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JEWS and ARABS from WW2 to 1967 (2 of 10)

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Jewish Immigration and the Partition of Palestine

During World War II the United States wanted assurance from Saudi Arabia concerning supplies of oil needed to wage the war. In February 1945, following the Yalta Conference with Stalin and Churchill, President Roosevelt and King ibn Saud met aboard a ship docked in the Suez Canal. There, Roosevelt and Saud concluded a secret agreement in which the US would provide Saudi Arabia military security – military assistance, training and a military base at Dhahran in Saudi Arabia – in exchange for secure access to supplies of oil. Regarding Jews, Saud expressed sympathy for their plight, but he argued that a homeland for Jews in Palestine would be unfair to Palestinians. Roosevelt responded in April, just before he died, sending Saud a letter stating: "I will take no action which might prove hostile to the Arab people."

With the end of war in Europe in May 1945, Churchill's government was replaced by a Labour government led by Clement Attlee. The new foreign minister, Ernest Bevin, maintained a strict blockade against "illegal" entry of Jewish refugees from Europe. And Jews in Palestine stepped up their opposition to British rule.

The socialist-oriented Haganah was helping refugees run the British blockade and defending Jews from Arab attacks. They were interested in acquiring "illegal" arms. Menachem Begin's Irgun made war on British rule in Palestine but took pride in giving warnings where innocent lives were endangered. The Stern Gang was too extreme to win financial backing from mainstream Jews. Instead they robbed banks and coerced Jews to support them financially, and they were careless about injury to civilians.

Between 1945 and May 1948, 70,000 Jews reached Palestine, including those on a ship called Exodus. Arabs had increased from 759,952 counted by the British in 1931 to around 1,360,000 – some of them from surrounding Muslim lands attracted by economic opportunity. Jews between 1931 and 1948 increased from 175,006 to 806,000. According to these figures, the Jews increased by 630,994, the Arabs around 600,000.

Fighting between British soldiers and the Jewish underground grew bitter. The British cracked down on the Haganah for their support of blockade running. They hanged some Jewish underground fighters and deported some to a camp in Eritrea.

Palestinian Arabs were also fighting the British. The British wanted to free themselves of the burden of rule in Palestine and took their problem to the United Nations. The UN drew up a plan to create two separate states in Palestine. The Arab state was to have 100,000 Jews and the Jewish state was to be equally divided between Jews and Arabs. Jerusalem was to be a free city under UN trusteeship. And the two states were to be united economically.

Palestinian communists officially accepted the plan. Other Palestinians are reported as opposed to the plan. There was the seven-member Arab League, formed in 1945 – Saudi Arabia, Transjordan, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. In July 1947, Palestinians asked the Arab League to establish a Palestinian government. The Arab League refused. The request was repeated in February 1948, and would again the Palestinians were refused. note7

With support from President Truman – and little from the US State Department – the UN's partition plan won a majority in the UN General Assembly. Truman had chosen the interests of Jews rather than give precedence to Saudi oil. King Saud's second son, Prince Faisal, in New York for the vote in the UN, felt betrayed. He had been promised by one of Truman's top aides, General George Marshall, that the US would vote against the plan.

On the day of the partition vote in the UN, 29 November 1947, an Arab "liberation army," aided by civilians, initiated war against Jews across Palestine. The Arab "liberation army"– a few thousands volunteers from various Arab League countries – surrounded the old Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem and threatened the 1,700 people living there with starvation. An on-again off-again war between Jews and Arabs that was to last through the rest of the century and beyond had begun.

British troops were scheduled to leave Palestine by 1 August 1948. British policy was pie-in-the-sky: opposition to violence by either side. The British blocked the sending of arms that Jews could have used to defend themselves. This was the position also of the US government. The United States had a vast reservoir of weapons left over from World War II but refused to allow any of it to be sent to the Jews of Palestine.

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Copyright © 1998-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.

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