Declaring Independence – An Introduction

This week, Raúl Castro at the age of 86 finally transferred his position as President of Cuba to a non-Castro successor, 57 year-old Miguel Díaz-Canel, if even in name only. He did not transfer political power at the same time, for he retained control over the Communist Party of Cuba. This was not the longed-for political step towards liberalization. A year ago, Castro had declared that, “Cuba and the United States can cooperate and live side by side, respecting their differences, but no one should expect that for this, one should have to make concessions inherent to one’s sovereignty and independence.”

In declaring independence, what characteristics are inherent to sovereignty and independence upon which there can be no concessions? By focusing on those, one can tease out much more precisely what national leaders mean when they declare their sovereign independence. Many countries have made such declarations – Norway did so from Sweden in 1814 by convening a constituent assembly, though Sweden took until 1905 to fully recognize that independence; on 17 July 1992, the Slovak parliament adopted its Declaration of Independence of the Slovak nation from the Czechs. Those two were “velvet” separations. In Sudan, on 9 July 2011 in Juba, South Sudan declared its independence from Sudan after a long war that began in 1955. A host of other colonies declared independence from the imperial powers that previously held ultimate power over their people and territory also after long, protracted wars.

I concentrate on the Declarations of Independence of Israel because yesterday was Yom Haatzmaut 5778 when Israel celebrated 70 years since it declared independence. The document is also unique and distinctive in several ways. I also focus on the Declaration of Independence of the United States because it is seen by most observers to be a prototype for such declarations. Further, if you try to look up declarations of independence on Google, the first dozens of references will be to the U.S. as if the generic can be equated with a specific example of one species.

A declaration is a formal announcement to proclaim either what you contend you have or what you aspire to have, in this case, absolute and ultimate sovereignty over a people and its land. Helpfully, the Israeli Declaration of Independence is a written document. So is that of the American declaration. Even though the circumstances were radically different, the two documents can be used to gain insight into the reasons the declaration was made and the historical conditions that propelled such a declaration. More importantly for me, the philosophical and political presumptions are built into the proclamations.

The first thing to note about the Israeli document issued on 14 May 1948 is that it is not a declaration of independence from but a declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel. Second, the document is significant as much for the recognition granted to the status claimed by the proclamation within a few minutes by the United States of America, and, within three days by the USSR.

Except for a minor postscript that follows, this morning I simply want to put before you the document so that you can read it. The analysis will follow in the next few blogs.

ARETZ-ISRAEL [(Hebrew) – the Land of Israel, Palestine] was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.

After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.

Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland. In recent decades they returned in their masses. Pioneers, ma’pilim [(Hebrew) – immigrants coming to Eretz-Israel in defiance of restrictive legislation] and defenders, they made deserts bloom, revived the Hebrew language, built villages and towns, and created a thriving community controlling its own economy and culture, loving peace but knowing how to defend itself, bringing the blessings of progress to all the country’s inhabitants, and aspiring towards independent nationhood.

In the year 5657 (1897), at the summons of the spiritual father of the Jewish State, Theodore Herzl, the First Zionist Congress convened and proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in its own country.

This right was recognized in the Balfour Declaration of the 2nd November, 1917, and re-affirmed in the Mandate of the League of Nations which, in particular, gave international sanction to the historic connection between the Jewish people and Eretz-Israel and to the right of the Jewish people to rebuild its National Home.

The catastrophe which recently befell the Jewish people – the massacre of millions of Jews in Europe – was another clear demonstration of the urgency of solving the problem of its homelessness by re-establishing in Eretz-Israel the Jewish State, which would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew and confer upon the Jewish people the status of a fully privileged member of the comity of nations.

Survivors of the Nazi holocaust in Europe, as well as Jews from other parts of the world, continued to migrate to Eretz-Israel, undaunted by difficulties, restrictions and dangers, and never ceased to assert their right to a life of dignity, freedom and honest toil in their national homeland.

In the Second World War, the Jewish community of this country contributed its full share to the struggle of the freedom- and peace-loving nations against the forces of Nazi wickedness and, by the blood of its soldiers and its war effort, gained the right to be reckoned among the peoples who founded the United Nations.

On the 29th November, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel; the General Assembly required the inhabitants of Eretz-Israel to take such steps as were necessary on their part for the implementation of that resolution. This recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable.

This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State.


WE DECLARE that, with effect from the moment of the termination of the Mandate being tonight, the eve of Sabbath, the 6th Iyar, 5708 (15th May, 1948), until the establishment of the elected, regular authorities of the State in accordance with the Constitution which shall be adopted by the Elected Constituent Assembly not later than the 1st October 1948, the People’s Council shall act as a Provisional Council of State, and its executive organ, the People’s Administration, shall be the Provisional Government of the Jewish State, to be called “Israel”.

THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

THE STATE OF ISRAEL is prepared to cooperate with the agencies and representatives of the United Nations in implementing the resolution of the General Assembly of the 29th November, 1947, and will take steps to bring about the economic union of the whole of Eretz-Israel.

WE APPEAL to the United Nations to assist the Jewish people in the building-up of its State and to receive the State of Israel into the comity of nations.

WE APPEAL – in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months – to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.

WE EXTEND our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.

WE APPEAL to the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora to rally round the Jews of Eretz-Israel in the tasks of immigration and upbuilding and to stand by them in the great struggle for the realization of the age-old dream – the redemption of Israel.


David Ben-Gurion

Daniel Auster
Mordekhai Bentov
Yitzchak Ben Zvi
Eliyahu Berligne
Fritz Bernstein
Rabbi Wolf Gold
Meir Grabovsky
Yitzchak Gruenbaum
Dr. Abraham Granovsky
Eliyahu Dobkin
Meir Wilner-Kovner
Zerach Wahrhaftig
Herzl Vardi
Rachel Cohen
Rabbi Kalman Kahana
Saadia Kobashi
Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Levin
Meir David Loewenstein
Zvi Luria
Golda Myerson
Nachum Nir
Zvi Segal
Rabbi Yehuda Leib Hacohen Fishman
David Zvi Pinkas
Aharon Zisling
Moshe Kolodny
Eliezer Kaplan
Abraham Katznelson
Felix Rosenblueth
David Remez
Berl Repetur
Mordekhai Shattner
Ben Zion Sternberg
Bekhor Shitreet
Moshe Shapira
Moshe Shertok

* Published in the Official Gazette, No. 1 of the 5th, Iyar, 5708 (14th May, 1948).


A Minor Postscript.


On the very day that Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland made her second trip to Washington to meet with her U.S. and Mexican counterparts over NAFTA, and Finance Minister Bill Morneau was in that same capital city to attend a working dinner of the finance ministers and bank governors of the G20 at  IMF headquarters, is Canada recognized as an independent sovereign nation by the U.S. when Canada must continually negotiate its economic interdependence and, more specifically, when even an esteemed, and justly so, venerable newspaper like The Washington Post cannot spell the capital of Canada correctly? (You – meaning me – should complain, you who miss typos all the time!) From today’s paper: “As the United Nations urges Canada to do more to help its “peacekeeping” mission in Mali, a piece in The Globe and Mail says Ottowa (sic!) needs to get more specific before it ramps up its efforts.” Perhaps Major-General Lewis MacKenzie (retired), who wrote the redacted article, should be blamed for he failed to use the name of the capital of Canada, and, by implication, identify the country with the shenanigans of its capital city.


With the help of Alex Zisman



Learning the Techniques of Persuasion

Learning the Techniques of Persuasion


Howard Adelman

Against a background of coal miners in hard hats, Donald Trump signed a measure a week ago that rolled back a last-minute Obama regulation restricting coal mines from dumping debris into nearby streams. Patricia Nana, a Cameroonian-American, insisted that, “If he hadn’t gotten into office, 70,000 miners would have been put out of work. I saw the ceremony where he signed that bill, giving them their jobs back, and he had miners with their hard hats and everything – you could see how happy they were.” Pictures are worth a thousand words, they say. The reality: the regulation would have cost very few jobs that would more than be compensated by new jobs created through the clean-up of the streams.

The Washington Post on 21 February 2017 reported this as “an example of the frequent distance between Trump’s rhetoric, which many of his supporters wholeheartedly believe, and verifiable facts.” These supporters at a Trump rally in Florida received their news regularly from Fox News and right-wing radio. Those interviewed were aware of what they read and what they saw, but knew virtually nothing about topics embarrassing to the president, such as the recent resignation of Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, because he lied to the Vice-President. If they knew that, they knew nothing of the broader charge, that he spoke inappropriately, frequently and possibly illegally about lifting the sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, before Trump was even president. Some did not even know that Flynn had resigned and had been replaced by Lt. General H.R. McMaster.

One cannot win an effort at persuasion unless one has access to the other side. Even then, what is said will be filtered through a set of beliefs largely resistant to the information and arguments being put forth. And we are not speaking of Donald Trump himself or his immediate acolytes. We are talking about the Trumpists, the true believers in his entourage who voted for him and would vote for him again even after a month of chaos and mismanagement.

Do not attempt to practice the arts of persuasion on Donald Trump, on his acolytes or on the true believers that are his followers. There are plenty of others who cast ballots for Donald Trump who do not approach issues with a pre-formed mindblindness. The first rule: select your targets who may possibly be open to listening to the case you wish to bring. But such a rule creates its own problems. Do we end up only talking to those who share our bubble? Do we retreat to our “safe spaces”? Does that reinforce intolerance and even deeper misunderstandings, especially with the almost total breakdown in the consensus, led by the president, in respecting the media and in engaging in civil discourse? There is no longer even a consensus on the civility expected of a president.

Even when dealing with those more malleable than the ardent Trump supporter, there is a problem in conducting discourse within the larger climate of fear and suspicion. In his Florida rally, Donald Trump may have stoked that fear by referring to a non-existent event in Sweden the night before, but what he did see and hear was an author, Ami Horowitz, who claimed that statistics on rape and violent crime in Sweden had increased since the large influx of foreigners in 2015. Don Lemon on his CNN show interviewed the author and challenged both his misuse of statistics and his conclusions, but without another expert present, the interview disintegrated into the interviewee insisting that what he claimed was true while Lemon kept offering evidence and arguments for its false representation of the situation in Sweden.

A quick subsequent review of some authoritative evidence from Sweden indicated that Don Lemon was much more accurate than his guest and supposed expert in representing rape and violent crime rates in Sweden. What had been offered was hyperbole and distortion by pointing to a one year spike and ignoring the overall pattern of declining rates of violence and sexual assault. Even when there were outstanding examples of violence, as there was two evenings ago, the riots looked tame compared to those that have occurred frequently in American cities. And they are much rarer, one about every second year. In these cases, Middle Eastern refugees were involved.

But there was no rape. There was no violence – though one police officer was slightly injured. When there is violence, the perpetrators were much more likely to be right-wing extremists than immigrants. Swedes seem to know this and a majority continue to support the intake of refugees and migrants. Nevertheless, Trumpists insist that there is a media conspiracy to cover up the incidents of rape and violence in Sweden.

However, even if we have some glimpse of what we face in the world of persuasion, how can we use our rational and communicative skills to best effect? When we try to persuade another, do we first attempt to establish the facts or, as the ancient Sophists did, focus on arête or virtue, on values of the highest order – excellence in other words? If the latter, what rhetorical and philosophic techniques are required? Or do we set aside argument and discourse altogether and instead opt for authenticity, opt for giving witness to what you believe to be true as opposed to the claims of the Other.

Mel Gibson’s totally unsubtle and sometimes saccharine Hacksaw Ridge, with the most gruesome and graphic scenes of the maelstrom of war I have ever seen, tells the “true” story of a conscientious objector, Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), as the true believer and saint-like figure who served as a U.S. medic in the war against the Japanese in Okinawa. He won the highest award for bravery, the U.S. Medal of Honor. Doss volunteered to serve, but given his faith (he was a Seventh Day Adventist) and promise to God, he would not bear arms. In Gibson’s interpretation, this superhero combined an open-hearted approach to life with steely determination to defend his beliefs.

Some of his fellow soldiers viewed that as cowardice and bullied and beat him. His commanding officers treated his behaviour as disobedience and undertook an effort to have him court martialled. But through witnessing to his faith, through his unqualified brave actions in battle, he proved them all wrong. He did not use argument to defend his case, but he did need an order from a superior officer in Washington that conscientious objectors serving as medics need not bear arms. But most of all, he needed to prove they were wrong and more than did so in repeated acts of outstanding bravery in rescuing his fellow soldiers.

There are other ways to win arguments than with words and arguments. There are also other ways to lose arguments regardless of one’s skill with words and reason. Does the payment of money in exchange for such teaching these skills corrupt the process as Socrates proclaimed as he sought to establish the pursuit of Truth, Wisdom and Courage as the superior values for a warrior and aristocratic class? After all, Trumpists and anti-Trumpists often insist that supporters or opponents respectively are being paid to be there.  And senior executives of companies may indirectly be paid for touting the Trump presidency when they attend his “job” rallies because the company benefits from the positive publicity and the president promoting their products and their commitment to America. It is not they who have to pay off the president but the president who may be paying them off for being touts for himself.

Modern universities, though periodically invaded by corruption, have overwhelmingly proved the falsity of Socrates’ claims and shown that guaranteed wages and the principle of academic freedom have overwhelmingly protected the independence of scholars and scientists in both their teaching and research functions. By and large, responsible media outlets, and even irresponsible ones, have largely succeeded in drawing a line between the sources of their ad revenues and their news and editorial content. It should not be presumed in advance that material influences trump intellectual ones.

We have also learned that, contrary to Socrates, knowledge is not a single craft, but a multiplicity of tasks each with its own specialized vocabulary, techniques, objects of study and standards for assessing results. There is no singular path to knowledge. There is not even a singular Truth with a capital “T.” There is a difference between being a sage and being a scholar or research scientist. Most of the latter are not sages, as much as they may contribute to the advancement of knowledge.

In the ancient Greek world of Socrates, rhetorical skills were valued more than parsing arguments and evidence in a written work or stringing together depictions in a coherent way in a story or a novel. The latter was exemplified in the movie, Genius, the biopic of renowned Scribner’s editor, Max Perkins (Colin Firth), and his exuberant unboundaried novelist, Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law). Look Homeward Angel and Of Time and the River were, arguably, both made into coherent, readable and popular novels because of the concise effort of editing the logorrheic outpouring of the poetic prose of the American Walt Whitman of the twentieth century. In a book culture, arguments and evidence in science and scholarship, or narrative plots, themes and characterization in fiction, must be coherent to facilitate communication.

This is not the case where alternatives to persuasion are used. Incoherence, boring and meaningless repetition of phrases, body language and snorts or their equivalents in tweets, may be used to confound coherence and disparage criteria such as truth and consistency. When the message requires audience fragmentation, traditional and legacy media with standards of correspondence to facts and coherence in presentation must be regarded as the enemy to be undermined and debilitated. Following Donald Trump’s rant as an excuse for a news conference last week (16 February 2017), in a tweet the next day, he dubbed the news media “the enemy of the American people.” In the original version, he wrote: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @CNN, @NBCNews and many more) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people. SICK!” Given the grammar and style, he should have written sic! The illogic was best exemplified when he dubbed the leaks about his election campaign’s links to Russians authentic, but the reporting of those leaks, “fake news.”

We have four different groups in contention, however, not two. There are the modern scholars and scientists, journalists and writers who, like the ancient Sophists, adhere to standards of reasoning and establishing evidence, to techniques of differentiating truth from falsehood. In the other corner are the modern cynics, the dogged or dog-like (κυνικός – kynikos) celebrators of fame and fortune, of strength and power. Modern cynics are the very opposite of their Athenian predecessors – Antisthenes and Diogenes made famous in Plato’s dialogues. The latter became ideologues who insisted in turning the rigour and discipline of argument into an ascetic life style. Trump and his followers have replaced rigour and discipline with incoherence and rants.

The modern version of ancient cynicism are evangelicals with their narrow adherence to ideology. Paradoxically, they unite with modern cynics because both disparage rigour in thought and use of language. The two groups are united in a single camp because of their opposition to the use of reason and reflection, attention to facts and follies, as a method for establishing truth. For contemporary cynics as ideologues as well as cynical inversions of those ancient practitioners, Truth is either revealed or it is whatever I believe. It is not something to be pursued.

In addition to the Sophists, there is a fourth group. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. From very different perspectives, they were philosophers. Like the ancient cynics and their modern evangelical ideologues, they believed in Truth with a capital “T”. Like the sophists, they believed Truth, along with the virtue of Justice, could be established by adherence to the principles of reason, of consistency in argument, of correspondence with facts and of coherence in weaving it altogether. Unlike the sophists who revered the techniques of rationality and made no claims about an ultimate revelation, these philosophers believed that they could reveal that Truth and uncover the principles of Justice through reason alone.

The partnership of sceptical sophists and rational philosophers, Camp A, opposed the members of Camp B, the union of believers in sincerity and goodness of human motives and actions (evangelical ideologues) with the contemporary cynics of disbelief and insincerity who regard human motives and actions to be fundamentally base. Linking the evangelical ideologues and the contemporary cynics are the economic ideologues who believe human motives are strictly self-interested, but, like the evangelical ideologues, have constructed an ideology, materialistic rather than value-based, indifferent to facts and arguments that predetermine how the economic order is to be constructed.

The question then is when there are no rules of discourse, when frameworks trump dialogue, how do the members of Camp A persuade those who belong to Camp B? The members of both camps speak the same language with the same grammatical rules, but the rules of logic and the rules of falsification differ dramatically. They are not shared. At least by the core members of one camp versus those of another. That is where one finds an opening in the gaps between the core and the periphery and in the divisions among the sub-groups in Camp B. Before one can take advantage of those openings, it is necessary to establish common grounds for Camp A.

In the next blog, I inquire into what we can learn from ancient Greeks caught up with the question of persuasion.


With the help of Alex Zisman

Emil Sandström IIB – UNSCOP

UNSCOP and the Partition of Palestine – Part IIB


Howard Adelman

Emil Sandström

The full name of the chair of UNSCOP was Alfred Emil Fredrik Sandström. He was a 59-year old Swedish judge who would go on to become the chair of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, succeeding Count Folke Bernadotte who had been named Mediator in the Jewish/Arab dispute in Palestine in 1948 and had been assassinated by Jewish extremists. At the time of Sandström’s appointment, he was a judge on the Supreme Court in Sweden. He also sat on the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague, an international institution that dated back to the beginning of the century. It was an interstate juridical panel established by treaty in 1899 and set up using very specific tribunals to arbitrate disputes between and among states, though also available to private organizations. The PCA was the “world’s first judicial mechanism with truly global jurisdiction.” It “emerged not as a response to crisis, but as a bargain between powerful states.” In practice, those tribunals utilized fact-finding commissions of inquiry. The PCA viewed itself as uniquely qualified to mediate and arbitrate disputes to find a peaceful resolution for an international conflict.

This provided the model for UNSCOP. Sandström was very familiar with international dispute resolution, but between states and even more, between states and foreigners rather than between nations in constituting a state or states. He had been appointed to the PCA in 1946, but had extensive experience in international arbitration from 1918 to 1926 when he served on various tribunals arbitrating disputes between the Government of Egypt and foreigners when he served as a judge on the Egyptian Mixed Court. In both contexts, he had imbibed the fundamental tenet that the administration of justice was to be impartial in the sense that the participants on the tribunal were independent and free from external political pressures.

At the same time, international law was beginning to be cited for the settlement of national disputes. In the historic Drummond Wren Canadian case (1945), Justice MacKay of the Ontario High Court in Canada determined that a restrictive covenant preventing the sale of property to Jews “or persons of objectionable nationality” was invalid. MacKay had cited the United Nations Charter, one of the early references to an international source to determine domestic policy. Mackay reasoned that, “It appears to me to be a moral duty, at least, to lend aid to all forces of cohesion, and similarly to repel all fissiparous tendencies which would imperil national unity.” The law which Drummond Wren had challenged on behalf of the Workers’ Educational Association was about justice, not interests. Law was intended to prevent the resort to violence, not foster it.

If these fundamental principles of liberalism informed everything Emil Sandström did, one historical event above all others was crucial in developing his consciousness. Sandström was seventeen years old when the dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden took place. If two nations as close in language and religious beliefs as the Norwegians and Swedes could not live within the same polity, how were sworn enemies like the Zionists and Arabs in Palestine to accomplish that feat? We tend to think of the partition of the two polities – Sweden and Norway – as peaceful and orderly, which it was relatively, but in the approach to 7 June 1905 when the Norwegian parliament voted for independence, the air was full of enormous tension and rumours of war. That became worse as the Norwegians held a plebiscite which, on 13 August, overwhelmingly supported partition.

Cooler heads remained in charge and on 26 October 1905, Sweden recognized Norway as an independent state and King Oscar of Sweden renounced his claim to the Norwegian throne. Prince Carl of Denmark subsequently acceded to that throne. Of course, all of this was much easier than in the case of Palestine for the Scandinavian political union was a union of two nations and two clearly demarcated separate political states already. There was no need to demarcate borders. Two nations were not contending for the same piece of land.

The behaviour of Johan Ramstedt, the Prime Minister of Sweden during the year of the partition crisis, had an enormous influence on Emil Sandström. In 1909, Ramstedt was appointed the first Government Councillor of Sweden’s Supreme Administrative Court, a position which Emil Sandström himself would subsequently assume. Sandström had a hero and de facto tutor. Emil Sandström’s own character also played an important part as well. Isaiah Berlin described Emil Sandström as “wonderfully Swedish bland, fair, non-committal,” and, in Berlin’s wry language, “full of pacifying bromides, seeking for signs of amiability in all.” However, although Emil Sandström was most influenced by principles, by prudence as a governing norm, and by people and personalities, including his own, my reading of the historical materials indicates that practices on the ground had the largest influence on his decision as he directly observed them.

I mention only three of many. The first was the role of Britain in dealing with Jewish terrorism as well as his perspective on the Irgun itself. The culminating event was the hanging of three terrorists and the reprisal hanging by the Irgun one day later of two kidnapped British sergeants. A bit of background first. After WWII in September 1945, Britain introduced Defence Emergency Regulations in Palestine and made many anti-British acts subject to military courts and prescribed the death penalty for carrying weapons and belonging to illegal terrorist organizations. Though the courts sentenced a number of terrorists to death, the sentences were usually commuted in return for the release of kidnapped military officers and a judge. There had been exceptions before the Irgun introduced its own “gallows” justice. On 16 April 1947, Dov Gruner and three other Irgun militants, Yehiel Dresner, Mordechai Alkahi and Eliezer Kashani, were executed. But, as the Revisionists declared after they took the lives of the sergeants, Britain would not enforce the death penalty in a trade for British captives who were officers and judges, but when the lives of sergeants were at stake, Britain was unwilling to reduce the death penalty in return for their release.

On the day UNSCOP arrived in Palestine, three captured Irgun members were sentenced to be hung in Acre Prison as a result of their role in the attack on that prison on 4 May to free 41 Irgun and Lehis prisoners. (28 were freed as well as 200 Arabs, but nine Jews were killed in the process.) Of the five arrested, two – Amnon Michaelov and Nachman Zitterbaum – were minors. Avshalom Haviv, Yaakov Weiss and Meir Nakar were sentenced to death.

The Latin American liberals on the committee were particularly incensed at the failure to observe the distinction between political and civil crimes. Though more discreetly, Emil Sandström shared their sympathies. On 12 July, four days after the hangings were confirmed and ten days after the UNSCOP appeal to Britain to commute the death sentences had been rejected, the Irgun, in a tit for tat, captured two British sergeants. When on 29 July, the three members of the Irgun were hung, the two British sergeants, Cliff Martin and Mervyn Paice, were also hung on the following day as Begin had promised Sandström. The booby-trapped bodies of the two dead sergeants were left hanging from eucalyptus trees. The irony was that Clifford Martin was halachically Jewish since his mother was a Jew from Cairo.

The Leftist parties, with David Ben Gurion in the lead, played an ambivalent role. On the one hand Mapai, Ahdut HaAvoda, HaOved HaDati, HaOved HaZioni, HaShomer HaTzair and Poalet Agudat Israel issued a joint statement condemning the arrests and sentences of the Revisionists. At the same time, in a speech at the National Assembly of the Mapai, Ben Gurion branded leaders of Lehi and Irgun as “thugs,” “terrorists,” and “fake patriots.” Thus, while the Jews were united in ending the mandate, they were very divided in the method of doing so as well as over whether partition was to be rejected or accepted.

Emil Sandström, against the protests of Ben Gurion, met privately with Menachem Begin through the help of the Associated Press correspondent, Carter Davidson, in the apartment of the poet Yaacov Cahan (Ralph Bunche and Dr. Victor Hoo accompanied Sandström.) Later, Fabregat and Garcia Granados would also have a secret meeting with Begin. The Sandström meeting with Begin was held on 24 June 1947, only eight days after the UNSCOP representatives first arrived in Palestine. Sandström received an earful on the British practice of torture of the Revisionists. Begin also made unequivocally clear the Revisionist program – the right of Jews to Eretz Israel on both sides of the Jordan, the right of Jews everywhere to repatriate to Eretz Israel, the conviction that only with force would the British cede to the Jewish demands, and the rejection of the call from some on the Zionist left for the transfer of Arabs out of the land. On this issue, Sandström clearly aligned with the Revisionists and ardently opposed “any compulsory transfer as proposed by the Peel Report.”

UNSCOP tried to prevent the hangings from being carried out. The raid on the Acre Prison that provoked the arrests had not killed anyone. The sentences of hanging were regarded as improper military justice. Sandström wrote Trygve Lie, the then U.N. Secretary General. “The UN Commission expresses the concern of the majority of its members over the regrettable consequences liable to result from the carrying out of the three death sentences which the military court pronounced on June 16.”
Such intervention by a UN advisory committee in the British governance of a mandate was viewed as unprecedented. The British Mandate Authorities not only ignored UNSCOP, but conducted a wave of arrests at the beginning of August of 1947 just before UNSCOP would deliberate and arrive at its final recommendations. On 5 August 1947, Britain arrested 36 members of the Revisionist Movement in Palestine, including the Mayor of Tel Aviv, Israel Rokach, the chair of the local council in Ramat Gan, Avraham Krinitzi and the chair of the Netanya Council, Oved Ben Ami. Beitar was declared an illegal organization.

Those arrests had a specific purpose – influencing UNSCOP to recognize how unruly Palestine would become if left to its own devices. Britain had announced its intention of abandoning the Mandate, but Britain really deep down wanted UNSCOP to recommend the continuation of the mandate under a renewed process of legitimation. The actions of the British military – including the rampage of British soldiers and police that killed nine Jews and injured many other, 33 alone at the funerals of those killed – multiplied many times over by a spate of violent anti-Semitic attacks back in Britain, reinforced the conviction in all the committee members that the Mandate had to end.

UNSCOP’s official protest to the British about the hanging had been ineffective at ending the hanging and the tit-for-tat response, but extremely effective in consolidating the committee’s antipathy to the continuation of the Mandate. The immediate result was not simply the reinforcement, at least on the surface, of the determination of Britain to abandon the mandate, but of UNSCOP to insist that it end. That possible path to continue the rule of law as an intermediate stage accompanied by an enforcement mechanism had been irrevocably destroyed. The Mandate was de facto over. Emil Sandström saw the left coalition led by Ben Gurion which, contrary to the Revisionists, supported partition, as the only possible route to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Emil Sandström bought into the picture painted by Ben Gurion – the Revisionists were threats to the rule of law and individual liberties. The Hagannah and the Palmach, in dropping their program of armed resistance to Britain, constituted the route of moderation, reasonableness and peace. At the same time, all Jews were united in the belief that the British Mandate had to end.

The dilemma is that force would be needed. And there was no enforcement mechanism ready at hand. There were two other major events that reinforced these two conclusions for Sandström – the incident of the Exodus in 1947 and a visit to an Arab cigarette factory which I will discuss after I paint portraits of other members
of the sub-committee.

Suzanne Katzenstein (2014) “In the Shadow of Crisis: The Creation of International Courts in the Twentieth Century,” Harvard International Law Journal 55:1, Winter, 154.
Isaiah Berlin (2009) Enlightening: Letters 1946 – 1960, eds. Henry Hardy and Jennifer Holmes, London: Chattus & Windus, fn. 140.
Cf. Erez Casif (2013) Why Was the State of Israel ‘Really” Established? Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 94.
Robert D. Kumamoto (1999) International Terrorism and American Foreign Relations, 1945-1976, 53-54. See also John Bowyer Bell (1996) Terror Out of Zion: The Fight for Israeli Independence. New Brunswick:, N.J.: Trnsaction, 225, and James Barr (2011) A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle that shaped the Middle East. London: Simon & Schuster, and Martin Sicker (2000) Pangs of the Messiah: The Troubled Birth of the Jewish State, Westport, CT: Praeger, 215.
Minutes of “Fourth Informal Meeting, Mr. Sandström’s Office, 8 August 1947, p. 2.
Sicker (2000), 215.

Force Majeure

Force Majeure


Howard Adelman

The setting is the stunning French or French-Swiss Alps. We know it is the French part of the Alps because the film begins with a French photographer in accented English taking pictures of the family posed in their beautiful ski clothes on the side of the mountain. We sense something wrong is this seemingly very happy and lovely successful Swedish family on a luxurious five-day ski vacation when the family members only move closer together for the pictures on the instructions of the photographer. They are not natural huggers.

The first day on the slopes is serenity and joy. They are a happy family. They brush their teeth together, each with his or her own electric toothbrush. Then, all four members collapse from their tiring day on the same king-sized bed in the upscale ski resort with its magnificent views. The main characters are Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) and his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and their two children, Vera and Harry played by real siblings. The approximately forty-year-old man with the big red beard, whom I thought was Toma’s brother, Mats (Kristofer Hivju) and his twenty-year-old blond girlfriend, Fanni (Fanni Metelius), soon join them. This film is not just a psychodrama. Nor is it just a social drama. Force Majeure is a metaphysical drama in the guise of a film focused on the family.

For the viewer is left to decide what is the force majeure, the unanticipated event that is both unavoidable yet contingent. In contract law, unavoidable contingent events such as hurricanes and floods free a party from any personal responsibility, at least for the period of the crisis, because they are viewed as beyond anyone’s personal control. However, one’s response to such a contingency is seen not to be in the same category as an excuse — even if one is a bystander to a genocide or ethnic cleansing. We may not be responsible for what happens. However, we may be responsible for our response to what happens. An act of God does not exclude or excuse a party’s response to the incident, but only responsibility for the incident itself, which is seen as beyond the reasonable control of anyone. It is the response that is the trigger for the film. It is the response that reveals the real force majeure that is the subject of the movie. Did what happen excuse Tomas from the usual expectations of him in performing his obligations or did what occur reveal a fatal character flaw that explains his “failure”?

Posing for the initial photograph is just the initial scene that sets the viewer on edge. Explosions to trigger controlled avalanches go off in the background. The lifts creek and croak. The metal doors shut with an ominous sound. The machinery of play is not running smoothly and silently. Instead, the mechanisms of functionality sound weary and time-worn in spite of the gorgeous natural scenery and the idyllic portrait of a happy family at play.

Spoiler alert! Though I will not tell you precisely what happens to shatter this blissful bourgeois portrait, I say that disaster does not come from nature – that is an exercise in magical deception and distraction to frame the movie. Rather, it is the very small deeds and actions, the inadvertent words uttered, that propel the action forward. This is the real force majeure, not the feared avalanches, that drives these cold creatures into their own private worlds of despair, the children even more than the adults, but only because they are still able to articulate their fears.

This is a Swedish film. But the Swedes are stand-ins for contemporary families in modern societies – only more so. For Sweden is a humanitarian superpower with its civil society run by a coalition of management and labour. Seven parties in the Riksdag arrive at a consensus and then register that agreement in the legislature. On the surface, all seems both civil, peaceful and the epitome of order and good government. Sweden has taken the place of Canada as the country most hospitable to refugees. Sweden is the supreme example of the modern welfare state. It offers security and safety, but with a humane voice.

Sweden has mastered, seemingly, the art of a strong central state, the rule of law and the process of democracy even as it admits relatively large numbers whose familial and tribal allegiances are much stronger. In fact, for Swedes, tribalism has been ejected from the polity – except among the new immigrants. Only the sense of the family remains and that sense seems very fragile if the film portrait is at all representative. The strength of the family will be sorely tested on the slopes of the French Alps, a situation adumbrated by Ebba’s conversation with another married Swedish woman living in an open marriage and traveling to a resort on her own to dabble in sexual encounters with men she meets.

My daughter’s new book, which she sent off to the publisher today, begins by citing a humorist and satirist of the first order. “Oscar Wilde once wrote that ‘Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth.’ The truth Wilde alludes to is an alternative truth which the given identity of face and name cannot convey, a deeper truth that can only emerge through subterfuge. The guise uncovers a psychic terrain that not only unmasks others, who might say and do what they otherwise would not, but also reveals desires inchoate to the self.” There is no subterfuge in Force Majeure. There is no guise. The language in the movie is as honest a replication of ordinary human speech as I have ever seen in a movie.

The movie is not simply about an ordinary Swedish couple with two children going on a ski holiday to the Alps. It is about very minor deeds and words that create a tsunami because a man fails to know himself and “is least himself”. He cannot tell the truth as much as he may try. His inability – and, in the movie, it seems to be a male inability – to understand an alternative truth leads to the collapse of his identity. But the revelation does not come from a woman’s guise or subterfuge, but from his wife’s matching initial inability to stomach the truth when it is revealed. The inner tremendous energy forces the truth to the surface like a volcano. Once it has exploded, the only mode of recovery is, indeed, female guile. But the guile seems so transparent that suddenly the movie seems to lose both its credibility and its power. That was my initial reaction. Upon reflection I decided that this was deliberate.

Confronting the truth only leads to the implosion of an identity. The trick to overcome that implosion is so clumsy that the trickster even appears to be as weak as her husband. A serious movie suddenly turns into a comedy. Or does it? The foreignness of being an expert in the use of artifice and female wiles is made only too apparent. Yet it is the only way to evade the disastrous consequences that the contingent, the unforeseen, the hidden, has brought about. As for Tomas, he is a complete failure. His initial cries and later sobbing breakdown confuses the viewer about whether they are just products of Tomas’ (not the actor who plays him) bad acting or a real incapacity to honestly emote. Tomas neither knows how to pretend nor how to really feel and collapses into fetal helplessness.

For Tomas, who cannot even master frankness and openness, the discovery of this underworld of emotions and feelings is devastating, far more devastating that the controlled avalanche that sets everything in motion. For it is not really an avalanche – just the cloud of mist and snowflakes stirred up by the controlled avalanche and that is taken to be the real thing. In this movie, that is far more frightening than an Alfred Hitchcock film.

Swedes are now too secular. They ought to go back to reading the Bible. There is one allusion to this in an early scene where the wife’s friend introduces the couple to an American she has picked up as “very religious”. Swedes, by contrast, have lost their sense of religion, their sense of the mysterious forces at work in history in general and in daily domestic life. With their frankness, with their openness, with their straight forward conversation, they have become naïve to mystery and it catches them totally unaware.

Part of the reason is that there is a total lack of privacy. When the parents want to talk, they have to escape from their hotel room into the hall. All four – the parents and the two children – sleep in the same bed. There is no secret bed life. And, as I said above, current Swedish social conditioning has produced women in Sweden who are strong Vikings very capable of living independent lives from men, but the cost has been enormous. The men have been hollowed out – much more so than T.S. Eliot ever believed or observed. And the women now lack the guile to understand how the moral order can be re-established once it falls apart. Though the mother quickly learns, the actions are so clumsy and amateurish – resembling a cliché – that they come across as a truly phony artifice. We are not only left very unsure whether the transition from ignorance to knowledge will, in fact, be achieved. But we are left to suspect that once Humpty Dumpty has fallen, he cannot be reassembled.

For without a mastery of trickery, however amateurish and clumsy, as Oscar Wilde and the Torah both recognized, there is no opportunity for change. Therapy and a psychoanalyst will reinforce individualism, but not the solidity of the family, will facilitate a shift in consciousness but at enormous cost. For unlike the relativism of psychoanalysis, basic events are not, as the husband initially insists, subject to alternative interpretation. There is a hard core reality which, ironically, only artifice can overcome.

Of course, Swedes are merely used as the exemplars of modernity and its core problem, whether in dealing with international crises and conflicts or domestic ones that hit a family entirely from left field. The sense that the small domestic tale has such broad implications come in the soundtrack with its creeky wheels of the chair lifts and their staccato stop-and-go movements. There are explosions in the background and a drone, the husband’s latest play toy. The drone is suddenly released by Harry into the room to disrupt everything. While these sounds, especially the magisterial orchestra that suddenly starts playing against the magnificent and awesome beauty of the Alps, is not simply an imitation of Alfred Hitchcock, but a use of Hitchcock’s method of instilling suspense to tell a much larger and far more significant story.

After all, without a sense of the magnificence and grandeur of either nature or an omniscient being, humans are but tiny ants fighting to survive in an extremely threatening environment, and their struggle is all the more pitiful when they seem to have lost the sense of the mysteries of life which they have traded in for straight-forward functionalism.

My daughter-in-law is seven months pregnant. We watched the movie with her and my son. In that concealed womb, within that place of mystery in her pelvis where conception takes place and the infant fetus grows, within that place of ultimate mystery, that no ultrasound can picture but which we have become convinced that we have come close to unveiling, a male baby will emerge who will be taught in the modern mode that everything can be made apparent if we only apply the tools of our senses and our reason to the task. But the path of life is far more twisted, far more unpredictable and far more shocking. Directness and honesty will only help obscure it all unless we can access a route to manage the mysterious.

And, as the movie reveals, it is women as the natural protectors of children who will have to reveal that their powerful role as progenitors cannot be shared with their husbands. He is genetically not conditioned for the task. And no amount of preaching equality and equal burden sharing will detract from this fundamental truth. Failing to face this basic verity promises only disaster.

When we watch Force Majeure, we are only aware on the periphery that we are watching an apocalyptic film of the old order rather than a modern disaster flic. It is not honesty and straightforwardness, Swedish plain and direct speech, but the mastery of deception and artifice by the female partner that will enable a society to both interpret and overcome the deeply hidden dichotomies and paradoxes that permeate our lives. Ebba when she confronts her husband with the facts, insists initially that only if he would acknowledge them, all would be much better. She at least learns that she is on the wrong track. For if the contradictions are to be understood, it will not be accomplished by direct revelation of simple facts, but through the way the contradictions and dichotomies play themselves out. Women must learn that they are the key means to thrust the cunning of reason forward rather than the creeky mechanical functional tools that lead us heavenward towards the top of the Alps.

Hegel was absolutely correct. The dialectic of self-consciousness does not begin with play, does not begin with repetition of the joys of a child playing in or sliding on the snow, however elevated and sophisticated that activity can become, but in the dialectic of desire and life, of sex and survival, in the desire to be recognized by the other and the need to protect one’s children and progeny. Out of that contest for recognition emerges revelation. If a woman still holds the illusionary expectation of her husband as a hero, if she fails to recognize that she is the master of the situation, of her family history and its future, and of the need to master the art of artifice to ensure that future, then disaster will not have to wait for a tsunami or an avalanche, but the smallest deed in life will explode that illusion for what it is. Women have to know that the divine will is only forwarded by them. They will have to go beyond feminism, beyond crude egalitarianism, beyond truth as simply a by-product of functionalism, to truly become the key for our salvation and security. The cunning of reason transforms and raises us up. If a woman does not learn that lesson, then disaster awaits and the slightest misplaced deed or word can trigger an avalanche.

If one does not absorb that basic truth, then even a man as erudite and learned as Fukuyama (, will miss the basic pattern of history when he envisions the institutions of a central state, the rule of law and the democratic process – in that order — as the key for securing the future. He will have failed to understand history. For unless the family, unless the tribe is also preserved, transformed and raised up into this new world, then those mysteries will return to haunt and destroy us when we are most absent-minded.