What is the UNSCOP

United Nations Special Committee on Palestine - United Nations Special Committee on Palestine

UNSCOP members visit Haifa on July 18, 1947)

The United Nations Special Committee on Palestine ( UNSCOP ) was established on May 15, 1947 in response to a call by the British Government to the General Assembly to "make recommendations under Article 10 of the Charter for the Future Government of Palestine". The UK government had also recommended the creation of a special committee to prepare a report for the General Assembly. The General Assembly accepted the recommendation that the UNSCOP be set up to investigate the cause of the conflict in Palestine and, if possible, find a solution. UNSCOP consisted of representatives from 11 countries. UNSCOP visited Palestine and collected testimonies from Zionist organizations in Palestine and the United States. The Arab Higher Committee boycotted the commission, stating that the natural rights of Palestinian Arabs were self-evident and could not be further investigated but were recognized on the basis of the principles of the United Nations Charter.

The committee's report of September 3, 1947 supported the termination of the British mandate in Palestine. It contained a majority proposal for a plan for a partition into two independent states with an economic union (CHAPTER VI) and a minority proposal for a plan for a federal union with Jerusalem as the capital (CHAPTER VII). The majority plan was supported by 8 of the 11 members, with Iran, India and Yugoslavia voting against. The Zionist side accepted the partition plan, while the Arab side rejected both proposals.

Following the publication of the report, the ad hoc committee on the Palestinian question was appointed by the General Assembly.

On November 29, 1947, the General Assembly passed resolution 181 on the basis of the UNSCOP majority plan (with only minor changes to the proposed recommendations).


On May 15, 1947, the General Assembly established the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP). The Special Committee has been given wide powers to establish and record facts, examine all questions and problems relevant to the problem of Palestine, and make recommendations. It has been empowered to investigate Palestine wherever useful.

Members of the UNSCOP in 1947

It was decided that the committee would be composed of "neutral" countries, with the exception of the five permanent members of the Security Council, including the mandatory powers. The final composition of the committee was: Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, India, Iran, Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, Uruguay and Yugoslavia.

Work of the committee

UNSCOP arrived in Palestine on June 16, 1947. While the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Council were collaborating with UNSCOP in their deliberations, the Arab Higher Committee accused UNSCOP of being Prozionist and decided to boycott it. She announced a day-long general strike to protest her arrival, and Arab opposition figures were threatened with death if they spoke to UNSCOP. The Arab public was warned not to contact UNSCOP and Arab journalists were banned from reporting on their visit. UNSCOP first heard evidence from two British officials and the head of the Jewish Agency's political department, Moshe Shertok, who submitted documents and was questioned by members of the committee.

From June 18 to July 3, the committee visited Jerusalem, Haifa, the Dead Sea, Hebron, Beersheba, Gaza, Jaffa, Galilee, Tel Aviv, Acre, Nablus, Bayt Dajan, Tulkarm, Rehovot, and Arab and Jewish settlements in the Negev and several Jewish agricultural settlements. When visiting Jewish areas, committee members were warmly welcomed, often with flowers and cheering crowds. A public holiday was declared when the committee visited Tel Aviv. The streets were decorated with flags and posters, and the delegates were surrounded by crowds during their city tour. They met the Mayor of Tel Aviv, Israel Rokach, ate with him in a cafe and visited the City Hall. During their visit to the town hall, they were invited to step out onto the balcony. At this point the crowd sang hatikvah among them. Jewish Agency officials also arranged for them to meet with Jews who spoke the committee members' mother tongues such as Swedish, Dutch, Spanish, and Persian. The members of the committee received presentations in which they argued the Jewish case translated into their mother tongue. They were shown Jewish industry and trade, agricultural innovations to enable agriculture in Jewish agricultural settlements in arid regions, and various institutions including the Hadassah Medical Center, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the laboratories of the Daniel Sieff Institute. During the committee's visit, it was accompanied by representatives of the Jewish Agency who acted as liaison officers: Abba Eban, David Horowitz and Moshe Tov.

In contrast, committee members were ignored and faced hostilities in Arab areas. During UNSCOP visits to Arab areas, they were often met with empty streets as well as locals who refused to answer their questions and even fled restaurants when they arrived. In one case, when members of the committee were visiting a school in Beersheba, students were instructed not to look at the visitors. During a visit to an Arab village in Galilee, the entire population was evacuated, with the exception of the children, who stayed behind and verbally abused the visitors. The UNSCOP members were deeply impressed by the cleanliness and modernity of the Jewish areas compared to the filth and what they considered to be the backwardness of the Arab areas. They were particularly appalled to see child labor and exploitation together in Arab factories and workshops.

UNSCOP officials secretly met with members of the Haganah High Command, the main Jewish underground militia. Haganah officials attending the meeting, Yisrael Galili, Yigael Yadin, Yosef Avidar and Ehud Avriel, insisted that the Haganah could repel any Arab attack, including by the surrounding Arab states.

UNSCOP also met twice with commanders of the right-wing Zionist guerrilla group Irgun after contacting the Irgun through an Associated Press correspondent. At the first meeting, UNSCOP members met with Irgun commander Menachem Begin along with Irgun high command members Haim Landau and Shmuel Katz, while at the second meeting they met with Begin and Irgun officer Meir Cahan. As a result of these meetings, committee member Emil Sandström predicted that in any war the yishuv would defeat the Arabs and conquer most of Palestine.

This was followed by 12 public hearings from July 4-17, at which 31 representatives from 12 Jewish organizations gave testimony and made written statements, totaling 32 tons of material. Jewish Agency representatives such as David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Sharett and Abba Eban testified along with Chaim Weizmann, a former high-ranking Zionist official who was not in office at the time and who testified as a private individual. The Zionist leaders advocated a Jewish state in Palestine and accepted the principle of partition. Anti-Zionist Jewish representatives of the Palestine Communist Party and Ichud Party were included. British officials also testified before the committee.

During the hearings, the Haganah Intelligence Division, SHAI, conducted an extensive operation to eavesdrop on committee members to ensure that Zionist leaders are better prepared for the hearings. Microphones were set up in their hotels and conference rooms, their phone calls tapped, and the cleaning staff in the building where the hearings were being held were replaced by SHAI female agents who monitored them while they pretended to be cleaning staff. The information gathered was then distributed among the Jewish leaders, who were instructed to destroy the documents after reading them. This did not go unnoticed: a member of the Swedish delegation noted that the cleaning staff at the building were "too pretty and educated. They are the eyes and ears of the Zionist leaders who come to hearings with answers prepared in advance."

Despite the official Arab boycott, several Arab officials and intellectuals met privately with committee members to argue for a unified Arab-majority state, including the AHC member and former mayor of Jerusalem Husayn al-Khalidi. The committee also received written arguments from Arab supporters.

The committee also met British officials. Some argued that the ideal solution would be to create two autonomous Jewish and Arab states, allowing Great Britain to manage the finances of the two states due to the economic difficulties of the partition and allowing Great Britain to have a military presence in Palestine due to the partition the growing threat from the Soviet Union. British military officials in particular stressed the need for a continued British military presence in the face of deteriorating relations between Britain and Egypt, arguing that bases in Palestine and continued control of the port of Haifa were essential to the defense of the Middle East. UNSCOP members were shown building new British Army barracks in the Negev (which would never be completed) and were told that this would be the future base for British forces in the Suez Canal zone.

The committee also noted the intense security and draconian laws in Palestine resulting from the ongoing Jewish uprisings, carried out mainly by the Irgun and Lehi and to a lesser extent the Haganah. UNSCOP members noted the constant presence of armed British security forces and armored cars on the streets, barbed wire around entire blocks of buildings, abundant pill boxes and roadblocks, and constant security checkpoints on the streets. In addition, the emergency regulations imposed by the British, the detentions, seizures and deportations, as well as trials in military courts rather than civil courts without legal counsel, and the admission of Henry Gurney, Secretary General of Palestine, enabled the Palestinian government to raise nearly $ 30 million annually for police purposes, as well as the UK's requirement that their officers appear in private prior to the UNSCOP hearings and that they be given advance notice of who would testify also made a negative impression.

The Guatemalan delegate Jorge García Granados described the Palestine mandate as a "police state". On June 16, the day of the UNSCOP's first official hearing, a British military tribunal sentenced three Irgun fighters, Avshalom Haviv, Meir Nakar and Yaakov Weiss, to death for their roles in the Acre Prison break. UNSCOP appealed to the UK government through UN Secretary General Trygve Lie to save her life. The British refused and were outraged by what they saw as interference by the committee in the mandate's internal judicial affairs. The Irgun later captured two British sergeants and held them hostage. They threatened to kill her if the death sentences were carried out. The committee members discussed the sergeants at a meeting with Begin and declined an Irgun request to call Haviv, Nakar and Weiss to testify about allegations of torture.

UNSCOP also followed the events of the SS Exodus, an illegal immigration ship carrying 4,554 Jewish Holocaust survivors that was intercepted by the Royal Navy. Some members of the committee were present in the port of Haifa and saw British soldiers remove violently reluctant passengers from the ship in order to deport them back to Europe. The committee ended its work in Palestine after hearing the testimony of Reverend John Stanley Grauel, who was in the Exodus found and convinced UNSCOP to reverse an earlier decision. The committee decided to hear the testimony of Jewish refugees in British internment camps in Palestine and in European displaced persons camps trying to gain entry into Palestine.

Golda Meir, who later became Israeli Prime Minister, noted that Reverend Grauel's testimony and advocacy for the creation of the Jewish state fundamentally and positively changed the United Nations to support the creation of Israel.

On July 21, the committee traveled to Lebanon, where they met with Lebanese Prime Minister Riyad al-Solh and Foreign Minister Hamid Frangieh, who called for an end to further Jewish immigration and the formation of an Arab government in Palestine, claiming the Zionists had so did territorial ambitions in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. On July 23, the representatives of the Arab League states testified before the committee in Sofar. Frangieh told the committee that Jews would be "illegally" deported to Palestine, while the situation of those "legally" in Palestine but without Palestinian citizenship would be resolved by a future Arab government. The efforts of UNSCOP members to get other Arab diplomats to soften their stance failed. One committee member commented: "There is nothing more extreme than meeting all the representatives of the Arab world in one group ... when everyone tries to show it." is more extreme than the others. In private, the committee met with Prozionist Maronite Christian leaders who told them that Lebanese Christians supported the partition. Half of the committee's members then flew to Amman to meet with King Abdullah of Transjordan, who claimed the Arabs had "difficulty" accepting a partition, but refused to rule them out entirely, suggesting that in such a case the Arab parts of Palestine should go to Transjordan.

UNSCOP then flew to Geneva, and on August 8, a subcommittee began a week-long tour of displaced persons camps in American and British zones of occupation in Germany and Austria, interviewing Jewish refugees and local military officials. They found that there was a strong desire among the Jewish DPs to immigrate to Palestine.

In Geneva, while the report was being drawn up, the committee was exposed to Jewish, Arab and British pressure. Zionist representatives vigorously supported the committee. They repeatedly filed memoranda and recruited a Palestinian-Arab representative, whose father had been murdered by the Husseini clan, which dominated the Palestinian-Arab community, to stand before the committee for a Jewish-Transjordan partition of the country. The Arab League liaison officer submitted a memorandum calling for a solution that would be satisfactory to the Palestinian Arabs. Otherwise, an impending disaster would occur. The British filed a memorandum in which they argued that partitioning was a viable option.

Ad hoc committee deliberations

The UNSCOP's unanimous decision was to terminate the mandate.

The Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestinian Issue was appointed by the General Assembly and two plans for the Government of Palestine to terminate the mandate were drawn up. Seven members of UNSCOP approved a partition plan (the majority report), which was approved by the Zionist leadership on October 2, 1947.


  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Czechoslovakia
  • Guatemala
  • India
  • Iran
  • Netherlands
  • Peru
  • Sweden
  • Uruguay
  • Yugoslavia


further reading

Ben-Dror, Elad (2015). Ralph Bunche and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: Mediation and the UN 1947–1949, Routledge. ISBN 978-1138789883.

External links