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The United Nations and Israel

Ivan Rand and the UNSCOP Papers

Part 1

by John Ross - April 2002

Last December, I found myself disturbed by comments made by Liberal Senator Marcel Prud'homme who, as quoted in Hansard (House of Commons daily debates), gave a particularly vicious diatribe against three of Israel's prime ministers. He also directed his fellow senators to look back to the United Nations (UN) and the General Assembly resolution of Nov. 29, 1947, in order to find the reason for the current difficulty in the Middle East.

To the applause of his senate colleagues, he said, "[Former Canadian prime minister] Lester Pearson helped implement a report written by another great Canadian from the Supreme Court, which called for two states in the land of Palestine, one for the Jews, one for the Palestinians - of course, with no consultation from the Palestinians."

The intent of Prud'homme's revisit to the past was clearly twofold. Firstly, he wanted all Canadians to believe that as early as 1947, Israel has been acting in defiance of the UN's wishes by preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state. Secondly, he wanted Canadians to take the failure of the creation of a Palestinian state as a personal affront to the memory of two pre-eminent Canadians who supported the rights of the Palestinians.

I have always been aware of the fact that while at Flushing Meadows on Nov. 29, 1947, Pearson, who was then under-secretary of state for external affairs, helped Israel obtain the two-thirds majority vote required to pass the resolution in favour of the partition of Palestine. The Arab nations had sought a unitary independent Palestinian state in which the Jews would have no more than a one-third representation in an elected government, and so it was clearly recognized that a vote in favour of partition was an outright rejection of their position.

Furthermore, the historical record confirms that the Arabs had been consulted and were invited to appear before the UN or its committees. Therefore, I knew Prud'homme was quite wrong in his interpretation of events and that he gave a misleading "spin" on the partition resolution.

But what piqued my interest was the reference to the other Canadian referred to by Prud'homme, Supreme Court Justice Ivan Rand, who drafted the original recommendation that was the basis of the UN resolution. Although the details of his prestigious legal and judicial career were well known, little information has been available about his involvement in making the report. This is because the committee that he served on, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), deliberated in secrecy; their meetings and discussions were never made public.

I wanted to find out more about Rand and his position on Palestine for two reasons. My first objective was to determine if his reasons for partition would either hinder or help present-day Canadian Jewry in combating the countless UN resolutions of that attack Israel's legitimacy.

My second reason, which was more personal, arose from the fact that Rand founded the University of Western Ontario Law School upon his retirement from the Supreme Court of Canada in 1960, the same law school that I attended.

I first looked for the government-published volume Documents on Canadian External Affairs (1947), which contains all formerly classified memorandums and correspondence of the External Affairs Department of the federal government. In the section on Palestine, I found several interesting telegrams and documents between Pearson, minister of external affairs Louis St. Laurent and prime minister Mackenzie King, which indicated that Canada tried strenuously not to be nominated as a member of UNSCOP, and that it lobbied both the United States and the United Kingdom to be kept off the committee.

Only after arm twisting by the United States did Canada reluctantly agree to be one of the 11 "neutral" states (Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, India, Guatemala, Iran, Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, Uruguay and Yugoslavia) that would immediately visit Palestine and render a report outlining a solution for the problem by Aug. 31, 1947. But in order to diminish the anticipated political fallout from having been forced to make a decision on the touchy subject, the Canadian government decided that its representative on UNSCOP would be completely independent and not be given any instructions.

Out of a list of seven prominent Canadians, King selected Rand, who departed for Palestine via New York in June 1947. The Department of External Affairs provided Rand with a historical background paper as a guideline, but this memorandum must have been intended to neutralize him from making any decision on Palestine as it spoke of "two great historic tragedies... one Arab, the other Jewish."

The report also advised of the "futility" in determining which people have suffered the worst "catastrophe," and included a Jewish position paper that argued for one unitary Palestinian state and said that partition was not in the best interests of the Jews.

I then decided to call Western's law school to find out if Rand had left behind any memoirs or articles about the time he served on UNSCOP. The library staff said they doubted there would be anything, as Rand never wrote an autobiography, but that they would conduct a search. I was surprised to hear back from the senior librarian a few days later, and quite excited when she told me that she had located an old box marked "Palestine" containing UN papers marked "classified and confidential." I drove anxiously to London to examine the box's contents, and was overwhelmed to see that it contained the complete record of the UNSCOP hearings and deliberations.

Not only did the box also have copies of the position papers of the submissions presented by all of the various local and religious groups in Palestine, but it also contained the confidential reports of the British high commissioner, the verbatim reporting of all meetings and discussions, the individual position papers of each member of UNSCOP and the working drafts of the final report together with handwritten notes and amendments.

Also kept in the box were two important and interesting files. The first contained Rand's personal correspondence from government officials and various individuals living in Palestine, while the second contained the entire briefing report from External Affairs. No one could have dared imagine a more valuable treasure chest of information pertaining to Palestine in 1947 and so revealing of the world's attitude towards Jews and Zionism.

The material revealed that the UNSCOP delegates were completely divided on what they envisioned for Palestine. On Aug. 27, 1947, only four days before the report was due, the chairman realized they had "too many different proposals" and that "the upshot would be a disjointed, incoherent, and from the point of view of the assembly, largely unintelligible report." The only majority viewpoint at that time was of India, Iran, Yugoslavia and Peru, who announced that they were in favour of a unitary state.

The most gratifying for me, however, was reading that it was Rand who recognized the need for consensus in order to arrive at a single solution that would benefit the Jews. He rose to the forefront in the deliberations and forced his fellow delegates to reconsider their personal positions. By using his great ability as a conciliator, he proceeded to work on a draft final report that would eventually gain the majority support of seven of the 11 delegates.

When the delegate from India chided the other delegates favouring partition for not having specifics on partition boundaries, Rand kept his group working together, saying that it was more important to complete the report with a strong recommendation for partition, and only afterward would it be necessary to settle this issue. When the delegates finally had to delineate the boundaries for the two states, he persuaded his fellow members to give the Jewish state control over the Negev, a decision latter opposed by many countries, including the United States. On Aug. 30, he argued and debated with the Indian delegate to ensure that the background reasons set out in the report were supportive of the historical right for a Jewish national homeland.

The UNSCOP papers clearly demonstrate that without Rand, there would not have been a final report that so thoroughly and persuasively recommended partition as the only viable way of helping the Jews in Palestine and the Diaspora. Without it, it is extremely unlikely that Israel would have obtained the two-thirds majority vote of the General Assembly on Nov. 29, 1947. Our debt to Rand, both as Jews and as Canadians, is immeasurable and should proudly be recorded in the history of Zionism and Israel.

John Ross practises law in Hamilton, Ont.
Part 2 [] Part 3

©2002 Canadian Jewish News

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