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Prime Minister Ben-Gurion Statement to the Knesset Regarding the Tripartite Arab Pact

(May 6, 1963)

At the opening of the Knesset's spring session, on 6 May 1963, the Prime Minister devoted much of his speech to the tripartite Arab pact and pointed out its significance and implications for Israel Excerpts:

Israel is the only country in the world all of whose neighbours proclaim night and day that they are determined to destroy it - and the early days of our renewed independence bear witness that these are not mere words. Hence our principal concern is security,' although our daily efforts are dedicated to the ingathering of exiles, the absorption of the immigrants, the fructification and population of the wasteland, the development of agriculture, industry and transport, the fostering of education, science, literature and art, and the creation of new social patterns founded on freedom, equality, tolerance, mutual aid and the love of our fellow-men, as enjoined in the State Education Law.

When we proclaimed our renewed independence at four o'clock in the afternoon of Friday, May 14, 1948, we declared:

"We extend the hand of peace and good-neighbourliness to all the States around us and to their peoples, and we call upon them to cooperate in mutual helpfulness with the independent Jewish nation in its Land. The State of Israel is prepared to make its contribution in a concerted effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East."

This formal declaration was signed by all the parties in Israel, from Agudat Israel to the Communists.

Eight hours after this proclamation, when the British High Commissioner left, we were invaded by the Arab armies from all the neighbouring countries - Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Transjordan, as well as Iraq, for the purpose of destroying Israel, the establishment of which had been decided upon by over two-thirds of the members of the United Nations, headed by the Soviet Union and the United States. We were compelled to stand alone, faced by odds of forty to one, in a struggle for life or death. And. it was only thanks to the heroism of our Jewish youth that young Israel was not destroyed and her Jewish population exterminated.

We remember - we shall always remember - with gratitude the UN Assembly decision of November 29, 1947, on the establishment of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel. But we could not forget - it was not easy to forget - that neither the Assembly, the Security Council, nor even the two great powers - the United States and the Soviet Union - lifted a finger to help Israel. They did not condemn the invaders, did not demand that they should withdraw to their own territories, did not extend the slightest assistance to the young State in its fight for survival.

On January 7, 1949, the fighting ended, after our young army had expelled the invaders from almost every corner of our territory, and in February, March, April and July armistice agreements were signed between Israel and Egypt, Lebanon, Transjordan and Syria respectively. Iraq refused to conclude an armistice.

The first article in each of the agreements states:.

"The right of each party to its security and freedom from fear of attack by the armed forces of the other shall be fully respected".

"The establishment of an armistice between the armed forces of the two parties is accepted as an indispensable step towards the liquidation of armed conflict and the restoration of peace in Palestine. Israel's Arab neighbours, who signed these agreements, do not honour their signatures, do not fulfil their obligations, and refuse to restore peace and respect our right to security and freedom from fear of attack by the armed forces of our neighbours".

After the end of the fighting the first elections to the Knesset took place, and the Basic Principles of Policy of the first elected Government, approved by the Knesset on March 10, 1949, included the following articles on foreign policy:

a) Loyalty to the basic principles of the United Nations Charter and friendship with all peace-loving countries, especially the United States and the Soviet Union.

b) Efforts to achieve a Jewish-Arab alliance (economic, social, cultural and political cooperation with the neighbouring countries) in the framework of the United Nations, without such an alliance being directed against any member of the UN.

c) Support for every measure that strengthens peace, safeguards the rights of man and the equality of the world's peoples, and enhances the authority and capacity of the UN.

In reply to this declaration of Israel's policy, the Arab League organized a boycott of her trade and of every ship or economic enterprise of any other nation maintaining trade ties with her. The Egyptian dictator - in violation of international law and the two Security Council decisions of 1951 and 1956 -blocked the Suez Canal to Israeli shipping, and cargoes consigned to Israel in the ships of other nations passing through the Canal are confiscated by the Egyptian authorities. And the great powers that dominate the Security Council, fully aware of this violation of the UN Charter, are silent.

About eight years ago, the President of a great power sent a special emissary to Jerusalem and Cairo in an effort to bring about peace negotiations between Israel and Egypt. The Government of Israel agreed - the Egyptian ruler refused. He would not even undertake to observe a cease-fire. Direct attempts were also made by the Government of Israel - without any success.

At mass assemblies, on the Government radio and in the Press, the Arab rulers incessantly, openly and publicly proclaim their intention to liquidate Israel. A volume could be filled with these declarations, and similar threats are uttered by the Arab representatives at the UN Assembly. When a considerable number of states from Europe, Africa and Latin America submitted resolutions to the UN Assembly demanding that the Arab countries should enter into negotiations with Israel, in accordance with the UN Charter, with a view to a peace settlement, these proposals were not supported by the great powers and were therefore not even voted on in plenary session.

When the late UN Secretary-General, Mr. Dag Hammarskjold, last visited Jerusalem, he was asked to complain to the Jordan Government about its violation of Article VIII of the armistice agreement, which entitles Israel to free access to the Holy Places and resumption of the normal functioning of the cultural and humanitarian institutions on Mount Scopus (the Hebrew University and the Hadassah Hospital, which are still guarded by Israel Police) and free access to them. The late Secretary-General did his best in Jordan - but met with no response.

And now something has happened in Cairo in the last few weeks, which has aroused concern not only in Israel but throughout the world, among all men who are anxious for the maintenance of peace in the Middle East.

As many people are not sufficiently acquainted with the meaning of the term "Middle East", I must emphasize that this area is not limited to the Arab States and Israel alone. There are two non-Arab Moslem States in the Middle East - Iran and Turkey - whose populations number no less than those of the Arab countries in the area, and Israel maintains relations of friendship and cooperation with both these countries. There is an ancient Christian State - Ethiopia - with which Israel also maintains close and friendly relations. But on all her land borders Israel is surrounded by Arab States: Egypt in the south; Jordan in the east - only a few metres from Israel's capital and in some places only fifteen or twenty kilometres from Israel's Mediterranean shores; Syria and Lebanon in the north.

And now, on April 7, 1963, a treaty for a federation of Egypt, Syria and Iraq was signed in Cairo, which states:

"Unity is a revolution, especially because it is strongly connected with the question of Palestine and the national duty to liberate it. "

And so that there would be no mistake about the meaning of the term "liberation of Palestine," and how the liberation is to be carried out, the treaty says that the aim of the union is:

"The establishment of a military unity (of the three States) capable of liberating the Arab Homeland from the dangers of Zionism. "

This is, I believe, the first time that the destruction of Israel is laid down in a constitutional document of three Arab States as one of the principal aims, and perhaps the principal aim, of the unification of Arab armies.

It is undoubtedly clear to the signatories of the treaty, who took part - personally, like the Egyptian dictator, or through their colleagues - in the abortive attempt to destroy Israel in 1948, that the "liberation of Palestine," namely the destruction of Israel, is impossible without the destruction of the entire people of Israel. They are perhaps not sufficiently aware that this people is not in the same unfortunate and helpless situation as were the six million Jews who were murdered by Hitler's butchers. We knew that almost all the Arab rulers had a deep sympathy for the Nazi monster and prayed for his victory, and several of the Arab leaders cooperated with Hitler's henchmen in the mass murder of Jews.

As far back as forty years ago, Hitler declared that one of the aims of his National Socialist Movement was the destruction of the entire Jewish people. The civilized world heard this declaration with equanimity - without undue emotion, and when the appalling Holocaust took place during the Second World War, there was even a great power that mobilized a considerable fleet to keep watch on the Jewish refugees lest, Heaven forbid, they should find asylum in the "National Home" promised them by that power.

Last week, on May 1, the Lord Privy Seal, a member of the British Cabinet, was asked by Mr. Gresham-Cooke, M.P., what joint policy had been agreed upon by Britain and America in connection with an attack on Israel by the Arab countries. Mr. Heath, deputizing for the Foreign Secretary, who sits in the House of Lords and cannot answer questions in the House of Commons, replied in the name of the Government and I quote in the original:

"We are in close touch with the US Government about events in the area. However, we have no reason to believe that the Arab States are contemplating an attack on Israel. "

As you can see, he did not say that they have reason to believe that the Arab States are not contemplating an attack on Israel, but that they have no reason to believe that the Arab States are contemplating an attack on Israel. However, the difference is only a matter of diplomatic nicety, and not of the content of the words. It is inconceivable that Mr. Heath should not have read the terms of the treaty of union between the three countries - and I must confess that I fail to understand why he nevertheless can find no reason to believe that the Arab States are contemplating an attack on Israel. Does he not believe this political declaration by the Egyptian President and the representatives of the Syrian and Iraqi Governments - or perhaps his Ambassador in Egypt, Syria or Iraq has received an undertaking that this promise "to liberate Palestine" was given only to deceive public opinion in these countries, but that in fact the Arab Governments have no intention whatsoever to attack Israel. It is noteworthy that the Lord Privy Seal chose his words carefully. He did not say that there is no reason to think or believe that the Arab States intend today or tomorrow or in the coming years to attack Israel, but that he has no reason to believe that they are contemplating an attack on Israel. I doubt whether many British subjects who are concerned for world peace - and many of them are no doubt concerned for Israel's peace as well - will identify themselves with the views of the Lord Privy Seal. I cannot imagine that the Government of the United States, and certainly not the President of the United States, will identify themselves with the Lord Privy Seal's reply.

Latin America, and Israeli instructors are working with considerable success in scores of countries in these continents. Israel does not possess the manpower, the wealth or the know-how of the United States or the countries of Eastern and Western Europe. But in pioneering effort and spirit in development, education, social welfare and health, she is not inferior to any country or people in the world. Hence hundreds and thousands of young people from thirty-six countries in Africa, fourteen in Asia (including India, the Philippines and Japan), five in the Mediterranean Basin (Cyprus, Greece, Iran, Turkey and Malta) and, recently, twenty countries in Latin America and the Caribbean area, have come to Israel to study methods of agricultural settlement, the labour movement, youth education in the Nahal and Gadna, vocational training and cooperation, and various branches of science in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Technion in Haifa or the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot; and 890 Israeli experts are active in Asian, African and Latin American countries.

Israel realizes that her fate is interwoven with the fate of all mankind, and her peace depends on the peace of the world. But she must not forget for a moment that she is threatened by a particular danger, over and above the danger that lies in wait for the world from the destructive weapons that science has discovered in the past twenty years. No man of conscience in the world can ignore the special position in which Israel is situated, a position to which there is no parallel in any other country in the world: a threat from all her neighbours by land, in south, east and north, to destroy her and wipe her off the face of the earth.

I believe with implicit faith that -the day will come when true peace will reign between Israel and her neighbours, but until that day we must ward off the danger of the war that the Arab rulers are planning against Israel. And this danger can be averted only by these two means: the strengthening of the deterrent power of the Israel Defence Forces; and the obtaining of all possible moral and political aid on the international scene.

Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs