NIFI supporter Anne Heelis has visited Israel many times with a special purpose – to seek understanding and provide comfort for a dark period of British Mandate history. Anne describes some of the people she’s met and the incidents commemorated during her travels in Israel.
Visits to Israel by Anne Heelis
Once or twice I have been unable to attend NIFI events as I have been in Israel at the time of the event and this prompted a request to write a report about my visits for NIFI. Over the past few years, with God’s help, I have made extended visits in order to contact Israelis who suffered as a result of Britain’s policies and actions during the time of the British Mandate.
“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object…” the opening words of the Balfour Declaration 1917 which was subsequently incorporated into international law, giving Britain the sacred trust to create a homeland for the Jewish people in the biblical Land of Israel. Tragically Britain failed to carry out this responsibility which brought severe suffering on the Jewish people and caused the deaths of an untold number who could have escaped the Nazi holocaust in Europe if they had been allowed free entrance to their ancient homeland, as they should have been, under the terms of the Mandate. This heart-breaking part of our history is movingly documented in the film “The Forsaken Promise” produced by Hugh Kitson of Hatikvah Films http://www.hatikvah.co.uk/filminfo.php?product=103 This film has helped to open my eyes to the great sin of our nation against the Jewish people at that time.
Comfort ye my people
We all know it is easier to forgive a wrong done to us if the wrong is acknowledged by the offending party. Many Israelis still carry a wound in their hearts from the Mandate times and it is such a privilege to have opportunities to meet them, to hear their stories, and to express my sorrow for their suffering at the hands of my nation. Sometimes it leads to an ongoing friendship. On other occasions it is a one-off encounter on a bus.
Attending Annual Memorials
Over the years (along with others from Britain) I have had the opportunity to attend annual memorials commemorating sad incidents in the shared history of Israel and Britain, such as the Hadassah Convoy Memorial at Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus. In April 1948 a convoy going to this hospital was attacked by Arabs and the British Army did not intervene until it was too late. In fact some British personnel allegedly co-operated with the Arab planners of this massacre. Other soldiers who wanted to help were prevented from doing so by higher command. “The few troops at Antonius House were consistently refused permission to use their heavy machine gun and bazookas; a few bursts from these weapons could have smothered the Arab initiative.” More information from http://www.zionismisrael.com/his/Hadassah_convoy_Massacre.htm
A memorial in Sheikh Jarrah near the site of the massacre bears the names of the 78 doctors, nurses, medical students, patients, faculty members and Haganah fighters who lost their lives, including the Director General of the hospital. There is a second memorial within the hospital grounds.
“Love Never Fails” – a group of over twenty Christian ministries or organisations in Britain which stand with Israel – regularly lays a wreath at this memorial, and this year we gave a donation for the refreshments which was much appreciated by the hospital staff. Over the years we have had the privilege of meeting various relatives of those who perished in the massacre. They feel they have to keep remembering, but as one relative said publicly, the pain does not go away.
Hebron is one of Israel’s oldest cities and is mentioned 62 times in the Bible. In 1929 there was a terrible massacre of Jews in this ancient city when the British authorities failed to protect the Jewish community during the Arab uprising, resulting in violent death, torture and rape. At the 79th anniversary ceremony I met and expressed my sorrow to one of the survivors, Slomo Slonim, who at age one sustained a head wound, and was the only one in his immediate family to survive.
With a friend from Britain who lives in Israel I have visited the small Jewish Community in the centre of Hebron over the years, and taken others from Britain to see the small memorial room for the Massacre and the cemetery where the remains of those who were killed are buried. The 80th anniversary was commemorated in 2009 by a large national memorial, attended by hundreds of Israelis, and Love Never Fails gave two plaques, one for the Memorial Room and one for the Cemetery. The words on the plaques read,
In sorrow and shame
We recognise that officers of the British administration neglected their duty to protect the Jewish citizens of Hebron during the Arab uprising in 1929. ‘Father, forgive us’, we pray” Lover Never Fails Network UK Christian ministries.
Over the last three years Love Never Fails has also laid a wreath at Yad Vashem on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) with the inscription
We will remember them. British Christians who love Israel
Most readers will know that Yad Vashem is the large National Memorial and Museum for the Holocaust in Israel.
An Israeli friend told me about a number of Israelis who suffered under British rule and I realised I needed to make longer visits to Israel to seek out such people before they die. It was from this friend that I heard about P. whose brother Avraham was shot by a British sniper when he was being put into an ambulance on a stretcher. The family lived in Yemin Moshe, an area just outside the walls of the old city of Jerusalem, and as a member of the Jewish underground he defended Yemin Moshe almost single-handed against Arab attack in 1948, just a few months before the State of Israel was born. After several hours he was hit by a British sniper from the direction of the King David hotel. With the help of his brother he was being put into an ambulance near the Windmill on Yemin Moshe, when another British sniper, on the top of a high building nearby, mortally wounded him with a type of bullet which is now illegal, and he died two days later. My friend knew about the incident from a neighbour and obtained a booklet which we had translated into English, so English people could read the story. Eventually I was able to meet P. and we had a long time together when she told me the whole story of her brother’s death. She said she had never received an apology from a British person before. A few months ago a small group of British people met them at their brother’s memorial on Yemin Moshe to hear the story and express our sorrow. One of the British ladies sang a beautiful lament for Avraham and the group joined in the final lines:
“No words of sorrow can atone the cruelty of that day, but we will mourn together now, the hero of Yemin Moshe.”
The sisters responded very positively and gladly took a copy of the song. It is a pleasure to keep in touch with P. and her sister, who are always very welcoming.
Publication in English of “Where are you my child?”
Publishing a book has proved to be another way of bringing comfort to an Israeli family. An Israeli author, Aliza Ramati, asked for help to translate into English her book about her husband’s perilous journey from Europe when he was only a few weeks old. He was separated from his mother when SS Patria sank near Haifa in 1940, and his father was sent to detention camp in Mauritius by the British. More information from the publisher’s website http://zaccmedia.com/bookstore/product/where–are–you–my–child/ Aliza is immensely grateful and a warm friendship has developed with her and her husband Gidon.
Ceremonies at Haifa Port and Atlit former detention camp on 7 May 2015
Gidon was one of the Israelis who told his story at Haifa Port. It was a great privilege and immensely moving to attend these ceremonies, so well prepared by a group called “Repairing the Breach”. We met first in Haifa Port near the Dock of Tears, where Britain turned away tens of thousands of Jews who were fleeing Nazi Europe and trying to return to their biblical homeland. The sins of Britain were acknowledged and confessed and Lord and Lady Reading laid a beautiful wreath at the Dock of Tears bearing the words “With love your British friends”. Many of the British friends took the train to Atlit and then walked to the former detention camp, seeking to identify with the journey the immigrants were forced to make from Haifa Port to the camp. The larger gathering there was also a very special “coming together” of British people with Israelis (and their families), and we heard very meaningful speeches in the evening.
Please click on the following link to read a report in “The Jerusalem Post”. Then scroll down to the paragraph beginning, “There was also a very different event on VE Day …” http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Grapevine–A–birthday–party–for–thousands–402893
Here are links to two of the speeches made at Atlit Camp in the evening
Nachamu Ami – Comfort ye my people (Isaiah 40:1)
Comforting Jewish people for Britain’s betrayal of the British Mandate