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In a review of Ilan Pappe's book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, published in NZ International Review (vol 31, no 1), the reviewer, writing of the UN General Assembly Partition Resolution 181 of November 1947, states: 'The UN Resolution that doomed their society had been passed without any participation being invited from the Palestinian Arabs ...' This is not the case.

Indeed, in an earlier book, Pappe writes:
   Just before their official appointment, the [UNSCOP (UN Special
   Committee on Palestine)] committee members received their first
   lesson on the 'Question of palestine'. On 28 April 1947 the UN
   invited spokesmen of the warring parties in Palestine to New York
   to appear before a special session of the Political Committee and
   to present the Jewish and Arab points of view. These were Abba
   Hillel Silver, the head of the Jewish Agency's office in New York,
   and Henry Cattan, a lawyer from Jerusalem and a member of the Arab
   Higher Committee, both highly capable advocates for their causes.

Cattan's statement, made on 9 May 1947, is recorded in the Yearbook of the United Nations. (2)

The Arab Higher Committee decided to boycott the UNSCOP, which led Cattan to observe:
   Unfortunately, the Arab Higher Committee took the unwise step of
   abstaining from collaborating with UNSCOP in carrying out its
   investigations and preparing its proposals for the solution of the
   Palestine question.... When UNSCOP came to Palestine for its
   enquiry, its Indian member came to my house and, speaking as a
   friend, asked me to suggest to the Arab Higher Committee that it
   was unwise for it to boycott UNSCOP and its investigations. I
   transmitted this view to the Arab Higher Committee but without
   result. Its attitude was adamant: There was no need for any enquiry
   or investigation, since the only course was to end the mandate and
   to proclaim Palestine's independence. A formal letter that UNSCOP
   addressed to the Arab Higher Committee expressing regret over the
   decision of the Committee not to cooperate with it and repeating
   UNSCOP's invitation to the Committee for full cooperation received
   a polite refusal. (3)

In that earlier book Pappe likewise criticises the Palestinians for boycotting UNSCOP. (4) The committee went out of its way (as Pappe confirms) (5) to seek Palestinian Arab views, and eventually visited Beirut and Amman to hear from representatives of six Arab states.

The official United Nations record carries an account (6) of the Arab Higher Committee presentation on 30 September 1947 to the ad hoc committee which was discussing the UNSCOP report. Clearly the facts show that, far from not being invited as the NZIR reviewer asserted, the Palestinians were invited several times; presented their views on at least two occasions (April and September 1947); and rejected other opportunities. It is therefore a 'myth' perpetrated by the reviewer that the Palestinian Arabs were denied participation.

It is equally a myth that the six-nation invasion (from every direction) of a miniscule state, accompanied by acts of extreme violence from within its territory (even before independence) by its Arab population, so minimised by the NZIR's reviewer, did not constitute an 'existential threat'. It was a threat sufficient to have cost the lives of over 6000 Israeli Jews, 1 per cent of its population at that time--about the same percentage as New Zealand's military losses during the Second World War--in circumstances that, if they were occurring in contemporary New Zealand, would surely alarm your reviewer.




(1.) Ilan Pappe, /be making of the Arab-Israeli conflict, 1947-51 (London, 1994), p.19.

(2.) Yearbook of the United Nations 1946-47 (New York, 1947), pp.288-90.

(3.) Henry Cattan, 'Recollections on the United Nations Resolution to Partition Palestine', in Anis F. Kassim (ed), The Palestine Yearbook of International Law 1987-88 (Nicosia, 1988), p.261.

(4.) 'The Palestinian leadership, however, lacked the pragmatism and ability to seize the historical opportunity and failed to realize that instead of rejecting it out of hand, it was better to be a party to a settlement, even a minimal one.' Pappe, p.23.

(5.) 'UNSCOP toured the country in a quest for Palestinians who would be willing to represent the Arab case in Palestine.' Ibid.

(6.) Yearbook of the United Nations 1947-48 (New York, 1949), pp.232-3.
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Author:Zwartz, David
Publication:New Zealand International Review
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:May 1, 2008
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