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A Mission to Palestine, 1948

Photo: Archives / AFSC

In a highly-detailed, 81-page report, James Vail, Kendall Kimberland and Edgar Castle describe their April-to-May journey across capitals of the Middle East. They traveled with two main goals: a) examine the possibilities of organizing a continuing and increasing element of reconciliation between Arabs and Jews, and b) inquire into the feasibility and means of securing a truce in the sacred area of the Old City of Jerusalem and the immediately adjacent Mount of Olives.

In addition, they sought to push for “international action in the immediate appointment of a governor for Jerusalem, supported by a neutral force of disciplined police, who would preserve an internationally governed enclave of Jerusalem from the horrors of civil war.”

The report details many meetings with cleric, educators, social service executives and British civil servants, always insisting that “any activity Friends might organize would have to be associated impartially with both communities.”

The AFSC trio shows great concern for preserving the holy sites of Jerusalem, sacred to three religions. Their text ranges from the steely-eyed to the poetic but (in hindsight) prophetic: “I remember at the time thinking of Jerusalem as a lighthouse on a rock in an angry sea, unshifting, solid, visible. People have lost faith in the certainty of anything but further misery.” (p.40)

By the end of the trip, the writers sound optimistic, reporting warm receptions by “people on all sides, Jews and Arabs in high offices, particularly the Secretary General of the Arab League, Christian leaders and many others.” And yet, the final page returns to “the fate of 500,000 homeless Arab exiles…refugees flying from another refugee people.”

Then, with shocking immediacy, the final paragraph concludes: “I had not written three words of these notes before the radio announced the news of Bernadotte’s assassination, surely the consummation of evil.” [Note: Folke Bernadotte, a Swedish diplomat who had arranged the release of 31,000 Jewish prisoners from German concentration camps in WW II, was at the time serving as U.N. Security Council mediator for the Arab-Israeli conflict. He was traveling the region with a peace-plan proposal, but was assassinated by a Zionist group called the Lehi, which opposed his plan.)

Created Date 
Feb 10, 2016