Forsaken for what?

'For the day of the Lord is near on all the nations; as you have done, it shall be done to you. Your reward shall return upon your head.' (Obadiah 1:15)

The Forsaken Promise, a three part documentary DVD produced by The Hatikvah Trust, makes for uncomfortable but eye-opening viewing, on a little understood period which has left a grievous stain on our nation’s history. This sequel to The Destiny of Britain (see Winter 2012 Herald) picks up where the previous documentary left off and gives a brief account of how the Balfour Declaration (the pledge that the British government made in 1917 to help establish a Jewish homeland) came to be. It goes on to demonstrate how Britain turned her back on the Jewish people and reneged on the promises she had made. If reneging on the Declaration itself wasn’t bad enough, under the British mandate the British administration in Palestine and later the British government themselves went on to do all they could to prevent the establishment of the homeland that the Declaration had intended, at times physically blocking and imprisoning Jewish folk attempting to enter Palestine. The consequences of these days were far reaching, both for the Jewish people themselves and for our nation. The film goes so far as to suggest that the end of British mandate in Palestine marked the end of the British Empire on which it was previously said ‘the sun would never go down’.

The filmmakers point to the fact that the Balfour Declaration was the fruit of the previous 200 years of evangelical interest in seeing the Jewish people restored to the land of their forefathers. The Declaration itself was put together by ten members of the British War cabinet, seven of whom were evangelical Christians who shared a common vision in regard to the restoration of the Jewish people to their land and the establishment of a Jewish state. Sadly, what should have been a high point in British history was overshadowed by the following years of the British mandate. These years consisted of a catalogue of failures, duplicitous dealings with Arab nationalist factions, a multitude of tragic events including pogroms and massacres for which Britain must assume a certain responsibility, not to mention downright obstruction of the Jewish people as a whole, which served the complete opposite purpose of those things the Balfour Declaration had set out to achieve.

Instead of being a help, Britain became a major obstacle in the establishment of a Jewish homeland and in a variety of ways contributed to the deaths of an untold number of Jewish people, many of whom had recently escaped the horrors of the Holocaust. I was shocked to learn that having escaped death camps, such as Auschwitz, Jewish people who travelled to Palestine because no other country would have them were placed for years in various detention camps either in Israel or other countries. Many were even shipped back to detention in camps in Germany.

History was never my favourite subject at school and for most of my life I have entertained the romantic (and apparently ignorant) notion that Britain had a significant and wholly positive part to play in God’s plans when it came to the Jewish people and the establishment of the Jewish homeland. While this may be true in regard to the role the church played in the previous few centuries,  the years that followed the signing of the Balfour Declaration are truly shameful. I previously saw our once great nation as a friend to the Jewish people during the persecution and difficulties they suffered in the first half of the last century and didn’t have a clue that, in many ways, the opposite was true and that we in fact both contributed and added to the continued suffering they endured. 

This documentary was a real education for me personally and I would recommend it to all who have an interest in the Jewish people, as well as the past, current and future state of our nation. As with its prequel, it is excellently produced with insightful  commentary and contributions from Jewish and British historians, theologians and eye witnesses, all of whom shed different aspects of light on this dark period of history. The eye witnesses include the captain of the Exodus 1947, the ship carrying some 4,500 Jews, many of whom were Holocaust survivors, which was cruelly seized by the British Navy who stormed the vessel and deported its passengers back to Europe – an event which in many ways marked a turning point in the fortunes of the Jewish people.

The filmmakers describe the purpose of the film as being ‘to stir up repentance for the nation’s reneging upon the Balfour declaration – the forsaken promise – and the obstructing of the purposes of God in the restoration of Israel’. Having watched this fascinating and, at times, heart-wrenching documentary, I am in total agreement with them that there is much for which we, as a nation, have to repent.        

Adam Shah                            

This article first appeared in the Summer Herald 2013

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