You would think that November 29th would be celebrated as a day of great festivity in Israel. After all, it was on that date in 1947 that the United Nations passed Resolution 181, partitioning the British Mandate of Palestine into two separate states – one Jewish and the other Arab. For post-Holocaust Jewry at the time, this was a monumental victory which would open the path to Jewish sovereignty for the first time in 2,000 years. It would also open the floodgates to hundreds of thousands of displaced persons, Holocaust survivors who had no other place to go and had been debarred by the British for years from entering the land.
Following on almost 30 years to the day from the promulgation of the Balfour Declaration – which had similarly promised the return of Jewish sovereignty to the Land of Israel – there was much exuberant celebration in the Jewish cities, villages and kibbutzim of Palestine and indeed in Jewish communities around the world.
But a great deal changed in Israel’s appreciation of the U.N. IN the following years. The passage of Resolution 181 may have been a moment of triumph for the Jews, but for the Arab population of Palestine it was a virtual declaration of war. Almost immediately, a civil war exploded,pitting Jewish and Arab neighbors against one another and escalating, over the next six months, into a series of brutal ambushes followed by bitter reprisals.
In addition to this, the fledgling State of Israel watched as the very institution which had delivered the breath of life into its lungs, turned against its creation and over the next 25 years became a forum for the most intense hatred and denunciation of the Jewish state. The low point came in October, 1974 when Yasser Arafat, who had masterminded the abduction and murder of 11 Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972, was afforded a platform to speak to the General Assembly where he brandished a gun in one hand and an olive branch in the other – an implied threat of continued terrorism against the Jewish state. He was received with thunderous applause. The next year the General Assembly passed Resolution 3379 declaring Zionism the equivalent of racism.
By this time the U.N. had lost all legitimacy in the eyes of the Israeli people and its reputation has never recovered.
There is one other event for which the last days of November, 1947 are remembered with no joy. The passage of Resolution 181 ignited a firestorm in the Arab world in which long standing Jewish communities were targeted. Over the course of the next six months Jewish communities in North Africa and the Middle East – including Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Trans-Jordan, Lebanon, Syria , Iraq and Yemen were subjected to brutal pogroms and attacks, their lands and possessions confiscated, women raped and their leaders given ultimatums to vacate their residences and depart the country or suffer death.
In 1947-48 alone, 856,000 Jews, from countries where there had been a Jewish presence for nearly 2,500 years, were forced to flee their countries of birth. In Syria, anti-Jewish pogroms erupted in Aleppo and of the town’s 10,000 Jews, 7,000 fled in terror. In Iraq, “Zionism” became a capital crime. More than 70 Jews were killed by bombs in the Jewish Quarter of Cairo, Egypt. Muslim rioters engaged in bloody pogroms in Aden and Yemen, where 82 Jews lost their lives. In Libya, Jews had their citizenship revoked.
During that period, there were no UN resolutions; no support provided by UN agencies; nor any financial assistance forthcoming from the international community to ameliorate the plight of Jewish and other refugees from Arab countries. they were simply forgotten by the international community. Except, by the Jews of Palestine – who absorbed 800,00 of them in a single year.
Is it any wonder then that the Israelis do not remember the last days of November, 1947 with any fondness?
Yet remember it they will. November 30th has now been declared the National Day of Commemoration of the Plight of Jewish Refugees from Arab Lands and Iran. At an event hosted yesterday by President Reuven Rivlin at his official residence, the first annual commemoration of the Jewish refugee crisis took place, mandated by the Knesset which had passed legislation authorizing it in June. Speaking before the crowd, Rivlin declared that ” the designation of November 30 as a national day came too late and on too small a scale to impact on public consciousness, but that it is nevertheless important to correct this injustice,which should not be underestimated.”
Sadly, not enough Israelis are aware of the tragedy that overcame the Jews of North Africa and the Middle East in these years. Many are more likely to know the details of the Palestinian narrative in which November 29th is remembered as the beginning of the ‘Naqba’ – or disaster – for the Arab world.
But that has to change. Not only do Jews, but the entire world, needs education about the parallel tragedies of Jewish flight and the way in which Arab regimes stole, ransomed and expropriated billions of dollars worth of property from their Jewish subjects. All of our radical students, so apparently committed to an abstract notion of ” justice,” might want to think whether the Jews of these 10 Arab countries ever received the commensurate measure of justice for their deprivations? By instituting an annual day of remembrance for these terrible crimes, perhaps that education can now forcefully begin.