This is a guest post by journalist Amanda Ruth Thomas.
As a Brit myself, and one who is not Jewish but who has lived and worked in the Jewish State, it pains me to say that a real arrogance has characterised our treatment of Israel throughout history, but especially while carrying out our Mandate for Palestine.Film director Hugh Kitson devotes his life and work to the reversal of this sad fact. On behalf of Love Never Fails, an alliance of 22 British Christian organisations, Kitson apologised Sunday evening to an audience of Israelis who were touched in some way by British wrongdoing during the Mandate years, 1917-1948. The apology followed the premiere of Kitson’s film, ‘The Forsaken Promise’, re-released with Hebrew subtitles, at the Jerusalem Begin Heritage Centre, one day after the 96th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.
The film traces the Mandate period against the backdrop of Christian Zionism in the U.K., and within the context of the rise of Nazism in Europe.
“From a political standpoint, it is absolutely true to say that if it wasn’t for the British Mandate, there would be no State of Israel today,” said the award-winning film maker. “However, the eventual rebirth of the Jewish State happened in spite of Britain rather than because of us. “Because of the White Paper of 1939, which was an abrogation of the Mandate, we in Britain have Jewish blood on our hands. “The British government policy of keeping the Yishuv unarmed while arming and training the Egyptians and the Jordanians could have resulted in a genocide of the Jewish people here just three years after the end of the Holocaust.
“This betrayal resulted in the deaths of an untold number of Jewish people, who were unable to escape the Nazi Holocaust and come here to your ancient Promised Land – Eretz Yisrael. A few of those thousands of Christians from Britain who carry this sense of shame and sorrow are here tonight.”
One of those Christians, Geoffrey Orr, was a British army officer in the Royal Signals who was stationed on Mount Carmel in the final year of the Mandate. Orr, who flew to Israel especially for the occasion, sat with his head in his hands while the speeches were delivered. Indeed, it was humbling for all of us – as British people – attending the screening, alongside some of Israel’s heroes. One of these heroes, veteran Zionist Shlomo Hillel, former Knesset Speaker and founder of the Ayalon Institute, followed Mr Kitson with his own greeting. The Begin Centre’s Director, Herzi Makov, said of Hillel that the “story of his life is the story of the redemption of Israel in modern days”. The ninety year-old whose underground factory armed the fledgling Jewish resistance under the noses of 14000 British soldiers, brought a positive angle to the evening, calling the film a “masterpiece”. The grace with which Hillel spoke, characterises many of Israel’s brave, but humble warriors. These are men who do not hold hatred in their hearts towards Britain, but who simply risked their lives for their homeland.
“When I think of our relationship with Great Britain,” he said, “I try to think of people like Arthur James Balfour, without whom there would have been no Balfour Declaration, I try to think about Winston Churchill, about Wingate, and from now on I am going to add your name – Kitson – to this noble list. Thanks to you I continue to believe in mankind.”
British journalist Melanie Philips agreed with this sentiment: “It is the duty of a British patriot like Hugh Kitson to expose this shocking legacy, before it is too late.” Philips explained that the “current malice” in the British media and public towards Israel is rooted in a complete revision of history and the resulting contortion of truth, history and justice. She said that the documentary needed to be shown widely in Britain.
Keynote speaker Professor Robert Wistrich, of the Hebrew University, author of ‘The Longest Hatred’, was passionate in his retelling of the background of British anti-Semitism in the Middle Ages, continuing into the Mandate period and deep seated within the British administration. He said that the documentary contained “two rare qualities that are in short supply, not least in academia: honesty, and moral clarity”.
While Wistrich acknowledged the philo-Semitic tradition in his native Britain, born in the Protestant Reformation, and “without which there would have been no Balfour Declaration”, he outlined the pattern of British complicity in Arab revolts, from 1920 onwards, and later in the deaths of those who were unwanted by the nations. He explained that anti-Semitism was at the root of the policy of the British military, as they stood by while Jewish inhabitants of the land were brutally murdered, and the cry went up, ‘The Government is with us; kill the Jews!’ The professor conceded, at the time of the Arab uprising of 1936-39: “Yes, the British crushed the Arab revolt, [but] not because they attacked Jewish property, [or] because they took Jewish lives. It was because they challenged British authority.” We only intervened to protect ourselves.
The problem was ours: our arrogance. This was not even our land. Even at Atlit, where we imprisoned the refugees on the shores of Palestine itself, we see that the Jewish Resistance would not rest until they had rescued every one of the first group which was due to be sent back to Europe. This was, of course, the correct attitude. Britain itself had been given the awesome responsibility of “establishing a national home for the Jewish people”. And here we were, sending Holocaust survivors back to Germany. What kind of arrogance was this, that we could not only defy the mandate given to us by the League of Nations, but that we could treat the very people of God this way. Father, forgive us.
One of the most poignant lines in the entire film, is given by the late Holocaust survivor Anny Gronner, of Blessed Memory. She says of her time imprisoned in Mauritius, “They stole me five years of my life. I was twenty years old. For what? I can’t understand”. Anny’s son Danny and his family were present at the film premiere, along with Sir Ronald Cohen and Lady Sharon Harel Cohen, representing her father, the late Yossi Harel of Blessed Memory, Commander of the Exodus. Harel’s powerful interview for the documentary exposes clearly the “stupid and revolting policy” of the British, in our use of two warships to capture an old vessel containing 4500 precious Jewish lives.
Kitson, himself a descendant of King Edward I, under whose reign the British Jewish community was expelled in 1290, called for action on the part of the British government, to officially acknowledge the hundreds of thousands of lives (at least) which could have been saved, or whose deaths could have been prevented, during the Mandate years. He conceded that he felt that only one strategy would work. “The only way is to actually shame the Government,” he said. “We need exposure.” It is true that there is a pattern emerging, referred to on the night by Professor Wistrich, of the former empire beginning to crumble as we dealt badly with the Jewish nation.
By betraying our spiritual heritage, he said, Britain “betrayed its own soul”. As we divided God’s land, so the United Kingdom is becoming divided. And as we shamed the broken Auschwitz survivors by searching them and ‘disinfecting’ them on their arrival in their Promised Land, so the British leadership must be brought to its knees.
You can find out more about the film “The Forsaken Promise” on the website of HaTikvah Film Trust. You can also see a seven minute preview of the film here.