dividing the land


Many anti-Israel propagandists claim that the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan and Resolution 181 — that is, the division of what was the British Mandate of Palestine into one Jewish and one Arab state — as the “original sin” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They claim that the Arabs in Palestine rightfully started the civil war in 1947 and the Arab nations rightfully invaded in 1948 because the Arabs just couldn’t stand to see their precious land divided.

But that’s absurd. The map of Israel/Palestine with the specific borders that we know of today is nothing more than a British colonial invention dating to 1919. Originally, the British borders included Transjordan, though in 1922 Transjordan was put under a separate administration. 



For the past 3000 years, the borders of the Land of Israel have looked quite different, depending on who was in power at which time period. For example, this is what the map looked like under the late Ottoman administration (late 19th century): 

Which is quite different from the original borders of the first nation state in the entire history of the land, the Kingdom of Israel (1047-930 BCE):



In 1936, the Arab Higher Committee, the Palestinian Arab leadership in British Palestine, called for the boycott of Jewish products to protest Jewish (refugee) immigration to Palestine. With the aid of the Nazis and the Italian fascists, who supplied the Arabs with arms, this boycott quickly escalated into violence and terrorism. In total, some 415 Jews and hundreds of British were murdered. In retaliation, the British murdered thousands of Arabs.

The Jews accused the British of behaving like the czars of Russia; that is, they accused the British of standing idly by while mobs massacred innocent Jews in cold blood. Due to their inadequacy in protecting the Jewish population, the British very reluctantly agreed to arm the Haganah, the main Jewish paramilitary organization in Palestine.

In response to the Arab Revolt, the British government issued the Peel Commission to investigate the cause of unrest between Arabs and Jews. The Commission agreed that partitioning the territory — that is, splitting the British Mandate for Palestine into one Jewish and one Arab state — was the best course of action. Until then, Jews would be banned from purchasing property.

The Jews reluctantly agreed to the plan, but the Arabs rejected it outright. They made it abundantly clear that anything less than 100 percent of the Mandate territory would be considered unacceptable. As such, the plan was nixed; however, it did lay the groundwork for the partition vote of 1947.

Numerous plans for the future of Palestine were put forth prior to 1937, which envisioned a unified, binational state. However, it was Arab violence against Palestine’s Jewish citizens that convinced the investigators of the Peel Commission that dividing the territory would be the only possible solution to end the bloodshed. Had there been no Arab violence against Jews, there would’ve been no partition. 



In 1937, the British asked Haj Amin Al Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and leader of the Arab Higher Committee, should there be a “one state solution,” if Palestinian Arabs would be willing to absorb the 400,000 Jews already living in Palestine. 

He said: “No. Some of them would have to be removed by a process kindly or painful, as the case may be.”

In light of this, the British decided partition was the best option. The Jews reluctantly accepted this 1937 partition plan, but the Arabs rejected it outright, so the plan was nixed. 



After World War II and the Holocaust, the unrest in Palestine reached a boiling point. Ever since the passing of the 1939 White Paper, which severely limited Jewish immigration on the eve of the Holocaust, Jewish paramilitary organizations engaged in a number of illicit Jewish refugee rescue missions.

Following the end of World War II, some 250,000 Jews were held in refugee camps known as Displaced Persons camps, or DP camps for short. In a poll of 19,000 Jewish DPs, 97 percent of them stated they wanted to go to Palestine. When asked for a second choice, many said “crematorium.” But the British — and the Arabs — weren’t having it.

Because the British had severely limited Jewish immigration quotas, many tried to reach Palestine via illegal means. The British detained most and held them in prisons and interment camps. The largest of the camps were located in Cyprus, which was a British colony at the time.

Meanwhile, in Palestine, a full blown Jewish insurgency against the British was taking place. The two extremist Jewish militias, the Irgun and the Lehi, regularly bombed British targets, most infamously, the King David Hotel (which held the central offices of the British Mandate) in 1946, killing 91 people. In 1947, after the British sentenced 3 Irgun militants to death, the Irgun kidnapped two British officers and threatened to hang them if the British went through with executing their Jews. When the 3 men were hung, the Irgun followed through with their promise, by hanging the officers and booby-trapping their bodies. When the British attempted to recover the bodies, a British officer was injured.

That was the final straw. British public opinion decided that they’d had enough of Palestine. After attempting to find yet another solution to the conflicting Arab and Jewish aspirations for statehood (the Arabs demanded that 100% of Palestine be “Arab Palestine,” even rejecting offers for a binational state, whereas the Jews demanded a sovereign Jewish state in at least part of Palestine), in January of 1947, the British officially decided to wash their hands off the problem that they had helped create and stated their intent to leave in August of 1948, leaving Palestine’s fate up to the United Nations.



With the British having washed their hands off the problem, in May 1947, the United Nations created the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, or UNSCOP, to investigate the best course of action. The committee was comprised of representatives from “neutral” countries: Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, India, Iran, the Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, Uruguay, and Yugoslavia.

To investigate the issue, UNSCOP planned to interview both the Jewish and Arab leadership. The Jewish Agency saw this as an opportunity for the Zionists to plead their case, but the Arab Higher Committee boycotted the committee, incensed that Jewish aspirations were being considered at all. They also believed that a partition vote would never pass in the United Nations, given the large amount of Arab and Muslim countries and the world’s general hostility toward Jews, so they did not even bother to plead their case.

When UNSCOP visited Jewish towns, they were met with cheers and flowers. Tel Aviv even declared a public holiday on the day of the committee’s visit. When they visited the city hall, the crowd began singing Hatikvah (“the hope”), which later became the Israeli national anthem. The Jewish Agency also made sure that the committee members met with people who spoke their native languages.

By contrast, the Arab Higher Committee threatened Arabs with death if they were found meeting with the UNSCOP. They evacuated Arab towns and villages prior to the UNSCOP’s arrival, leaving only children behind to boo and jeer at the committee members. Arab villagers outright ignored the committee’s questions and school pupils were instructed not to look them in the eye. Had the Arabs agreed to actually engage with the investigators, they likely could’ve been given what they asked for. 

UNSCOP was impressed by what they’d seen in Jewish areas, including commerce, agriculture, and more. By contrast, they were disturbed by what they saw in the Arab areas, particularly the predominance of child labor.

In the end, UNSCOP voted in favor of partitioning the territory, with only India (which was afraid of angering its large Muslim population), Iran, and Yugoslavia voting against. A number of different iterations of partition were put forth, with various editions along the way, establishing the groundwork for Resolution 181.



The proposed partition was drafted keeping the populations in mind: areas with more Arabs would be assigned to the Arab state, and vice versa. As most of Palestine was Arab, the Jews were assigned most empty lands.

In the end, the Jewish state was to receive 56% of the territory, the majority of it empty land to accommodate for the inevitable influx of hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees. The bulk of the Jewish state would be made up of the Negev Desert, which was then unsuitable for agriculture or urban development. However, the Jews would have sole access to the Galilee and the Red Sea, as well as three fertile lowland plains.

The Arab state would constitute of 43% of the Mandate territory, including a third of the coastline and all of the highlands save for Jerusalem, which was to be an international territory. The highlands supplied the water to all of the coastal cities of Palestine.



Palestinian Arab leadership vehemently opposed any sort of partitioning of the Mandate territory. They also vehemently opposed any form of binational state in which the Jews had an equal amount of political autonomy. Palestine — all of it — had to be ruled by Arabs, they contended. The only satisfactory solution for the Arab Higher Committee was an “Arab Palestine,” in which they’d plan to expel all Jews who’d arrived to Palestine during the period of the British Mandate (Arabs who’d arrived during the Mandate period were, of course, welcome to stay). “Palestine must be Arab” became their rallying cry.

The Arab Higher Committee issued an “ultimatum” to the British, threatening “jihad” if their demands for a fully Arab Palestine were not met. At one point, the British Foreign Office commented that the Arab hatred of Jews was now “worse than the Nazis.”

For the Jews, the demands for an “Arab Palestine” were nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt to once again turn Jews into dhimmis, or second-class citizens, as they’d been in the Arab world for over a thousand years. In 1947, a number of Jews appealed to the United Nations, among them a Sephardic “Palestinian” Jew named Eliahu Eliachar, who stated: “To impose upon Palestine a permanent Jewish minority is to add insult to injury. Knowing what we have to expect under Arab rule, we cannot declare to you that, one and all, we shall be faced with Samson’s desperation.”

On November 29, the UN obtained the necessary two-thirds majority to pass Resolution 181, or the Partition Plan for Palestine. The Jews celebrated the vote, with singing and dancing and champagne flowing in the streets. The Arabs responded with a boycott of Jews in Palestine that escalated into violence, with Jews attacked by angry mobs and Jewish buildings and businesses looted and even set on fire. The day after the vote, the Arabs ambushed two Jewish buses and massacred 7 Jews, marking the start of the Palestine Civil War. Due to the war, Resolution 181 was never actually implemented.

Instead, the internationally-recognized Israeli borders came to be following the 1949 armistice agreements between Israel and the surrounding Arab nations that invaded it in 1948. 

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