This portion of the speech centers on Jerusalem- specifically the Arabs' defiance of a UN Resolution on the governance of the city and their invasion and ravishment of the Old City's Jewish Quarter.
The responsibilities of the United Nations in the City of Jerusalem originated in the General Assembly Resolution of 29 November, 1947. That resolution envisaged the establishment of a special regime designed primarily "to protect and preserve the unique spiritual and religious interests located in the City."
In establishing that regime, the United Nations pledged itself to undertake the most solemn and critical responsibility for the welfare and development, nay, for the very lives of tens of thousands of people. The United Nations pledged itself "to ensure that peace and order reign in Jerusalem." It undertook "to promote the security, the well-being and any constructive measures of development for the residents."
According to the terms of the resolution, the exercise of these heavy responsibilities required the establishment of a "special police force of adequate strength, the members of which shall be recruited outside of Palestine."
The United Nations undertook to appoint a governor at the head of a large military and administrative staff, charged with the duty "of preserving the Holy Places and religious buildings, and of maintaining free access to the Holy Places and religious buildings or sites."
The Trusteeship Council was instructed to elaborate and approve the detailed statute of the city. The Jewish and Arab populations of Palestine were called upon to take all necessary steps to put this plan into effect.
One single factor alone is responsible for the slaughter and destruction, for the anguish and bereavement, for the squandering of life and treasure, for the disturbance of international relations, for the desecration of holy places, for the panic of flight and the misery of exile, and all the other tragic consequences of this futile and unnecessary conflict. The cause is set out by the Commission of the United Nations in a report to the General Assembly at this period last year:
Powerful Arab interests, both inside and outside Palestine, are defying the Resolution of the General Assembly, and are engaged in a deliberate effort to alter by force the settlement envisaged therein. Armed Arab bands from neighboring Arab States...together with local Arab forces are defeating the purposes of the Resolution by acts of violence. The Jews, on the other hand, are determined to ensure the establishment of the Jewish State as envisaged by the Resolution.
These grave words, unprecedented in the international literature of our time, were conveyed by the United Nations Palestine Commission to the General Assembly in April 1948. A few weeks later this monstrous aggression took official form when the secretary-general of the Arab League, acting on behalf of seven states, six of them members of the United Nations, informed the Security Council that those governments had undertaken what he called "military intervention."
It is significant that the Arab violence directed against the General Assembly's resolution began in the city of Jerusalem itself with the establishment of armed gangs in the Old City and the organization of an iron ring around Jerusalem's communications with the coast.
Within a few weeks of the adoption of the Assembly's resolution, at a time when the Mandatory Regime was still operating, the city became a scene of anarchy and violence. With the coastal route firmly in Arab hands and the water supply at the mercy of Arab forces, there began a slow and dreadful process of strangulation.
On the commencement of the official Arab invasion on May 15, the armed forces of Transjordan, Iraq and Egypt joined together in a concerted attempt to throttle the lungs and arteries of the holy city, to rain down devastation upon its ancient shrines and modern habitations, and to wrest it from the international community for immediate incorporation, without any reserve, in an Arab Muslim regime.
There were many weeks when the issue hung in the balance. Bombardment, starvation, pestilence and thirst stared the Jewish inhabitants of the city in the face. By the month of June the population was living on a handful of barley and beans. The average diet was brought down to 800 calories a day. Many months before the expectation of the first rain, water was being doled out from carts in measure barely sufficient to sustain human life.
The people of Jerusalem to this very day look back with a sense of deliverance and escape to the horrors which faced them in those unforgettable weeks. As the bombardment of the new and old cities took a heavy toll of life, the holy places themselves came under converging fire.
In the Jewish Quarter, corpses lay piled up unburied, since there was no access to the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives, or, indeed, to any part of the city outside the walls. Arab forces from Transjordan, immediately on the termination of the Mandate, crossed into Palestine and laid waste to the Jewish villages in the Kfar Etzion group, with the death of most of their inhabitants and the capture of the rest.
The Security Council, in constant session, was bombarded by clamorous appeals for the rescue of the city on whose behalf the United Nations had accepted the most solemn obligations. Nothing availed. The Trusteeship Council plodded a leisurely course against fierce Arab opposition in elaborating the statute envisaged by the Assembly's resolution.
At the height of Jerusalem's distress, the General Assembly convened in special session during April and May 1948. Thus all the principal organs of the United Nations were constantly at work at this very climax of the city's agony. Nothing in history is more incongruous than the pitiful contrast between this torment of the holy city and the determined resolve of the international community at that time to take no steps whatever for its relief.
Week after week, with a regularity that must have grown monotonous to the distinguished representatives themselves, Jewish spokesmen appeared in the various organs of the United Nations imploring them to assume the responsibilities to which they were pledged - responsibilities which were and are inseparable from any rights to exercise authority or jurisdiction in any village, town or country in the world.
The Jewish population of Jerusalem, submerged in death and famine, fighting against odds for sheer survival itself, probably had little time to reflect on the attitude of those who but a few months previously had undertaken responsibility for their "security and well-being and constructive measures of development." The right to destroy and besiege Jerusalem was officially claimed by Arab representatives as a legitimate action of war.
The Security Council was naturally unwilling to preside over the complete destruction of Jerusalem by famine during a truce, and it therefore undertook to supply the Jews of Jerusalem with quantities of food in such measure as would ensure that at the end of the truce period, Jerusalem's food supply would be exactly equivalent to what it was at the beginning of the truce. By dismal paradox the first active intervention of the United Nations in the administration of Jerusalem was to ensure that the population should not have too much to eat.
While these terrible processes were going on, it is not surprising if the Jews of Jerusalem deduced the harsh lesson that they could expect no salvation, except from one quarter alone - from their brethren in the state of Israel, who, while grappling desperately for their own very survival, bethought themselves of their kith and kin in Jerusalem.
The State of Israel girded all its strength to throw a lifeline to the beleaguered city. The Jewish Quarter surrendered amid the destruction of its holy places on May 28. All but five of its ancient synagogues were destroyed, and those that remained have since been laid waste by the Arab occupation forces. The historic Wailing Wall, the most hallowed sanctuary to adherents of the Jewish faith, was barred from access by worshippers and remains so to this very day.
If the New City [of Jerusalem] were not similarly to succumb, its supply routes had to be opened. Within the very gun range of besieging Arab forces, the Jews built a detour on the coastal road. This narrow strip, carved through the steep inclines of the hill country, began to relieve the stringency of the food situation. Yet for the most part, it was necessary to run a gauntlet of shellfire and ambush in a desperate attempt to bring convoys to the starving city.
The people of Jerusalem carry inscribed in their hearts the memory of the occasions when such convoys passed through the perils and hazards of that road to deliver their cargo at a point when the very extremities of endurance had been reached. Upon the trucks of the first large convoy to reach Jerusalem at the peak of its danger was inscribed a message from the people of Israel to the Jews of Jerusalem, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning!" The Jews of Jerusalem were not forgotten or alone.
The battle of Jerusalem was won, in a victory snatched from the very imminence of defeat, but it was not a victory lightly or cheaply achieved. As you travel from the coastal plain to Jerusalem through Bab-el-Wad, you can see to this day the overturned hulks of trucks, lorries and cars ambushed and set on fire. The ashes which litter the roadside are not those of lorries alone. The youth of Israel fell in their hundreds to save Jerusalem from the disaster and reproach of famine and surrender.
It cannot be seriously doubted that in saving Jerusalem from capture by the combined Arab forces, the Jews of that city and of Israel not only preserved Jewish rights in the very cradle of the Jewish tradition; they also kept Christian interests alive. For it is beyond all question that had the assault upon the city succeeded, it would have become incorporated immediately and irrevocably in an Arab state which explicitly and avowedly asserted its own undisputed right to wield complete sovereignty over the whole city, including its holy places.
This restoration of peace and normality to Jerusalem is by far the most significant factor to be borne in mind in any consideration of the question and future of the holy places. Unless there is peace in Jerusalem between Arabs and Jews, no juridical status can assure the protection of the city or the immunity of its sacred shrines. If there is peace in Jerusalem between Arabs and Jews, then the assurance of safeguards for the holy places becomes a task easily responsive to the processes of bilateral and international agreement.
The government of Israel is prepared to offer the fullest safeguards and guarantees for the security of religious institutions in the exercise of their functions.
The government of Israel is prepared to negotiate immediately with all religious authorities concerned with this end in view.
The government of Israel will persevere in its efforts to repair the damage inflicted on religious buildings and sites in the course of the war launched by the Arab states.
The integration of the Jewish part of Jerusalem into the life of the State of Israel has taken place as a natural historical process arising from the conditions of war, from the vacuum of authority created by the termination of the Mandate, and from the refusal of the United Nations to assume any direct administrative responsibilities on the scene.
This integration, which is paralleled by a similar process in the Arab area, is not incompatible with the establishment of an international regime charged with full juridical status for the effective protection of the holy places, no matter where situated.
The government of Israel will continue to seek agreements with the Arab interests concerned for the maintenance and preservation of peace and the reopening of blocked access into and within the city of Jerusalem.
The government of Israel draws attention to the existence of profound Jewish religious interests, which give Jerusalem a central and abiding place in Jewish spiritual life. All the sacred associations of Jerusalem derive ultimately from its Jewish origins. The preservation of synagogues, the right of access to the Wailing Wall and of residence within the walled city, require international guarantees and implementation.
Abba Eban was a career Israeli diplomat and politician, serving in a variety of positions including ambassador to the U.S. and the UN; member of Knesset; foreign minister; and deputy prime minister. He passed away at age 87 on November 17, 2002.