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What were the circumstances leading up to the birth of the State of Israel?
(EXCITING NEWS: Have you heard our radio programme on PREMIER RADIO yet? You can hear past episodes here.)
With the British Mandate for Palestine, Jerusalem was declared an International enclave, neither Jewish nor Arab. So, with typical Britishness, a compromise was offered. The whole eastern part of the Mandate was given to a prominent Arab, Emir Abdullah, to thank him for helping them in their fight against the Turks. This became Transjordan, later to be renamed Jordan. Interestingly, the Emir wanted to call his land Palestine - if he had then perhaps he would have done us all a favour! So 80% of the British Mandate was handed to the Arabs and Jewish immigration was completely banned in this area.
The rate of Arab immigration increased during the early 1930s, which was a period of prosperity in Palestine. The Syrian Governor of Hauran admitted in 1934 that 30,000-36,000 people from his district entered Palestine that year and settled there. In 1939, Winston Churchill said ‘Far from being persecuted, the Arabs have crowded into the country and multiplied until their population has increased more than even all world Jewry could lift up (increase) the Jewish population’. This is an important (though much contested) point, because it dispels the myth that the Palestinian people have lived there for generations. When we talk about Palestinian refugees, displaced as a result of the formation of the State of Israel, consider how many of them would have been as recent to the land as the Jews themselves.
Jewish immigration continued and in 1929 there were about 150,000 Jews in the land, among 700,000 Arabs. But for Arab leaders this was unacceptable and there were many clashes, including a particularly nasty massacre of Jews praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem and a similar one at Hebron. Incredibly, the British refused to allow Jews to defend themselves and 133 Jews were killed in subsequent riots. The British were becoming restless and, in 1937, set up the Peel Commission, to suggest a further partitioning of the land. This would have given the Jews just the coastal plain, Galilee and Golan, a corridor up to and surrounding Jerusalem to the British, and the rest, the largest area, to the Arabs.
Surprisingly the Jews accepted this. Even more surprisingly, the Arabs rejected it, declaring that no Jewish State of any shape or form was acceptable, so this was a waste of time and Arab revolts continued right up to the outbreak of World War Two, when the Arab leaders gladly opted for the side of the Nazis.
In 1939 Britain, at a conference in London, suggested a new partition, proposing an Arab-dominated state, with 75,000 Jews allowed in by 1944 and where, subsequently, the Arabs could decide how many Jews to let in. Amazingly, the Arabs rejected this too! Yet, the 75,000 quota was adhered to, a tragic state of affairs considering what was now beginning to happen in Europe. In early 1942, a ship with 769 Jewish refugees was refused landing permission in Haifa and later sank. Then there was another ship, the Exodus in 1947, where the British refused 4,500 immigrants, sending them back, ultimately, to holding camps in Germany of all places.
Through these actions, Britain was vilified by world opinion, particularly now that the horrors of the Holocaust had been uncovered. It was also totally fed up with the terrorism of both the Arab and Jewish extremists and finally decided that enough was enough. Besides, it was having enough problems of its own, holding together the ailing and crumbling British Empire. So they handed over the problem to be sorted out by the newly formed United Nations.
What was proposed was a partitioning of the land into three portions, an Arab state, a Jewish state and an international area based around Jerusalem. The Jewish state was to be a strange twisted area, lasso-ed at two points and destined to be the ugliest looking bit of geography on the map. The Arab state fared little better, being the photographic inverse of the Jewish state except for a large hole in the middle, the international area. Only a committee could have come up with such a hotchpotch!
On November 29th 1947 the General Assembly of the United Nations met to see what to do about the situation. We’ll see what happened there in the next article, but first, what did God think of all this?
It is difficult for us, with our imperfect mortal minds, to understand that God would still remember the Jews after so long. After all, thanks to the actions of the Christian establishment over the previous 13 centuries, their existence had been extremely precarious. As unlikely as it may have seemed, the fact remains that God was going to have His way despite the actions of the Church. He was going to honour His Covenant with the descendants of Abraham. Let us remind ourselves what it involved. We read in Genesis 13:14-15, “The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, 'Lift up your eyes, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see I will give to you and to your descendants for ever.'"
And now, after centuries of exile, they had returned to start to see the fulfilment of this ancient promise.