Monday, September 17, 2007

September 17

On this date in 1948, a small faction of terrorists carried out the assassination of Count Folke Bernadotte, a United Nations mediator from Sweden who was tasked with resolving the territorial disputes that lingered the aftermath of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The day before he was ginned down in his car, Bernadotte had released a second round of proposals for securing the existence of Israel and protecting the rights of Palestinians who had been displaced by the war. In addition to calling for the creation of two states in Palestine, Bernadotte proposed that their Jerusalem should be placed under international control and that refugees be allowed to return to their homes, in accordance with international law.

Bernadotte’s suggestions did not sit well with Lohamei Herut Israel (“Fighters for the Freedom of Israel”), a group initially formed during World War II with the intent of expelling Great Britain from Palestine. Lehi -- as the group was more commonly known -- carried out numerous bank robberies and dozens of assassinations over the course of its eight-year existence; its opposition to the British Mandate was so extraordinary that its leadership actually scoped out friendly relations with Germany during the war. Following British restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine in 1939, radical Zionist groups such as Lehi hoped that Germany’s leaders -- whose anti-Semitism was already quite renowned -- might offer Jews quick passage to the Holy Land in exchange for the group’s cooperation in fighting a common enemy.

Lehi’s offers to assist the Nazis, however, were never acknowledged. After the war, the group continued to resist British influence in Palestine, even after it formally ended its mandate and surrendered its responsibility to the newly formed United Nations. Bernadotte -- whose assignment required him to balance the competing interests of numerous parties -- fell victim to a style of radicalism that would become all too familiar over the next six decades.

Ambushed by four members of Lehi who were riding in a jeep, Count Folke Bernadotte was shot in the chest and died instantly.

On the 30th anniversary of Bernadotte’s assassination, Israel and Egypt agreed to a treaty that ended the state of hostility that had existed between the two nations since the 1948 War. The Israeli Prime Minister at the time was Menachem Begin, who during World War II had been a member of Irgun, another anti-British paramilitary group. The Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, a former army officer, had also opposed Great Britain during World War II -- an opposition born out of 60 years of British colonialism in his homeland. Like Lehi, Sadat and the so-called Free Officers had sought an alliance with the Axis Powers, including Nazi Germany, during the war.

Meeting a fate that resembled Count Bernadotte’s, Anwar Sadat fell to assassins three years after the Cam David Accords were signed.

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