This year marks the centenary of the decision by the League of Nations to entrust Great Britain with the Mandate for Palestine. Following World War I and the partition of the Turkish Empire, the League of Nations set up the mandate system to assist the liberated territories to advance toward self-government. Some of the Arab territories, including Palestine, were not to be given independence immediately but were to be placed under the mandate system, a form of trusteeship intended to lead to complete self-government and independence.

The terms of the Mandate for Palestine, drafted by the British and endorsed by the League of Nations, quoted the Balfour Declaration in full.1 The final text of the British Mandate, which was confirmed by the Council of the League of Nations on 24 July 1922, recognised “the historical connexion of the Jewish people with Palestine”2 and called upon Great Britain to facilitate the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. Britain was charged with responsibility for putting the Balfour Declaration into effect. This encouraged the Zionist leadership in Palestine to openly declare their determination to build a Jewish state, while it created Arab resistance to Jewish enterprise in the land.

In the lead-up to the ratification of the Palestine Mandate, unexpected help came from Spain. The Spanish representative, who was to chair the session which was to decide whether to ratify the mandate, promised his support.3 But there was also opposition. The Papal Nuncio, Signor Ceretti, made a last-minute attempt to postpone discussion of the mandate, but as Chaim Weizmann was given the final say in the matter, he understandably rejected the request.4

Unfortunately, Britain failed to carry out its commitment to support the establishment of a Jewish national home, and limited immigration and land acquisition by Jews in Palestine at a critical time in their history. When the Nazis came to power in Germany and commenced the persecution, and finally, the destruction of the Jews in the 1930s and 40s, entry of Jews to Palestine was severely limited. Even in the face of the horrific evidence of the Holocaust following World War II, Britain did not moderate her severe policy toward Jews wanting to enter Palestine, many of whom were now stateless.

In the end, Britain indicated her intention to hand the Palestine issue to the newly formed United Nations. On 29 November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly met to consider the problem of Palestine and adopted the resolution before it to partition Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state. Britain announced that she would terminate the mandate over Palestine to take effect on 15 May 1948. On 14 May 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed.

In 1848, Brother Thomas wrote in Elpis Israel that Jewish colonists would return to Palestine “under the efficient protection of the British power”.5 Britain as the latter day Tarshish6 would assume a protectorate over the land of Palestine and favour the restoration of the Jews. But, like any other human government, Brother Thomas reasoned, Britain would act out of “lust of dominion, self-preservation, and self-aggrandizement”.7

Britain’s role has been decisive in the return of the Jews to Palestine. Acting in self-interest, Britain was instrumental in creating circumstances that led to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. As Brother Thomas observed: “The finger of God has indicated a course to be pursued by Britain which cannot be evaded, and which her counsellors will not only be willing, but eager, to adopt when the crisis comes upon them”.8 Britain, after World War I, was both willing and eager to accept the mandate for Palestine, but eventually she lost control of the country because she failed to recognise that the set time to favour Zion had come (Psa 102:13).

There remains, of course, a future role for Britain in the purpose of God. In Ezekiel 38, the merchants of Tarshish are among the few powers that resist the northern invader of Israel (v13). After Gog and his forces have been defeated, Tarshish will be one of the first Gentile nations to submit to the rule of the Lord Jesus Christ when the kingdom of God is established (Isa 60:9; Psa 45:12; Psa 72:10). A step toward that future role has been made by Britain’s separation from the European Union.

References:

  1. Christopher Sykes, Cross Roads to Israel, London: Mentor, 1967, p. 47.
  2. The Israel-Arab Reader, revised edition, edited by Walter Laqueur, Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1970, p. 54.
  3. Chaim Weizmann, Trial and Error, London, Hamish Hamilton, 1949, p. 363.
  4. Trial and Error, pp. 363–364.
  5. John Thomas, Elpis Israel, 14th edition revised, Birmingham: The Christadelphian, 1958, pp. 441–442
  6. For the identification of Tarshish with Britain, see Islip Collyer, Vox Dei: a Defence of Simple Faith, 3rd edition, Birmingham: The Christadelphian, 1963, pp. 131–132.
  7. Elpis Israel, p. 445.
  8. Elpis Israel, p. 442.