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American History & Jewish History Blog
Plan of Partition UNGA Resolution 181, 27 November, 1947, Public Domain
November 29, 2022

The 75th Anniversary of the Partition of Palestine

Seventy-five years ago today, on November 29th, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution ruling that upon the expiration of the British Mandate (May 15, 1948), Palestine was to be partitioned into separate Arab and Jewish states, with Jerusalem controlled by international governance. Neither side was satisfied with the borders drawn up by the UN, leading to intense local violence. The British departed six months after the resolution, in late April 1948, and, as a result, the conflict escalated significantly. The Jews declared an independent state of Israel, causing Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria to launch a coordinated military invasion. It was only after more than a year of intense fighting and massive casualties that Israel reached armistice agreements with the invading countries, securing its independence.   

Over a decade earlier, in 1936, the British government tasked the Royal Commission — later known as the Peel Commission — with evaluating the practicality of self-governance for Arabs and Jews in Palestine once the Mandate would expire. It was clear to the commission that this solution was unfeasible, and they published a report to that effect, recommending partition. 

In the weeks before the report was made public, Chaim Weizmann and the rest of the Zionist leaders were on edge. The Arab delegation had already told the Commission they were opposed to partition and refused Jewish autonomy over any of Palestine, despite the proposed area for the Jews being 20% of Palestine and the Arabs being awarded 80%. Weizmann was also aware of the suspicions with which the Jews were viewing the Commission’s terms, with their smaller portion of land in decidedly unstrategic locations. Weizmann further understood that even if the plan passed, the partition would not be immediate, likely causing a dangerous interregnum that would be hazardous for the small Jewish population. 

In this letter to Orde and Lorna Wingate, Weizmann analyzes the faults of the Commission’s plans and accepts Orde’s offer to train guerilla troops — what would become the “Special Night Squads” — for what they saw as the impending defensive war against the Arabs. While the British government eventually rejected the Commission’s findings, Weizmann’s concerns were nonetheless prescient. When the UN passed the partition plan on its own terms nearly ten years later, many of those guerilla troops had by then formed into the Haganah military units. 

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