In March 1948, Jerusalem came under siege. Arab irregulars blocked the only highway leading to the city from the West. Shooting became a daily occurrence. There was already a shortage of food and water in the Jewish sections of the city, while the British Administration stood idly by. In the Security Council, Moshe Sharett, Head of the Jewish Agency's Political Department, appealed to the United Nations to save the city from destruction. Excerpts:
In conclusion, I beg leave to call the attention of the Security Council to one specific problem of a most critical urgency, a problem which has a direct bearing on the question of a truce. I refer to the situation in Jerusalem and to the responsibilities of the United Nations for the immunity, peace and welfare of that Holy City and its environs.
Under the plan adopted by the General Assembly, a Special International Regime under the United Nations Trusteeship Council was decreed for Jerusalem. The exclusion from the Jewish State of Jerusalem, with its unique historic associations for the Jewish people and with the central place it occupies in its tradition and modern life, was a most painful sacrifice. Eloquent appeals were made to the Jewish Agency during the General Assembly session by the representatives of Powers, great and small, to realise the transcendent importance of Jerusalem to the entire civilised world and to let the City's universal associations take precedence over its predominantly Jewish character.
In deference to an overwhelming consensus of world opinion, the Jewish Agency accepted the idea of an international regime for Jerusalem. Since then, the Jewish Agency has co-operated actively with the Trusteeship Council in helping to formulate a statute for Jerusalem, as provided for in the General Assembly Resolution.
In thus subordinating Jewish claims to the fervently expressed interest of the Christian world, the Jewish Agency confidently expected that the United Nations would take all the steps necessary to secure the objectives which aroused such strong and widespread support in the General Assembly. It is tragic to record what has, in fact, happened.
The Mandatory Power has allowed the control of the Old City of Jerusalem to slip into the hands of armed Arab bands, and has taken no effective action to prevent the approaches to the city from being likewise dominated by Arab forces. Commanders appointed by the Arab Higher Committee - that is to say, the Mufti - now control access to the gates of the Holy City and to the Holy Places. The Arab Higher Committee has recently announced its determination to use force against any attempt to establish Jerusalem as an international city held by the United Nations in trust for mankind.
The cruel historic paradox which now threatens Jerusalem is not apparently realised by the civilised world. After centuries of neglect and depredation, Jerusalem was conquered in 1917 by the British and Australian forces. The conquest ushered in a period of civilised rule for Jerusalem which has now lasted for three decades. Jews formed the majority of the population of Jerusalem even before the British Mandate. Today they are 100,000 out of 160,000 inhabitants.
As the Mandate now draws to an end, instead of coming under an international regime which would maintain the civilised standards of its government, Jerusalem seems about to fall, as most of its Holy Places have already fallen, into the clutches of the most fanatical and impious elements in the country.
One of the two henchmen of the Mufti, now in command, Sheikh Yasin Bakri, has boasted in public of his prowess in sniping at Jewish funeral parties on their way to the hallowed cemetery on the Mount of Olives. He has been photographed by Cairo newspapers in the act of directing fire from the walls of the Haram enclosure, the so-called Mosque of Omar. When we see other photographs of this person, photographs which have been submitted to the Security Council, receiving courtesy visits from the British Area Commander of Jerusalem, we are forced to assume that he is considered in some quarters as a suitable custodian of the holy sites. He has proclaimed another success: for the first time since Roman days, Jewish worshippers are now forcibly prevented from having access to the Wailing Wall, the greatest sanctuary of the Jewish faith.
Another agent of the Mufti, now in a position of command, Abdul Kader Al-Husseini, has a notorious record for his murderous activities during the 1936 rebellion, and for his pro-Nazi collaboration during the war. He is now engaged in plans for cutting off the city's water supply and for reducing its Jewish population to starvation.
I said that the Jews yielded to the international verdict. They did not yield in favour of Sheikh Bakri or in favour of Abdul Kader Al-Husseini. If the international regime is not promptly instituted and effectively enforced, it will soon become a matter of elementary self-preservation for the Jews to do their utmost - maybe their desperate utmost - even alone and unaided, to save Jerusalem from a monstrous tyranny. But in such a case, the city would become a battlefield. It may, indeed, become a shambles. We consider that the United Nations is most solemnly bound to avert the catastrophe by assuming its responsibilities in Jerusalem: first and foremost, the responsibility of ensuring law and order and safeguarding access and supplies to the city.
The fate of Jerusalem disproves the assumption that Arab resistance is directed merely against the partition settlement and the Jewish State. Arab violence is the reaction to any policy which recognises any specific non-Arab interest, whether Jewish or international, in any part of the country. The Jews will do their utmost to ensure that this claim to exclusive Arab mastery is defeated in the area of the Jewish State. If the United Nations is unable to assist the Jews in that legitimate endeavour, let the United Nations at least prevent the triumph of Arab defiance of world opinion in Jerusalem and, by the provision of a proper force, inaugurate an era of peace and order in a city which is sacred to vast multitudes of civilised mankind.