The 60th anniversary of the assassination of a Swedish diplomat who served as the short-lived first-ever United Nations mediator in the Arab-Israeli conflict was marked on Wednesday in Jerusalem.
Count Folke Bernadotte was killed in Jerusalem on September 17, 1948, by members of the underground Zionist group Lehi just four months after taking up his position as the first official mediator in the newly established UN's history.
The anniversary was marked by Swedish and French diplomats as well as UN officials stationed in Jerusalem, who drove past the site of the assassination - the corner of Rehov Kovshei Katamon near Rehov HaPalmach - at midday, and then erected a plaque at the YMCA, where Bernadotte had his headquarters.
Bernadotte, who put forward two proposals during his stint as mediator, was criticized by the nascent Israeli government, which frowned upon his involvement in the negotiations as being partial, and was considered by the Lehi to be a stooge of the British and their Arab allies, and therefore a serious threat to the emerging state of Israel.
In one exchange, Bernadotte was criticized by the
Israeli government in July 1948 for referring to Arab attacks on Jews as "incidents." The assassination was approved by a Lehi team which included future prime minister Yitzhak Shamir.
A French officer seating next to Bernadotte was also killed in the attack.
A former Swedish ambassador to Israel opined Wednesday that Bernadotte had been neither anti-Semitic nor in cahoots with the British, but was guided by his "humanitarian" concerns.
"Perhaps he wasn't as politically patient as one needs to be in this part of the world," said former ambassador Mats Bergquvist, who delivered a memorial lecture on Bernadotte at the YMCA on Wednesday night. "He underestimated the political complexities in the region."
Before being appointed as mediator in the Arab-Israeli conflict, Bernadotte had attempted to negotiate an armistice between Germany and the Allies near the end of World War II in his capacity as vice president of the Swedish Red Cross.
At the very end of the war, he received Heinrich Himmler's offer of Germany's complete surrender to Britain and the United States, provided Germany was allowed to continue resistance against the Soviet Union. The offer was passed to prime minister Winston Churchill and president Harry S. Truman, but never accepted.
Just before the end of the war, he led a rescue operation transporting interned Norwegians, Danes and other Western European inmates from German concentration camps to hospitals in Sweden. Around 15,000 people were taken to safety, including thousands of Jewish prisoners.