United Nations Partition of Palestine (1947)

Palestinian boy selling guns
Figure 1.--This AP wire photograph was dated February 23, 1948. The Caption read, "Jerusalem Munitions Dealer: A smiling Arab boy displays his deadly wares at his stall in Jerusalen's Street of the Cross (Via Dolarosa). A rifle, and automatic pistol, a hand grenade and boxes of bullets are among his stock. Stalls of many kinds in the Arab quarter of the city sell weapons as a sideline. Yesterday's bombing in the Jewish business district has brought the tense situation to the boiling point." The British had tried to limit access to guns, but was more effective at limiting Jewish than Arab access. By this time as they were leaving Palestine, gun sales became more open as we see here. We believe that Jewish acquisition of arms was more organized, in part because the British had forced it underground.

The Allies at the end of World War II formaly formed the United Nations (1945). It was a term used by the Allies during the World War II even before the organization's formal creation. As the sucessor organization to the League of Nations, the UN assumed responsibility for the League mandates, including Palestine. The Arabs resisted UM efforts to mediate the Palestinian issue. The UN appointed an 11-member Committee to study the issue (1947). The Jewish Agency cooperated with the UN Committee, but the Arabs boycotted it (May 1947). The Committee voted 8-3 to recommend partitioning Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. Jeruselum was to be an international zone. The UN General Assembly approved a resolution to partition Palestine (November 29, 1947). The UN Resolution was supported by France, USSR, USA, Liberia, etc. The vote in the General Assembly was very close. The Arab nations as a bloc opposed partition. The Arabs rejected the Resolution. Partition was unacceptable to either the Palestinians or the neighboring Arab states. The Arabs threaten to invade if the Jews moved to establish a Jewish state. Armed irregulars, both Palestinian and other Arabs, immediately began to attack Jewish communities. Low level attacks comtinued as the British withdrawl from Palestine approached.

The United Nations

The League of Nations was dissolved after the World War II. It was suceeded by the new United Nations which the victorous Allies established (June 26, 1945). It was a term used by the Allies during the World War II even before the organization's formal creation. As the sucessor organization to the League of Nations, the UN assumed responsibility for the League mandates, including Palestine. The terms of the League's Palestine Mandate were still unfulfilled. Article 80 of the U.N. Charter covered the League Mandates including Palestine. Article 80 confirmed that that the rights created by the Mandate and the terms of the Mandate were not to be affected. Britain granted Transjordon independence (1946). This resolved 77 percent of the territory of the League Mandate, turing it over to the Arabs. The Arabs resisted U.N. efforts to mediate the situation in the 23 percent of territory remaining from the League Palestinian Mandate.

U.N. Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) (May 1947)

The British were finding it increasingly difficult to deal with the rising violence in Mandate Palestine. They asked for the United Nations General Assembly to "make recommendations under article 10 of the Charter, concerning the future government of Palestine". Essentially asking the United Nations to map a way out for their departure. The United Nations General Assembly in response created a Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) (May 15, 1947). (UN GA] The British recommended the establishment of a special committee to collect information and prepare a report for the General Assembly. The General Assembly accepted the British recommendation to set up the UNSCOP to investigate the cause of the rising violence and hopefully craft a solution. UNSCOP was composed of representatives of 11 U.N. members. UNSCOP set up offices in Palestine to gathered information. They took testimony from Zionist organisations in Palestine and in the United States. The Arab Higher Committee in Palestine boycotted the Commission and refused to testify or present evidence. Thir position was that the Palestinian Arabs' natural rights were self-evident and should not be subjected to ant further investigation Rather they should be recognized on the basis of the principles of the United Nations Charter. [UN Doc] UNSCOP submitted its report (September 3, 1947). UNSCOP voted 8-3 to recommend partitioning Palestine. It supported the termination of the British mandate in Palestine. It submitted a majority proposal for a Plan of Partition, spliting Mandate Palestine into two independent states with economic union. A minority proposal was a Plan for one Federal union with Jerusalem as its capital. Interestingly, although the British asked for U.N.. recomendatiins, it cwould abstain in the General Assembly vote.

Partition Plan

The U.N. Committee decided to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. Jeruselum because of its important religious siyes was to be an international zone in which believers of all religions would have access. A great deal has been written about the proprtion of land assigned to the Jewish and Arab states. One assessment reports that Israel was allocated 56 percent of British Mandated Palestine by UN Resolution 181. This is often criticized by thearabs, but this largely due to assigning the largely unoccupied Negev Desert to the Jews. As it was the Jewish area was expanded to 78 pecent as a result of the 1948-49 War which the Arabs launched. Such statistics are important, but they can be used to unfairly portray the situation. Arab sources commonly ignore the fact that the Palestinian Mandate was partitioned before 1947. The original Mandate included what is now Jordan, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. The British partitioned the original Mandate to create the Arab state of Trans Jordon, the name of which was was subsequently shoertened to just Jordon. Ignoring Jordon which is larger than Israel in area obviusly significantly affects the percentage calculations.

General Assembly Vote (November 1947)

The U.N. General Assembly approved Resolution 181 to partition Palestine by a vote 33 to 13 with 10 abstentions and 1 coutry absent (November 29, 1947). The UN Resolution was supported by France and other Western European countries, , the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites, and the United States. Much of Latin America followed the U.S. lead. The Arab nations and other Muslim nations as a bloc opposed partition. India with its large Muslim population voted aganst. Some of Latin America abstained as did Britain. Nationalist China also abstained. The vote for partition was largely the result of U.S. influence. Without this the vote would have been very close and may have filed. The U.S. vote for partition was not the result of the State Department recomndation, it was a decision made by President Truman on his own. State like Britain was like the British more concerned with the Arabs and geopolitics. There seem to have been factors at play. The President seems to have been less concerned about geopolitics. There were two other factors that the President sems to have tken to heart. First was the tremendous sympathy felt for the Jewish people as a result of the Holocaust. The President's Jewish friend, Eddie Jaconson, is said to have been influential. Second was the Jewish vote in the United states as the President prepared for his reelection bid. Jews were an important Democratic Party constituency. No one knows just how the President weiged the various factors. All we know for sure is that he instructed the American delegation to vote for partition. The Soviet vote is also interesting. It is widely bekieved that given the socialist orientation of many Jews and the string sicialist orientation of many Jews, that a Jewisg state was the best way to intriduce siciuakism and eventully Communism into the Middle East. here he would soon chnge his mind.


The response to U.N. Resolution 181 partitioning Palestine was very different among the Jewish an Arab communities. Most Jews were overjoyed with the U.N. vote. It was not a a very close vote, thanks largely to the United States. While not all Jews were delighted, the vast majority of Jews in Palestine and around the world greeted the news enthusiastically. Jews assembled in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to celebrate the U.N. resolution. This went on all night into the wee hours. Roaring bonfires were lit at kibutzes throughout Palestine. Several cafes in Tel Aviv reportedly served free champagne. One historian writes, "The night of 29–30 November passed in the Yishuv’s settlements in noisy public rejoicing. Most had sat glued to their radio sets broadcasting live from Flushing Meadow. A collective cry of joy went up when the two-thirds mark was achieved: a state had been sanctioned by the international community." [Morris, p.75.] Mainstream Zionist leaders reacted soberly understanding the realities the Jews in Palestine faced. There were references to the 'heavy responsibility' of building a Jewish State, two millenia after the Romans expelled the Jews from Palestine. Some offered to working towards a peaceful coexistence with the region's other communities. Jewish groips in America which after the Holocaust had the largest Jewish community in the world were also entusiastic with the United Nations action. Few believed, however, that the U.N. partition vote settled the Palestinian problem. Revisionist Zionists rejected the U.N. partition plan as larger areas were left in Arab hands. ['Jewish units ...'] The Irgun Tsvai Leumi, led by Menachem Begin, and the Lehi (Stern Group or Gang) the two Revisionist-groups with armed underground fighters reject the U.N. plan. The Arabs rejected Resolution 181. This ws understandable. They were a majority in Palestine and without partition, they would control any government after the British departed. Their rejection, however, essentially is the cause of today's Isreali-Palestinian conflict today and the Palestinian refugee problem. Partition was unacceptable to either the Palestinians or the neighboring Arab states. The Arabs threaten to invade if the Jews moved to establish a Jewish state and threatened to drive the Jews into the sea. Arab leaders threatened blood would flow. There was not the slightest doubt among Aran leaders that they had the capability of irdicating any Jewish state. Azzam Pasha, the General Secretary of the Arab League yold an Egyptian newspaper, "Personally I hope the Jews do not force us into this war because it will be a war of elimination and it will be a dangerous massacre which history will record similarly to the Mongol massacre or the wars of the Crusades." [Akhbar el-Yom.] Pasha also told Alec Kirkbride: "We will sweep them [the Jews] into the sea". Syrian president, Shukri al-Quwatli, assured the Syrian people, "We shall eradicate Zionism". [Morris, p. 187.] Egyptian King, Farouk assured the American Ambassador in his country that in the long run the Arabs would decisively defeat the Jews and drive them out of Palestine. [Morris, p. 410.] The frontline Arab states did not invade after the partition vote. They made it clear, however, that they would invade if the Jews declared independence. But attacks began by irregulr forces. Armed irregulars, both Palestinian and other Arabs, immediately began to attack Jewish communities. The Arab Higher Committee declared a 3-day general strike in Palestinen the following day. This proved to be the beginning of the violence. [Norris, pp. 76-77.] Low level attacks comtinued as the British withdrawl from Palestine approached. These were mostly Arab attacks on Jews. The attacks largely occured in areas where were small Lewish populations in heavily Arab areas. Attacks also occurred from Arab villages astride roads connecting Jewish areas. The Mufti was intent on heading the envisioned Arab state". [Cohen, p. 236.]

Isreali Independence (May 1948)

The British Mandate over a Palestine expired (May 14, 1948). The Jewish People's Council on the same day meeting at the Tel Aviv Museum approved a proclamation establishung the State of Israel. The new state was recognized that night by the United States and 3 days later by the Soviet Union.

First Isreali-Palestinian War (May 1948-??? 1949)

The Arab States responded to the creation of the UN-mandated Jewish State of Israel with a joint invasion (May 1948). Lebanese, Syrian, Iraqi, Egyptian, and Transjordanian troops, supported by Saudi, Iraqi and Yemenite troops invaded Israel. Arab League Secretary, General Azzam Pasha declared, "This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades." Each of the neigboring Arab states had armies with modern weapons although the training was uneven. The neigboring Arabs states (Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt) invaded to destroy the new Jewish state. The invasion force included five regular Arab armies along with armed Palestinians, and armed Arab volunteers (including Moslem Brotherhood elements). One of the participants was the Cairo-born and educated engineering student, Yasser Arafat. He was 19 years old and young Leiutenant in the Egyptian Army. He fought on the Sinai front. Palestenian Arab irregulars attack Jewish settlements. Here the Arabs targeted both the Jewish fighters and non-conbatants. Few thought the Jews could prevail. The Haganah was not a modern army and the British had prevented then from acquiring weapons. The Haganah had only a small number of rifles (of a myriad of types and caliburs), few heavy weapons, and no tanks. About 4,000 foreign volunteers join the Isrealis. The Jews proved to be a more formidable force than the Arabs had anticipated. Somehow the Israelis with a hodgepoge of weapons fought off the invading Arab armies. A Jewish Kibutz, Yod Mordichai stoped the entire Egyptian army for 5 days while the Isrealis organized the defense of Telaviv. The most professional military proved to be the British-trained Jordanian army--the Arab Legion. The Isrealis and Jordanians fought each other to a srandstill in Jeruselum. A series of truces failed to stop the fighting. Atrocities were reported on both sides. After a year of fighting, a ceasefire finally ended the war (1949). One of the countroversies resulting from the War was the Palestinian Arab refugees. Some fled Palestine because of both the fighting and Jewish attacks like that Deir Yassin village near Jerusalem. It is unclear to what extent the Arab refugees resulted from this or the fact that the Arabs called on the Arab Palestinians to evacuate Palestine. The idea was to create a "free-fire zone" in which Jews could better be targeted. This was the genisis of the Paestinian refugee problem.


Cohen, Hillel. Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948 (University of California Press: 2008).

Morris, Benny. 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War (Yale University Press: 2008).

United Nations. General Assembly Resolution 106 Constituting the UNSCOP. (May 15, 1947).

United Nations. UN Doc A/364 Add. 1 d.d. (September 3, 1947).

"Jewish units here hail action by the U.N." New York Times (November 30, 1947).

Akhbar el-Yom (October 11, 2011), p. 9.


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Created: 6:40 PM 7/19/2007
Last updated: 3:37 PM 11/2/2017