Statement Issued by the Governments of the Arab League States
on the Occasion of the Entry of the Arab Armies in Palestine
(May 15, 1948)
Reprinted in The Arab States and the Arab League:
A Documentary Record Vol. II
Edited by Muhmmad Khalil
Published in 1962
"The events which have taken place in Palestine have unmasked the aggressive intentions and the imperialistic designs of the Zionists...."
As the United Nations (an international organization founded in 1945 to promote peace and cooperation between countries around the world) considered the idea of partitioning, or dividing, Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, Arab Palestinians were living without an organized self-government. The governing body of the Arab Palestinians, the Arab Higher Committee, which had formed in 1936, had been dissolved by the British in 1937 and its leaders had been deported as a result of the ongoing Arab revolts in Palestine.
The Arab Palestinians' political weakness made them dependent on the League of Arab States. The League of Arab States had formed in 1944 as an organization that would enable Arab states to work together while maintaining their separate identities. The first members were Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Transjordan (later known as Jordan), Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. In an attempt to help establish a Arab Palestinian government, the Arab League sponsored the Arab Higher Committee and positioned the exiled Palestinian leaders in the top positions. But the Palestinians in the Arab Higher Committee and the leaders of the Arab League could not agree on the future of Palestine, and the Arab Higher Committee was condemned to be an insignificant, powerless part of the Arab League.
When Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948, the Arab Palestinians were completely reliant on the Arab League, having no government and no unified military of their own. The statement issued on May 15, 1948, by the governments of the Arab League States broadened the Arab-Israeli conflict beyond Palestine to include all the neighboring Arab states.
Things to remember while reading the "Statement Issued by the Governments of the Arab League States on the Occasion of the Entry of the Arab Armies in Palestine"
- A surge of Arab nationalism, or the belief that Arab countries should rule themselves, rose in the early 1900s against the Ottoman Empire (a vast empire of southwest Asia, northeast Africa, and southeast Europe that reigned from the thirteenth century to the early twentieth century), which ruled over much of the area now considered part of the Middle East.
- European domination of the Middle East after World War I (1914–18; war in which Great Britain, France, the United States, and their allies defeated Germany, Austria-Hungary, and their allies) provoked resentment among Arabs, many of whom had been promised autonomy for helping the Europeans overthrow the Ottoman Empire.
- Both Britain and France granted many Arab nations their independence as World War II (1939–45; war in which Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, the United States, and their allies defeated Germany, Italy, and Japan) came to a close.
- The League of Arab States was united in its opposition to Jewish claims to Palestine.
Statement Issued by the Governments of the Arab League States on the Occasion of the Entry of the Arab Armies in Palestine (May 15, 1948)
1. Palestine was part of the former Ottoman Empire, subject to its law and represented in its parliament. The overwhelming majority of the population of Palestine were Arabs. There was in it a small minority of Jews that enjoyed the same rights and bore the same responsibilities as the [other] inhabitants, and did not suffer any ill-treatment on account of its religious beliefs. The holy places were inviolable and the freedom of access to them was guaranteed.
2. The Arabs have always asked for their freedom and independence. On the outbreak of the First World War, and when the Allies declared that they were fighting for the liberation of peoples, the Arabs joined them and fought on their side with a view to realizing their national aspirations and obtaining their independence. England pledged herself to recognize the independence of the Arab countries in Asia, including Palestine. The Arabs played a remarkable part in the achievement of final victory and the Allies have admitted this.
3. In 1917 England issued a declaration in which she expressed her sympathy with the establishment of a national home for the Jews in Palestine. When the Arabs knew of this they protested against it, but England reassured them by affirming to them that this would not prejudice the right of their countries to freedom and independence or affect the political status of the Arabs in Palestine. Notwithstanding the legally void character of this declaration, it was interpreted by England to aim at no more than the establishment of a spiritual centre for the Jews in Palestine, and to conceal no ulterior political aims, such as the establishment of a Jewish State. The same thing was declared by the Jewish leaders.
4. When the war came to an end England did not keep her promise. Indeed, the Allies placed Palestine under the mandate system and entrusted England with [the task of carrying it out], in accordance with a document providing for the administration of the country, in the interests of its inhabitants and its preparation for the independence which the Covenant of the League of Nations recognized that Palestine was qualified to have.
5. England administered Palestine in a manner which enabled the Jews to flood it with immigrants and helped them to settle in the country. [This was so] notwithstanding the fact that it was proved that the density of the population in Palestine had exceeded the economic capacity of the country to absorb additional immigrants. England did not pay regard to the interests or rights of the Arab inhabitants, the lawful owners of the country. Although they used to express, by various means, their concern and indignation on account of this state of affairs which was harmful to their being and their future, they [invariably] were met by indifference, imprisonment and oppression.
6. As Palestine is an Arab country, situated in the heart of the Arab countries and attached to the Arab world by various ties—spiritual, historical, and strategic—the Arab countries, and even the Eastern ones, governments as well as peoples, have concerned themselves with the problem of Palestine and have raised it to the international level;[they have also raised the problem] with England, asking for its solution in accordance with the pledges made and with democratic principles. The Round Table Conference was held in London in 1939 in order to discuss the Palestine question and to arrive at the just solution thereof. The Governments of the Arab States participated in [this conference] and asked for the preservation of the Arab character of Palestine and the proclamation of its independence. This conference ended with the issue of a White Paper in which England defined her policy towards Palestine, recognized its independence, and undertook to set up the institutions that would lead to its exercise of the characteristics of [this independence]. She [also] declared that her obligations concerning the establishment of a Jewish national home had been fulfilled, since that home had actually been established. But the policy defined in that [White] paper was not carried out. This, therefore, led to the deterioration of the situation and the aggravation of matters contrary to the interests of the Arabs.
7. While the Second World War was still in progress, the Governments of the Arab States began to hold consultations regarding the reinforcement of their co-operation and the increasing of the means of their collaboration and their solidarity, with a view to safeguarding their present and their future and to participating in the erection of the edifice of the new world on firm foundations. Palestine had its [worthy] share of consideration and attention in these conversations. These conversations led to the establishment of the League of Arab States as an instrument for the co-operation of the Arab States for their security, peace and well-being.
The Pact of the League of Arab States declared that Palestine has been an independent country since its separation from the Ottoman Empire, but the manifestations of this independence have been suppressed due to reasons which were out of the control of its inhabitants. The establishment of the United Nations shortly afterwards was an event about which the Arabs had the greatest hopes. Their belief in the ideals on which that organization was based made them participate in its establishment and membership.
8. Since then the Arab League and its [member] Governments have not spared any effort to pursue any course, whether with the Mandatory Power or with the United Nations, in order to bring about a just solution of the Palestine problem: [a solution] based upon true democratic principles and compatible with the provisions of the Covenant of the League of Nations and the [Charter] of the United Nations, and which would [at the same time] be lasting, guarantee peace and security in the country and prepare it for progress and prosperity. But Zionist claims were always an obstacle to finding such a solution, [as the Zionists], having prepared themselves with armed forces, strongholds and fortifications to face by force anyone standing in their way, publicly declared [their intention] to establish a Jewish State.
9. When the General Assembly of the United Nations issued, on 29 November 1947, its recommendation concerning the solution of the Palestine problem, on the basis of the establishment of an Arab State and of another Jewish [state] in [Palestine] together with placing the City of Jerusalem under the trusteeship of the United Nations, the Arab States drew attention to the injustice implied in this solution [affecting] the right of the people of Palestine to immediate independence, as well as democratic principles and the provisions of the Covenant of the League of Nations and [the Charter] of the United Nations. [These States also] declared the Arabs' rejection of [that solution] and that it would not be possible to carry it out by peaceful means, and that its forcible imposition would constitute a threat to peace and security in this area.
The warnings and expectations of the Arab States have, indeed, proved to be true, as disturbances were soon widespread throughout Palestine. The Arabs clashed with the Jews, and the two [parties] proceeded to fight each other and shed each other's blood. Whereupon the United Nations began to realize the danger of recommending the partition [of Palestine] and is still looking for a way out of this state of affairs.
10. Now that the British mandate over Palestine has come to an end, without there being a legitimate constitutional authority in the country, which would safeguard the maintenance of security and respect for law and which would protect the lives and properties of the inhabitants, the Governments of the Arab States declare the following:—
First: That the rule of Palestine should revert to its inhabitants, in accordance with the provisions of the Covenant of the League of Nations and [the Charter] of the United Nations and that [the Palestinians] should alone have the right to determine their future.
Second: Security and order in Palestine have become disrupted. The Zionist aggression resulted in the exodus of more than a quarter of a million of its Arab inhabitants from their homes and in their taking refuge in the neighbouring Arab countries.
The events which have taken place in Palestine have unmasked the aggressive intentions and the imperialistic designs of the Zionists, including the atrocities committed by them against the peace-loving Arab inhabitants, especially in Dayr Yasin, Tiberias and others. Nor have they respected the inviolability of consuls, as they have attacked the consulates of the Arab States in Jerusalem. After the termination of the British mandate over Palestine the British authorities are no longer responsible for security in the country, except to the degree affecting their withdrawing forces, and [only] in the areas in which these forces happen to be at the time of withdrawal as announced by [these authorities]. This state of affairs would render Palestine without any governmental machinery capable of restoring order and the rule of law to the country, and of protecting the lives and properties of the inhabitants.
Third: This state of affairs is threatening to spread to the neighbouring Arab countries, where feeling is running high because of the events in Palestine. The Governments of the Member States of the Arab League and of the United Nations are exceedingly worried and deeply concerned about this state of affairs.
Fourth: These Governments had hoped that the United Nations would have succeeded in finding a peaceful and just solution of the problem of Palestine, in accordance with democratic principles and the provisions of the Covenant of the League of Nations and [the Charter] of the United Nations, so that peace, security and prosperity would prevail in this part of the world.
Fifth: The Governments of the Arab States, as members of the Arab League, a regional organization within the meaning of the provisions of Chapter VIII of the Charter of the United Nations, are responsible for maintaining peace and security in their area. These Governments view the events taking place in Palestine as a threat to peace and security in the area as a whole and [also] in each of them taken separately.
Sixth: Therefore, as security in Palestine is a sacred trust in the hands of the Arab States, and in order to put an end to this state of affairs and to prevent it from becoming aggravated or from turning into [a state of] chaos, the extent of which no one can foretell; in order to stop the spreading of disturbances and disorder in Palestine to the neighbouring Arab countries; in order to fill the gap brought about in the governmental machinery in Palestine as a result of the termination of the mandate and the non-establishment of a lawful successor authority, the Governments of the Arab States have found themselves compelled to intervene in Palestine solely in order to help its inhabitants restore peace and security and the rule of justice and law to their country, and in order to prevent bloodshed.
Seventh: The Governments of the Arab States recognize that the independence of Palestine, which has so far been suppressed by the British mandate, has become an accomplished fact for the lawful inhabitants of Palestine. They alone, by virtue of their absolute sovereignty, have the right to provide their country with laws and governmental institutions. They alone should exercise the attributes of their independence, through their own means and without any kind of foreign interference, immediately after peace, security and the rule of law have been restored to the country.
At that time the intervention of the Arab states will cease, and the independent State of Palestine will co-operate with the [other member] States of the Arab League in order to bring peace, security and prosperity to this part of the world.
The Governments of the Arab States emphasize, on this occasion, what they have already declared before the London Conference and the United Nations, that the only solution of the Palestine problem is the establishment of a unitary Palestinian State, in accordance with democratic principles, whereby its inhabitants will enjoy complete equality before the law, [and whereby] minorities will be assured of all the guarantees recognized in democratic constitutional countries, and [whereby] the holy places will be preserved and the right of access thereto guaranteed.
Eighth: The Arab States most emphatically declare that [their] intervention in Palestine was due only to these considerations and objectives, and that they aim at nothing more than to put an end to the prevailing conditions in [Palestine]. For this reason, they have great confidence that their action will have the support of the United Nations; [that it will be] considered as an action aiming at the realization of its aims and at promoting its principles, as provided for in its Charter.
What happened next ...
When the Arab League members mobilized their armies and invaded Israel in May 1948, they had high hopes that they were about to establish the Arab nation of Palestine. Arabs outnumbered the Jewish residents in Palestine by more than two to one, and the Arab military forces outnumbered those of the Jews. But the Arab invaders lacked strong organization. The Arab forces—including Palestinians led by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (the religious leader of Arab Palestinians), and forces from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Syria—that were mobilized against Israel were not motivated by a common goal or directed by a centralized command. The Jewish forces were. The Jews had developed a highly organized underground army before declaring independence; that army became the country's official army in 1948. Although the Arabs initially had superior weaponry, Israel soon gained access to weapons from the United States and Western European countries and secured the necessary equipment to overcome its deficiencies. In addition, Israel remained focused on its task of pushing Arabs out, while Arab infighting led to distracting skirmishes between Arab armies during the war.
By 1949 Israel had won the war and even expanded its territory. Much of the land the United Nations had proposed for the independent Arab state in 1947 had become either part of Israel or annexed to Jordan. Palestine had almost no land available after the war. Nearly one-half million Palestinians had fled out of fear or had been forced off land captured by Israel during the war. Some of these Palestinians moved to neighboring Arab countries, but most gathered in refugee camps in hopes of returning to their homes. The inability of the peoples of Israel and Palestine to find lasting peace kept over one million Palestinians languishing in refugee camps by 2005.
Did you know...
- The conflict between the newly declared state of Israel and the Arab nations is known as the Arab-Israeli War of 1948 as well as the War of Independence.
- Of Palestine's 1.3 million Arab inhabitants before the Arab-Israeli War, almost half became refugees, living in refugee camps in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, or in neighboring Arab countries such as Jordan or Lebanon, by war's end.
- In September 1948 the Arab League announced the formation of an All-Palestine Government, but Arab infighting, especially between Egypt and Jordan, destroyed the power of the new government and it languished as a powerless department of the Arab League until 1959.
- Palestinians refer to the Arab-Israeli War of 1948 as al-Nakbah, or the disaster.
- Neither Israel nor the Arab states agreed to negotiate a lasting peace after the Arab-Israeli War of 1948.
Consider the following ...
- Could the Arab-Israeli War have been avoided if the Arab states had agreed to the Jewish state's existence? What might Palestine have looked like in this case?
- In what other diplomatic ways might the Arab States have reacted to the declaration of Israel's independence? Was war the only recourse left to them?
- Does the Statement Issued by the Governments of the Arab League States on the Occasion of the Entry of the Arab Armies in Palestine on May 15, 1948, provide any insight into the continued difficulties between Arab countries and Israel?
For More Information
Diller, Daniel, ed. The Middle East. 8th ed. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1995.
Drummond, Dorothy. Holy Land Whose Land? Modern Dilemma Ancient Roots. Seattle, WA: Educare Press, 2002.
Khalil, Muhammad, ed. The Arab States and the Arab League: A Documentary Record, Vol. II International Affairs. Beirut, Lebanon: Khayats, 1962.
The Question of Palestine & the United Nations. http://www.un.org/Depts/dpi/palestine/ (accessed on June 24, 2005).