68. Message From Prime Minister Ben Gurion to President Eisenhower1

Dear Mr. President: I thank you for your message dated February 3.2 I am sincerely grateful for your personal interest and fully share the wish for continuance and deepening of the friendly relations between the United States and Israel. The Government of Israel is at one with you in deep concern for the establishment of peace and tranquility in the Middle East. In response to your appeal of November 7,3 we started the evacuation of our troops from the Sinai Desert, although it was the overwhelming opinion of our people that effective assurances for our security must first be obtained. We continued our withdrawal despite the fact that Egypt refused to abandon its state of war against us. Our troops have evacuated Sinai—an area of more than 50,000 square kilometres—except for a narrow strip on the west coast of the Gulf of Akaba which ensures freedom of navigation in the Gulf. We have informed the United Nations that we have no intention of holding this strip and will evacuate it as soon as effective assurances will be forthcoming for continued freedom of passage.

In my message to you of November 8,4 and in that of the Israel Foreign Minister to Mr. Hammarskjold of the same day,5 it was stated that we would withdraw our troops from Egypt upon the conclusion of satisfactory arrangements in connection with the United Nations Emergency Force. These arrangements were defined in a letter of November 21 to the Secretary-General6 as designed to ensure for Israel security against acts of belligerency by land or sea. In these messages we also asked that Egypt renounce its declared state of war against Israel, and in accordance with its obligation under the Charter it should maintain peaceful relations with Israel. Following the Resolutions of the General Assembly of February 1,7 we again requested the [Page 110] Secretary-General to seek clarification from Egypt regarding its state of belligerency.8 These requests have remained unanswered.

I have to record with regret that in this matter the U.N. has applied different standards to Egypt and to Israel. For eight years Egypt has acted in disregard of the Armistice Agreement and of the Charter and has pursued a policy of belligerency towards Israel. It defied an express resolution of the Security Council in denying us free transit through the Suez Canal, and broke its pledged word in regard to the freedom of shipping in the Gulf of Akaba. I refer to a solemn undertaking made by Egypt through the American Ambassador in Cairo on January 28, 1950.9

This policy took heavy toll of Israeli lives and caused us severe economic damage. It was part of an overall plan to eliminate Israel by force. Those who had the power and authority to intervene took no effective steps whatever to halt these flagrant violations of international obligations.

At present, for the first time in eight years, the Egyptian blockade in the Gulf of Akaba has been broken, and the Gulf is open to the shipping of all nations. Work is going forward to complete the link between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. For Israel this opens the prospect of our country becoming a bridge across which the commerce of nations will flow between the East and the West. For the countries of Europe and Asia the prospect is one of release from that exclusive and total reliance on the Suez Canal out of which so much tension has recently grown, and may conceivably grow again. Surely such important national and international interests must not be endangered, by neglecting the establishment of guarantees for continuing freedom of navigation in waters having such an international interest. For the first time, too, the Gaza strip—which was never Egyptian territory and was used by Egypt only as a springboard for aggression—has ceased to be a base for attack on the life of our people. Yet we are being called upon by the U.N. to agree to the restoration of the status quo ante of violence and blockade. For, in spite of all efforts, no guarantee whatsoever is forthcoming that upon our withdrawal our ships will not again be denied passage through Akaba and that the nightmare of murderous attacks will not be renewed. The official position of the Secretary-General is that the stationing and functioning of the U.N.E.F. as an instrument to halt belligerency is dependent on Egypt’s explicit consent. [Page 111] Egypt has declared that she will continue at the first opportunity with the sea blockades in Suez and Akaba and with murderous attacks.

To sum up the position: We are prepared to withdraw our forces forthwith from Sharm el Sheikh if continued freedom of passage through the Straits is assured. We are equally ready to evacuate our military forces from the Gaza strip without delay and to leave there only a Civil Administration and Police, in suitable relationship with the U.N. Such arrangements alone would ensure peace and stability in the area, would give to the local population a real share in the administration, would set them on the path to economic self-suffiency, and would offer a hope of working out a better future for the refugees in an atmosphere free from Egyptian incitement.

Under the Charter of the United Nations, are we not entitled, like any other State, to security from attack? With deepest respect I would ask you, Mr. President, why no effective action was taken by the Government of the United States and by the other governments which supported the proposals of the United States in the General Assembly, to give us such security? Are the citizens of Israel not entitled to be safeguarded against murderous attacks on the part of terrorist squads organized by Egypt—a member-State in the U.N.? Are Israel ships not entitled like those of any other nation to sail on international waterways?

In your letter you referred to the possibility of U.N. “procedures” being invoked against Israel for not having carried out in full the Resolution of the General Assembly. No such “procedures” were ever invoked against Egypt which, for eight years past, has violated resolutions of the Security Council and provisions of the Charter, and continues so to do. At a time when public opinion in most of the free countries of the world has come to acknowledge the justice of our stand, is it conceivable that the United States, the land of freedom, equality and human rights, should support such discrimination and that U.N. “procedures” should be invoked to force us back into a position which would again expose us to murder and blockade?

Mr. President, in the Law which we received more than three thousand years ago on Mount Sinai, and which has become part of mankind’s heritage, the Message went forth that there shall be no discrimination between man and man and between nation and nation. Throughout millennia of persecution, our people have not lost faith in ultimate justice, peace and human equality. It is unthinkable that now that we have recovered our independence in our ancient homeland we should submit to discrimination. Our people will never accept this, no matter what sacrifice it may entail. Israel, though small, is entitled to [Page 112] security, freedom and equal rights in the family of nations. Like any other independent nation, Israel is free as of right, and our people are determined to defend their independence.

The question is not a legalistic one. Can the United Nations apply one measure to Egypt and another to Israel? In the last resort the solution of the problems of the area depends on whether the Egyptian Government is prepared to end its belligerency against Israel as required by United Nations resolutions. In that way alone, and not by a return to the status quo ante, can peace in our region be achieved.

More than any man now living, you, Mr. President, may be able to help in putting an end to all this hostility and in establishing peace between our neighbors and ourselves.

Permit me in conclusion to thank you for your kind interest in my well-being, which I deeply appreciate.

With best wishes,

Sincerely yours,

David Ben Gurion10
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 684A.86/2–857. Conveyed to the Department of State in a letter from Eban to Dulles dated February 8, which requested that Ben Gurion’s message be transmitted to President Eisenhower. A copy is in the Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, International File. Ben Gurion also gave a copy to Ambassador Lawson who transmitted it to the Department of State in telegram 941, February 10. (Department of State, Central Files, 674.84A/2–1057)
  2. Document 54.
  3. Vol. XVI, p. 1063.
  4. Ibid., p. 1095.
  5. U.N. doc. A/3320. For text, see United States Policy in the Middle East, September 1956–June 1957, pp. 212–213.
  6. Hammarskjöld released the text of this letter as Annex II to his report of November 21, 1956. (U.N. doc. A/3384) It is printed in United States Policy in the Middle East, September 1956–June 1957, pp. 212–213.
  7. Resolution 1124 (XI) and Resolution 1125 (XI); see Document 51.
  8. Reference is to the Israeli aide-mémoire transmitted to the Secretary-General by Eban on February 4; see footnote 3, Document 58.
  9. In an aide-mémoire, the Egyptian Government stated that it occupied the Islands of Tiran and Sanafir as a preventive measure against eventual attack, that the action was not taken to prevent innocent travel between the islands and the Egyptian coast of Sinai, and that the passage would remain free as in the past. A summary is in telegram 102 from Cairo, January 30, 1950, printed in Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. v, p. 711.
  10. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.