The UN Vote that Led to the Independence War

Celebrating after the UN vote


70 years ago, in 1947, the British had a mandate over the Land of Israel (called Palestine back then). Unfortunately for them, the Arabs and Jewish people living under their mandate were giving them a hard time. During May 1947, they asked the UN to try and find a solution for the Arab-Jewish conflict, and so the UN sent a special commitee, the UNSCOP, to check what is going on in Palestine and amongst its residents.

When the UNSCOP came back to their headquarters, it was clear to them that the best solution is to part the land into two independant states, one Arab and one Jewish. As you can see in the map that I added below, UNSCOP wanted to give the Jewish people (in green) the area of the Galilee Panhandle, the Eastern Lower Galilee, most of the Coastal Plain and the whole Negev. The Arabs (in orange) were to recieve the Western part of the Galilee, the Gaza Strip, the whole area of the Shfela lowlands and most of the Judaean Desert and Jordan Rift Valley. Jerusalem was planned to be under special international control. The Arabs and Jewish people weren’t very happy about the plan, but the Jewish leaders in the Land of Israel declared that they are willing to go with the plan if it will bring peace to the area. The plan was submitted and the UN General Assembly gathered to vote.


This takes us to 29 November, 1947. On that date, we would have found a group of families gathered around a radio, listening keenly to the UN assembly that was taking place far away, in New York City in America.


Those families were not the only ones listening to the assembly. In houses all over the Land of Israel, hundreds of families gathered around their radios, waiting to hear the results of the UN vote. Those families were part of the Yishuv, the Jewish settlement, who worked hard to develop agriculture and settlements in the Land of Israel, the land of their forefathers. Arab families were also listening to the assembly, of course, but the two groups were waiting for different results.

And then they started announcing the votes of the 56 countries that took part in the assembly. The families stood next to the radios, their hearts pounding hard, their ears wide open. As Amoz Oz describes it in one of his books, “The huge crowd stood petrified in the frightening silence of the night, as if they were not real human beings, but just hundreds of shadows painted upon the flashing darkness… Not a word, not a cough, not a step of a shoe. Even the flies didn’t buzz.”

“Afghanistan – no… Ukraine – yes… Soviet Union – yes… United Kingdom – abstained… Uniteded States – yes…” One after the other, the states voted. And then, after a long and tense wait, the votes were counted and it was official – the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine was adopted by the UN General Assembly (with 33 countries voting in favour of the plan). 

You can hear and watch part of the assembly here:


The Jewish settlement burst into cries of joy, people started dancing and singing in the streets, sweets and pantries were given to anyone who desired, bottles of wine and beer were opened to celebrate this wonderful event- the Jewish people had a state of their own at last! 


But while the crowds cheered in the streets, Ben Gurion, who will be the first Prime Minister of Israel, knew what was coming. He knew that the Arabs weren’t happy about the results of the vote and that they were not going to accept the decision. Their leaders said that the decision violated the principles of the national self determination in the UN charter, principles that granted people the right to decide on their own destiny. They also add some other pleas against the decision:

  • It is not logical that the minority group of Jewish people recieved 55{f224ba440c8e8489685f5be0eb52a1764ff3ab93b94d860236479bc3f69cbf7f} of the Land’s territory.
  • There was no real parttition in the plan, because demographically, in the Jewish territory there were to be about 500 thousand Jewish people alongside about 400 thousand Arabs. In other words, the foreseen Jewish state was not all Jewish.
  • In the foreseen Jewish state, only 8{f224ba440c8e8489685f5be0eb52a1764ff3ab93b94d860236479bc3f69cbf7f} of the land was owned by Jewish people.
  • When the decision was read out, the first thing that was said was that the Jewish people deserved a state of their own after the terrors of the Holocaust. The Arabs said that they have no connection to the Holocaust and asked why do they need to pay for the awful things that were done my the Europians?

Ben Gurion knew that the Jewish people of Israel had a long and tough way to go until they will have a state.

On the 30 of November, the Israeli Arabs attacked the Jewish settlements, to show that they are not bound to the partition plan.  This started the first part of the Independence War, that began officially on the 15th of May 1948 (after Ben Gurion declared ISrael’s Independence) and lasted officially until 20 July, 1949. Before the Declaration of Independence, the Arabs in Israel attacked Jewish settlements. After the Declaration, the armies of the surrounding countries joined the attacks. Around 6 thousand Jewish people were killed during this war, and the Arabs lost all they were given in the Partition Plan.


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1 comment

The History of Jewish and Muslim Jerusalem – Backpack Israel .com December 8, 2017 - 4:37 pm
[…] will be a city under international control, not part of the Israeli state nor the Arab state (read more about the Partition Plan here). Later, on the 5th of December 1949, Ben Gurion will declare Jerusalem as the capital of […]
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