Asking questions, bringing balance, confronting predjudice

British Christians and the Atlit detention camp, Israel


The British Christian memorial at Atlit camp. The inscriptions are the names of ships that sank carrying Jewish refugees.

Unknown to many, the British Mandate administration of Palestine between 1922 and 1948 built a detention camp in which to house illegal Jewish immigrants. in 2006 a coalition of British Christian organisations supportive of Israel was responsible for erecting a memorial to illegal Jewish refugees who perished trying to reach the “Promised Land” before Israel’s independence in 1948. This guest post is an article giving the background to the erection of the memorial and what has happened to it since…

In November 1917 the British Government, via the then Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, issued a letter to Lord Rothschild indicating Great Britain’s support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in what was then known as Palestine. The letter committed the British Government not only to support the aim, but also work towards its achievement. The letter is now generally known as The Balfour Declaration.

Two years after the end of the First World War in 1920, at the San Remo Conference, the victorious Allied Powers met and confirmed the allocation of Mandates to govern territories in the Middle East that had previously come within the Ottoman Turkish Empire. Great Britain was allocated responsibility for Palestine and the Mandate agreement incorporated the wording of the Balfour Declaration. Britain had committed itself to govern Palestine in such a way that the outcome would be the establishment of a Jewish State in historic Israel. The Jewish people would return to the land originally given to them by God, in fulfilment of Biblical prophecy.

The next 28 years were fraught with difficulties. Great Britain did not act in the way that should have been expected of a nation given such an important responsibility. Israel as a nation came into being in May 1948 in spite of the actions of Great Britain, not as a result of the positive actions of a country which had made such important commitments in 1917 and 1920.

Great Britain bowed to pressure from the Arab nations in the Middle East opposed to the creation of a Jewish state. At an early stage the Mandated territory of Palestine was split into two with by far the largest portion being given to create the new Arab territory of Trans-Jordan.

Some Arabs within the remaining territory of Palestine carried out brutal attacks on Jewish residents. The evidence is clear that the British authorities failed to intervene to stop such atrocities, resulting in the deaths of many innocent Jews.

Perhaps the most heinous of British actions was to limit the numbers of Jews who could enter Palestine, despite the increasingly anti-semitic actions of Governments and individuals throughout Europe. Without a doubt many Jewish lives in Europe could have been saved had Great Britain allowed more Jewish people to settle in Palestine; had Great Britain honoured its commitments made in the Balfour Declaration and in the Palestine Mandate agreement. Compounding this was Britain’s reluctance to allow Jewish people who had survived the horrors of the Holocaust in Nazi occupied Europe to reach the safe haven of Palestine after the end of World War 2.

The prospect of freedom in their own land resulted in many Jewish people making so called ‘illegal’ journeys to try to reach Palestine. The British armed forces took all possible steps to prevent these refugees reaching their destination and those who were caught were placed in detention camps on Cyprus or at Atlit in northern Palestine.

Eventually on the 14th of May 1948, to its shame, Great Britain handed back the Mandate for Palestine to the United Nations, washing its hands of its responsibilities and commitments. On the same day David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the State of Israel. 

Some 50 years later, at the instigation of the Evangelical Sisters of Mary in Darmstadt, Christians who saw the return of the Jewish people to Israel as the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy came to realise that Christians needed to repent for the actions of the Church against the Jewish people since the early days of Christianity. They realised that a failure to acknowledge God’s continued love for the Jewish people and their role in His end-time plan was anti-semitic. Many Christians in Great Britain acknowledged that our nation’s failure to deliver the promises made in the Palestine Mandate was not just a breach of promise but was equally anti-semitic and shameful. Christian acts of repentance were held in Jerusalem and Atlit.

In 2006 a monument expressing the sorrow and shame of Christians in Great Britain for the fact that Jewish people seeking to return to Israel were held in a British detention centre was erected at Atlit by the umbrella Christian organisation Love Never Fails [LNF]. LNF is a grouping of 22 independently constituted Christian organisations which acknowledge God’s continued love for Israel and the Jewish people and see them as being part of His end-time plans.

In May this year, some 70 years after the British government prevented thousands of Jewish people from returning to their biblical homeland after the end of World War 2, a group of British Christians, organised by Rosie Ross, founder of a group called ‘Repairing the Breach’, arranged ceremonies at the port of Haifa and at Atlit. At the ceremonies the British Christians present confessed and repented for what Britain did in the period between 1945 and Israel’s independence in 1948. Nearly 200 people, mainly British Christians and Jewish victims of the British policy attended.

The main speakers were Rev Alex Jacob attending on behalf of LNF, the Marquess of Reading and Colonel Richard Kemp the former commander of British Forces in Afghanistan.

Rev Jacob’s message was ‘We know that the past cannot be changed, but it can be redeemed’.

Lord Reading said that the British Government’s action in preventing Jewish access to what was then the Mandated Territory of Palestine was a breach of its contract with the Jewish people – a contract set out in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, reiterated in the San Remo Treaty of 1920 and ratified by the Treaty of Versailles in 1923. He called on the British government to admit the mistake of its predecessors during the Mandate period in time for the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration in 2017.

Colonel Kemp called on Christians around the world to stand alongside Israel and not to condemn it unjustly.

The event this year provoked a response from one of those Jewish people who suffered under the British policies. Arie Itmar, who was a Holocaust survivor and travelled to Israel on the ship ‘Exodus’ said after the ceremonies, ‘You (the Christians) came to ask our forgiveness. Can I stand indifferent to such a human expression? Is it not expected of me and of other people like me to forgive you and to express our deep appreciation to such an act that you have taken!? Yes, we do! And I know that your act is very important and meaningful to both of us. I hope that more and more British citizens will share your opinions.’

For LNF, the events of May this year have reinforced our belief that the message of sorrow and repentance for what was done by Britain to the Jewish people during the Mandate is one that needs to be widely heard by the people of Israel. They need to know that there are Christians who stand alongside them and recognise the eternal promises made to them by God.

The LNF monument which was put up in 2006 is seen by thousands of Israelis every year and helps get this message over. The monument was designed by an Israeli artist and it was made to the order of the authorities at Atlit. It was paid for by LNF. Unfortunately the materials used for the monument have not stood the test of time and the salty sea air at Atlit has resulted in serious rust deterioration. LNF has commissioned an expert to examine the monument and he has advised that repair work would only be a short-term solution. The monument needs to be replaced. To leave it as it is suggests that we as Christians don’t care about the impression it gives to the Israelis who visit it. 

LNF has examined options for raising the money to cover the costs of a replacement monument made of stainless steel – some £11,300. There is no recourse to the original artist – he no longer trades. Member organisations of LNF have committed £8086. We need to raise a further £3414. This relatively small sum could be raised by just 342 Christians each giving £10 or 684 giving £5. Will you help us? LNF believes that this monument sends an important message to Israelis that there are Christians in the UK who do see the return of the Jewish people to Israel as fulfilment of Biblical prophecy; there are Christians in the UK who acknowledge God’s continued love for His chosen people.

If you would like to support this project, please send what you can to Love Never Fails, PO Box 157, Llandudno, LL30 9DE.



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