Israel at the United Nations by Ruth King

 

Nikki Haley has received great and deserved praise for defying UN standards to defend Israel. Well done indeed!

The United Nations conceived with such hope, has lost its way to bias, ignorance and endless attacks on Israel. The irony here is that the finest speeches delivered there have been by Israel’s defenders.

In 1949, Abba Eban urged the United Nations, still housed in Lake Success, to accept Israel’s membership. His speech lasted more than two hours. He chided the U.N. for holding up Israel’s application with the lame excuse that the “refugee and resettlement” issue had to be investigated. He noted many nations which expelled and dislocated hundreds of thousands were swiftly accepted. He scolded Jerusalem’s Arab authorities for flouting the UN’s resolution declaring Jerusalem an “international city” with access to people of all faiths. He described the desecration of shrines, churches and synagogues. And he addressed the problem of refugees with data and possibilities for resettlement in other Arab nations.

Abba Eban succeeded: United Nations General Assembly Resolution 273 was adopted on May 11, 1949 admitting the State of Israel to membership in the United Nations. It was passed following the approval of UN Security Council Resolution 69 on March 4.

Abba Eban served as Israel’s representative to the U.N. from 1948 until 1959 and as Israel’s Ambassador to the United States. He became Israel’s most effective speaker in the Diaspora. With a courtly manner and perfect diction, rarely checking notes, he defended his nation with zeal and rhetorical genius. The response of the Arab states was laughable. As soon as Eban stood, the Arab representatives walked out.

When he returned to Israel in 1959 he joined the Labor party.  In June 1967 Eban, then Foreign Minister, returned to the United Nations to address the Security Council following the Six Day War.

Here are excerpts from his magnificent speech which should be read in full by anyone who falsely uses the word “occupation.”

 

I thank you, Mr. President, for giving me this opportunity to address the Council. I have just come from Jerusalem to tell the Security Council that Israel, by its independent effort and sacrifice, has passed from serious danger to successful resistance.

Two days ago Israel’s condition caused much concern across the humane and friendly world. Israel had reached a sombre hour. Let me try to evoke the point at which our fortunes stood.

An army, greater than any force ever assembled in history in Sinai, had massed against Israel’s southern frontier. Egypt had dismissed the United Nations forces which symbolized the international interest in the maintenance of peace in our region. Nasser had provocatively brought five infantry divisions and two armored divisions up to our very gates; 80,000 men and 900 tanks were poised to move.

A special striking force, comprising an armored division with at least 200 tanks, was concentrated against Eilat at the Negev’s southern tip. Here was a clear design to cut the southern Negev off from the main body of our State. For Egypt had openly proclaimed that Eilat did not form part of Israel and had predicted that Israel itself would soon expire. The proclamation was empty; the prediction now lies in ruin. While the main brunt of the hostile threat was focused on the southern front, an alarming plan of encirclement was under way. With Egypt’s initiative and guidance, Israel was already being strangled in its maritime approaches to the whole eastern half of the world. For sixteen years, Israel had been illicitly denied passage in the Suez Canal, despite the Security Council’s decision of 1 September 1951 [Resolution 95 (1951)]. And now the creative enterprise of ten patient years which had opened an international route across the Strait of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba had been suddenly and arbitrarily choked. Israel was and is breathing only with a single lung.

Jordan had been intimidated, against its better interest, into joining a defense pact. It is not a defense pact at all: it is an aggressive pact, of which I saw the consequences with my own eyes yesterday in the shells falling upon institutions of health and culture in the City of Jerusalem. Every house and street in Jerusalem now came into the range of fire as a result of Jordan’s adherence to this pact; so also did the crowded and pathetically narrow coastal strip in which so much of Israel’s life and population is concentrated.

Iraqi troops reinforced Jordanian units in areas immediately facing vital and vulnerable Israel communication centers. Expeditionary forces from Algeria and Kuwait had reached Egyptian territory. Nearly all the Egyptian forces which had been attempting the conquest of the Yemen had been transferred to the coming assault upon Israel. Syrian units, including artillery, overlooked the Israel villages in the Jordan Valley. Terrorist troops came regularly into our territory to kill, plunder and set off explosions; the most recent occasion was five days ago.

In short, there was peril for Israel wherever it looked. Its manpower had been hastily mobilized. Its economy and commerce were beating with feeble pulses. Its streets were dark and empty. There was an apocalyptic air of approaching peril. And Israel faced this danger alone.

We were buoyed up by an unforgettable surge of public sympathy across the world. The friendly Governments expressed the rather ominous hope that Israel would manage to live, but the dominant theme of our condition was danger and solitude.

Now there could be no doubt about what was intended for us. With my very ears I heard President Nasser’s speech on 26 May. He said:

“We intend to open a general assault against Israel. This will be total war. Our basic aim will be to destroy Israel.”

On 2 June, the Egyptian Commander in Sinai, General Mortagi, published his Order of the Day, calling on his troops to wage a war of ‘destruction against Israel. Here, then, was a systematic, overt, proclaimed design at politicide, the murder of a State.

The policy, the arms, the men had all been brought together, and the State thus threatened with collective assault was itself the last sanctuary of a people which had seen six million of its sons exterminated by a more powerful dictator two decades before.

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The problem of the future role of a United Nations presence in conflicts such as these is being much debated. But we must ask ourselves a question that has arisen as a result of this experience. People in our country and in many countries, ask: What is the use of a United Nations presence if it is in effect an umbrella which is taken away as soon as it begins to rain? Surely, then, future arrangements for peace-keeping must depend more on the agreement and the implementation of the parties themselves than on machinery which is totally at the mercy of the host country, so totally at its mercy as to be the instrument of its policies, whatever those policies may be.

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Experience in many parts of the world, not least in our own, demonstrates that massive armies in close proximity to each other, against a background of a doctrine of belligerency and accompanying threats by one army to annihilate the other, constitute an inflammatory situation.

We were puzzled in Israel by the relative lack of preoccupation on the part of friendly Governments and international agencies with this intense concentration which found its reflection in precautionary concentrations on our side. My Government proposed, I think at least two weeks ago, the concept of a parallel and reciprocal reduction of forces on both sides of the frontier. We elicited no response, and certainly no action.

To these grave sources of tension–the sabotage and terrorist movement, emanating mostly from Syria, and the heavy troop concentrations accompanied by dire, apocalyptic threats in Sinai–there was added in the third week of May the most electric shock of all, namely the closure of the international waterway consisting of the Strait of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba. It is not difficult, I think, to understand why this incident had a more drastic impact than any other. In 1957 the maritime nations, within the framework of the United Nations General Assembly, correctly enunciated the doctrine of free and innocent passage through the Strait.

Now, when that doctrine was proclaimed–and incidentally, not challenged by the Egyptian representative at that time–it was little more than an abstract principle for the maritime world. For Israel it was a great but still unfulfilled prospect; it was not yet a reality. But during the ten years in which we and the other States of the maritime community have relied upon that doctrine and upon established usage, the principle has become a reality consecrated by hundreds of sailings under dozens of flags and the establishment of a whole complex of commerce and industry and communication. A new dimension has been added to the map of the world’s communications, and on that dimension, we have, constructed Israel’s bridge towards the friendly States of Asia and Africa, a network of relationships which is the chief pride of Israel in the second decade of its independence.

All this, then, had grown up as an effective usage under the United Nations flag. Does Mr. Nasser really think that he can come upon the scene in ten minutes and cancel the established legal usage and interests of ten years?

There was in this wanton act a quality of malice. For surely the closing of the Strait of Tiran gave no benefit whatever to Egypt except the perverse joy of inflicting injury on others. It was an anarchic act, because it showed a total disregard for the law of nations, the application of which in this specific case had not been challenged for ten years. …

When we examine, then, the implications of this act, we have no cause to wonder that the international shock was great. There was another reason too for that shock. Blockades have traditionally been regarded, in the pre-Charter parlance, as acts of war. To blockade, after all, is to attempt strangulation; and sovereign States are entitled not to have their trade strangled. To understand how the State of Israel felt, one has merely to look around this table and imagine, for example, a foreign Power forcibly closing New York or Montreal, Boston or Marseille, Toulon or Copenhagen, Rio or Tokyo or Bombay harbor. How would your Governments react? What would you do? How long would you wait?

But Israel waited because of its confidence that the other maritime Powers and countries interested in this new trading pattern would concert their influence in order to re-establish a legal situation and to liquidate this blockade. We concerted action with them not because Israel’s national interest was here abdicated. There will not be, there cannot be, an Israel without Eilat. We cannot be expected to return to a dwarfed stature, with our face to the Mediterranean alone. In law and in history, peace and blockades have never co-existed. How could it be expected that the blockade of Eilat and a relaxation of tension in the Middle East could ever be brought into harmony?

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I have said that the situation to be constructed after the cease-fire must depend on certain principles. The first of these principles surely must be the acceptance of Israel’s statehood and the total elimination of the fiction of its non-existence. It would seem to me that after 3,000 years the time has arrived to accept Israel’s nationhood as a fact, for here is the only State in the international community which has the same territory, speaks the same language and upholds the same faith as it did 3,000 years ago.

And if, as everybody knows to be the fact, the universal conscience was in the last week or two most violently shaken at the prospect of danger to Israel, it was not only because there seemed to be a danger to a State, but also, I think, because the State was Israel, with all that this ancient name evokes, teaches, symbolizes and inspires. How grotesque would be an international community which found room for 122 sovereign units and which did not acknowledge the sovereignty of that people which had given nationhood its deepest significance and its most enduring grace.

No wonder, then, that when danger threatened we could hear a roar of indignation sweep across the world, that men in progressive movements and members of the scientific and humanistic cultures joined together in sounding an alarm bell about an issue that vitally affected the human conscience. And no wonder, correspondingly, that a deep and universal sense of satisfaction and relief has accompanied the news of Israel’s gallant and successful resistance.

But the central point remains the need to secure an authentic intellectual recognition by our neighbors of Israel’s deep roots in the Middle Eastern reality. There is an intellectual tragedy in the failure of Arab leaders to come to grips, however reluctantly, with the depth and authenticity of Israel’s roots in the life, the history, the spiritual experience and the culture of the Middle East….

The second principle must be that of the peaceful settlement of disputes. The Resolution thus adopted falls within the concept of the peaceful settlement of disputes. I have already said that much could be done if the Governments of the area would embark much more on direct contacts. They must find their way to each other. After all, when there is conflict between them they come together face to face. Why should they not come together face to face to solve the conflict?

When the Council discusses what is to happen after the cease-fire, we hear many formulas-back to 1956, back to 1948 – I understand our neighbors would wish to turn the clock back to 1947. The fact is, however, that most clocks move forward and not backward, and this, I think, should be the case with the clock of Middle Eastern peace–not backward to belligerency, but forward to peace.

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I would say in conclusion that these are, of course, still grave times. And yet they may perhaps have a fortunate issue. This could be the case if those who for some reason decided so violently, three weeks ago, to disrupt the status quo would ask themselves what the results and benefits have been. As he looks around him at the arena of battle, at the wreckage of planes and tanks, at the collapse of intoxicated hopes, might not an Egyptian ruler ponder whether anything was achieved by that disruption? What has it brought but strife, conflict with other powerful interests, and the stem criticism of progressive men throughout the world?

I think that Israel has in recent days proved its steadfastness and vigour. It is now willing to demonstrate its instinct for peace. Let us build a new system of relationships from the wreckage of the old. Let us discern across the darkness the vision of a better and a brighter dawn.

Abba Eban

 

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