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Israel Committed to Peace - Address to the General Assembly by Foreign Minister Golda Meir

(October 7, 1957)

A solemn appeal to the Arab States to seek a peaceful co-existence with Israel was the key-note of the Foreign Minister's address to the General Assembly. It was her first major policy statement after the Sinai campaign and dealt with the problems of peace, security, Arab refugees and the future of the Middle East.

Mr. President, it is my privilege at the outset of my remarks to express to you the deep pleasure and satisfaction evoked in my country by your election to the highest office and the gift of the United Nations. Your integrity of purpose, your clarity of thought and expression, your judicial temperament are an example here to us all, and we feel fortunate indeed in the choice of our presiding officer. I wish also to convey to the Secretary-General the sincere congratulations of my government and his unanimous reelection to the honorous [sic] and distinguished office which he occupies.

In the course of the debate, the distinguished Prime Minister of Canada expressed the wish that this the 12th Assembly might be known as the assembly of disarmament. Many other speakers have echoed this wish and this hope. But, Mr. President, is it not tragic that the 12th Assembly should still be talking of hopes for disarmament 12 years after a war that was characterized by horrors which no human mind could comprehend or envisage; is it not tragic that forty years after the First World War which was fought under the slogan of "The War To End All Wars," we of this generation, many of whom witnessed the ravages of both, are still engaged in debating the need and desirability of disarmament?

All employ almost the identical terminology. All speak of peace. But this is accompanied by such lack of confidence, by such lack of friendship that one often stops and wonders whether words have retained their original connotation. Whether the same word spoken by different representatives really has the same meaning.

We all of the new sovereign States, should be permitted and encouraged to concentrate all our energy, all of our resources in manpower and economic resources in fighting poverty, illiteracy, disease and desolation. But, Mr. President, are these the realities of the world in which we live? No. The sad and cruel fact is that these new countries are born into a world bitterly divided and preoccupied by a headlong race to increase destructive power and distressed by a global tension which moves from one region to another without losing its acuteness or peril. The burden under which we, the young and small nations, begin our new life is that of armaments; and before we can cope with the problems of development, we are driven by necessity to prepare to defend what was just gained, our freedom and our very being.

Israel fully agrees that problems of disarmament, both global and regional, should have a primary place in the work of this session. It is vital that we should break the cycle of failure which has for so long characterized this central problem. While it is true that effective progress is dependent upon the action and agreement of a very few of our membership, it is the duty of all of us not to remain merely passive onlookers. We must express our opinion that it is inconceivable that these talks be discontinued. They must go on until an understanding is reached. If all those who call for peace mean it, then an agreement will be reached, has to be reached. Israel, together with all other members of this Assembly, will follow most closely and anxiously the disarmament negotiations.

Mr. President, ten years ago, on 29 November 1947, the General Assembly passed a historic Resolution providing for the establishment of a Jewish State. In May 1948, the Arab League States launched against Israel a war intended to destroy the new State. They failed in their attempt, and a few months later Israel was admitted to the United Nations, and yet to this day these same States, despite their membership of the UN, refuse to accept the Charter as the basis of their relations with Israel - a fellow-member.

This long-standing violation of the Charter is a basic factor in the unrest and tension in our area. It expresssed itself in the illegal continuance by these Arab countries of a declared state of war, of belligerency, blockade and organized acts of hostility. It was directly responsible for the crisis of last winter, which in turn led to UN intervention. It continues unabated to this day.

It is true that the United Nations, which initiated Israel's withdrawal last spring, has itself assumed active responsibility for preventing belligerent acts at two points where the UN Emergency Force is deployed. No Government of peaceful intent or aspiration would wish in any way to disturb the status quo which now prevails in those two sectors. But in the Suez Canal not even this limited degree of progress has been achieved. Its international character in fact has been subordinated and left obscure, and, the Canal being operated under an illegal system of discrimination. Israeli ships are not permitted to pass through the Canal, and even ships of other flags bound for Israel are detained, the cargo and crew are examined, and if an Israeli is among the crew he is taken off the vessel, interrogated and mishandled, and kept under arrest for weeks.

The distinguished delegate of New Zealand accurately evaluated the situation as follows: shipping is once more passing through the Suez Canal, but the conditions of passage are by no means satisfactory. As long as Israeli shipping is prevented from using the Canal, the provisions of the Constantinople Convention will not be fully carried out and the international character of the waterway will be infringed.

This discrimination against Israeli shipping is a flagrant violation of the Security Council's decision of 1951, and of the six principles adopted by the Security Council in October 1956. It is a part of the continuing breach by the Arab League States of the Charter and of their international obligations.

In its failure to meet this challenge to fundamental Charter principles the United Nations has not lived up to its responsibilites. The standard for observance by UN members must be the same for all. Equality is indeed the first condition for justice. This is a question not only for Israel but for every nation, for action in respect to one sets the precedent for all.

The apparent passivity of the United Nations in the face of Arab political terrorism and obstruction is unfortunately reflected also in the regional activities of the UN. The ramified boycott operations of the Arab League against Israel extend into the fields of health, of education, of agriculture, science and economics. In this tireless campaign the Arab States seek even to involve the United Nations and its specialized agencies, despite the fact that their constitutions expressly or implicitly outlaw every form of discrimination. As a result, on the economic side the Middle East is today the only one of the world's regions without a United Nations economic mission. The regional office of the World Health Organization in Alexandria is inaccessible to one of the members of that region. The International Civil Aviation Organization, UNESCO and the Food and Agriculture Organization are other examples of bodies whose work has likewise been detrimentally affected. One is driven to ask whether the United Nations really has to accommodate itself to Arab tactics, so that even its regional agencies are paralyzed or severely handicapped in their efforts to secure higher standards of economic and social progress, of health and education for all.

The basic problem in our area has been aggravated since 1955, when the symptoms of a world struggle were introduced into the Middle East. Since then, Great Power rivalry has resulted in an increase in the offensive armed strength of those very States which openly and repeatedly express their intention of attacking and destroying Israel.

The Soviet Foreign Minister in a speech in the Assembly last week placed much emphasis on "the need for and the advantage of peaceful co-existence between States."

That is the objective to which Israel stands committed with all its heart and soul. But is the massive and uninterrupted inflow of weapons of destruction into our region, to States that deny the right of existence to a neighbour State, remotely likely to bring about that desirable end? We believe that this is a question which answers itself, and we feel entitled to ask Mr. Gromyko whether the principle which he advocates for all does not apply also to our part of the world. For Israel there is a special and unique danger in the fact that, while Egypt and Syria are being flooded with arms from the Soviet Union, other Arab States, no less vigorous in their hostility to Israel, are receiving arms from other quarters.

Mr. Dulles recently said that "those who feel an abnormal sense of power as a result of the recent putting into their hands of large amounts of Soviet Bloc arms are being incited against their neighbours by violent propaganda. And that I say is a risky business." The primary target of this incitement and violent propaganda is Israel, and it is for us that the risks are greatest.

In fact, a deadly spiral is being created, with these consequences: a) The danger of a destructive war has increased; b) Tensions within the region make it a focus for even greater tensions from outside, to the detriment of the hard-won independence of Middle East States; c) A pathetically large proportion of the region's own resources, and of the resources available to the region from outside, must be devoted to weapons of destruction, while the population and the economies of the region languish in sterile hardship and backwardness.

(After quoting the Foreign Minister of Ireland's speech in the Assembly urging the Powers to substitute schemes of human betterment for the present competitive economic diplomacy, so that resources committed to the arms race could be used for prosperity, Mrs. Meir continued:)

This pertains most of all to under-developed countries which are in urgent need of economic development. Even to avoid a decline in the standard of living, production in those countries must be stepped up considerably in order to keep pace with the rapid increase of population which is taking place in most of them. But if a rise in the standard of living is sought, how much more is it necessary to make effective use of all available resources for this end!

The Middle East is one of the under-developed areas of the world. The net income per capita in the Arab countries of the region is on an average estimated at little above 100 dollars per year, barely ten per cent of that of some of the countries of Europe.

All this expresses itself in such very real things as insufficient food consumption, unhealthy and congested housing, primitive sanitary conditions, high incidence of disease, and especially of those chronic diseases which weaken the body, sap the energies and shorten life, a high infant mortality rate, and a high rate of illiteracy. Most of the amenities of life are virtually absent in the vast rural areas of the region.

I At the same time, while in Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Egypt expenditures on health and education have amounted to between eight and twenty-one per cent of the total budget, defence expenditures have ranged from nineteen to sixty per cent of their budgets.

The combined defence expenditures in these four countries during the last three years amount, according to their published budgets, to some $930 million. But this figure includes in part arms shipments by foreign Powers at a nominal value only, while the real value i n some instances is estimated to be several times as high. Some of the latest arms shipments are not included at all. The real value, therefore, from resources use d for armaments and the maintenance of armies in these countries during the three years up to now may be estimated at a figure, huge for our area, of one and a half to two billion dollars.

Imagine what such amounts, used for investment in irrigation works, farm implements, factory plants and transport facilities, could have meant in economic development and in expansion of health and education.

In Israel, too, the burden of armaments has pressed hard. For its part, it would wish nothing better than to use all the resources available to it for development and for the fruitful economic absorption of its growing population. But in the context of its neighbours' threats and menaces it has no alternative. Nevertheless, despite this tragic diversion of manpower and resources to the needs of defence, Israel's record in economic and social fields is one of no mean order.

Since 1948 Israel has received nearly one million immigrants, the great majority being refugees hailing from over seventy countries and from all comers of the world, including nearly 400,000 from Arabic-speaking lands. Its population within nine and a half years has increased from 800,000 in mid-1948 to almost two million now, inclusive of some 200,000 Arabs living in Israel today.

The economic and cultural integration Of these immigrants and of those still to come has been regarded by this young democracy as its main goal. To achieve this, its economic framework had to be widely expanded and production doubled and trebled. Large irrigation works had to be constructed to bring water to barren areas, hundreds of agricultural settlements have been established, modem factories built-, and great new urban areas developed.

But above all we are proud of what has been done with the people. The great majority of those who came to Israel during these ten years came either from post-war camps in Germany and Italy or from Arabic-speaking countries. Practically each one of the inmates of the camps reflected in loneliness on the destruction of all who were dear and close. These remnants of the six million Jews slaughtered by Hitler came from Europe broken in body and spirit; they came to a country of hardship; and yet, at the meeting of the desolate desert with the victims of horror and destruction, both land and people have come to life - the desert has given way to cotton and wheat; forests and vineyards are covering formerly barren hills; and with new dignity and hope the settlers themselves bear witness to the unconquerable spirit of free men.

(Mrs. Meir then referred to the Arab refugee problem which, although being one of many refugee problems in the world, concerns us specifically when we deal with the Middle East.)

Those who followed events at the time will know that this problem is. the direct result of the war of annihilation launched by the Arab States on Israel in 1948. It is not my intention here to, go into the history of the situation. I only wish to ask why this problem is still not solved, and why many of these people are still in camps idling away their lives and feeding on misery.

It is beyond doubt that a solution could have been found years ago if there had been on the part of these same Arab countries a will for a constructive approach. The issue was most forcefully summarized by the Rapporteur on refugees to the World Council of Churches in his report of May 1957. Pointing out that there were three classic solutions to the refugee problem in the Middle East - the solutions of repatriation, emigration and integration, he recalled that repatriation had never yet proved to be a solution to any modem refugee problem. On grounds both of historical experience and of practicability, the repatriation of the Arab refugees to Israel was "physically and politically impossible." As to the second solution, it had become manifest that the possibilities of emigration from the Arab lands for the Arab refugees were in fact sharply limited. The Rapporteur then went on to say, "I therefore come to the solution of in te gration," ending that there is money to make this integration possible.

Another detached and responsible source which has made a detailed study of the situation of Arab refugees, the Research Group for European Migration Problems, has published its findings in the Research Group Bulletin, Volume 5, No. 1, January/March 1957. Stating that the official attitude of the host countries is "one of seeking to prevent any sort of adaptation and integration, because the refugees are seen as a political means of pressure to get Israel wiped off the map or to get the greatest possible number of concessions," the Research Group recorded its conclusions as follows:

"The return to their original place of residence in Israel is no longer possible except in individual cases. The unwillingness to face this fact greatly impedes the solution of the problem.

"Iraq and Syria, with the aid of UN Agencies and with outside financial assistance, could within the next ten years settle large contingents of refugees, provided that the projected plans are executed as envisaged.

"Adaptation in the host countries is obstructed by the wilful stimulation of the demand for repatriation and by the present inability of the majority of the refugees to earn their own keep. "

I venture to say that in this respect Israel offers a contrast and example. Since the establishment of the State, nearly two millions of our people have sought refuge in our small land. Not less than 90 per cent were refugees in the literal and the technical sense of the word. The countries from which they came have become countries in which they cannot live and to which they cannot and will not return.

In this connection, what the delegate of Saudi Arabia had to say to this Assembly on 2 October was perhaps too ludicrous to be worthy of notice. Having with much feeling pleaded for understanding for Arab nationalism, for the desire of the Arab people to live in freedom and independence, he went on to speak of another country and another people in the region. It was his thought that the Assembly should accept the doctrine that there is one and only one people in the world chosen to be denied that simple, inherent right to be free, sovereign and independent. And since, unfortunately, it happened that this people had in the meantime achieved independence, it was for the United Nations itself to liquidate it. At the same time, with a magnanimity worthy of high praise, the delegate of Saudi Arabia notified the Assembly that "it becomes crystal-clear that we do not propose to throw the Jews into the sea." For this we thank the distinguished delegate. But does even he really believe that the 120,000 Jews who, within little more than a year streamed destitute and terrorized from Iraq to Israel, should or could be repatriated to Iraq? Or similarly with thousands and thousands from Egypt or other Arabic-speaking countries? Or that survivors of the Nazi slaughter could return to the lands which are filled with tragic memories? Israel has said to these refugees: These are our brothers. It has taken them to its heart, and today they are part of the living and growing fabric of our life.

Let the Arab nations also for their part, with their vast territories and possibilities of development, and with funds already available from the UN and from other sources, let them, who at the very least are not without blame for what has happened, say to their refugees: These are our brethren and we will take them in. Let them do that, let them cease to play politics with human misery and this grievous problem is solved.

Basically the position can be improved only by the modification of policies within as well as outside the area.

Within the area the question is whether the Arab States are ready to change their outlook and policy and bring them into conformity with Charter principles, especially those which concern the independence and integrity of each member.

Israel, through the Secretary-General, addressed to Egypt and to Syria within the past six months the question as to whether they were prepared to renounce their claim to the maintenance of a state of war with Israel - surely a legitimate question when addressed to a UN member-State. The Secretary-General has received no reply from either country.

The position of Israel has been stated on many previous occasions and remains unchanged. It seeks peace above all. It remains ever ready to defend itself if attacked, but it has never had and has not now any aggressive intentions or designs against the independence or integrity of any of its neighbours. The obvious and essential need for our area is the conclusion of peace treaties placing the relationship between neighbouring States on a permanently normal footing. However, if the Arabs are not ready for this, I reiterate what was stated by the Israel Representative at the Ninth Session:

"As a preliminary or transitory stage towards this end, it might be useful to conclude agreements committing the parties to policies of non-aggression and pacific settlement. Such agreements would include undertakings to respect each other's territorial integrity and political independence, to refrain from all hostile acts of a military, economic or political character, and to settle all existing and future difficulties by pacific means. "

I should like from this rostrum to address to the Arab States of the Middle East a solemn appeal: Israel is approaching its tenth anniversary. You did not want it to be born, you fought against the decision in the UN. You then attacked us by military force. We have all been witnesses to sorrow, destruction and spilling of blood and tears. Yet Israel is here, growing, developing and progressing. It has gained many friends, and their number is steadily increasing. We are an old, tenacious people and, as our history has proved, not easily destroyed. Like you we have regained our national independence and, as with you so with us, nothing will cause us to give it up. We are here to stay. History has decreed that the Middle East consists of independent Israel and the independent Arab States. This verdict will never be reversed.

In the light of these facts, what is the use or realism or justice of policies and attitudes based on the fiction that Israel is not there or will somehow disappear? Would it not be better for all to build a future for the Middle East based on cooperation? Israel will exist and flourish even without peace, but surely a future of peace would be better both for Israel and for its neighbours. The Arab world, with its twelve sovereignities and four million square miles, can well afford to accommodate itself to peaceful cooperation with Israel. Does hatred for Israel and aspiration for its destruction make one child in your countries happier? Does it convert one hovel into a house? Does culture thrive on the soil of hatred? We have not the slightest doubt that eventually there will be peace and cooperation between us. We are prepared and anxious to bring it about now.

I should also like to address myself to all delegates in the Assembly, and especially to the Powers directly involved in the problems of the Middle East. The deserts of the Middle East are in need of water, not bombers. Tens of millions of inhabitants are craving for the means of life and not for implements of death. I ask all of you, old and new members of the United Nations, to use your influence not to deepen the abyss of misunderstanding but to bridge it.

I conclude with a word of deepest appreciation to the members who ten years ago helped to lay the foundation for Israel's statehood, and whose continued understanding, assistance and friendship have enabled us to weather the storms which beset our path.

Many of these countries are without direct interest in our area. But their appreciation of the moral, social, historic and religious factors involved has led them to profoundly held convictions which they have maintained with staunchness and courage. Their friendship and help will never be forgotten by the people of Israel and the Jewish people as a whole. It is also a source of satisfaction and joy that with many of the new countries that have in the meantime joined the UN we are linked in bonds of friendship, of understanding and of mutual aid.

In celebrating the tenth anniversary of our independence, we look back on a decade of struggle, of achievement in some areas and of failure in others. Our greatest grief has been the lack of progress towards peace with our Arab neighbours. It is our profoundest hope that the coming period may make a decisive step forward in this regard, to the inestimable benefit of all the peoples of the Middle East and perhaps of the whole world.

Sources: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs;
Iowa State University Archives.