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Israel Objects to the Security Council Approach, Statement to the Security Council by Ambassador Eban

(May 18, 1951)

In the discussion on the Resolution, Ambassador Eban criticised the partial and unconstructive spirit of the proposal. Excerpts:

My Government cannot conceal its unhappy sentiment that Wednesday's meeting of the Security Council [546th meeting] and all that has followed from it was a turning point for ill in relation to the prospects of an equitable peace; that it has marked a retrogression from an atmosphere of agreement to an atmosphere of controversy, from impartiality to bias; and that it has encouraged in Damascus a buoyant hope that the desires of the Arab League, if pressed by threats of force and by movements of troops, will find fulfilment in the chamber of the Security Council. That this is the mood of the Arab League is recorded in almost so many words in all the authoritative dispatches reaching New York from Damascus over the past few days. We are told: "Members of the Arab League seemed prepared to let the Security Council and the United States, Britain and France solve the demilitarised zone problem if they reached an agreement acceptable to the Arab world."

49. This readiness, of course, is noble of the Arab League. Yesterday, reinforced by the Grand Mufti, most renowned of surviving war criminals, this League was still waiting, a little more impatiently, for results. It now seems to be pleased with them, for this morning members of the Arab League expressed "thorough satisfaction" with this draft resolution. Presumably, they have assessed it accurately as a complete and uncritical acceptance of the Syrian viewpoint. But, since it is clearly their belief that the movement of troops has salutary political results, more such movements are announced.

50. Damascus is pointing a pistol at your heads, gentlemen, and asking for appeasement. Israel asks only to be left alone to drain its swamp. It is a dramatic choice between the sword and the ploughshare. How the Security Council responds to it will have precedence and effects far beyond the limits of this specific case.

53. I have explained that the Government of Israel would not have signed - and has not signed - any agreement which gave anybody outside itself a right to veto the normal execution of this project. I publicly repeat that my Government obtained assurance before signing the Agreement that the limitations involved in demilitarisation did not include this kind of limitation on its civilian activity. The principle at stake is therefore very grave for us indeed: Was Israel's consent to the demilitarisation of this area obtained in good faith? Are we now being asked to accept limitations which, if they had even been hinted at before our signature, would have resulted in our inability to sign?

59. To sum up this opinion, the United Nations is not affected at all by the drainage work in any part. A United Nations interest or concern arises only in respect of the few owners of a small area of land. In that case, is it not as clear as day that United Nations communications and Security Council resolutions should deal with the question of the seven acres, which are the cause of United Nations concern, and not with the question of the drainage project which, in General Riley's words, "is not a matter which affects either Syria or the United Nations"?

60. Once it is agreed that the only matter of United Nations concern is that the pursuit of this project affects the owners of seven acres, the question arises whether this obstacle is so insuperable that it may set aside the project as a whole. Here we part company with General Riley, for he appears to hold the opinion that the consent of these landowners is an indispensable condition for the continuation of the project. In other words, so long as any one of them withholds his consent, that refusal must prevail against the vastly wider public interest served by the reclamation of the swamp. The same doctrine that the owners of these seven acres may indefinitely hold up a project which Would liberate 10,000 acres from desolation and 25,000 acres from disease is upheld in the text of this draft resolution, which would prevent any operations of drainage in the demilitarised zone until such time as an agreement is arranged through the Chairman of the Mixed Armistice Commission.

61. I should like to point out that it is the text which counts, and it is the text of which I am speaking, not the expressions of intention outside the text. Under this text the work is held up until "an agreement" is arranged: It is immaterial whether the "agreement" has to be sought from Syria or from the landowners themselves. It is a clear political fact that neither of those two parties will ever agree. Therefore the text of the draft resolution, irrespective of the intention of its sponsors, does confer a veto power upon the very interests which are implacably opposed to the drainage of the Huleh swamps. Since there will be no agreement, there will be no drainage. Here we reach the astounding conclusion that the only parties which may not give the signal for the work to be resumed are the owners of this concession and their Government. The draft resolution attaches no weight to their positive right to pursue the work; it attaches complete and decisive weight to the negative desire to impede it.

62. I am convinced that after mature reflection the Security Council will have no difficulty in revising this doctrine that the consent of these landowners, whose interests we fully acknowledge and recognise, is indispensable to the continuation of the work. The Security Council cannot really desire to uphold such a far-reaching subordination of public interest to private will. I doubt if any country in the world could ever have carried out a project of land development or irrigation if it had not been then, can the United Nations in its collective capacity uphold a backward principle which any progressive Member State would reject individually? Let us not forget that this concession for the drainage of the Huleh swamps, now being carried out by the Palestine Land Development Company under the terms of a financial arrangement with the Export Import Bank of the United States, is the same concession as that which applied during the previous regime. Why should not the same procedures now be applied as would have been valid at any time before 14 May 1948? If the Huleh project had at that time been impeded by the action of these landowners, the Palestine Land Development Company would have exercised its power to arrange fair compensation or exchange. If the individuals concerned continued to resist, they would have become subject to a compulsory procedure under a law authorising the expropriation of land for the public interest.

64. I believe that there is general agreement in the Security Council on the supremacy of this objective over the obstacle. The reclamation of 10,000 acres from desolation and 25,000 acres from disease is not a matter that can be subordinated in any sense, or for any time, to the disposition of seven acres which stand in its way. The renowned American archeologist Nelson Glueck, in his standard work, The River Jordan, writes as follows:

"It is low and hot and feverish in the Huleh section whose waters are gathered into a small Lake Huleh at its southern end. Practically all the children born in the swamps in the spring and summer months" - those to which we are now coming "die in early infancy with malaria; their elders are worn by the ravages of this disease. "

65. Such is the project which the Government of Syria would require the United Nations to obstruct. Such is the project which this draft resolution would attempt to hold up indefinitely pending the agreement of those who are determined never to agree. The perpetuation of this evil, filthy swamp would become the policy of the United Nations, whose peoples have determined in the Preamble to the Charter "to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom"; of the United Nations, whose Members have pledged themselves "to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples". This draft resolution, as formulated, has no meaning the language can bear other than that the international machinery is here to be used to prevent or delay economic and social advancement; indeed, to prevent the very physical existence or survival of any people in the area concerned.

69. There is another aspect of this problem to which I must refer in all candour, because it determines the psychological background of this problem from the Israel point of view. One of the worst features of this recommended stoppage is that it seems to us to come in direct response to armed force and to a threat of renewed violence. It is because the workers engaged peacefully in draining the swamps since last October were shot at, and on many occasions killed, that the Security Council has this casework draft resolution before it. The importance of the international principle here involved can scarcely be exaggerated. Faced by a situation in which one group of people works on the drainage of a swamp and another group of people shoots at them, is it not the clear duty of the United Nations organs to stop the shooting and not the works? Instead, we have the shooting actively rewarded and its objectives secured. For, if this draft resolution were to be adopted, any Arab State might be confident that it could hope to prevent Israel's civilian activity at any point, with the aid of the Security Council, by directing its fire against that activity. The adoption of this veto is thus a serious threat to Israel's physical security. From the moment that this peaceful and legitimate operation became the object of armed attack, it became a matter of strict moral principle for my Government to avoid its suspension, for any other attitude would have signified the appeasement of violence and put a premium on aggression. The fact that this illegal ban was so blatantly sought at pistol point was a vital reason for withholding it and for dealing positively and constructively with the specific consequence involved. My Government applauds the valour of the civilian workers and their civil police escort, who have braved the dangers of brutal violence, in addition to the perils of the swamp, and have thus upheld in the fulfilment of their noble task the principle of resistance to aggression and refusal of appeasement.

70. I'm asking the Security Council, then, to support our suggestion for dealing positively with the question of the seven acres and avoiding any negative action against the drainage work, would summarise the advantages of that course in preference to the resolution as now drafted.

71. First, it secures a practical solution by positive action, instead of perpetuating a problem by a negative injunction.

72. Secondly, it does fall within the agreed provisions of the Armistice Agreement, whereas the draft resolution goes beyond that Agreement and thus undermines its credit and its moral force.

73. Thirdly, it does conform with the practice of all enlightened individual States, whereas the course suggested in the draft resolution conflicts violently with that practice.

74. Fourthly, it would save the United Nations from the invidious position of appearing as a barrier to economic progress and development, whereas the draft resolution would make the United Nations the guardian of a swamp for an indefinite time.

75. Fifthly, it does satisfy the legitimate interests of the individuals concerned, without imperilling for any time a wider public interest.

76. Sixthly, by treating a specific and practical problem on its objective merits, it avoids any appeasement of the threats of force which have been organised so powerfully in Damascus during the last week, both through the meetings of the Arab League and through the diplomatic activity of the Syrian Government.

80. I turn now to certain other aspects of the draft resolution before us, and in particular to the aspect which deals with responsibilities for past disturbances. It will be seen that in the relevant paragraph the draft resolution, recalling to the Governments of Syria and Israel their obligations under Article 2, paragraph 4 of the Charter, finds that "aerial action taken by the forces of the Government of Israel on 5 April 1951 and any aggressive military actions by either of the parties in or around the demilitarised zone, which further investigation by the Chief of Staff ... may establish, constitute a violation of the cease-fire provision in the Security Council resolution of 15 July 1948 and are inconsistent with the terms of the Armistice Agreement and the obligations assumed under the Charter."

81. The Government of Israel instructs me to state that it takes vehement exception to the isolation of a particular episode of recent fighting for a severe censure - I believe almost without precedent in the jurisprudence of the Security Council. On the nature of that aerial action I have already made a statement to which we fully adhere.

82. I would recall to the Security Council that when five Arab armies engulfed the State of Israel three years ago today, fell upon Israel as it lay alone and unaided, and inflicted more casualties on our manpower than United States forces have proportionally suffered in their present campaign in Korea, the Council declined and refused to condemn the action in the kind of language which it now uses for this isolated and, I believe, entirely innocuous bombardment. Vast movements of military forces across entire sub-continents have come before the Security Council from time to time without incurring any such definition as that which is now here proposed.

83. My Government believes that this definition, quite apart from being interpretable as a rejection of our expressions of regret, takes this single action out of any sense of due proportion and inflicts a stigma which has no relation whatever either to the antecedents or to the extenuations of that regrettable act itself.

84. I should explain that on the occasion when I expressed my Government's regret that it had been forced to take action which it now realised to be contrary to the Armistice Agreement [542nd meeting], we did not in any sense admit that that act was more heinous than the murderous assaults which were committed upon us by Syrian regular and irregular forces, and for which the Syrian Government had not, with similar candour, accepted responsibility or sought redress. Surely there is no moral strength whatever in such a unilateral condemnation of one single act accompanied by a veil of discreet silence over the entire course and sequence of Syrian aggression. We cannot accept any suggestion that Israel responsibility is greater than or even equal to that of the Syrian forces which began shooting at our workers in the Huleh swamps last February, which began to shoot at the Ein Gev area from Nuqeib during March, which established a military post at El Hamma from which they inflicted casualties upon our policemen, which invaded Tel el-Mutilla by repeated assault, an area on the territory of Israel outside the demilitarised zone, leaving behind unmistakable and accredited evidence of military occupation by Syria, which refuses to this day to conclude a cease-fire agreement until such time, presumably, as the political prospect becomes clarified.

85. Not merely, then, is this paragraph one-sided in its disproportionate emphasis of an action for which regret has already been expressed, but also in its complete refusal, despite the evidence brought before the Council, to identify a single act of Syrian violence at any single phase of these events. If it is said that responsibility for the events at Tel el-Mutilla, for the shooting of Israel policemen at El Hamma, for repeated attacks on Ein Gev from Nuqeib, cannot here be identified because the Mixed Armistice Commission has not met and fixed responsibilities, the same legal fact is true of the bombardment of the Syrian outpost near El Hamma. But it is not legitimate to discriminate between the two simply by virtue of the fact that one of the parties appears to have penalised itself by the expression of regret.

86. In this connection, my delegation deprecates and. rejects distinctions, which have been drawn between various aspects of the use of armed forces. One representative in the Security Council, at its previous meeting, suggested - I think these were his words - that the killing of the several Israel policemen near El Hamma was an incident, whereas the bombardment of the police post at El Hamma was an international event. But why is the killing of Israel policemen only an incident, whereas action which follows upon those murders is an international event? What is the precise distinction that can be established? What is the distinction which, for example, could be convincingly conveyed to the mothers of the seven policemen concerned?

87. For this reason, my Government wishes to enter a protest, first, against what this paragraph contains and secondly, against what it omits. It contains a gratuitous reference to an incident which should by most doctrines of chivalry be regarded as past, and it draws far too careful a curtain over a persistent series of Syrian aggressions which the draft resolution refuses to see, refuses to recognise or in any sense to determine.

100. In conclusion, I would only refer again to the vital importance which the Government and people of Israel attach to the area under discussion. I do not believe that there is any area of similar restricted size which has so portentous a meaning for the survival and the future of Israel. Referring to the concentration in that area of all the water sources which are necessary to prevent Israel from becoming a wilderness, I said, on a previous occasion [542nd meeting], that whoever holds the area of Lake Huleh and its banks, together with the area to its north, clutches Israel at its throat, and commands its very prospect of existence or survival. Some members of the Security Council and other colleagues might have felt that this was putting too highly the essential and indispensable character of this area from the Israel point of view. But I think a few people will realise the historical fact that when the boundaries between the mandated territories of Syria and Palestine were under discussion, the United Kingdom announced its refusal to accept the mandate for Palestine unless the area now under discussion were included within its borders, and that this discussion actually impeded and held up the signature of the peace treaties after the First World War for days and for weeks.

101. In the course of that discussion, the representative of the United Kingdom, as the prospective mandatory Power, announced that Great Britain would not accept a mandate for "a Palestine which would merely include the barren rocks of Judea, and which might at any moment be rendered a desert through the cutting off of the waters flowing through the same." Mr. Lloyd George continued as follows:

"The waters of Palestine were essential to its existence. Without those waters, Palestine would be a wilderness; and all Jews were unanimously agreed that the sources of Hermon and the headwaters of the Jordan were vital to the existence of the country. On the other hand, those same waters were of no use to anyone holding Syria. They could in effect only be used for the purpose of bargaining or for the purpose of obtaining concessions from Palestine. "

102. There is very little distinction between that remark and the statement that for these areas to fall under Syrian control would place the State of Israel and its development at the mercy of Syria.

103. These were the reasons which animated my Government in refusing to sign any agreement which left a relic or vista of Syrian military control still within the area concerned. It is clear that if it was authoritatively said in 1923 that without this area Palestine would become a wilderness, it is increasingly true - I repeat, increasingly true - that without this area, Israel, with its vastly increasing population, would become a wilderness. Such then are the considerations which explain the devotion of the Government and people of Israel to their interests in this area, and their reluctance to accept limitations other than those which are specifically laid down in the Armistice Agreement.

104. This is the third anniversary of the original aggression which the Arab States launched against Israel for its destruction. This onslaught by five armies for the purpose of extinguishing a neighbouring State, and with the infliction of bereavement on almost every home in Israel, was not defined very stringently in official documents at that time. Recalling the moment when they stood alone, first in defence of the State itself and then in defence of its southern regions, when they came under both military and political challenge, the people of Israel now feel towards this northern region that same degree of ardent, concentrated and tenacious devotion which has been their chief attribute throughout the years of their independence.

Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs