In a file photo, Golda Meir at the United Nations.

Caption: In a file photo, Golda Meir addresses the United Nations.

Statement to the Special Political Committee of the United Nations General Assembly by Foreign Minister Golda Meir

15 December 1961

Note: For the sake of clarity and in order to make it easier to identify individual themes, for presentation on this webpage, this transcript of Golda Meir's speech has been divided into 13 separate sections.

1. On Israel’s legitimacy

In their speeches Arab spokesmen have been trying to assert that Israel is not a nation; that the Jews are not a people; that the Jews have no real connection with the Holy Land; that Zionism is a sinister imperialist conspiracy; that the United Nations had no right to take the decision in 1947; that it was not the Arabs who had attacked Israel after the decision.

May I suggest that representatives of the Arab countries not lecture us on the question of whether we are a people or a race or a religion, but leave it to us to find our own way toward a secure future out of the hardships, sufferings, and miseries that fate imposed upon us throughout the centuries?

It is perhaps difficult for some to grasp this strange phenomenon of Jewish history. The Jewish people are four thousand years old. The origin of its history and of its spiritual creation is linked with the Land of the Bible. In antiquity the Jewish State was destroyed by powerful neighbors. The Jews went into exile, only to return centuries later and establish a state once more. Centuries later the state was again conquered by more powerful foes after long years of war, and the Jews again went into exile, this time in a dispersion which scattered them to all parts of the globe.

Yet during all these generations Jews in their worldwide dispersion clung to the idea of returning one day to the land which was the one place on the globe associated with their history and with the spiritual heritage which they gave to the whole of Mankind.

Never for a day did the Jews cease to pray for and dream about the return to the land from which their people had sprung, the land in which they had accepted the concept of one God; the land in which their Prophets had proclaimed the vision of the brotherhood of man, of justice, and of universal peace. Throughout the generations some Jews continued to live in Palestine. Over and over again Jews from various parts of the world came back, some driven by anti-Semitism and persecution, and many impelled by their need for the renaissance of a national life with dignity and self expression.

Throughout the ages, although Jews lived as minorities in many countries and were engulfed by the languages and culture of others, their Hebrew language never died. The people remained alive, their ancient language, the language of the Bible, was kept alive, and so was their faith in their ultimate return to the Land of their fathers. Although at various stages our land was conquered and occupied by mighty foreign empires, the Jewish people never submitted to their rule.

Historical records, now supplemented by archaeological discoveries all over the Middle East, bear testimony to Israel's rebellions against foreign rulers and its struggle for independence. For generation upon generation, throughout the centuries, Jews turned toward Jerusalem in their daily devotions, and the words of the Psalmist, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem," have become perhaps the most essential tenet of Judaism. The Bible set the distinctive course of Israel and of the Land of Israel in human history, a course of interlocked and lasting destiny.

A passage from the official report of the Palestine Royal Commission of July 1937 reads:

"While the Jews had thus been dispersed over the world, they have never forgotten Palestine. If Christians have become familiar through the Bible with the physiognomy of the country and its place, names and events that happened more than two thousand years ago, the link which binds the Jews to Palestine and its past history is to them far closer and more intimate. Judaism and its ritual are rooted in those memories. Among countless illustrations it is enough to cite the fact that Jews, wherever they may be, still pray for rain at the season it is needed in Palestine. And the same devotion to the Land of Israel, Eretz Israel, the same sense of exile from it, permeates Jewish secular thought. Some of the finest Hebrew poetry written in the Diaspora has been inspired, like the Psalms of the Captivity, by the longing to return to Zion.

Nor has the link been merely spiritual or intellectual. Always or almost always since the fall of the Jewish State, some Jews have been living in Palestine. Under Arab rule there were substantial Jewish communities in the chief towns. In the period of the Crusades and again in the Mongol invasions, they were nearly but not entirely blotted out. Under Ottoman rule they slowly recovered. Fresh immigrants arrived from time to time, from Spain in the sixteenth century, from Eastern Europe in the seventeenth. They settled mainly in Galilee, in numerous villages spreading northwards to the Lebanon and in the towns of Safad and Tiberias. Safad, which according to Jewish tradition contained as many as 15,000 Jews in the sixteenth century, became a centre of Rabbinical learning and exercised a profound influence on Jewish thought throughout the Diaspora. "

The report continues:

"Small though their numbers were, the continued existence of those Jews in Palestine meant much to all Jewry. Multitudes of poor Jews and ignorant Jews in the ghettos of Eastern Europe felt themselves represented, as it were, by this remnant of their race who were keeping a foothold in the land against the day of the coming of the Messiah.

This belief in the divine promise of eventual return to Palestine largely accounts for the steadfastness with which the Jews of the Diaspora clung to their faith and endured persecution. "

What wonder then that down the ages this unique phenomenon has inspired men of vision to support the restoration of the Jewish people to its Land.

The recognition of this fundamental truth was the cause for the Balfour Declaration, for the League of Nations Mandate, for the support that we have enjoyed throughout the years from many men and women of different faiths throughout the world, and finally for the resolution of the United Nations to establish a Jewish State in part of Palestine. No oratory and no vituperation can change these historic facts.

After World War I, this historic connection between the Jewish people and their Land was formally recognized, first by Great Britain and later by international society as it was then organized in the League of Nations. The purpose of the mandate for Palestine was clearly stated as being the reconstitution of the Jewish National Home in that country. The text of the mandate recognizes and reaffirms the historic connection of the Jewish people with Palestine. The very term "Jewish National Home" denotes the recognition on the part of the League of Nations that the Jews have national rights in that country.

Of course, it was realized that there was an Arab population living there, and we accepted the proviso that in re-establishing the Jewish National Home nothing should be done that might be injurious to the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish population. A clear distinction was drawn between the national rights of the Jewish people in Palestine, on the one hand, and the civil and religious rights of the Arab population, on the other.

In that way Palestine was set aside for the Jewish National Home at a time when that same League of Nations decided that the major part of the area which we now call the Middle or Near East would be advanced toward independence for the Arab peoples. At that time not a single Arab State existed in the area.

Arab representatives talk here as though the establishment of the Jewish National Home and of the State of Israel had deprived the Arab nation of national independence. In fact, what the League of Nations decided at that time, and what the United Nations later confirmed anew in 1947, was the concept that side by side with the Arab people achieving independence in the wide expanses of the Middle East, the Jewish people should be allowed to rebuild its own national future in the tiny land set aside for it. Has not this concept come to abundant fulfilment?

What was the political landscape in the Middle East before the First World War? The area that is now Israel, Jordan, Syria, and the Lebanon were vilayets of the Syrian Province of the Ottoman Empire. What is today Iraq and the independent States in the Arabian Peninsula were also provinces of that empire. Only in the framework of the political settlement after the First World War did a pattern of new territorial entities emerge.

It is interesting to remember that those territories which are now independent Arab States have become such as a result of what the Arab delegations have described here as "imperialist machinations."

With the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, and only then, did Palestine become a separate political entity designated by the League of Nations in 1921 to contain the national home of the Jewish people. In the White Paper of 1922, Mr. Churchill limited the territory to which the Jewish National Home provisions of the mandate applied to the land situated west of the Jordan River, i.e., to less than one-fourth of the original area of the mandate. In 1947 this latter area, by the Resolution of the United Nations of 29 November, was further partitioned. The State of Israel today has about 8,000 square miles; the area in the Middle East in which the Arab States have gained their independence since the end of the First World War covers over 3,000,000 square miles.


2. On Arab responsibility for the 1948 war

In the presence of so many Arab representatives, it is really rather a mockery to state that the reestablishment of Jewish independence in a tiny corner of the Middle East has robbed the Arab nation of independence. It was considered just and fair, in international equity, that side by side with the independent Arab States that were to arise and did arise, there would also arise a Jewish State.

At the end of World War I the then Arab leadership accepted this plan and welcomed the return of the Jews to Palestine. If Arab leadership had remained faithful to the concept of good neighborliness between emerging Arab States in the Middle East and the State of Israel, then the world would have been spared all this misery, and the Arabs of Palestine Would have lived with us in the national home and in the State of Israel without any of the difficulties that ensued.

But Arab leadership did not reconcile itself to the verdict of the community of nations, and political strife in Palestine began. Finally, the problem was put to the United Nations, the successor of the League of Nations. Again the judgment of the international community was to confirm Jewish national rights in that country. By way of a compromise solution, the United Nations decided, after thorough investigation and prolonged discussion, to partition Palestine so that in one part of the country a Jewish State would arise and in the other part yet another Arab State would be created. This is the essence of the United Nations Resolution of November 1947.

Of course, we proceeded to organize our defensive capacity in the country. What else were we to do in the face of the decision taken by the Arab States to undo the United Nations Resolution by means of war?

We appealed to the Arabs of Palestine and to the Arab States to accept the verdict of the United Nations. The Arab States, however, urged the Arabs of Palestine not to accept the United Nations Resolution, incited them to rise against the Jews in the country, sent to their aid irregular armed forces, and promised them that as soon as the British would leave the country, they would march in with their regular armies in order to crush the Jewish State.

During the period between the adoption of the United Nations Resolution in November 1947, and the end of the British Mandate in May 1948, the Arabs of Palestine, encouraged and militarily reinforced by the Arab States, began all-out attacks against Jewish towns and villages.

There is not a shred of evidence in United Nations documents to substantiate the false charge made by the representative of Iraq that it was the Jews who, on the morrow of the United Nations decision, proceeded to attack the Arab community and to take over the whole country. Precisely the contrary is true.

We have shown how, immediately after the decision was taken, the Arab States announced from the rostrum of the United Nations that they would never accept it and that they would fight it by every means at their disposal. We appealed for acceptance and peace. They decided on rejection and war, and thus hostilities in Palestine began. Naturally, we defended ourselves.

I must again quote what the United Nations Palestine Commission said on this point on 16 February 1948: "Powerful Arab interests both inside and outside Palestine are defying the resolution of the General Assembly and are engaged in a deliberate effort to alter by force the settlement envisaged therein."


3. On the Palestinian refugee problem

On 15 May 1948, the British left, and the Arab armies invaded the country. Already, by that time, hundreds of thousands of Palestine Arabs had left their homes and had become refugees as a result of the fighting that had taken place in the country, in consequence of the Arab onslaught on the Jewish community. When the regular Arab armies joined the fighting and full-scale war ensued, the number of refugees swelled. By the time the war was over and the Arab armies had been beaten back the refugee problem had come into being.

Every modern war creates a refugee problem. The responsibility, however, for the fact that Arabs became refugees must squarely lie with those who, instead of accepting the verdict of the United Nations, went to war to undo it and perpetrated the aggression of 15 May 1948 against the State of Israel. Large numbers of the refugees left the country at the call of the Arab leaders, who told them to get out so that Arab armies could come in.

Arab representatives stressed the tragedy of Deir Yassin, where civilian Arabs were murdered by a Jewish dissident group. This action was at once disavowed and condemned by the official Jewish leadership. Those who perpetrated these murders certainly sinned heavily against the standards of self-defense which the Jewish community had set itself. Yet at the same time, it is historically incorrect to state that the exodus of the Arab refugees was due to this tragic incident.

Without in any way detracting from the condemnation of what occurred at Deir Yassin, I cannot altogether pass in silence over some of the grave outrages perpetrated at the time by the other side. We cannot forget the assault on the medical convoy on its way to the Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, when seventy-seven doctors and nurses were killed in cold blood. We cannot forget how the period beginning twenty-four hours after the United Nations Resoulution was characterized by the daily toll of innocent lives of Jews travelling in the country. The road to Jerusalem is still today flanked by burned-out cars whose peaceful passengers fell victim to organized Arab ambush and terror. I shall not give a long list of such instances, but I would like to find one statement of responsible Arab leaders denouncing the massacre of medical personnel and other civilians.

If the Arab States had accepted the United Nations Resolution and if they had urged the Arabs of Palestine to do likewise, instead of inciting them to fight in order to undo the Resolution, there would have been no bloodshed and not a single refugee. The Jewish and Arab States in Palestine would have arisen in peace and cooperation and subsequent history would have been different. Indeed, some 100,000 Arabs did not join the general flight and remained within Israel. Since then their number has risen through natural increase and through the return of some refugees from beyond the frontiers, and today there are a quarter of a million Arabs in Israel.

Some of the stock allegations of the Arab representatives pertain to the situation of the Arab population of Israel. These allegations are as malicious as they are unfounded, and my colleagues and I have on many occasions refuted them. Suffice it to say, at this time, that the Arabs of Israel share to the fullest the rights of every citizen of the country. They take part in the elections along with all other citizens; they are represented in the Knesset (the Israel Parliament); they take an active part in all walks of life they are judges and mayors, doctors and lawyers, teachers and social workers. They enjoy standards of living in health, welfare, and education unequalled in any Arab State. We are proud of their important contribution to the development of the country.

I must now dwell on the numbers of Arab refugees. There is no doubt about the present UNRWA rolls being inflated. There are not a million-odd bona fide refugees, and there never were. On 31 December 1946, according to the figures supplied by the Government of Palestine to UNSCOP, the total number of Arabs in unpartitioned Palestine was 1,288,000. Of this number were resident in the former mandated territory, later annexed by Jordan, about 500,000. In the area later annexed by Egypt namely, the Gaza Strip - there were over 100,000. Furthermore, about 100,000 Arabs never left the area which is now Israel, and a further 40,000 returned to Israel. The total of Arabs, therefore, who left the area which is Israel could not have exceeded 540,000 to 550,000.

As the Commissioner-General has pointed out, at least 20 percent were immediately absorbed and never became dependent on UNRWA. This should have left about 400,000 genuine refugees on the rolls. But, as United Nations documents indicate, the original lists of relief recipients in 1948-49 included not only refugees, but also a large proportion of impoverished local inhabitants.

On 4 November 1949, the Secretary-General submitted to the Assembly a "Report of Assistance to Palestine Refugees." In a passage headed "Difficulty of Definition" this report describes the haphazard way in which the relief rolls were compiled, the lack of any eligibility test, and the extreme difficulty in practice to distinguish between persons displaced from their homes as a result of hostilities, indigent or unemployed local residents, and nomadic and seminomadic Bedouin who would naturally gather at places where food was being distributed.

The Secretary-General added that a considerable percentage of the refugees were in small villages where the food was being distributed by the local mayor, and it could not be doubted that in many cases individuals who could not qualify as being bona fide refugees were in fact on relief rolls. In the same year, 1949, the Final Report of the United Nations Economic Survey Commission to the Middle East (the Clapp Report) estimated that at least 160,000 non-refugees had managed to get on to the relief rolls.

During the years since then, as has often been pointed out in UNRWA reports, the figures have become even more inflated. In Table 1, annexed to this year's Report, a footnote warns: "The above statistics are based on the Agency's registration records which do not necessarily reflect the actual refugee population owing to factors such as the high rate of unreported deaths and undetected false registrations."

In addition, the Agency has no adequate machinery for checking which of the refugees have become wholly or partly self-supporting. This would in any circumstances not have been easy to find out, since only 40 percent of the refugees live in camps. A substantial measure of "spontaneous absorption", taking place in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon is not adequately reflected in UNRWA statistics.

These are some of the factors which explain the inflation of the rolls. The Agency claims that since 1950, more than 425,000 names have been removed from the rolls through routine processes. A good part of those names must relate to bona fide refugees registered in 1949, who, as we have pointed out, were about 400,000. Naturally, there is a fair margin of error in any such calculations. But, even allowing for natural increase, it is clear that only a part of UNRWA's present grand total of 1,174,760 falls within the accepted definition of Palestinian refugees. The rectification of the rolls has come up repeatedly in annual reports and Assembly resolutions, but it has not been carried out due to the opposition of the host governments.

This analysis does not bear out the political contentions of Arab spokesmen. It is always a human tragedy when people are uprooted and displaced from their homes, for whatever reason, and all of us must view the problem of these refugees with compassion and a desire to help them. It is a different matter when the problem is presented to us in political terms as that of a whole nation which has been deprived of its national homeland.

The great majority of the Arab inhabitants of what was formerly Palestine have remained within the former area of the mandated territory. Part of them are Arabs whose former homes were within the present frontiers of Israel, and part of them are Arabs whose former homes were and still are in districts now occupied by Jordan, where they have become citizens. as well as in districts occupied by the United Arab Republic.

We are today faced with an Arab refugee problem as a result of the war which the Arab States launched against Israel in 1947 and 1948. This has remained the only group of refugees whose lot has not been eased by their own kinsmen. Many millions of other refugees, displaced as a result of wars and upheavals, have been received and rehabilitated by their people and been permitted to lead a normal life amongst them. In some instances the solution lay in an exchange of populations, as in the case of Greece and Turkey. The Arab refugee problem is the only instance where, out of political considerations, hundreds of thousands of people are compelled to remain refugees, denied natural acceptance by their own kinsmen. How can one reconcile the outcry over the fate of the refugees living on international charity with the fierce opposition to any plan of constructive development, of resettlement and of integration designed to rehabilitate these unfortunate people?


4. On Israel’s absorption of the Jewish refugees from Arab lands

I mentioned that in some cases the solution lay in an exchange of population. I should like to emphasize the fact that we in Israel have received since 1948 over 500,000 Jewish refugees from the Arab countries that is, practically the same number as that of Arabs who left the area which is Israel.

These Jewish refugees from Arab States and their children comprise a very substantial part of Israel's total population. A striking indication of this lies in the fact that no less than 55 percent of the children of grade-school age in Israel are from families who came to Israel from the countries which are members of the Arab League.

On their arrival in Israel the occupational structure of these Jewish refugees was heavily imbalanced. Less than 1 percent of them in their countries of origin had been engaged in agriculture; less than 2 percent had been engaged in the building trades; a very substantial percentage were illiterate. The vast majority could be absorbed initially only in unskilled work, and nearly all had to be taught new trades and occupations before they could be fully integrated into the country's growing economy.

Our approach to these refugees was that they were our brothers and sisters; that they must be given full equality, not just in theory but in practice; that they must be helped to take a productive part in our economy and our public life; and that their children in particular must be helped quickly to move upwards on the educational ladder so that within as short a period as possible they would reach the general level.

Of course, this policy could not be carried out without what has been referred to as uneconomic expenditure. I think that these expenditures produce the greatest economic asset that any society could possibly wish for or possess namely, human beings who have regained their dignity, who realize the extent of their God-given capacities and are filled with the desire to express those capacities in their own interests and in the interest of the society of which they are part.

As a result of this attitude toward these refugees and of the determination to help them transform themselves as rapidly as possible into productive citizens, we have seen this growing section of our population change with striking speed. Those who were unemployable on their arrival are today gainfully employed in agriculture, industry, mining, communications, and services. Those who needed assistance upon their arrival for their most elementary needs of shelter, medical care, food, clothing, and education today are making their full contribution as self-supporting citizens to the common good.


5. On the universal humanitarian imperative of resettling refugees

I do not think that we in Israel are unique in this respect. I could mention a number of countries which in the period since the end of World War II have reacted in the same way to the human challenge of refugee populations of their own kinsmen, both in Europe and in Asia. We have listened with interest to what the distinguished representative of Greece has told the Committee about the reception centers for Greek refugees arriving in his country since 1957. It is not without significance that precisely where such an attitude had been displayed it has resulted not only in a transformation of refugees into citizens, but also in the economic growth and development of the Countries receiving them.

The eyes of the refugee should be directed toward the future, toward the opportunities present in his existing environment to which lie is closely linked by ties of language, culture, faith, and customs.


6. On the Arab use of refugees as an existential weapon against Israel

The central aspect of the Arab presentations which we have heard during the debate this year, as on so many previous occasions, is that the refugee is used as a political instrument for the attainment of negative and destructive objectives which we have heard defined in terms diametrically opposed to the letter and spirit of the Charter of the United Nations. I have no doubt what members of the United Nations think of these objectives or of the spirit which advances them. It breeds not peace, but war. It is a spirit which does not solve refugee problems but which, if permitted to express itself in action, would create only additional human misery in the entire area.

I am certain that after hearing the speeches of representatives of the Arab States and of the refugee spokesmen, no delegate here can have any doubt as to the real purpose of the Arab States which is not to allow the creation of normal and peaceful conditions between themselves and Israel or as to the real desires of the refugees which is not to return to Israel as loyal citizens of the country. As I have said at the outset, the purpose of the Arab States is to achieve the destruction of Israel, and the immediate repatriation of hundreds of thousands of anti-Israelis into Israel is designed to soften up Israel, from within, toward her final elimination.

There are dozens of speeches, dozens of broadcasts and dozens of articles by Arab leaders in every Arab country that say quite clearly that the repatriation of the refugees is a means toward the destruction of Israel. I give here but one example. In an interview on a German television service, reproduced in the Swiss newspaper Zuercher Woche of 1 September 1961, President Nasser of Egypt says: "When the Arabs return to Israel, Israel will cease to exist." Distinguished delegates will not be surprised that we are not prepared to cooperate in this scheme.

Is it not perfectly obvious that the representatives of the Arab States are not really searching for a solution of the refugee problem but for the dissolution of the State of Israel? They themselves say that they are trying to secure their return into Israel within the context of the proposition that Israel has no right to exist and must be eliminated.


7. On Israeli humanitarian contribution to the alleviating the suffering of Palestinian refugees

We in Israel are very sensitive to the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of people living the lives of refugees and subsisting on international charity. My people know what it is to be a refugee. We are concerned about the future of these people, and we believe that the United Nations and this Committee should address themselves to the question, what is the best way of securing a better future for every one of them. In fact, we have done certain things ourselves in this matter to alleviate the Arab refugee situation. Since the end of the fighting, about 40,000 Arabs have come back into the country and have been integrated with the community; several thousands of these came under the scheme providing for the reunion of families which had been broken up by the fighting.


8. On Israel’s standing offer for compensation to Palestinian Arab refugees

Ever since 1949, we have declared our willingness to pay compensation for refugee property abandoned in Israel. We stated our readiness to pay such compensation even before a settlement of all other outstanding issues provided, of course, that such funds be used as part of an overall plan for the solution of the refugee problem. If this has not yet been effectuated, it is due to the fact that the Arab countries have insisted on immediate repatriation and have spurned those offers. In any negotiations about compensation we reserve the right to bring up the question of compensation for the property of Israeli citizens which was confiscated when they left Arab countries, as well as for the property abandoned by Jews during the war of 1948 in parts of the country which were annexed by Jordan, such as the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, and elsewhere.


9. On Israel’s release of money from the frozen bank accounts of Palestinians

In response to requests made by the Conciliation Commission, the Government of Israel agreed to release all blocked bank accounts and safe deposits left behind by refugees in banks in Israel. In doing so, my Government desired to make a contribution of goodwill to alleviate the lot of a considerable number of refugees and to further the advance of peaceful relations between Israel and the Arab States. Under the first release scheme, a sum of 740,000 pounds sterling was transferred to their owners, residing in Arab countries or elsewhere. Under a second release scheme another 2,800,000 pounds sterling were transferred. A sum total of more than 3,500,000 pounds sterling flowed from Israel into the coffers of the Arab States, notwithstanding the fact that they were maintaining their practices of economic warfare and blockade in exercise of an alleged state of war, in flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter.

The Conciliation Commission in its Twelfth Progress Report hailed that unilateral action of Israel on behalf of the refugees "as an important step towards the settlement of the differences existing between Israel and her neighbors." Yet, to our regret, this act, which was undertaken by Israel without any conditions and which, in the light of the prevailing circumstances, was a unique gesture, did in no instance evoke any pacific or constructive reaction on the part of the Arab governments. Worse than that, they even put up obstacles to frustrate the implementation of this release scheme.


10. On the efforts of Arab countries to increase hardship of Palestinian refugees and sabotage of any plan that would resettle them out of refugee camps

Let us now contrast this with the attitude of the Arab governments toward creating a future for those who became refugees in the first place as a result of the disastrous decision of the Arab leaders to go to war. They have constantly rejected any plan which, if implemented, would have absorbed large numbers of refugees. They rejected the Clapp Report the Report of the United Nations Economic Survey for the Middle East of 1949 which recommended an economic approach to the problem and the gradual integration of the refugees in the expanding economy of the area.

In 1959 the late Secretary-General, Mr. Hammarskjold, enlarged on this concept in his proposals to the General Assembly, where he recommended a large-scale development plan for the Middle East, within which the refugees would find a constructive future. Can anyone doubt the need for such a project? His plan, if executed, would have brought about a far-reaching transformation of this underdeveloped area and would have resulted in the absorption of large numbers of refugees. The Arab States would not hear of such a plan. According to their book, nothing must be done, and the refugees must continue to linger in their camps in order to be kept as a permanent threat against Israel.

In 1953 the United States Government attempted to bring about the implementation of a regional irrigation project. Such a scheme would have been of enormous benefit to Jordan, to Israel, and in part also to Syria. For two years, the representative of President Eisenhower, Mr. Eric Johnston, negotiated with the Arab States and with Israel and finally succeeded in working out a plan for water distribution that was agreed upon by both Arab and Israel experts. The Israel Government accepted the plan. The Arab politicians vetoed it. If implemented, it would have enabled about a quarter of a million refugees to resettle in homes on irrigated land and to lead a normal and productive existence.

But again this was not to be. The overriding consideration is not what is good for the refugee, but what is detrimental to Israel.

On 19 October 1958, Mr. Johnston wrote in the New York Times Magazine: "After two years of discussion, technical experts of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria agreed upon every important detail of a unified Jordan plan. But in October 1955, it was rejected for political reasons at a meeting of the Arab League."

Similarly, Syria frustrated the efforts of UNRWA in 1951 and 1952 to develop rehabilitation projects in that country. Egypt withdrew her earlier agreement to a plan for the settlement of 70,000 refugees on lands to be irrigated in the Sinai Peninsula. These two instances are mentioned in the Report of the Director of UNRWA for the year 1954-1955....

The underlying causes for these negative Arab policies were recently again depicted in a series of articles published in the noted Swiss daily Neue Zuercher Zeitung by Arnold Hottinger, who is a prominent Swiss authority on Near Eastern affairs. He says:

"The 'Palestine Specialists' who exist in all Arab countries, and who are always called upon when refugee problems are discussed on the political level, are well-to- well established Palestinians.... They have succeeded in asserting their opinions on Palestine questions as the only one acceptable, and they, watch carefully least any Arab deviate from this line and be it only by the breadth of a hair. The opinion of these 'specialists', who themselves do not suffer any personal hardship from their refugee status, is easy to summarize: The refugees are to be left in their miserable condition as a sort of pawn for Arab rights in Palestine, it is not desirable that they adapt themselves to the economic life of their Arab host countries, because that would mean the loss of the strongest lever by which the Arabs hope to move the world once more to put the Palestine question on the agenda. "

This is the considered opinion of a neutral observer with long-standing experience in Near Eastern affairs. The best corroboration for these views are the speeches which we heard here from the Arab representatives.


11. On the favourable prospects for Palestinian refugees should they be resettled in Arab lands

If only the 40,000,000 Arabs had done for their refugees what the 650,000 Jews who were in Israel in 1948 did for 1,000,000 Jewish refugees including half a million from Arab countries who have been integrated with us since then! We shared our resources with them. We introduced severe rationing and strict austerity measures. Of course, we received aid from friendly governments, as do all newly emerging states, but aid came chiefly from Jews the world over, because there is Jewish brotherhood.

Certainly, Jews in the United States and elsewhere have a deep affection for the State of Israel. This lessens to no degree their loyalty to and citizenship of the countries in which they reside. But Jews all over the world care what happens to their fellow Jews who are refugees, and they organize in order to assist them to rebuild their lives in Israel. We cared for our refugees in such a way that they have now become builders of a modern, developing Country.

The Arab refugees are not in strange and foreign lands. They are Arabs in Arab countries, amongst their own kith and kin, in a familiar environment of language, history, background, customs, and religion. Would it not have been the most natural thing in the world for the Arab countries to do as we did namely, to take in their brethren and create a new life for them within their vast expanses, with international aid, including compensation for property from Israel, and within the framework of the economic development of those countries?

In various parts of the world, tens of millions of people who became refugees as a result of fighting or political upheavals have been constructively resettled among their own kith and kin in neighboring lands, and the practical problem before us is in no way unique. Where is the brotherly care on the part of the Arab countries for tile refugees? I am not referring to politics, but to simple human brotherhood.


12. On the desire of Israel for a negotiated peace with all of its neighbours

The representative of Iraq argued that the issue is not between the Arab States and Israel, but between Israel and the Arab refugees from Palestine. In the same breath he based himself on United Nations resolutions. Let it clearly be stated that all United Nations resolutions on this subject recognize the Arab States and the State of Israel as parties to the dispute, and as I have mentioned, many resolutions have called on these two parties to enter into negotiations and resolve their differences. This unfortunate conflict is between Israel and the Arab States who refuse to establish peaceful relations with her and who refuse to cooperate in solving the refugee problem within the context of the restoration of peace in the area.

It has been said here that negotiations are useless because the positions of the parties are firmly stated and they are far apart. That is precisely why negotiations are needed. Despite our disappointments and despite the venom and abuse hurled at us, we remain convinced that negotiations are the only way. Unfortunately, for the time being there is little hope that the Arab States will accept such an approach, for they have chosen in this very Committee to reject negotiations and have threatened to force their solution upon us by war.


13. Conclusion: Summary of Israel’s position on Palestinian refugees

I should like to sum up the position of my Government as follows:

  1. We accepted the 1947 compromise solution. Had the Arab States done likewise and urged the Arabs of Palestine to do so, there would have been a Jewish State and an Arab State living together in peace and cooperation.
  2. The Arab States instead decided to launch a war against Israel. The Arab refugee problem arose as a consequence of this war. Those responsible for that war are responsible for the existence of the refugee problem.
  3. About 550,000 Arabs left the territory which is now Israel. A similar number of Jewish refugees from the Arab countries have since been integrated into Israel. There has thus been a de facto exchange of population.
  4. No United Nations resolution demands immediate, total, and unconditional repatriation of refugees into Israel. On the other hand, there are United Nations resolutions calling for negotiations of the peaceful settlement of all outstanding questions.
  5. Israel believes that the future of the Arab refugees lies in the resettlement in the Arab countries, within the framework of the economic development of the Middle East.
  6. Israel stands by its readiness to pay compensation for property abandoned by the refugees, even before a general peace settlement is concluded provided these funds are used for the overall solution of the problem. Israel will demand compensation for property of its citizens that was confiscated by the Arab governments.

We feel certain that despite the present hostility, which prevents the solution of the refugee problem and of other problems outstanding between us and our neighbors, the day will come when Arab leadership will realize the futility of their present attitude.

My country remains ready at all times to put aside the rancors of the past and to work out with the Arab leaders a better future for the Middle East as a whole, where there will be development, freedom and happiness for the Arab States, as well as for Israel, in which those who are now refugees will fully share.