From Partition to Statehood: The Unheralded Christians Who Aided Israel’s Rebirth 75 Years Ago
By: David Parsons, ICEJ Vice President & Senior Spokesman
The UN Partition Plan, approved on November 29, 1947, paved the way for Israel’s independence just six months later. It also enraged Arab leaders, who launched an invasion to choke the Jewish State at its birth. A review of these momentous events reveals the power and intrigue of great nations pitted against courageous Zionists, who triumphed with help from some unheralded Christian friends.
An Unworkable Mandate
With Arab-Jewish clashes mounting in Palestine, Great Britain suddenly announced in February 1947 that its Mandate was “unworkable” and referred the matter to the United Nations. Eleven member states were appointed to the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) to conduct an inquiry and propose a solution. UNSCOP came to Palestine to investigate in June 1947. Mandate authorities tried to hinder their fact-finding mission, but the committee resourcefully gathered information from all parties, including the Jewish underground movements. They were impressed with Jewish advances in the Land. They met in Beirut with intransigent Arab leaders who had refused to appear in Jerusalem. Finally, before retiring to Geneva to draft a report, the committee visited some of the 250,000 Jews in European refugee camps, who unanimously declared their longing for Eretz Israel—the Land of Israel.
The plight of these Jewish refugees weighed heavily on the committee. Desperate efforts to bring them to Palestine were blocked by Britain’s pro-Arab policies. The sad ordeal of the ship Exodus 1947, packed with 4,500 destitute Holocaust Survivors, caught UNSCOP’s attention that summer.
Rev. John Grauel
Rev. John Grauel, a Christian sympathizer with the Zionist cause, volunteered as the only non-Jewish crew member and witnessed the British assaults on Jews aboard the Exodus 1947 off Haifa. He rushed to Jerusalem and gave compelling testimony before the committee—how the ship was rammed seven times, then boarded by armed sailors who shot and clubbed to death defenseless boys. “The Exodus had no arms,” Rev. Grauel insisted. “All they fought with were potatoes, canned goods, and their bare fists.” The refugees eventually were returned to Germany. The tragedy stretched out several months before a worldwide audience, fueling the committee’s growing sense of its humanitarian mission.
Rev. William Hull
Rev. William Hull also impacted UNSCOP that summer, especially the Canadian delegate, Justice Ivan Rand. Also from Canada, Rev. Hull had ministered in Jerusalem since 1935 and knew firsthand of the injustices visited upon the Yishuv by British and Arab alike. Over dinner one evening, Justice Rand listened to Hull’s views and later admitted their encounter clarified his understanding of the dispute and gave him new appreciation for Zionist endeavors. Hull also presented his biblical, pro-Zionist views in a letter to the full committee. Justice Rand was a respected member of the committee and, since Canada was part of the Commonwealth, his anti-British leanings held great sway. One Jewish Agency representative called Rand “the conscience of the committee.”
Reflecting Hull’s influence, Rand took a firm position: “The pledge concerning a Jewish national home has never been fulfilled … For the past 10 years, immigration and land purchases have been artificially restricted, and the Jewish community has had to remain static. It’s clear that were it not for the White Paper (of 1939) and the land legislation, the Jews would have had far larger areas than they hold today.”
Guatemalan Ambassador Jorge Garcia-Granados, a member of UNSCOP and veteran of his own country’s struggle for freedom, understood the real meaning of the Jewish return. In The Birth of Israel, Granados writes of UNSCOP’s enthusiastic welcome in Tel Aviv that summer:
I contemplated the enormous mass of humanity filling the square and overflowing into the streets … still applauding, still cheering. … It was then that I first really realized what the coming of our committee meant to the Jewish people. We held in our hands life or death.
The majority of UNSCOP recommended ending Britain’s role in Palestine, partitioning it into separate Jewish and Arab states with economic ties and placing Jerusalem under an international trusteeship. The UN Partition Plan (Resolution 181) was adopted by the UN General Assembly on November 29, 1947.
The Jewish Agency accepted this decision, but the Arabs launched an armed resistance to the plan. By the time the British Mandate ended on May 14, 1948, Arab-Jewish fighting had resulted in a de facto partition of Eretz Israel, and the Jewish people were poised to declare the rebirth of their ancient nation.
As May 14 dawned, the last British commander in Jerusalem lowered the Union Jack and departed for Cyprus. At 4:00 p.m., Ben-Gurion rose to address the crowd gathered inside the Tel Aviv Art Museum. The moral and legal foundations for the new State had been laid by “the Balfour Declaration, the UN Partition Resolution, the sacrifice of the Zionist pioneers, and the torment suffered by Jews in recent years.” Reading from Israel’s Declaration of Independence, he proclaimed:
The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious, and national identity was formed. Here they achieved independence and created a culture of national and universal significance. Here they wrote and gave the Bible to the world. Exiled from the Land of Israel, the Jewish people remained faithful to it in all the countries of their dispersion, never ceasing to pray and hope for their return and the restoration of their national freedom.
The Jewish State would reach out in peace to all its neighbors and take its rightful place among the community of nations.
Later that day, the United Nations met again in New York to consider last-minute Arab proposals designed to avert impending Jewish statehood. Amid the debate, the American delegation was surprised by whispers that President Truman had just given de facto recognition to the new State of Israel at 6:11 p.m. Moments later, the US delegate went to the rostrum to officially confirm American recognition.
There was no further need for the special UN session. But before adjourning, Ambassador Garcia-Granados, just months earlier a key member of UNSCOP, arose to announce Guatemala as the second country to recognize the new State of Israel.
A Day of Celebration Turned Dark
November 2022 marked 75 years since the UN approval of that Partition Plan by a margin of 33 votes to 13, with 10 abstentions. Sadly, what should have been a day of celebration for Israel and her friends worldwide turned into a day of global protests against Zionism and for passing numerous anti-Israel resolutions at the UN headquarters in New York. Gil Kapen, executive director of the American Jewish International Relations Institute-B’nai B’rith International, said the passage of those resolutions means the nations of the world are paying the office of the UN Secretary General to publish and distribute daily strident antisemitic materials.
It is time for this travesty to stop, and for November 29 to be turned back into a day to celebrate Israel’s founding, not to call for its demise. This is especially true for Christians when we consider the unique role certain Christian figures played in passing the UN Partition Plan and the rebirth of Israel 75 years ago.
Partner with the ICEJ and support Israel.