IT was Friday, May 14, 1948. I was sitting in the press section of the United Nations General Assembly in its temporary quarters at Flushing Meadow in Queens. I felt my heart thumping. We journalists were waiting impatiently to see who would win a tug of war taking place in Washington.
Free, but Without a Home On one side was President Harry S. Truman, who had told his aides that, with the last British troops leaving Palestine that day, he believed the Jews had a right to declare their own nation, and that he would make sure that the United States would be the first country to recognize it.
On the other side was the State Department, which wanted the land placed in a trusteeship under the United Nations. Secretary of State George Marshall was so passionate in his opposition to a Jewish state that he threatened to vote against the president in the November election. For Truman, who had come to office with the death of Franklin Roosevelt three years earlier, this was to be one of his first true tests of power.
She relates being part of a committee that traveled to refugee camps in Europe to meet displaced Jews who were seeking to move to Mandate Palestine – to Eretz Israel.
A young man approached us, his eyes bloodshot. â€œIn Romania, they killed 30,000 Jews in two hours,â€ he said, his voice sounding as if it came straight from his guts. â€œThey took Jews to the slaughterhouse and hung them alive the way they hang cows, and they put knives to their throats and split them. Underneath them, they put a sign: Kosher Beef.â€
In camp after camp, the committee members asked, â€œWhy do you want to go to Palestine? It’s such a poor country. The Arabs and Jews are always fighting. They don’t have enough food, they don’t have enough water. What is it about Palestine?â€
A 16-year-old orphan â€” actually, we never used the word â€œorphanâ€ because the term couldn’t convey the horrors these children had been through â€” gave the most poignant answer. â€œEverybody has a home,â€ he said. â€œThe Americans. The British. The French. The Russians. Only we don’t have a home. Don’t ask us. Ask the world.â€
The Arabs, in 1947, rejected the committee’s recommendations and the UN resolution to partition the land into two states for two peoples. As a result, the Yishuv decided to go it alone and planned to declare a state. The question was how the United States would react.
My mind was drawn immediately back to the present of May 1948 as I noticed an American representative to the United Nations, Philip Jessup, hurrying toward the podium. I knew, after talking to his aides, that in his hand he had a speech supporting trusteeship, not statehood, for Israel. The State Department was about to betray the president.
Jessup was halfway up the stairs when an Associated Press reporter handed him a dispatch. Jessup read it, grew white-faced, descended the stairs and then disappeared. The reporter next to me said, â€œHe’s gone to the bathroom.â€
I shook my head. â€œHe’s gone home.â€
Then we were handed the A.P. report. In Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion had just read the world’s latest proclamation of independence. Eleven minutes later, Harry Truman had recognized Ben-Gurion’s government as the â€œde facto authorityâ€ of the new state.
Israel was born.