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  • 1947: What We Forget When We Remember the 29th of November
  • Zvi Ben-Dor Benite

The date of UN Security Council Resolution 181, which ended the British Mandate in Palestine/Erets Yisra'el and enabled the creation of a Jewish sovereign state, occupies a special place on Israel's calendar. It is special not because Israelis mark the day in an exceptional way. In the past, it was a holiday of sorts, observed mainly in schools, and many Israelis grew up on stories of people listening to the radio broadcasting the UN vote on that day and counting the ayes and nays, and later dancing in the streets. They also memorized the note in Ben-Gurion's diary for that day: "People are dancing in the streets," he wrote, "but I am worried, we must prepare for war." Recently, since relations between the United Nations and Israel have soured, the day is hardly marked as it used to be. Nevertheless, the date is still special because, unlike any other date on the Israeli calendar, its name is a Jewish/non-Jewish hybrid. The day of November 29, 1947, is remembered in Israel as Kaf-tet be-November, which imitates the traditional way of naming a significant day in the Jewish calendar, such as Tish'a be-Av, and uses Hebrew letter-numbers instead of numerals, even though it follows the Gregorian calendar. No other date in the calendar is marked this way. The celebratory times that modern history has added to the Jewish calendar like Israeli Independence Day and Jerusalem Day (the latter celebrating the "unification" of the city in 1967) are counted to the 5th of Iyyar and the 28th of Iyyar, respectively, and are thus fully Jewish dates. Kaf-tet be-November, in contrast, pinned to a Gregorian date, is half Judaized.

The Kaf-tet be-November hybridity betrays, I would say, a certain ambivalence about the day and about UN Resolution 181. On one hand, it is a day of paramount importance marking the international community's recognition of Jews' claim to sovereignty almost two thousand years [End Page 531] after they lost it. It is a day that came after intense diplomatic activities by many Zionists from the time of Herzl and, especially, in the wake of the tragedy of the Shoah. Resolution 181 is the basis for Israel's international legitimacy as a sovereign state. On the other hand, unlike the military victories of 1948 and 1967, this date in 1947 marks an achievement primarily of non-Jewish actors in the United Nations, rather than of the Jewish Zionists themselves.

The problem with 1947, from an Israeli perspective, does not end with the question of agency. Whereas 1947 is remembered in Israel simply as the day when Jews were granted recognition for a state of their own, the decision itself was more complicated. To begin with, it partitioned Pales-tine/Erets Yisra'el and mandated the creation of two states, one Jewish and one Arab (Palestinian). This is probably the most important thing that is forgotten when we remember Kaf-tet be-November: namely, that the very decision that granted Jews sovereignty did the same for Palestinian Arabs. With respect to Palestine, it is a popular Israeli understanding that Palestinians rejected the UN plan and started a war the next day, on the 30th of November; but we also know that tensions were rising well before the partition. Violence from both sides, Jewish and Arab, was already escalating. The war ended in 1949 with a Jewish state larger than what was envisaged in Resolution 181, and no Palestinian Arab state was created. Israelis are less and less interested in remembering 1947 because the partition it established was only partially completed and then undermined or undone in 1967.

Moreover, when Israelis forget the partition, they also forget that theirs was not unique. That is, we can speak of a "long 1947" in which several partitions occurred in different locations across the globe. On the midnight between August 14 and 15, 1947, India was partitioned into two states, India and Pakistan. Shortly after that, on November 14, the United Nations formalized the division...