The First World War proved a watershed. Britain captured Palestine from the Turks, and the government under Lloyd George had reason to be grateful to Jewish scientist Chaim Weizmann who had developed a new method of making the scarce chemical acetone for the munitions industry. The Government issued a statement of support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” – the famous Balfour Declaration – though Britain’s support was less unequivocal than it sounds, as it was making contradictory promises to the Arabs and the French at about the same time.
Nevertheless, Britain took charge of Palestine, under a Jewish High Commissioner, Sir Herbert Samuel – the first Jewish ruler in the land since New Testament times – and for a period, Jewish immigration was welcomed. Yet the opportunity didn’t last long, and many Jews were slow to take advantage of it. Within a few years, Arab opposition led to restrictions on immigration, and by the time the storm clouds of war gathered over Europe, the doors were closing. As the full horror of Nazi Germany became apparent, Jewish refugees tried to flee – only to find ‘free’ countries, to their abiding shame, turning them away. Many were returned to their deaths.
The appalling story of the Holocaust needs no repetition here. While the Nazis murdered Jews in their millions, Palestine itself escaped German invasion as the British halted Rommel’s advance at El Alamein – mercifully, since the Palestinian Arab leader and Nazi ally, Haj Amin al-Husseini, in exile in Berlin, hoped Hitler would provide “a solution to the Jewish problem in Palestine and the Arab countries, according to the same methods by which the problem was solved in Nazi Germany”.
But the promises of God are unbreakable. From the ruins of World War II emerged a remnant of the Jewish people – and, at last, international agreement to create that ‘national home in Palestine’