Now that Israeli slaughter is underway yet again, it is an appropriate moment for Pakistanis to show solidarity with Palestinians by recalling what Sir Zafrulla Khan – the author of the Pakistan Resolution – had to say about the “partition” of Palestine in the year of the Nakbah. Lamentably, due to the predicament of our own country under the second amendment, Sir Zafrulla Khan (KCSI, 1893 – 1985, our first foreign minister, representative at the UN, judge at the ICJ and of course the Pakistan Resolution’s draftsman), an adherent of the reformist Ahmadi Muslim community, would be considered a “non-Muslim”.
Yet the perversion of the meaning of the word “Muslim” to appease the mullah street is incapable of denting Sir Zafrulla’s arguments in support of Palestinians. It remains very much the case that Sir Zafrulla wrote Palestine in the U.N.O. as a Musalman. Of that there is no doubt. Equally, he wrote to expose the truth about what happened in the UN. But in the context of our own country, no doubt much to his torment, Sir Zafrulla also lived to see his (and Mr Jinnah’s) dream of a secular Pakistan being destroyed.
Our focus today, however, is not the vile state of the law in Pakistan. (But we nonetheless urge our politicians to repeal all non-secular enactments immediately.) Rather, we seek to show solidarity with the people of Palestine who are again being slaughtered by the Israelis: the latest attacks in Gaza have already claimed 67 lives (including pregnant women and more than a dozen children) and no doubt many more innocents will perish under Israel’s merciless and random attacks.
Sir Zafrulla’s seminal 1948 account of how things went in the UN in respect of the problem of Palestine is strikingly similar to later analyses by western journalists and Palestinian activists (see for example David Hirst, The Gun and the Olive Branch, 1977; Sari Nusseibeh, Once Upon A Country, 2003). Land grabbing was the issue at the heart of the problem. And it was facilitated by Jewish immigration. The Palestinians were not the “problem” and the Jews were the “terrorists”: Lord Moyne’s assassination by Lehi in 1944, the bombing of the King David Hotel by Irgun in 1946 and Count Bernadotte’s murder by Lehi in 1948 (headed by none other than Yitzhak Shamir, who went on to become Israel’s prime minister) confirm this fact. So not much has changed. And although the British, who bear the responsibility of creating the conflict, would no longer call the Israelis “terrorists”, had he still been alive Sir Zafrulla would continue to call them just that. What else can a professional army intentionally bombing a civilian population be called?
Clearly, the approach is not working and the people firing the rockets remain unaffected by “Operation Pillar of Defence.” We have heard so much from the White House about the atrocities committed by the Syrian regime. But why, even in the face of repeated slaughter of Palestinian civilians by the Israeli military, is the Palestine issue always on the backburner?
Perhaps we can find some answers by returning to Sir Zafrulla’s monograph. His point of departure was the British pledge regarding Arab independence after the First World War: in exchange, of course, for Arab support against Ottoman Turkey. Observing the betrayal of this promise through the Balfour Declaration – set out in a 2nd November 1917 letter from Arthur Balfour, the then British foreign secretary, to Walter Rothschild – Sir Zafrulla remarked that “thereafter the Jewish immigration into Palestine started and the struggle between the Jews and the Arabs began.”
Equally, Sir Zafrulla also thought that His Majesty’s Government’s commitment to establishing in Palestine a national home for the Jewish people was a bad idea because the civil and religious rights of the Palestinian people (reduced by the stroke of Balfour’s pen to the “existing non-Jewish communities”!) would never be upheld. When the British finally promised to limit Jewish immigration to 75,000 people (between 1939 – 1949), president Roosevelt wrecked the settlement (achieved by Ernest Bevin) by demanding a mandatory entry of 100,000 Jews into Palestine.
So “an agreed settlement” to the problem was “prevented” by the Americans. “In the meantime”, explains Sir Zafrulla, “Great Britain was getting sick of the whole business.” Special sessions of the UN General Assembly followed and two reports were produced by 11 members of the UN which visited Palestine. The two reports – the “majority” and the “minority” report(s) – put forward solutions on the grounds of a partition of Palestine or a federal state with two units, one Arab and the other Jewish. While the Arabs refused to accept either report, “the Jews declared that they were prepared to accept the majority scheme.”
Subsequently, Sir Zafrulla observed two trends in the General Assembly. One in favour of the majority report which would mean that the Arabs would be in-charge because they outnumbered the Jews: in those days, the population of Palestine was 2,000,000; composed of 1,300,000 Arabs and 700,000 Jews. The two “solutions” were a unitary state with safeguards for minorities (minority report) or a partition with economic union (majority report).
The two proposals were committed to the two sub-committees of the Committee on Palestine. Sir Zafrulla, was elected as the chairman of sub-committee two and the Polish delegate headed sub-committee one. Sir Zafrulla’s sub-committee concluded that the UN “had no legal or juristic authority to partition Palestine.” Most delegates agreed that this was the true position in law and everyone agreeed that the problem could have been resolved “very easily” by Britain. But, as the mandatory member, she conveniently maintained:
Whatever solution the Assembly adopts, we ourselves will not support either partition or any other solution that may be suggested unless it is a solution which the Arabs and Jews are both willing to accept.
When the question “are you willing to help in what this scheme visualises?” was asked, Britain’s reply was “no; we won’t. Whatever you suggest will have to be done by the U.N.O.” Moreover, “the ultimate British attitude was”:
Upto the date on which we terminate the mandate – and we shall decide that date – we shall not share authority for the administration of Palestine with anybody else. We shall be the sole authority as the responsibility is ours and it is our troops that have to keep and maintain law and order. From the date of the termination of the mandate upto the date of the evacuation of our troops from Palestine, we shall be responsible for law and order only in our military camps to which we shall have withdrawn our troops. With regard to the rest of our country, we shall not be responsible and we shall withdraw our troops from Palestine at the latest by the 1st of August 1948. (They have since announced that they will terminate the mandate in May 1948.)
The proposals of the special committee sent to Palestine by the General Assembly desperately tried to mitigate the humanitarian dilemmas posed by the hasty British departure. Despite some attempts to stay partition (to search for a better solution) by the French and the rejection of it altogether by the Columbians, Sir Zafarulla recorded that the Americans were able to coerce a majority in favour of partition. The Haitian delegate – “there were actually tears in his eyes and he said: I have announced that we shall vote against partition and I have now received instructions to vote for partition” – was made to change his country’s vote because “pressure was being put on some delegations to vote in favour of partition against their will.”
As a Musalman, Sir Zafrulla knew that partition – “a very sad decision” – was the worst option and that the Nakbah was its inevitable consequence. He ended his monograph by noting that “most delegations, even some those that had voted in favour of it, were very unhappy.”
With the above in mind it is obvious that in addition to the Israelis, the Americans and British have a lot of blood on their hands. Maybe, to make amends, they can wash some of it off now by restraining Israel from attacking civilian populations and killing innocent women, children and non-combatants/journalists. It is high time the west, which is responsible for creating an absolutely horrific predicament for the Palestinians, held Israel accountable for its crimes rather than hiding behind Hamas’s skirt and, following Sir Zafrulla, we urge America’s president Obama to stop supporting the wholesale slaughter of innocent Palestinians by backing Israel’s murderous ways.
Sir Zafrulla’s views, worth reading in full, are available below: