Jordan’s illegal occupation of the ‘West Bank’ and ‘East Jerusalem’ was never likely to happen.
Running out of food and arms in Jerusalem
"I think it’s really arguable that Great Britain was fundamentally itself in breach of the UN Charter by being involved in the attack on Israel in May 1948. And therefore any resolution which directly or indirectly accepts the validity of that attack is also in breach of the UN Charter." Andrew Tucker.
Dr Cynthia Day Wallace
"The Arab rejection of Resolution 181 precludes the Arabs from any legal claim they might otherwise have to that territory. And moreover the Arabs have actually not even recognised the right of the Jewish people to have a sovereign state." Dr Cynthia Day Wallace, Former Senior Advisor to the Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, Geneva.