Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home

Free Passage Through the Suez Canal, Statement by Foreign Minister Golda Meir to the Knesset

(December 22, 1959)

In December 1959, the Greek ship, Astypalea, on its way to Eritrea from Haifa with a cargo of Israeli cement, was held up in the Suez Canal. The cargo was confiscated. The arrangements with Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, agreed to by Egypt, were dishonoured by President Nasser. Text of the Foreign Minister's statement in the Knesset on 22 December 1959, detailing the nature of the arrangements that had been made with Egypt through the United Nations:

From the Sinai Campaign to the beginning of this year, Egypt refrained from interfering with the passage of Israeli cargoes through the Suez Canal. The acts of interference were resumed in March this year and grew more frequent as the society of nations showed its indifference and its inability to safeguard the principle of passage in actual practice and without any exceptions.

The growing intensity of the provocations becomes clear from the following list of ships held up by the Egyptians:

1. On 9 March, the Liberian ship "Kapetan Manolis" was held up. After her cargo had been released the ship was allowed to proceed.

2. On 17 March, the West German ship "Lealott" was held up and her cargo confiscated.

3. On 21 May, the Danish ship "Inge Toft", carrying 4,000 tons of cement, 1,500 tons of potash and 13 tons of copper scrap, was held up. The Danish captain refused to acquiesce in the demand of the Egyptian authorities that he should unload his cargo, and the ship was detained. Since then she has not been allowed to proceed.

4. On 16 June, the Panamanian ship "Nord" was held up for two days.

5. On 28 October, the West German ship "Nobistor" was held up for three days. The ship, which was on her way to Jibouti, continued on her way without cargo.

All these ships set out from Haifa.

In the months that have passed since the "Inge Toft" was detained, Mr. Dag Hammarskjold, the Secretary-General of the UN, has made certain efforts to ensure the passage of ships carrying Israeli cargoes. Following on these efforts with tile Egyptian authorities the UN Secretary-General informed us that he had reason to believe that if Israel would agree to send its export cargoes through the Canal in the ownership of the purchaser (that is, f.o.b.) and to import goods intended to pass through the Canal towards its own ports under the ownership of the seller (that is, c.i.f.), the UAR authorities would not obstruct the passage of ships carrying these cargoes. Various other parties grasped at this proposal and began to persuade us to accept it.

We did not regard this method favourably at all. The Government of Israel is not prepared to recognize the right of anyone to dictate to it methods of trade that discriminate unfairly against Israel. But those who recommended to the Israeli Government to try out this system explained that it would not be long before the UAR authorities would be able to make another step forward and to agree to return to the status quo that existed before the acts of interference at the beginning of this year. Everyone who recommended to us to accept this arrangement for the time being emphasized that, of course, it was contrary to the legal situation, but in view of the intransigent Egyptian attitude they believed that we would do better to try it out in practice.

We did not succeed in convincing those friendly parties who repeatedly advised us to try out this system that it had no substance, and that it was only a manoeuvre of the Cairo authorities designed to mislead Israel's friends and to create an impression of moderation and a readiness on the part of the UAR to make a compromise and agree to reasonable arrangements for passage through the Canal. For this reason we came to the conclusion that we must try sending a ship on the conditions and according to the methods recommended by these friendly parties. In our struggle for freedom of passage we decided that we would try even this unpromising road.

These were the considerations that guided us when we decided to send the Greek ship "Astypalea." And now the thing we warned against has happened. On Thursday, 17 December, the Egyptian authorities detained this ship in Port Said on its way from Haifa to Jibouti. She carried a cargo of 400 tons of cement that had been purchased by an Asmara company. The conditions of despatch were f.o.b. and the ship was on voyage charter" in the name of the purchaser.

We sent prior notification of our intention to send the ship, the method of despatch and the date of departure, to the UN Secretary-General and to all the friendly parties who advised us to adopt this method, and we were in constant contact with them. All these parties welcomed our step; they expressed the opinion that we had gone to the limit of moderation, and their confidence that the cargo would pass.

We imposed a complete black-out on all information regarding the ship's movements, as we wished to forestall the argument that was put forward in the case of the "Inge Toft" to the effect that the ship was held up because of advance publicity.

The purpose of the black-out was to enable our advisers to ensure the passage of the ship without pressure and without enabling the UAR authorities to argue that they were unable to permit her passage because of the publicity attending the voyage. Thus another excuse that the UAR might have used was refuted. The first news of the arrest of the ship was given by correspondents of world news agencies in Egypt and precisely from Cairo, not from Port Said and reached all parts of the world on Friday, 18 December.

Even when the departure of the ship and its detention became known, we abstained, up to this very moment, from any official reaction. One of the reasons for this self-restraint on our part in the face of the completely justified demand of the Israeli public and press to know the facts was our desire to enable Mr. Hammarskjold, the UN Secretary-General, to act in the matter without the Egyptian dictator being able to complain that it had turned into a test of strength between himself and Israel.

By this time, however, there is no point in continuing to maintain our silence. The facts are plain, and so are the reasons for them. All those who displayed such endless patience with the Egyptian dictator and placed almost boundless confidence in him must realize by now that he has betrayed them. May we now hope that they have at least been convinced that Nasser must not be trusted? That remains in doubt. This is not the first time that the Egyptian dictator has broken his promises, even when he gave them to those who were eager to help him. There are some whom he has played false time and again.

Only yesterday the Board of Directors of the World Bank approved a loan of $56 million to the Suez Canal Authority for the improvement of the Canal. Even if we accept the thesis that the Bank must consider the approval of loans from the economic point of view alone, and need not concern itself with political considerations, there cannot be any doubt that the Bank must not give a reward to a country which violates international law and commits acts of piracy. The granting of this loan for the improvement of the Canal in the face of this conduct on the part of Egypt its blocking of an international waterway to the shipping of another nation this in itself constitutes a political act, and Nasser, at any rate, is bound to regard it as an encouragement to take similar action in the future.

The World Bank is an instrument of the society of nations the same society to which President Eisenhower was referring in his television address to the American people on 20 February 1957, when he said:

"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."

The President emphasized that it should not be assumed that in the future Egypt would prevent Israeli shipping from using the Suez Canal, and said that if Egypt violated her international obligations, then and I am quoting his very words "this should be dealt with firmly by the society of nations."

The Egyptian policy in respect of the Suez Canal is, the direct outcome of the tolerant attitude of the UN authorities to Nasser's policy of boycott and threats against Israel which is also a member of the United Nations and of his violations of the UN Charter.

A few days ago I stated in this House that those who appease Nasser are likely to become the victims of their own policy. The Secretary-General of the United Nations told us on more than one occasion that he had reason to assume that this arrangement would work. We have no doubt that when he made this statement he had something to rely upon. Now he stands helpless at the Egyptian dictator's door. The various Powers that in the course of weeks and months planned the loan, and tried to persuade us to put our faith in the application of "quiet diplomacy," have reached the stage when Nasser is prepared to show consideration for them only in as far as they are ready to shower him with benefits.

We shall not cease in our efforts to expand our commercial relations with countries near and far; we shall continue to insist on our right to free and non-discriminatory use of the Canal; we shall insist on our struggle to ensure this right.

We hope that we shall not be alone in this struggle. The regime that should prevail in the Canal is the concern of all the nations of the world. The violation of the rights of one nation is bound to lead to violations of the rights of other nations. At any rate, Israel is not prepared to be the victim of a policy of appeasement in any sphere whatsoever, including that of the freedom of passage in the Suez Canal.

Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs