The birth of a nation

(Note: James N. argues that the Jewish community of Palestine made a big mistake by relying on the UN to establish the legitimacy of a Jewish state in Palestine, rather than just taking the situation into their own hands, and I reply.)

Ted Belman at Israpundit reproduces a letter written in November 1947 at the time of the UN partition vote on Palestine by a young woman in Jerusalem, Zippy Porath (nee Borowsky), to her family in New York. (Here is more on Zippy Porath and her letters.)

Dearest Mother, Dad and Naomi,

I walked in a semi-daze through the crowds of happy faces, through the deafening singing of “David, Melech Yisrael, chai, chai vekayam” (David, King of Israel, lives and is alive), past the British tanks and jeeps piled high with pyramids of flag-waving, cheering children. I dodged motorcycles, wagons, cars and trucks which were racing madly up and down King George V Street, missing each other miraculously, their running boards and headlights overflowing with layer upon layer of elated, happy people. I pushed my way past the crying, kissing, tumultuous crowds and the exultant shouts of “Mazal tov” and came back to the quiet of my room … to try to share with you this never-to-be-forgotten night.

The light in my room was still on from last night. I had planned to go to sleep early since rumor had it that voting at the UN on the Partition Plan would probably be postponed for another day. But, at about 11:00 P.M. there was a knock on the door: “We’re getting through to America. Come on down. The voting’s tonight.” Ten pajama-clad bodies crowded into a room with space enough for five and sat tensely around the battered radio for what seemed like hours while vain attempts were made to get clear reception from Lake Success. We got through just as the announcement of the majority vote was made: thirty-three in favor, thirteen against and ten abstentions.

Ecstatic, we hugged and kissed each other frantically, then stood rigidly at attention and sang Hatikvah fervently.

Out came bottles of wine, biscuits and candy. We ate and drank and held a solemn little ceremony, then dashed to our rooms, hurriedly slipped on whatever clothing was on hand and banged on all the doors to wake up those who had slept through the good news. All the students in the building scrambled up to the roof and, under the warmth of moonglow and wine, danced deliriously. Then we made a snake line to the nearest houses, banging on the shutters and doors, shouting the news as we went. In a seemingly endless column, we wound our way to the next community, Bet Hakerem, where the Teachers Seminary is and where most of its students live. The streets were already full, ring upon ring of dancing groups circling in a frenzied hora. Ours was the last and largest circle.

Arms linked, marching six abreast, singing all the way, the battalion of students advanced, shouting the news to neighbors who poked their sleepy heads out of windows and doors to see what the commotion was about, straight to Hamekasher, the bus terminal. Confronting the watchman with the news, we demanded a bus to take us to town. He was so excited he provided three. In a mad scramble we piled in, body on body; down the road we raced like a million hearts on fire, headed for the heart of Jerusalem.

The streets in the city were beginning to fill as the news got around. People poured out of their homes in a continuous ever thickening stream. In the center of town crowds of happy people, hugging each other, dancing horas and jigs, headed spontaneously, as we were headed drawn by some magnetic force -to the courtyard of the fortress-like Sochnut (Jewish Agency) building, which for years housed the hopes for a Jewish State in Palestine. Out came a flag and onto the balcony came Golda Myerson . There were no words to suit the moment. Choked with emotion, she managed to say “Mazal tov,” and down came tears, oceans of unrestrained happy tears. All night streams of joyful crowds assembled in the courtyard milling in and out -to pay homage, to give vent to exultant feelings that welled up from deep inside.

A group of us marched to the press room of the Palestine Post to get the latest news from Morty and Dov, our friends who work there. Another round of drinks and embraces and crazy dances while we waited for the historic First Edition to come off the presses. At 4:30 in the morning, flushed with excitement, ignoring the wet ink, we passed our copies around for everyone to autograph, including an English Tommy who wandered in for a drink. Then Morty, Dov, Milt, and Ray Sussman, and I and several student friends who had come with me headed back to the Sochnut building, just in time to see a streak of warm beauty spring up out of the horizon and smile good morning to us. We looked at each other, drew closer together, wrapped arms about each other’s chilled shoulders and felt the thrill of experiencing an historic wonder, dawn bidding Shalom to a Jewish State.

Our group consisted of about fourteen fellows and a few girls, from about as many countries. We made our way singing to Morty’s room, not far away, where we found the landlord so elated he didn’t know what to do for us first. Never the practical person, I suggested food and prepared sandwiches, fruit and coffee while we drank yet another Lechaim.” Leaving the house, we were met by scores of morning crowds, some from the night before, some fresh out of bed, kissing and embracing and shouting “Mazal tov!” And as we rounded the corner into Keren Kayemet Street, where the Sochnut is, whiz came the motorcycles, lorries, cars and the children, now awake, and took up the gaiety where we had left off. Spontaneous parades formed, led by a flag bearer and a couple of drunken British soldiers -this time, thank goodness, unarmed.

The sun was getting warmer and warmer, a glorious day. The end of November, and seventy-five degrees of heartwarming sunslline was bearing down on a happy city. The foreign correspondents and Pathe men were on the job photographing the British tanks which were suddenly converted into fiying transport for anyone who could climb aboard, sing, shout and wave a fiag. We joined the crowds, going from one end of King George V Street to the other, meeting friends and fraternizing with the English soldiers, who were as happy as we were about the end of tension and ill feeling between us. All they wanted was to go home. With each round we ended up at the Sochnut again; every crowd did.

Rumor had it that Ben-Gurion had just arrived from Tel Aviv and would make a personal appearance. Sure enough, there he was, standing on the balcony of the Sochnut building. He looked slowly and solemnly around him -to the rooftops crammed with people, to the throngs that stood solid in the courtyard below him. He raised his hand. An utter silence waited for his words: “Ashreynu shezachinu layom hazeh.” (Blessed are we who have been privileged to witness this day.) He concluded with “Techi Hamedinah Ha’ivrit” (Long Live the Jewish State it doesn’t have a name yet) and called for Hatikvah. A solemn chant rose from all sides. The moment was too big for our feelings. There were few dry eyes and few steady voices. Ben-Gurion tossed his head back proudly, tenderly touched the flag that hung from the railing and charged the air with electricity when he shouted defiantly, “WE ARE A FREE PEOPLE.”

How I wished you could have heard his words and been here for tills memorable night and never-to-be-forgotten morning. It was too unbelievable.

Making my way to the bus to go home for a camera and a wash, I noticed that all the cafes and wine shops had fiung open their doors -dri ks on the house. Flags were hoisted everywhere and shopkeepers had decorated their windows with photos of Theodor Herzl, whose words have inspired and sustained Zionists until this day: “If you will it, it is no dream.” Now that it was happening, it seemed more than ever like a dream. My heart was bursting from JOY.

Later that night … I grabbed my camera, changed clothes and joined my friends to return to the city and the excitement. Notices were already prominently displayed announcing a mass meeting to be held in the Sochnut courtyard at 3:00 in the afternoon, and a very impressive affair it was. We had already heard that there were incidents of Arab ambushes on the road from Haifa to Jerusalem. The crowds were more sober and, when told to, dispersed in an orderly and disciplined manner, everyone going to his own home and his own family celebration. We had ours too, then a hot bath and off to sleep, trying to make up for about fifty non-stop hours of delirium.

Your loving daughter,

- end of initial entry -

July 3

James N. writes:

A touching story, to be sure.

But I must renew my critique of the critical flaw buried in the “DNA” of the Jewish State, and that is the completely unrealistic dependency on the votes of despots and charlatans in a fictional World Legislature in order to justify the actions of the Founders.

If Israel’s “right to exist” can be granted by the pretended acts of a phony legislature, then that same “right to exist” can be taken away by the same body, using the same process.

Israel’s actual right to exist has two sources: Genesis 12:7 and the force of arms. To the extent that the people who live in the existing State follow the Lord and are willing to kill their enemies, then their right will be secure. To the extent that they are apostate and seek security from a nonexistent “international community” then they will be constantly in danger.

This girl and her friends listening to the radio in 1947, trying to understand what a bunch of fakers and crooks were doing at Turtle Bay half a world away, were paying attention to a false god. As are many of their descendants, even today.

LA replies:

I think this is unrealistic. First, whether we approve or not, the state of Israel never based its claim to a Jewish homeland in Palestine on any biblical mandate. It based its claim on the historic existence of the Jewish people in that land. Israel was not founded as a religious state, but as a state for the Jewish people.

Second, the fact is that in 1917, the British empire controlled Palestine, having driven out the Turks. Jewish hopes for a Jewish homeland in Palestine therefore depended on the British. The Balfour Declaration put the British government officially in favor of a Jewish homeland. The policy of the Balfour Declaration, aiming at a Jewish homeland in Palestine, was then adopted by the League of Nations, with British control of Palestine continuing under a League of Nations mandate. By 1947 the League of Nations had been succeeded by the UN, and the British announced their intention to withdraw from Palestine. Thus in 1947 the UN had official sovereign control over Palestine, via the Mandate, which the British were planning to abandon but had not yet abandoned. The official disposition of Palestine (or rather of the rump of Palestine west of the Jordan), whether it was to be partitioned into a Jewish and an Arab state, was in the hands of the UN. Those were the realities. At least as the Jewish community of Palestine perceived it, their fate was in the hands of the UN.

Now your argument seems to be that the Jewish community in Palestine should have ignored the UN, ignored the United States, ignored world opinion, and not waited for (and waited on) a UN partition vote, but that they simply should have launched a war prior to the partition vote of November 1947 to throw out the British, throw out all the Arabs west of the Jordan, and form a Jewish state in a pure assertion of will against all those countries, including the U.S., that favored partition and a Jewish state. One can immediately see how fantastically unrealistic such a course of action would have been, or at least would have seemed to everyone at the time. While I don’t know all the facts of the period, I don’t think that the Zionist leaders, at least the mainstream (Labor) Zionist leaders, remotely dreamed of such an idea. So the alternative founding of Israel that you are proposing was not a possibility, though it is enjoyable to imagine alternative and better histories than the one that actually occurred.

LA continues:

Now here’s a more plausible and possible alternative history, proposed by Israeli historian Benny Morris. As I posted in May, Morris argues that the biggest mistake the Israelis made was not that they based the initial legitimacy of their state on the UN, but that they didn’t drive out ALL the Arabs from west of the Jordan during the 1948-49 war. Had they done so, the world would have accepted it as an outcome of war, the Israelis would have had a coherent and defensible country, and all of the traumas of the ensuing decades, arising from the presence of the Arabs in Israel, would have been avoided.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 02, 2010 01:39 PM | Send

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