Nearly seven decades after the establishment of the State of Israel, American Jews are sharply divided over Israeli policy in Judea, Samaria, and Jerusalem – with conflicting views both over what choices would be best in Israel’s interest, as well as whether Israel even has a right to large swaths of the historic Jewish homeland.
But was the American Jewish establishment always so divided on the issue of Jewish rights over the Land of Israel?
A newly preserved pre-state memorandum by some of the leading figures in the American Jewish community suggests that unlike today, prior to the establishment of Israel, American Jewry embraced Israel’s claim to the historic Jewish homeland, including Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria.
The 107-page memorandum, entitled “The Basic Equities of the Palestine Problem”, was produced by eight prominent Jewish American jurists in September 1947, and sent to the United Nations in response to the UN’s Special Committee on Palestine’s report which suggested a partition of the country, leaving the proposed Jewish state with a tiny portion of the land originally allotted to it by the Balfour Declaration and subsequent League of Nations Mandate for Palestine.
Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and much of the Galilee were left beyond the borders of the proposed Jewish state under the UNSCOP’s plan.
The eight jurists who produced the memorandum included future Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas; US District Court Judge of New York Simon H. Rifkind; Jerome N. Frank, a judge of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Second Circuit; Stanley H. Fuld, judge of the Court of Appeals of the State of New York; Abraham Tulin, member of the New York Bar; Milton Handler, law professor at Columbia University; Murray L. Gurfein, member of the New York Bar; and Lawrence R. Eno, member of the New York Bar.
The memorandum to the UN slammed the stripping of land promised for a Jewish national home under the League of Nations Mandate, noting that the UNSCOP partition plan would have left to a future Jewish state “less than one-eighth of the territory originally set aside for it.”
In assessing the rights of national self-determination for Jews and Arabs, the eight-member panel found that the rights guaranteed to a Jewish national home vis-à-vis the territory included in the original League mandate were not constrained by Arab national rights, which had been generously addressed with the establishment of states or separate mandates.
“Statesmen from the First World War already understood that the legitimate national aspirations of the Arab peoples of the former Turkish [Ottoman] empire have already been completely satisfied in the very same peace agreement which resolved to reestablish the Jewish national home.”
“More than a million square miles of the richest territory of the former Turkish empire were allotted by the treaty to the Arab peoples for the immediate establishment of independent states, and today that has been fully accomplished.”
The original mandate for a Jewish national home, the memorandum recalled, included all of the territory west of the Jordan as well as the area now included in the Kingdom of Jordan.
While a future Jewish state would, of course, be at liberty to cede territory for demographic benefit, no further infringements on the rights promised to the Jewish national home could be imposed by the international community.
Most importantly, the panel rejected the notion that Arabs living in the Mandate for Palestine were entitled to a separate right of self-determination within the land allotted to a future Jewish state.
By the 1970s few copies remained of the original 1947 printing of the memorandum, and in 1977 the Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization of America had the document republished in book form.
Forty years later, however, even the 1977 reprinting has become difficult to find, prompting the Ariel University to include the original 1947 document in a preservation project for historical texts.
A group of Ariel University researchers led by Yossi Goldstein recently completed the meticulous scanning process to digitize the memorandum, a process complicated by the fragile state of the remaining original copy the university possesses.