Book #2: The Birth of Israel, by Jorge Garcia-Granados

Sometimes books just seem to disappear. Once such book is The Birth of Israel by Jorge Garcia-Granados, formerly Guatemala’s Ambassador to the United States, and the country’s representative at the formation of the United Nations.  It is very difficult to locate a copy.

In 1947, Britain announced that it wished to terminate its mandate over Palestine and referred the matter to the UN. (The mandate originally was granted by the then-defunct League of Nations.) The UN in turn, under the direction of its first Secretary General, Trygvie Lie, formed the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), one of whose eleven members was Guatemala, acting through Garcia-Granados. The UNSCOP members spent several months in Palestine in 1947 meeting with British and Jewish representatives. They attempted many times to meet with Arab representatives, but such meetings were rare and secret, because the Arab League and its member states refused to participate in any UNSCOP activities.

Garcia-Granados had no previous involvement in Jewish or Palestinian or Arab affairs. But he had a strong background in civil liberties as a member of the Guatemalan underground fighting against the previous dictatorship of that country. The book is a diary of his time with UNSCOP, both in the field, and when he got back to Lake Success, Long Island, in working with UNSCOP and the larger UN membership to forge a position and, after the declaration of independence of Israel, to develop an appropriate response.

UNSCOP was by and large a failure, due to the pre-determined positions of various of its members. The situation in what was then Palestine was no less confusing in 1947 than it is in 2008. Garcia-Granados was one of the UNSCOP members most in favor of partition, with a continuing UN trusteeship until there was some political stabilization. Any other road, he thought, would clearly lead to disaster. He felt great sympathy for the Jews as a result of the World War, felt great admiration for what he saw as Jewish development (agricultural, industrial and cultural) in what he viewed a basically barren land, and felt an understanding for the Jewish terrorists (namely the Irgun, and Menachem Begin, who he was able to meet under cloak-and-dagger circumstances) based on his Guatemalan experiences. He could not understand the Arabs, believed that they were too much under the sway of the Mufti (who had been a Hitler ally), and believed that they didn’t really care about the land in the way that they maintained that they did. He was therefore very unsympathetic to the Arabs’ overall position, although he was sympathetic to the position of individuals in all of the groups.

But as much as he disliked the Arab leadership, this paled before his absolute detestation of the British and the mandate leadership. From the way it stopped immigration, to the way it ignored the mandate rules originally established by the League, to its “holier than thou” attitude towards all non-Brits (and that is hard in the middle east), to the “police state” it was operating under the guise of the mandate, he hated it all.

The book is very readable, very interesting, and by giving the opinion of a complete outsider, who went into the position with only normal biases but came out strongly in favor of Jewish independence, and strongly despising virtually everything the British were doing in Palestine, it provides new insight into the difficult 1947-8 period.

I dare you to find a copy. But if you do, please read it.

9 thoughts on “Book #2: The Birth of Israel, by Jorge Garcia-Granados

  1. just found a copy of this book in Jerusalem at a book stall and am enjoying it thoroughly — indeed, an important book for all the reasons you mention.

  2. A Portuguese-language translation was recently published in Brazil. It is an impressive first-hand account and a historical-diplomatic document that has been almost totally forgotten. A must-read.

    By the way, Arthur, the text of your short review of the book has been partially copied, partially mangled, by a pro-Palestian site.

  3. En el comentario anterior se indica: “García -Granados no tenía participación previa en asuntos judíos o palestinos o árabes . Pero tenía una sólida formación en las libertades civiles como miembro de la lucha clandestina contra Guatemala la anterior dictadura de ese país.”

    Al respecto cabe indicar que el escritor y político guatemalteco Jorge García Granados (1900-1961) describe en su obra testimonial “Así nació Israel” (1948), en el capítulo III intitulado “Yo soy de un país de pesares”, la amarga experiencia que vivió en época del dictador Jorge Ubico, y por qué hubo de salir al exilio en 1934, del que no regresaría a Guatemala sino hasta en julio de 1944:

    “Ubico estableció una nueva tiranía, reformando la Constitución y gobernando por Decreto. Yo me opuse a él abiertamente. Con frecuencia me llamó a su despacho y me amenazó por mis artículos de prensa y por mis discursos ‘incendiarios’ en la Asamblea.
    —Recuerde que soy como Hitler y los japoneses —me advirtió una vez. A mis enemigos los pongo contra la pared, los fusilo, y después inicio el juicio.
    En 1934 descubrió una conspiración y cumplió su promesa. Diecisiete hombres fueron encarcelados, se les siguió una farsa de juicio en el cual ni siquiera se les permitió contar con abogados para su defensa, y al fin los sentenciaron a muerte. Aunque yo no intervine en esa conspiración, escribí a Ubico una carta acusándolo de que el juicio fuera una verdadera mofa a la ley, e instándolo a perdonar a los condenados.
    Ubico me contestó enviando un pelotón de policías para arrestarme en mi hogar, llevarme al lugar de la ejecución y obligarme a presenciar el fusilamiento de los diecisiete. Luego me arrojaron a la cárcel y me tuvieron en cautiverio solitario durante varios meses, sin permitirme recibir ni noticias de mi familia.
    Gracias a los buenos oficios de varios diplomáticos extranjeros, entre ellos los ministros de Estados Unidos, España y Nicaragua, fui puesto en libertad. Ubico, sin embargo, me tenía bajo una estricta vigilancia. La vida así era imposible, y con la ayuda de Gustavo Serrano, embajador de México, a fines de 1934 partí hacia el exilio a México, llevándome conmigo a mi familia. Allí me gané la vida dando clases y escribiendo.”
    García Granados, Jorge; “Así nació Israel: cómo se llegó a votar la creación del Estado Judío.” Guatemala, Guatemala : Centro Impresor PS, s.f. Páginas 33 a 34. NOTA: Dice s.f. (sin fecha), aunque puede anotarse c.2003.

    Con aprecio para los lectores,

    Ariel Batres V.
    Guatemala

  4. El anterior comentario lo escribí en español.
    Lástima que en la traducción automática al inglés se distorsione la gramática, quitándole su verdadero sentido a lo anotado.

  5. This was my great grandfather’s book. We keep a few of the copies within the family, but yes, they are impossible to find but still a great read. I wish they were wider spread.

    Jorge

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