Mur­der of diplo­mats in Is­rael went un­pun­ished

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - - History - MAREA DON­NELLY HIS­TORY WRITER

The mur­ders of two United Na­tions diplo­mats in Jerusalem 70 years ago were de­nounced as “an out­rage against the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and an un­speak­able vi­o­la­tion of ele­men­tary moral­ity”.

The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity de­manded jus­tice for the point-blank shoot­ing of Swedish no­ble­man and Red Cross hero Folke Ber­nadotte and French colonel An­dre Serot, but Is­raeli lead­ers would never make any ar­rests.

Is­raeli leader David Ben-Gu­rion would also later be ac­cused of dis­miss­ing the UN, which sent Ber­nadotte and Amer­i­can Ralph Bunche on the first of count­less diplo­matic ef­forts to se­cure peace in Pales­tine.

Jewish-Pales­tinian con­flict had fes­tered for decades be­fore civil war erupted af­ter Is­rael de­clared in­de­pen­dence when the Bri­tish man­date over Pales­tine ex­pired in May 1948, when Arab armies moved into Pales­tine. Six months ear­lier, the UN voted to par­ti­tion it into a Jewish and an Arab state, with the towns of Ly­dda and Ramle in the Arab state.

Pales­tine’s Jewish com­mu­nity wel­comed the pro­posal, which Arab lead­ers re­jected, lead­ing to civil war be­tween the com­mu­ni­ties.

“Arab in­hab­i­tants were ejected and forced to flee into Arab ter­ri­tory at Ramle, Ly­dda and other places,” Bri­tish ma­jor Edgar O’ Bal­lance ob­served in mid-1948. “Wher­ever the Is­raeli troops ad­vanced into Arab coun­try, the Arab pop­u­la­tion was bull­dozed out in front of them.”

Over­whelmed by Jewish mili­tias in the first five months of fight­ing, up to 350,000 Pales­tini­ans fled or were ex­pelled in the 1948 Pales­tinian ex­o­dus, some en­cour­aged by Jewish broad­casts warn­ing of cholera or ty­phus out­breaks in Pales­tinian towns and vil­lages.

On July 11, 1948, Jewish para­mil­i­tary of­fi­cer Moshe Dayan led com­man­dos speed­ing in a col­umn of jeeps into Ly­dda “with ri­fles, Stens and sub-ma­chine guns blaz­ing. It coursed through the main streets, blast­ing at every­thing that

moved … the corpses of Arab men, women and even chil­dren, were strewn about the streets,” a US jour­nal­ist wrote, with Arabs given 48 hours to leave oc­cu­pied towns.

Around the globe, Bri­tish, US and UN states­men de­bated strate­gies to foster peace­ful co­ex­is­tence of Arabs and Jews in Pales­tine. Aus­tralian doc­tor Raphael Ci­lento, UN di­rec­tor of refugees and dis­placed per­sons, was sent to as­sess the ap­palling liv­ing con­di­tions of refugees as Ber­nadotte, as­sisted by Bunche, ne­go­ti­ated a truce in the civil war. A nephew of Swe­den’s King Gus­tav V and World War II hero, Ber­nadotte had me­di­ated as head of the Swedish Red Cross to res­cue 20,000 peo­ple, in­clud­ing thou­sands of Jews, from Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camps. He ar­ranged their trans­port to Swe­den in a mis­sion called the “white buses”, which dis­played a red cross.

In July 1948, Ber­nadotte con­fi­den­tially dis­closed his so­lu­tion for Pales­tine, say­ing there would be a Jewish state, no mat­ter what hap­pened: “Its bound­aries will have to be rad­i­cally al­tered to prove a more com­pact and work­able state. Its Arab neigh­bours must be given an iron-clad UN guar­an­tee against any move to ex­pand.”

His pro­posal lim­ited the Jewish state to 55 per cent of Pales­tine, and de­clared Jerusalem as an in­ter­na­tional city.

Ber­nadotte was shot dur­ing a UN-im­posed truce on Septem­ber 17, 1948, when his three-car con­voy was stopped at a small road­block in Jewish con­trolled West Jerusalem. Two gun­men shot out the tyres of the ve­hi­cles and a third gun­man fired a pis­tol through the open back win­dow of Ber­nadotte’s car. He was struck by six bul­lets and died as he was put on a stretcher, along with Serot.

It was more than 20 hours be­fore prime min­is­ter Ben-Gu­rion im­posed a cur­few over Jewish Jerusalem and be­gan ar­rest­ing mem­bers of Lehi, or Fight­ers for the Free­dom of Is­rael and also known as the Stern Gang, a Zion­ist para­mil­i­tary or­gan­i­sa­tion be­lieved re­spon­si­ble. No one was ever charged for Ber­nadotte and Serot’s mur­ders, although re­searchers later in­sisted those re­spon­si­ble were well-known.

Stern Gang lead­ers Natan Yellin-Mor and Matityahu Sh­muele­vitz were charged and con­victed of be­long­ing to a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion, but were im­me­di­ately re­leased and par­doned. Yellin-Mor had also been elected to the Is­raeli par­lia­ment. Ber­nadotte’s as­sas­sin Ye­hoshua Co­hen be­came a body­guard for Ben-Gu­rion.

Fu­ture Is­raeli prime min­is­ter Yitzhak Shamir, then known as Yitzhak Yezer­nit­sky and a Lehi leader af­ter Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties killed Stern Gang leader Avra­ham Stern in 1942, wrote in his mem­oir that Lehi wanted Ber­nadotte “re­moved from the arena”. He added that the group “took no re­spon­si­bil­ity for the deed”, as “the idea was con­ceived in Jerusalem by Lehi mem­bers op­er­at­ing there more or less in­de­pen­dently”. The Stern Gang was afraid Ben-Gu­rion would ac­cede to the UN and Ber­nadotte’s plans to give up Jerusalem.

Dur­ing a UN-im­posed truce Shamir, fel­low Lehi ac­tivist Is­rael El­dad and Yellin-Mor au­tho­rised Ber­nadotte’s as­sas­si­na­tion to pre­vent in­ter­na­tion­al­is­ing Jerusalem and lim­it­ing bor­ders of a new Jewish state to 78 per cent of Pales­tine.

1948 Count Ber­nadotte (sec­ond right) with two un­named staff mem­bers (left), Le­banese politi­cian Riad Bey el Solh and Sir Raphael Ci­lento, be­fore leav­ing Beirut on his mis­sion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.