British Christians Repent for Broken Vows to Israel
HAIFA PORT and ATLIT, Israel -- Seventy years have passed since the British government prevented thousands of Jews from reaching their biblical homeland. Now British Christians want to apologize and make amends.
The epic feature film, "Exodus," starring Paul Newman as Ari Ben Canaan, depicts the events that happened around World War II. For 10 years, the British body overseeing pre-state Palestine turned away thousands of Jews trying to escape from Europe.
One of the film's scenes takes place between Newman and co-star Eva Marie Saint, who plays a British nurse named Katherine.
"I'm trying to save a Jewish child," Saint says. "You're late," Canaan tells her. "Lady, you're 10 years late. Almost 2 million Jewish children were butchered like animals because nobody wanted them."
Dock of Tears
The Haifa port was known as the Dock of Tears. From 1938 to 1948, the British prevented more than 90 ships, carrying tens of thousands of Jews fleeing Europe to return to their biblical homeland, from docking there.
"I'm here to commemorate those Jews who suffered or died as a result of the shameful policies of the British government of the day," Col. Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, told CBN News.
Rosie Ross, founder of a group called "Repairing the Breach, organized the day of repentance.
"We turned them away and put them in camps in Cyprus and in Mauritius and even some of them were returned to deportation camps in Germany and others who weren't turned away from their land were actually incarcerated here in this detention camp," Ross told CBN News.
British Lock Up Thousands of Jews
The British basically locked up thousands of Jewish refugees at the Atlit Detention Camp. They sprayed the newcomers with pesticide, separated the men from the women and sent them to the showers.
It's a part of history lost between World War II and the founding of the Jewish state, but Ross and other British Christians didn't forget.
"This whole period of British history is something that's been on my heart for a long time and the need for people from Britain to really confess and repent for what Britain did at that time," she explained.
Nearly 200 British Christians, Jewish victims of that time, and others came first to the Haifa port and then to the detention camp for the commemoration.
Joan Thomas from the Ebenezer Emergency Fund led participants in prayer.
"As we have taken up confessions and prayers with deep sorrow for our nations reneging on the Balfour Declaration and turning our back upon the Jewish people," Thomas prayed.
Past Can Be Redeemed
Rev. Alex Jacob with Love Never Fails, a coalition of pro-Israel Christian ministries across the U.K. told participants, "We know that the past cannot be changed, but it can be redeemed."
The British Christians handed out Bibles to mark the incident when a British ship commander ordered the burning of all books in Hebrew and Yiddish, including Jewish Bibles, as told in the book Exodus 1947, by Ruth Gruber.
Survivors attending the memorial had mixed reactions to the Christian appeal.
"If I forgive them, will it raise the dead?" Holocaust survivor Mordechai Libr, one of the Jews who arrived in Israel only to be sent back by the British told CBN News. "There is no forgiveness for this. None. Nothing in the world can bring them back," said Libr who lost his entire family in the Holocaust and survived as a child alone.
Arie Itamar, another Holocaust survivor who arrived on the Exodus ship, was glad to be part of the event.
"I wanted to meet other British people to hear from them what their opinion about the events, and now I see that not only is it a meeting but also for asking for forgiveness," Itamar said. "It is very, very important. I'm very glad to be in this event.
Quota Breached Contract
Keynote speaker Lord Simon Isaacs, the 4th Marquess of Reading, said the quota on immigration breached Britain's contract with the Jewish people.
"That contract was Balfour Declaration 1917, San Remo Treaty in 1920 and that was all ratified in the treaty in Versailles in '23," Isaacs said. "It was the contract that essentially the British government broke."
Isaacs said there were two reasons behind their behavior during the British Mandate: "appeasing the Arabs and a Labor government that was essentially anti-Jewish." He hopes the British government admits its mistake in time for the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration in 2017.
Col. Kemp says there's also a message for today.
"Not to condemn Israel when it shouldn't be condemned, but to stand up for Israel, to support Israel as Israel so often supports us," he said.