The term “Operation Mercy” or “Operation Grace” is used for the evacuation of Hebrew Christians in April and May 1948, when one hundred or more individuals left Palestine at the termination of the British Mandate. Those who organized this operation, Christians as well as Hebrew Christians (not least those affiliated with the International Hebrew Christian Alliance), believed that through the grace of God they had “saved” these persons from imminent danger.
Others who remained in Israel, both Hebrew Christians and Christians, believed that the evacuation was not only unnecessary but constituted treason against the grace of God that came to expression in the establishment of the State of Israel; not only did the evacuated Hebrew Christians show cowardice, they were also “unfaithful.”
Just as there was much disagreement in 1948, when the events surrounding Operation Mercy are interpreted today there are still different views. In today’s post we report on the event, without casting judgment one way or the other.
In a full issue of Mishkan devoted to the topic some of those involved in Operation Mercy share their perspective, so that we might understand them. For several articles by participants and observers, see here. For more of Gershon Nerel’s writings on the topic, see here.
Here is Rev. Hugh R. A. Jones account, edited by Kai Kjaer-Hansen – Described in Two Letters from Jerusalem, June 4 and 5, 1948
We have chosen to allow Rev. Hugh R. A. Jones, then Head of Church Missions to Jews (CMJ) in Israel, to speak in this first article. And we do it without explanatory footnotes so that the readers may form their own impression of how a person who played no insignificant part in Operation Mercy feels and thinks a few weeks after the operation has been carried out. He is filled with gratitude to God that it was possible to save lives.
So what we have is a subjective account from an eyewitness. Whether Jones’ assessment is objectively correct and provides an adequate picture of the situation – did he, for example, exaggerate the danger for Hebrew Christians in Palestine/Israel in the spring of 1948? – is a different but nevertheless important question. Jones actually dealt with that issue in April 1949, in a letter to the Archbishop of York, which Gershon Nerel includes in his article and on which I also comment in “The Organizers behind Operation Mercy” in this issue of Mishkan.
The individuals mentioned in these two letters by Jones appear in other articles and will be identified there. Roger Allison was in charge of CMJ’s work in Jaffa. (As to the Hebrew Christians Weinstock and Oko, see my article on Weinstock.)
Miss Hannah Hurnard played a major role in Jerusalem in the first stage of Operation Mercy. She was in CMJ’s employ and remained in Jerusalem in 1948 together with other Protestant missionaries. She has provided an eyewitness account about the time before and after May 15, 1948, which we shall return to in the next article. There we shall also meet some people who, to put it mildly, had quite a different view of Operation Mercy than Jones had.
In the reproduction of Jones’ letters, the headings and indentation are mine; a few obvious misprints have been corrected and a few explanatory words have been inserted in brackets.
The letter concludes with eighteen hand-written lines, in which Jones mentions that the Bishop in Jerusalem has asked if Allison could be transferred to Haifa for some time, as Reverend Moxon wishes to return home.
Operation Mercy According to Hugh R. A. Jones – Described in Two Letters from Jerusalem, June 4 and 5, 1948 – I.Z.L. stands for Irgun Zvai Leumi = National Military Organization, usually referred to as the Irgun.
Letter of June 4, 19481 by Hugh R.A. Jones, Christchurch, Jerusalem, to
Rev. C.H. Gill, M.A., 16, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, W.C.2. June 4th, 1948
Dear Mr. Gill,
I would like to try and give you some idea of the position of the Hebrew Christian as it has been crystalising in Palestine during the last six months. First let me quote from a recent Evangelical Christian Magazine, an American publication, which I think states the position pretty accurately:
The lot of the Hebrew Christian in Palestine today is deplorable. It will be more so tomorrow; and when the British depart is likely to be unbearable. Zionism is not a religious movement basically, but a political one. It is only religious in the sense that most of its leaders and its adherents hate like poison those Jews who have embraced Christianity . . . It is confirmed by a writer in the current issue of “World Dominion” who says in an article on “A Christian View of Palestine”: ‘There are Hebrew Christians whose fate is pitiable; they hardly dare to be mentioned, such is the hatred of their Zionist brethren. A Christian Jew may not be admitted to Palestine on a Jewish immigration quota: Jews who are atheists or communists, or who reject the fundamentals of Judaism, are freely admitted as Jews. The Jewish Agency has ruled that Judaism is a purely racial concept, with one exception – no Christian, whatever his ancestry, may belong to the Jewish race.’
We have made the prediction that Christian work amongst Jews in Palestine will largely cease when the British depart, and the fate of those who love the Lord Jesus Christ and are left behind may yet shock the moral conscience of the world . . . The Jew of Palestine knows no tolerance for the Christian of his own race, however much he may talk about religious freedom and liberty of conscience in New York or Toronto.
Hebrew Christians Subjected to Thorough Cross-examination
I think the experience of a number of our own converts which I have described to you during the past few months adequately bear out this point of view.
The Hebrew Christian who escaped wounded into Christ Church compound from an Arab mob in December; the Okos who were bottled up in Christ Church for several months; the experiences of Mr. J. at the hands of Stern Gang, all go to show that the lot of the Hebrew Christian in Palestine, at any rate for the present, is an extremely difficult one. More recently I have heard from Roger Allison that Weinstock has not been allowed to live in his flat on the Jaffo Tel Aviv border and spent seven days wandering the streets of T.A. with his family before he could find a temporary abode.
Of the twenty or so Hebrew Christian members of our congregation who were living in the Hospital compound, several were taken on a number of occasions and subjected to a pretty thorough cross-examination, either by the Haganah or the I.Z.L. It became clear that three at least of them were in very real danger from the I.Z.L and in the end we managed to move them from the Jewish area and to put them in a neutral area – Zone B. – where we had to keep them for about three weeks, incidentally costing us LP [Palestinian Pounds] 80 for hotel bill, until we could get them moved to St. George’s on May 1st. As time went on it became clear that the most satisfactory thing to do was to try and evacuate the bulk of the remaining Hebrew Christian members of our congregation, totalling about thirty. The bulk of them were living in the Jewish area and had no prospects of work after the end of the Mandate.
Problems Getting Enough Visas
Together with other Missionary Societies we brought the fate of these people to the notice of our Home Committees and eventually the Home Office granted fourteen visas for Hebrew Christians in Palestine considered to be in difficulty or danger. I managed to obtain five of these visas for members of our Hebrew Christian staff and one for a member of the congregation. Fourteen visas, however, were wholly inadequate to meet the problem and a meeting was held on April 12th in the Secretariat in the office of the Chief Secretary, who was present with his Under-Secretary, together with the Bishop, Canon Witton-Davies, Rev. Clark Kerr of the Church of Scotland and myself. The Bishop explained to the Chief Secretary that many more than fourteen visas were needed and said that at least fifty, probably more, Hebrew Christians throughout Palestine were in need of being evacuated. As the Government had received from the Foreign Office no permission to grant an unlimited number of visas, the C.S. [Chief Secretary] agreed to wire the Home Office and explain the situation. About a fortnight later we were informed that any Hebrew Christian considered to be in danger could be granted a temporary visa for the United Kingdom. We felt that the majority of the Hebrew Christians of our congregation should be granted visas and as time was getting very short it meant that we had to get moving pretty quickly; however, with the invaluable help of Ronald Adeney, we gradually got all their papers straightened out and necessary laisser-passers, etcetera, issued and visa-ed. …….
May 1 – The First Stage of Operation Mercy
During the morning Miss Hurnard, with her Morris 8 van, collected ten Hebrew Christians from our Hospital compound and deposited them at one of the two assembly points on Zone B. Normally there would have been difficulty in taking people out of the Jewish area past the Haganah road check, as no-one was allowed to enter or leave the Jewish area without official Jewish sanction. It happened that the man in charge of the road check on this morning had his mother, a Hebrew Christian, amongst the party of the ten evacuees so he winked an eye at all that was going on!
Miss Hurnard completed her good work by conveying, the three Hebrew Christians from the hotel in Zone B., which was in rather an exposed situation, to the same rendez-vous where the others had been assembled from the Jewish area. Altogether seventeen persons, twelve of them of our own congregation, were collected at this spot. The second group were assembled in a hotel in Talbia (“Stag” Zone); a total of nine were picked up at this point. At about half-past three a three-tonner appeared, coming from the German Colony, where the first Hebrew Christian, a Roman Catholic, had been collected. The first group was then loaded and I followed behind in the station wagon with A. and the Gentile wife of one Hebrew Christian with an infant-in-arms.
We then proceeded through Zone B to assembly point number 2, where the rest were put in the army vehicle apart from one mother and small son who were taken into my station wagon. We then proceeded to the exit of Zone B in Julian’s Way where we linked up with the army officer who preceded us in another station wagon; then we proceeded down Julian’s Way, past the Mamilla crossroads and up St. Louis’ Way, past Barclay’s Bank, a station wagon before and behind the three-tonner. Words of amazement came from the two mothers in my station wagon who had not been through this desolate part of Jerusalem since the beginning of the trouble in December. All went past Barclay’s Bank and down the hill past Notre Dame towards the Damascus Gate. We were waved past the road checks and so to St. George’s without incident.
Here we met one snag; the three-tonner was too big to drive in through the narrow entrance into the courtyard, and so, after much manoeuvring, the lorry was backed into the entrance and the Hebrew Christians hustled out as quickly as possible, as we did not wish this operation to be viewed by any stray Arabs in the vicinity. While this operation was going on, Miss Hurnard turned up with one Mishkan 61.indb 8 11/16/2009 9:00:10 AM 9operation mercy according to hugh r. a. jones of the Hebrew Christian women who, in the flurry of loading at one of the assembly points, had got left behind in a room upstairs!
This operation was completed by Canon Witton-Davies and myself signing a receipt for the safe delivery of twenty-seven Hebrew Christians at St. George’s on route for England. This receipt was delivered by the army officer to the Arab Higher Committee, who wished to have a Gate guarantee that they had got safely past the road checks at the Damascus Gate and that nothing untoward had happened to them during their short but pregnant journey. The same evening that the Hebrew Christians were taken to St. George’s a house curfew was placed on the whole of the Jewish area and a search was made to check up on those who had not registered for national service! There are no mistakes in God’s time table.
May 7 – The Second Stage of Operation Mercy
The party was kept at St. George’s until the following Friday when they were escorted by police armoured cars in two pick-ups to Kalandia aerodrome. Again nothing untoward happened on the way, though a group of Arabs had assembled at one point of the journey where the road runs through a small Arab village. They seemed to have got wind that something unusual was going to pass through that morning, but they took no more than a quizzical notice of the convoy. We did have to wait long on the air-field before a couple of Dakotas came down. The party, which now totalled forty – thirty-five Hebrew Christians and five English nuns – were taken on board and were soon speeding on their way to Haifa, marking the end of stage 1 of Operation Mercy, through all of which, I think, the good Hand of our God had been evident, undertaking and guiding in a very wonderful way.
I am afraid this evacuation has meant a lot of extra work for you and I realise that the planning for the future of these people will be no easy business. We feel that this has been for us a kind of spiritual Dunkirk. Since the beginning of the troubles last December, no fewer than forty-three Hebrew Christians, including eight children, belonging to Christ Church congregation, have left the country. Temporarily, at any rate, it marks a considerable retreat in our work, but it has been quite clear to us that there was no alternative course, though I realise that we cannot sit down and accept this as a permanent defeat. God must have a plan and a purpose for the future of work amongst Jews in this country, though, until this present chaos sorts itself out it may not be clear to us just what are the next steps to be taken. We can only wait patiently in prayer and expectancy for His guidance and leading.
A letter from the British consul warned Jones to leave Jerusalem; he stayed (Courtesy of Christ Church)
Prayer: Lord, you alone know the times and seasons of our lives, as individuals, societies and nations. Everything is under you divine providence, and you oversee the flow of human history. Whilst we rejoice at the formation of the State of Israel in 1948, we grieve over the loss of life and the unceasing hostilities that have continued to this day. We thank you for the preservation of life and the safety of those who left under “Operation Mercy”, but we regret the loss of a communal testimony to Yeshua by his Jewish followers that took a generation to rebuild. Thank you for the vibrant community of Messianic Jews that exists in the Land of Israel today. Strengthen the work of their hands we pray, as they share the Good News of Yeshua, live lives according to Torah, and make peace, seek reconciliation and pursue justice with all. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen.
Gershon Nerel’s articles on Operation Mercy (Grace) – 1948
- (1) ‘Operation Mercy’ on the Eve of the Establishment of the State of Israel: The Evacuation of Jewish Yeshua Disciples from the Land, Part 1, ZOT HABRIT 20 (2004) 11-12 (Hebrew). Operation Mercy Evacuation of JBY, Part 1 (Hebrew), ZOT HABRIT, 20 (2004) 11-12
- (2) ‘Operation Mercy’ before the Establishment of the State of Israel: The Aftermath of the Evacuation of Jewish Believers in Yeshua from Eretz Israel in 1948, Part 2, ZOT HABRIT, 21 (2007) 11-12 (Hebrew). Operation Mercy in 1948, Part 2, ZOT HABRIT, 21 (2007) 11-12 (Hebrew)
- (3) ‘Operation Grace’ in 1948: The Theological Position of Messianic Jews vs. the Historic Churches, Part 3, ZOT HABRIT, 23 (2009) 11-12 (Hebrew). Operation Grace Theological Positions, Part 3, (Hebrew), ZOT HABRIT 23 (2009) 11-12
- (4) “Operation Mercy”: The Evacuation of Messianic Jews from Eretz Israel in 1948, IGGUD – SELECTED ESSAYS IN JEWISH STUDIES, vol. 2 (History of the Jewish People and Contemporary Jewish Society), World Union of Jewish Studies, Jerusalem 2009, 83-109 (Hebrew). Operation Mercy Evacuation of Messianic Jews (Hebrew), IGGUD, v. 2, Jerusalem 2009
- (5) Operation Mercy before Establishment of State of Israel, MISHKAN 61 (2009) 21-32. Operation Mercy before Establishment of State of Israel MISHKAN 61 (2009) 21-32
- (6) «Operation Gnade» oder die Evakuierung messianischer Juden aus Eretz Israel im Jahr 1948, NACHRICHTEN AUS ISRAEL, Dec. 2009, 8. Operation Gnade die Evakuierung messianischer Juden aus Eretz Israel 1948, NAI, Dec. 2009
- (7) L’«Opération grâce» ou l’évacuation des Juifs messianiques hors d’Eretz Israël en 1948, NOUVELLES D’ISRAEL, Dec. 2009, 8. LOperation grace evacuation des Juifs messianiques DEretz Israel 1948, NDI Dec. 2009, 8
- (8) «Operaţiunea Harul» sau evacuarea evreilor mesianici din Ereţ Israel în anul 1948, STIRI DIN ISRAEL, Dec. 2009, 8 (Romanian). Operatiunea Harul sau evacuarea evreilor mesianici din Eret Israel 1948, SDI, Dec. 2009
- (9) «Operatie Genade» of de evacuatie van Messiaanse Joden uit Eretz Israel in 1948, NIEUWS UIT ISRAEL, Dec. 2009, 8 (Dutch).Operatie Genade evacuatie Messiaanse Joden uit Eretz Israel 1948, NUI Dec. 2009,8 (Dutch)
- (10) Response to Kai Kjaer-Hansen’s Articles on ‘Operation Mercy,’ MISHKAN 62 (2010) 69-74. Response to Kai Kjaer-Hansen Article on Operation Mercy, MISHKAN 62 (2010) 69-74