Friday, April 29, 2016

7 - Statement to the Knesset by Prime Minister Sharett on the Ma'aleh Akrabim Incident, March 24, 1954

The entire nation was shocked a week ago at the news of the terrible outrage which occurred at noon that day at Ma'ale Akrabim in the Negev.
      An omnibus of the Egged company proceeding from Eilat to Beersheba was ambushed and attacked at that spot by an armed Arab band. The first volley of shots killed the driver and hit several passengers. The immobilized vehicle was subjected to a hail of bullets from all sides. The murderers broke in, killing off the survivors. Altogether, 11 men and women were put to death. Four escaped, of whom two were seriously wounded.
      It was soon evident that the attack bore the unmistakable character of a military operation, properly planned and methodically executed. The killers came from afar, making for a fixed destination. There was no looting. They were bent on death. Nothing had occurred in that neighborhood which could have served as the slightest provocation for the massacre. A vital artery of internal communications deep within Israel territory was the target. This was the gravest and the most brazen act of violence perpetrated within the country since the termination of hostilities in the War of Liberation. It was a warlike act in nature and planning.
      Footprints clearly indicated the Jordanian origin of the gang. Two sets of tracks were found - one leading towards the ambush from the direction of the Jordan frontier and another back towards it. United Nations Observers took an active part in following the footprints, an operation carried out with the help of expert trackers and police dogs.
      In this work, and in the investigation of the circumstances of the crime on the scene, they faithfully carried out their duty under most difficult circumstances. The footprints were not traced right up to the frontier because of the rocky nature of the terrain around, but from the point at which the track ended there was only one narrow gorge leading to the Jordan frontier with impassable rocky ground on both sides.
      The Government of Israel received information from most reliable sources that the gang had, prior to the crime, crossed the Jordan border westwards at a certain spot. It also obtained the names of three of its members. Even without taking these data into account, the tracks and the general picture of the outrage bore evidence that its perpetrators had come from Jordan. This is the patent truth and no amount of pedantic routine and formalistic quibbling can cover it up.
      Yet, as the House is aware, this was not the finding of the Mixed Armistice Commission. The complaint lodged with the Commission by the Israel Delegation laid the responsibility for the crime at the door of the Jordan Government, "for, under the provisions of the Armistice Agreement, each government is responsible for crimes committed by people from its territory entering a neighbouring state."
      The Jordan Delegation, on the other hand, did not hesitate to put the blame on the Israel Government. It asserted that it was Israelis who committed the murders at Ma'ale Akrabim - Israelis who were "Arabs by race and Jews by religion," according to the Jordan representative, who thought the occasion appropriate for linguistic experiments.
      This insolent and preposterous invention, which added insult to injury and which should have served as further proof of Jordan's guilt, was presented as an alternative version in the proceedings, equal in weight with the Israel indictment.
      In the deadlock that arose the Chairman was called upon to make the decision. As a representative of the UN it was for him to give expression, on this crucial occasion, to the conscience and authority of the international organisation charged with supervising the implementation of the Armistice Agreements, and he was in duty bound to uphold the injured party and condemn the aggressor.
      But the Chairman chose not to exercise his authority. He neither repudiated the Jordan fabrication, nor gave support to the Israel draft resolution. The deadlock was complete and no decision was pronounced by the Commission regarding the outrage which shocked world opinion.
      Yet this is not a matter of a personal indictment. The crux of the problem is the fate of the armistice regime as reflected in the outcome of the examination of the Ma'ale Akrabim outrage. How has the UN Armistice supervision machinery, as an international body, stood the test of efficacy in this exceptionally grave incident?
      The armistice regime has proved incapable of preventing this bloodshed, carried out swiftly and with fiendish ferocity. In truth, the UN Observers are not military commanders charged with the defense of the frontier, nor are they look-outs, doing guard duty. Nobody wants them to perform such tasks, which are the exclusive prerogative and responsibility of a sovereign state.
      But they have been invested with the authority and charged with the duty of identifying and condemning whatever party is guilty of violation of the Armistice Agreements by acts of lawlessness and aggression. This authority entails the exposure of the aggression to international opprobrium so that the urge to commit further crimes may be curbed and a deterrent created.
      The authority to take this step was especially significant in connection with as revolting a crime as the bloodbath at Ma'ale Akrabim. Tile measure of the grave responsibility in this case is also the measure of the Commission's total failure. To leave the question of guilt undecided on this occasion is to proclaim the complete moral bankruptcy of the entire implementation machinery of the Armistice Agreements and their supervision. Such an end to the investigation spells a complete breakdown of authority and an invitation to every mail to do as he pleases.
      The prestige of the UN concerns us no less than anyone else; we must deeply regret this disturbing paralysis. But the point is not one merely of international ethics.
      This demonstration of the impotence of the Mixed Armistice Commission, which is capable of examining a massacre without reaching any conclusion, is liable to open the way for violence and remove all brakes from the lust for slaughter. The Armistice Commission's record in the Ma'ale Akrabim incident must serve as evidence that one may transgress without risking condemnation, and commit murder with impunity.
      The Government of a country bordering Israel, responsible for preserving its Armistice with Lis, cannot but learn from this experience that it need make no effort to stem the tide of lawlessness, and that it call afford to disregard any outrage committed beyond its borders by its own nationals.
      As to ourselves, this experience must lead to far-reaching conclusions as to our own orientation – as to how we should organize our defenses and forestall attacks, and first of all, how to safeguard and defend our traffic arteries.
      As to the Israel-Jordan Mixed Armistice Commission, which has failed to carry out its responsibilities and betrayed our confidence, we have come to the conclusion that there is no sense in our continued participation. Accordingly, the Israel Delegation announced yesterday at the meeting of the Commission that it will no longer participate in its work.
      In making this decision Israel does not repudiate its responsibility under its Armistice Agreement with the Kingdom of Jordan. We have no intention of embarking on aggression or provocation. We cannot, however, continue to be a party to farce, by taking part in an institution which has betrayed its primary duty of denouncing breaches of the Armistice, identifying those responsible for them and setting a barrier against their repetition.
      At the same time the Government of Israel has also turned to the Western Powers with an urgent request that they call for an immediate session of the Security Council in order to discuss the Ma'ale Akrabim outrage.
      In doing so we are not asking the Powers to shoulder an unfamiliar burden, for they themselves were quick to initiate a discussion in the Security Council following a border incident last October. It is difficult to imagine that the innocent lives cut down at Ma'ale Akrabim can be regarded by the Powers as less deserving of sympathy than the lives of innocent people lost at another place, and concerning whose death the Government of Israel at the time expressed its deepest and unreserved regret.
      The Ambassadors of Israel in tile capitals of the U.S., Great Britain and France are now addressing this request to the governments to which they are accredited. What happened last week at Ma'ale Akrabirn is so grave in itself and so dangerous in its implications that we believe it to be suitable for urgent and most serious consideration in the Security Council.
      The chain of bloody events, of increasing Jordanian provocation and attacks against a background of constant incitement against Israel, both official and unofficial, reached a new peak at Ma'ale Akrabim. If it is allowed to continue unchecked it can lead to incalculable results; and anyone who shows indifference in the face of this development when lie is in a position to oppose it assumes a heavy responsibility.
      The Government of Israel has tried in various ways to stem this tide. Its latest effort was to call Jordan through the UN Secretary General, in accordance with Article XII of the Armistice Agreement, to a special conference for comprehensive discussion of ways and means of implementing the agreement. Despite Jordan's clear duty, imposed on it by the Armistice Agreement, it has to this day not responded to the call of the Secretary General, now thrice repeated.
      Notwithstanding the importance we attach to UN responsibility for the security of Israel, and to our own responsibility towards the international organization of which Israel is a member, we must not forget, even for a moment, that in the final analysis the bulwark of our security is our own strength, which we must continue to reinforce in every way, with the help of whoever may be ready to assist us -and first and foremost with the help of the Jewish people all over the world.
      We must be mindful of our special position as regards security - both the security of the State as a whole and the security of life within its borders. Ours is a State consisting for the most part of frontier zones, surrounded by hostile forces who seek to acquire more arms and who conspire constantly against us. The unceasing outcries to which the world has beer treated by our neighbors regarding the concentration of the Israel Defense Army on their borders, regardless of the actual facts (and that at a time when one of the neighboring countries is massing troops on the border); their threats of joint reaction to acts of aggression that have never taken place - show clearly in what direction our neighbors are headed.
      We must meet the future with fortitude, with open eyes and preparedness. As long as there is no peace we demand arms for Israel, which seeks peace and is forced to defend itself; we demand that they should not go to the Arab States, which plan and carry out aggression.
      From the UN and the great Powers we shall expect the fulfilment of their obligations and their international responsibilities for peace, security and equality between nations. In this we shall stand firm until the end, and at the same time we shall fortify our position of strength with our own hands - build it up and use it in the hour of need with courage and with wisdom.

SOURCES: Medzini, Israel’s Foreign Relations, Selected Documents 1947-1974, I:318-21 [doc.17];