Continuing Egyptian Blockade of the Suez Canal, Statement by Foreign Minister Golda Meir to the General Assembly
(September 24, 1959)
While the Straits of Tiran remained open for navigation after the Sinai campaign, the Suez Canal remained closed to Israeli shipping, but, until March 1959, foreign vessels bound to or from Israel were permitted. Efforts by Israel, in cooperation with Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, to secure freedom of navigation for itself in the Canal were unavailing. On 24 September 1959, in the course of her address to the General Assembly, Foreign Minister Meir dealt extensively with the blockade:
At San Francisco the founding of the United Nations aroused the hopes of mankind precisely because its coming into existence excluded the very concept of war. Our Charter was the fruit of the bitter experience of two world wars and of the tragic failure of the League of Nations. Its fundamental premise is that the scourge of war is outlawed and renounced as an instrument of national policy. The only exception is the inherent right of self-defence against armed attack.
As Article 2, paragraph 4, of the Charter provides:
"All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations. "
Thus not only war but the use of force and even the threat to use force are unequivocally prohibited under the Charter. The distinguished Foreign Minister of Japan, in his statement to this Assembly, has well described this as a "natural universal obligation." For any Member of the United Nations to affirm that it is in a state of war with another Member and entitled to exercise rights of war is inadmissible. From this rule no State can claim itself exempt nor can the United Nations permit any exception.
It must never be forgotten that this so-called state of war is not simply a relationship affecting only the two States in conflict with one another. It has serious repercussions on other members of the international community.
My delegation has felt it essential to clarify this point because it goes to the root of the conduct towards Israel by its neighbours, and in particular by the United Arab Republic. By invoking an alleged state of war they attempt to justify warlike activities, including economic warfare, incitement to war, and interference with free navigation in the Suez Canal.
The Arab voices calling for war and preaching destruction, which as we witnessed yesterday do not spare even the rostrum of this solemn assembly, are in harsh discord with the efforts of the family of nations at this very moment to mobilize all its resources of mind and spirit in a supreme effort to preserve peace ...
... The bellicose attitudes and activities towards Israel of the Arab countries of the Middle East, led in this by the United Arab Republic, show little sign of relaxing and have taken on new and ominous forms.
We are at this time profoundly concerned with the dangers implicit in the recent aggravation of Egypt's blockade measures in the Suez Canal. Since the State of Israel was established in 1948, Egypt has illegally prevented the free navigation of Israeli ships and impeded the transit of goods through the Canal. No Israeli vessel of any kind has been allowed to pass; cargoes consigned to Israel on vessels of foreign flag have been refused transit if they appeared on an arbitrary "contraband list'% foreign vessels carrying cargoes to Israel have been blacklisted. In 1959 Egypt suddenly extended these restrictions to cargoes from Israel proceeding southward to ports in Asia and Africa.
In March the Liberian ship "Kapetan Manolis" and the West German ship "Lea- were detained and their cargoes of potash, cement, and fruit juices confiscated. On 21 May 1959, the Danish ship "Inge Toft", carrying cement, potash, marble, and brass scrap, was detained, and it is being held to this day at Port Said.
More recently, a number of bags of mail from Australia, and a case of meteorological instruments on loan from a scientific body in that country, were also seized by the Egyptian authorities.
Details of the various illegal measures mentioned above appear in a letter to the President of the Security Council, dated 31 August 1959 (S/4211).
I wish to stress that interference with the transit through the Suez Canal of goods from Israel is without any precedent prior to six months ago. It constitutes a new policy, one obviously aimed, for reasons best known to the ruler of the United Arab Republic, at inflaming a long-standing issue and creating fresh tensions.
The interference with Israeli ships and cargoes is a clear violation of:
(a) The Suez Canal Convention of 1888, which guaranteed that the Canal would always be "free and open, in time of war as in time of peace, to every vessel of commerce or of war, without distinction of flag. The Canal shall never be subject to the exercise of the right of blockade." As stated in Article XI of that Convention, even measures for the defence of Egypt which it might take under Article X do not interfere with the free use of the Canal.
(b) The Security Council Resolution of 13 October 1956 (S/3675), by which six principles regarding Suez were unanimously adopted. The two principal ones are:
"(i) There shall be free and open transit through the Canal without discrimination, overt or covert - this covers both political and technical aspects.
"(iii) The operation of the Canal should be insulated from the politics of any country. "
(c) The Security Council Resolution of 1 September 1951 (S/2322) which called upon Egypt to terminate its restrictions on, and to cease interference with, Israeli shipping.
(d) The declaration by the Egyptian Government to the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 24 April 1957 (registered as an International Treaty under Article 102 of the Charter, S/3818), in which Egypt pledged itself to maintain free and uninterrupted navigation for all nations in accordance with the Constantinople Convention. In this connection the representatives of Egypt stated at the meeting of the Security Council on 20 May 1957 (B/PV.778) that:
"The declaration is in keeping with that Resolution (ie., of 13 October 1956) and hence with the six principles, and even with the most difficult of them, the third, which states that the operation of the Canal should be insulated from the politics of any country. "
All this Egypt has blandly disregarded.
The implications of this blockade for the international community as such are far-reaching:
(a) By undermining the principle of freedom of navigation through the Canal a potential threat is created for any other country against which Egypt may choose to use its control of this international waterway, as an instrument of political coercion. Freedom of passage is indivisible and the denial of Israel's rights strikes at the rights of all nations. Already Egyptian spokesmen have been quick to stake new and wider claims.
In a letter published in the "New York Times" of 8 September 1959, the Press Counsellor of the "Arab States Delegations Office" declared that the "Canal is a waterway which belongs to the United Arab Republic and is open, through its courtesy, to world shipping." This is a far cry indeed from Egypt's declared recognition only two years ago of the rights under the Constantinople Convention of the vessels of all nations to freedom of transit through the Canal. What was a matter of right has now become a matter of courtesy to be withdrawn presumably at will. The implications for the shipping of other countries which may at some time lose favour in Egyptian eyes should be as obvious as they are ominous.
(b) Egypt is in effect attempting to exercise a veto over the legitimate trading activities not only of Israel but of many other countries, particularly in Asia and Africa. To quote the 1951 Security Council Resolution (paragraph 9):
"The restrictions on the passage of goods through the Suez Canal to Israeli ports are denying to nations at no time connected with the conflict in Palestine valuable supplies required for their economic reconstruction, and ... these restrictions together with sanctions applied by, Egypt to certain ships which have visited Israeli ports represent unjustified interference with the rights of nations to navigate the seas and to trade freely with one another, including the Arab States and Israel. "
To show the international ramifications of such illegal practices, and the extensive character of the "unjustified interference" with third parties, let me mention only two facts:
Firstly, by now over 330 ships, belonging to 21 different countries, have been placed on the blacklist and declared liable to Egyptian sanctions, referred to by the Security Council in the paragraph I have quoted.
Secondly, the recent incidents concerning the three ships "Kapetan Manolis," "Lealott" and "Inge Toft" involved interests in no less than ten third countries, namely Ceylon, Denmark, the Federal German Republic, Hong Kong, Japan, Liberia, Malaya, the Philippines, Switzerland and the United States.
In any case Israel desires from this platform to make it clear that it is not prepared to accept, and should not be expected to accept, a situation in which it is singled out for illegal discrimination. Moreover we believe that the United Nations itself cannot accept this situation.
There is value to the principles of our Organization only when they are applicable to each and every member-State, large and small, without exception. The United Nations cannot compromise on principles. It cannot in one instance use all its collective moral pressure and in another exhibit an exaggerated leniency. We appreciate the efforts, so far without avail, of the Secretary-General and certain member-States. We have patiently awaited the effective intervention of this Organization. In this connection we recall that, on 20 February 1957, while the General Assembly was in session, the President of the United States, in an address to the American people on the subject of the withdrawal of Israel forces from the Sinai, declared:
"... Egypt, by accepting the six principles adopted by the Security Council last October in relation to the Suez Canal, bound itself to free and open transit through the Canal without discrimination, and to the principle that the operation of the Canal should be insulated from the politics of any country. We shall not assume that, if Israel withdraws, Egypt will prevent Israel shipping from using the Suez Canal. . . "
The President went on to say that if Egypt did thereafter violate its international obligations, "this should be firmly dealt with by the society of nations." Subsequently, on 1 March 1957, a large number of member-States expressed their unqualified support in the General Assembly of Israel's right to free shipping.
It has been a source of encouragement to Israel that, in the general debate in this Assembly thus far, various delegations have upheld the principle of free shipping for all nations in the Suez Canal. The moral authority of this body is deeply involved. Its response to the challenge confronting it will have implications far beyond those of Israel's own immediate interests. We hope that the attitude of the society of nations expressed in this debate will lead the United Arab Republic to put an end to a gross, arrogant and continuing breach of internationally guaranteed rights.
I shall not deal here at any length with Egypt's vicious attacks on Israel, launched daily and in many languages by Radio Cairo. It is enough to quote the remarkable outburst of President Nasser on 27 July 1959, when he declared that "every Arab was looking forward to the next round in which the decisive battle will take place" in order "to get rid of Israel."
Statements of this kind are characteristic of the inscessant war propaganda carried on by Cairo, poisoning the minds of old and young. They are in opposition to the solemn and unanimous condemnation by the General Assembly in its Resolution 110(ii) of 3 November 1947, of
" all forms of propaganda, in whatever country conducted, which is either designed or likely to provoke or encourage any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression. "
They run directly counter, too, to the Resolution of this Assembly adopted as recently as the summer of 1958 (Resolution 1234 (ES-III)) following on complaints against the United Arab Republic. The General Assembly then unanimously called upon
"all States members of the United Nations to act strictly in accordance with the principles of mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty, of non-aggression, of strict non-interference in each other's internal affairs, and of equal and mutual benefit, and to ensure that their conduct by word and deed conforms to these principles. "