Golda Meir

Peace in the Middle East - Oct. 7, 1957

Golda Meir
October 07, 1957— New York City
United Nations 12th Assembly
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Mr. President, it is my privilege at the outset of my remarks to express to you the deep pleasure and satisfaction evoked in my country by your election to the highest office and the gift of the United Nations. Your integrity of purpose, your clarity of thought and expression, your judicial temperament are an example here to us all, and we feel fortunate indeed in the choice of our presiding officer. I wish also to convey to the Secretary-General the sincere congratulations of my government and his unanimous reelection to the honorous [sic] and distinguished office which he occupies.

In the course of the debate, the distinguished Prime Minister of Canada expressed the wish that this the 12th Assembly might be known as the assembly of disarmament. Many other speakers have echoed this wish and this hope. But, Mr. President, is it not tragic that the 12th Assembly should still be talking of hopes for disarmament 12 years after a war that was characterized by horrors which no human mind could comprehend or envisage; is it not tragic that forty years after the First World War which was fought under the slogan of "The War To End All Wars," we of this generation, many of whom witnessed the ravages of both, are still engaged in debating the need and desirability of disarmament?

All employ almost the identical terminology. All speak of peace. But this is accompanied by such lack of confidence, by such lack of friendship that one often stops and wonders whether words have retained their original connotation. Whether the same word spoken by different representatives really has the same meaning.

We all of the new sovereign States, should be permitted and encouraged to concentrate all our energy, all of our resources in manpower and economic resources in fighting poverty, illiteracy, disease and desolation. But, Mr. President, are these the realities of the world in which we live? No. The sad and cruel fact is that these new countries are born into a world bitterly divided and preoccupied by a headlong race to increase destructive power and distressed by a global tension which moves from one region to another without losing its acuteness or peril. The burden under which we, the young and small nations, begin our new life is that of armaments; and before we can cope with the problems of development, we are driven by necessity to prepare to defend what was just gained, our freedom and our very being.

Israel fully agrees that problems of disarmament, both global and regional, should have a primary place in the work of this session. It is vital that we should break the cycle of failure which has for so long characterized this central problem. While it is true that effective progress is dependent upon the action and agreement of a very few of our membership, it is the duty of all of us not to remain merely passive onlookers. We must express our opinion that it is inconceivable that these talks be discontinued. They must go on until an understanding is reached. If all those who call for peace mean it, then an agreement will be reached, has to be reached. Israel, together with all other members of this Assembly, will follow most closely and anxiously the disarmament negotiations.

Mr. President, ten years ago on November 29, 1947, the General Assembly passed an historic resolution providing for the establishment of a Jewish State. In May 1948 the Arab League States launched against Israel a war intended to destroy the new State. They failed in their attempt and a few months later Israel was admitted to the United Nations; and yet to this day these same States, despite their membership of the United Nations, refuse to accept the Charter as the basis of their relations with Israel, a fellow member.

This long-standing violation of the Charter is a basic factor in the unrest and tension in our area. It has expressed itself in the illegal continuance by these Arab countries of a declared state of war, of belligerency, blockade and organized acts of hostility. It was directly responsible for the crisis of last winter which in turn led to United Nations intervention. It continues unabated to this very day.

It is true that the United Nations, which initiated Israel's withdrawal last spring has itself assumed active responsibility for preventing belligerent acts at the two points where the United Nations Emergency Force is deployed. No government of peaceful intent or aspiration would wish in any way to disturb the status quo which now prevails in these two sectors. But in the Suez Canal not even this limited degree of progress has been achieved. Its international character in fact has been subordinated and obscured, and the Canal is being operated under an illegal system of discrimination. Israeli ships are not permitted to pass through the Canal; and even ships of other flags bound for Israel are detained cargo and crew are examined, and if an Israeli is among the crew, he is taken off the vessel, interrogated and mishandled and kept under arrest for weeks.

The distinguished delegate from New Zealand has accurately evaluated the situation as follows:

"Shipping is once more passing through the Suez Canal, but the conditions of passage are by no means satisfactory. As long as Israel shipping is prevented from using the Canal, the provisions of the 1888 Convention will not be fully carried out, and the international character of the waterway will be infringed."

The apparent passivity of the United Nations in the face of Arab political terrorism and obstruction is unfortunately reflected also in the regional activities of the United Nations. The ramified boycott operations of the Arab League against Israel extend into the fields of health, of education, of agriculture, science and economics. In this tireless campaign the Arab States seek even to involve the United Nations and its Specialized Agencies despite the fact that their constitutions expressly or implicitly outlaw every form of discrimination. As a result, on the economic side, for example, the Middle East is today the only one of the world's regions without a United Nations Economic Commission. The regional office of the World Health Organization in Alexandria is inaccessible to one of the members of the region. The International Civil Aviation Organization, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the Food and Agricultural Organization are other examples of bodies whose work has likewise been detrimentally affected. One is driven to ask whether the United Nations really has to accommodate itself to Arab tactics so that even its regional agencies are paralyzed or severely handicapped in their efforts to secure higher standards of economic and social progress, of health and education for all.

The distinguished Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union in his speech to the Assembly last week placed much emphasis on "the need for and advantage of peaceful co-existence between States." That is an objective to which Israel stands committed with all its heart and soul. But, is the massive and uninterrupted flow of weapons of destruction into our region, to States that deny the right of existence to a neighbor State, remotely likely to bring about that desirable end? We believe that this is a question which answers itself and we feel entitled to ask Mr. Gromyko whether the principle which he has adumbrated for all, does not apply also to our part of the world.

In fact a deadly spiral is being created with these consequences:

(1) The danger of destructive war is increased;

(2) The tensions within the region make it the focus for even greater tensions from outside, to the detriment of the hard- won independence of Middle Eastern States;

(3) A pathetically large proportion of the region's own resources, and of the resources available to the region from outside, must be devoted to weapons of destruction, while the population and economics of the region languish in sterile hardship and backwardness.

The Middle East is one of the underdeveloped areas of the world. National income per capita in the Arab countries of the region is on the average estimated at a little above $100 per year, barely ten percent of that of some of the countries of Europe.

All this expresses itself in such very real things as insufficient food consumption, unhealthy and congested housing, primitive sanitary conditions, a high incidence of disease and especially of those chronic diseases which weaken the body, sap the energies and shorten life, a high infant mortality rate and a high rate of illiteracy. Most of the amenities of life are virtually absent in the vast rural areas of the region. At the same time while in Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Egypt, expenditures on health and education have amounted to between 8 and 21% of the total budget, defense expenditures have ranged from 19 to 60% of their budgets.

The combined defense expenditures in these four countries during the last three years amount according to their published budgets to some 930 million dollars. But this figure includes in part arms shipments by foreign powers at nominal value only, while the real value of these shipments is in some instances estimated to be several times as high. Some of the latest arms shipments are not included at all in this figure. The real value therefore of the resources used for armaments and the maintenance of armies in these countries, during three years up to now may be estimated at the figure, huge for our area, of one and a half to two billion dollars.

Imagine what such amounts, used for investment in irrigation works, farm implements, factory plants, transport facilities could have meant in economic development and in the expansion of health and education.

In Israel too the burden of armaments presses hard. For its part it would wish nothing better than to use all the resources available to it for development and the fruitful economic absorption of its growing population. But in the contexts of its neighbors, threats and menaces it has no alternative. Nevertheless, despite this tragic diversion of manpower and resources to the needs of defense, Israel's record in the economic and social fields is one of no mean order.

Since 1948 it has received nearly one million immigrants, the great majority of whom are refugees, hailing from over 70 countries and from all corners of the world, including nearly 400,000 of them from the Arab-speaking lands.

But of all above all we are proud of what has been done with people. The great majority of those who came to Israel during these ten years came either from the post-war camps in Germany and Italy or from Arab-speaking countries.

Practically each one from the camps reflected in his loneliness the destruction of all who were dear and close. These were the remnants of the six million, the Hitler slaughter of the Jews of Europe. Broken in body and spirit they came to a country of hardship, and yet at the meeting of desolate desert with victims of horror and destruction both the land and the people have come to life. The desert has given way to cotton and wheat; forest and vineyards are covering barren hills, and with a new dignity and hope the settlers themselves bear witness to the unconquerable spirit of free man.

Its policy is well known. It is the establishment of Israel is based on this very principle, that the doors of Israel remain open forever to any and every Jew who wishes or must come to its shores. We are convinced, not only is there no danger, no threat from this immigration to Israel to any one of our neighbors, on the contrary, as it has been proven in the last ten years the incoming of these people have helped in the development of the country and I'm convinced, eventually will serve as an example for the development also of our neighboring countries.

Within the area, the question is whether the Arab States are ready to change their outlook and policy and to bring them into conformity with Charter principles, especially those which concern the independence and integrity of each Member State.

Israel has, through the Secretary-General, addressed to Egypt and to Syria within the past 6 months the question as to whether they were prepared to renounce their claim to the maintenance of a state of war with Israel, surely a legitimate question when addressed to a United Nations Member State. The Secretary-General has received no reply from either country.

The position of Israel has been stated on many previous occasions and remains unchanged. It seeks peace above all. It remains ever ready to defend itself, if attacked, but it has never had and has not now any aggressive intentions or designs against the independence or integrity of any of its neighbors. The obvious and essential need for our area is the conclusion of peace treaties placing the relationship between neighboring States on a permanently normal footing.

However, if the Arabs are not ready for this, I reiterate what was stated by the Israel representative at the Ninth Session of the General Assembly, and I quote:

"as a preliminary of transitory stage towards this end, towards a peace settlement, it might be useful to conclude agreements committing the parties to policies of non-aggression and pacific settlement. Such agreements would include undertakings to respect each other's territorial integrity and political independence, to refrain from all hostile acts of a military, economic or political character, and to settle all existing and future differences by pacific means."


Mr. President, I should like from this rostrum to address to the Arab States of the Middle East a solemn appeal: Israel is approaching her tenth anniversary. You did not want it to be born. You fought against the decision in the United Nations. You then attacked us by military force. We have all been witnesses to sorrow, destruction and the spilling of blood and tears. Yet Israel is here, growing, developing, progressing. It has gained many friends and their number is steadily increasing. We are an old tenacious people and, as our history has proved, not easily destroyed. Like you, the Arab countries, we have regained our national independence, and as with you, so with us, nothing will cause us to give it up. We are here to stay. History has decreed that the Middle East consists of an independent Israel and independent Arab States. This verdict will never be reversed.

In the light of these facts, what is the use or realism or the justice of policies and attitudes based on the fiction that Israel is not there, or will somehow disappear? Would it not be better for all to build a future for the Middle East based on cooperation? Israel will exist and flourish even without peace, but surely a future of peace would be better both for Israel and for her neighbors. The Arab world with its 10 sovereignties and over three million square miles can well afford to accommodate itself to peaceful cooperation with Israel. Does hate for Israel and the aspiration for its destruction make one child in your countries happier? Does it convert one hovel into a house? Does culture thrive on the soil of hatred? We have not the slightest doubt that eventually there will be peace and cooperation between us. This is an historic necessity for both people. We are prepared; we are anxious to bring it about now.

And, Mr. President, I should like to address myself to all delegates in this Assembly and especially to the Powers directly involved in the problems of the Middle East. The deserts of the Middle East are in need of water, not bombers. The tens of millions of its inhabitants are craving for the means to live and not for the implements of death. I ask all of you, old members of the United Nations and the new, use your influence not to deepen the abyss of misunderstanding, but to bridge it.

And I wish to conclude with a word of the deepest appreciation to those countries, Member States of the United Nations, who just ten years ago helped to lay the foundations for Israel's statehood and whose continued understanding, assistance and friendship has enabled us to weather the storms which have beset our path.

In celebrating the tenth anniversary of Israel's independence we look back on a decade of struggle, of achievement in some areas, of failure in others. But by and large it has justified a thousandfold the vision of those who saw in the re-establishment of Israel's nationhood an historic act of reparation and of statesmanship. Our greatest grief has been the lack of progress towards peace with our Arab neighbors. It is our profoundest hope that the coming period we make a decisive forward step in this regard, to the inestimable benefit of all the people of the Middle East and perhaps of the entire world.

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