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Section IX: Middle East Missions

Part 1: Palestine, 1935-1959, and Middle East General, 1935-1959

Publisher's Note


The first part of the publication of the CMS Middle East Mission papers commences with material covering the Palestine Mission, 1935-1959. After years of growth and development from 1849 to 1934 a great many changes took place in the mission and in the politics of the country and its neighbours in this period.

By 1910 CMS work was divided into five districts, Jerusalem (with Gaza), Jaffa, Nazareth, Nablus and Transjordan. Medical work continued, notably at the hospitals at Gaza (where Robert Stirling had worked from 1893 to 1917) and at Jaffa, which was founded by Miss C A Newton and bequeathed by her to CMS in 1908.

The chief educational institutions maintained by CMS were the Preparandi Institution and Bishop Gobat School in Jerusalem; a girls’ boarding-school with teacher training at Bethlehem; the orphanage at Nazareth; the Jerusalem Girls’ College with Miss Winifred Coate as its headmistress in the 1940s, who, after the proclamation of the state of Israel in 1948, became well-known for her work in the Arab refugee camps in Zerka, and some forty-eight elementary schools of which the largest was at Gaza. There were also eleven Arab pastors working in association with the Palestine Native Church Council.

The Jerusalem Conference for Workers in Moslem Lands of 1924 had recommended that there should be an inter-mission education committee to cover Christian education in the Middle East missions and stressed the importance of special training in linguistics and Islam. It believed that missionaries should concentrate on reform in infant welfare, child marriage, child labour, industrial conditions, temperance, traffic in women and children and cruelty to animals. Its recommendation for the publication and distribution of Christian literature in a three-hundred page report “Christian Literature in Moslem Lands” resulted in two missionaries, Temple Gairdner and Constance Padwick being sent out to start work in this field.

In 1927 the Near East Christian Council had been formed, membership of which was open to any church body, missionary society or other Christian agency. Its committees advised on evangelism, education and medical work.

The last major missionary conference of this period was a meeting of the International Missionary Council at Tambaram, Madras, December 1938. The report by the secretary of the council, Rev H H Riggs on how to disseminate the Christian message to Muslims was greeted with enthusiasm. It was decided that anything which would prove difficult for Moslems to accept about Christianity should be omitted and Muslims should not be publicly criticized for those things they held sacred. In this light Christian literature should be revised and an attempt to find common ground between Christianity and Islam should be emphasized. One of the main problems was that Muslims associated Christianity with Westernism and European Imperialism and every effort would have to be made to change this view.

The Palestinian Native Church Council had been established in 1905 to give Palestinians more say in the running of their church and this led to more Palestinian clergy serving in the diocese. However the Council went through a period of dissatisfaction with CMS headquarters in London in the 1920’s. The Council had hoped for and had been working towards independence but this was not granted as CMS wanted to see complete diocesanisation of work in Palestine. However the PNCC flourished due to self-support and by 1942 the money granted to the PNCC by London had been reduced in twenty-five years from £1500 per annum to £100. Moreover in 1945 the Archbishop of Canterbury approved “Regulations for the Palestinian Arab Evangelical Episcopal Community” which gave identity to the PNCC.

Mission work expanded from 1935 to 1938 and Dr Wilson Cash, CMS Secretary wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1932 with details on the progress made: there had been a notable number of conversions, there were forty missionaries working in sixteen centres with thirteen schools and four hospitals.

From 1932 to 1942 Right Rev Francis Graham Brown served as Bishop of Jerusalem and in this period much of his attention was given to the improvement of education in Palestine with the founding of Bishop’s School in Amman and the development of St Luke’s School in Haifa.

Mrs J MacInnes (widow of Bishop MacInnes) was Secretary of the Palestine mission from 1931, Rev Eric Bishop was among the senior missionaries and Rev Donald Blackburn took hold of the situation in Transjordan from 1934. The Bishop Gobat school was extended in 1934 and voluntary night schools for the illiterate were organized by members of the Jaffa church. Teacher training was available at the Jerusalem Girls’ College under Miss Winifred Coate and the training of village evangelists took place. Although evangelization had been modified for the Moslem listener it was still very difficult for a Moslem to covert and they faced expulsion from their family and society. On a visit in 1937 the CMS Africa Secretary, Rev H D Hooper was impressed with the running of the mission and in particular with the work of the women missionaries. He did however note that CMS grants had been withdrawn for elementary schools.

However the problems between the Arabs and the Jews escalated and this would cause the mission to take a new direction over the war years and after.

The history of the Palestine problem originated with the disintegration of the Turkish Ottoman Empire towards the end of WW I. Palestine had been placed under the administration of Great Britain under the Mandates System adopted by the League of Nations. All of the Mandated Territories became independent states except for Palestine. Here the primary objective was the implementation of the Balfour Declaration issued by the British government in 1917 which expressed support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”.

During the years of the Mandate there had been large scale immigration of Jews into Palestine, mostly from Eastern Europe and Palestinian demands for independence and resistance to Jewish immigration led to a rebellion in 1936 which lasted until 1939.

It began with a Palestinian general strike from April to October 1936 which started in Nablus and spread rapidly to other parts. Although it was initially organized by workers, religious leaders were soon involved leading to the formation of the Arab Higher Committee (HAC). The demands of the strike were: an end to Jewish immigration, a prohibition of land sales to Jews and national independence. There followed bombing of the Trans Arabian pipeline, attacks on trains, Jewish settlements and even on individual Jews. Violence abated for around a year after the strike was called off and the Peel Commission discussed and eventually recommended partition of Palestine. However, on the rejection of this proposal violence resumed in autumn 1937 and continued in 1938, eventually ending in 1939. The British response to the revolt and ensuing violence was to clamp down on Arab dissent. Arabs were imprisoned without charge or trial, curfews were enforced and houses demolished. The “Haganah”, a Jewish paramilitary organization supported the British in their efforts to control order and British security forces cooperated with it by forming the Jewish Settlement Police, Jewish Auxiliary Forces and Special Night Squads.

The revolt gave birth to the Arab Palestinian identity and was instrumental in the British government issuing the White Paper of 1939 which renounced Britain’s intent of creating a Jewish National Home in Palestine as proclaimed in the 1917 Balfour Declaration.

In the early years of WW II there was a brief period of British-Jewry military cooperation but the British government strictly enforced the immigration provisions of the pro-Arab 1939 White Paper meaning that European Jews found it difficult to enter Britain at a time of their greatest need. Palestine itself was fairly peaceful during WW II as the major concern of both Arabs and Jews was the approach of the Italians and Germans towards Suez.

After WW II the Palestine problem was handed over to the United Nations which decided that it should be partitioned into two independent states, one Palestinian Arab and the other Jewish.

Fighting between the Arab and Jewish communities of began in November 1947 immediately after the UN decision to create a Jewish state. The Arab states declared they would greet any attempt to form a Jewish state with war. Before the British withdrew the Arab League could not invade but started a civil war. Initially the Jews were better organized and had a strong economy whilst the Arab economy collapsed as the hostilities widened. Many thousands of Palestinian Arabs fled to neighbouring states as the Jews prepared for an Arab invasion.

On May 14 1948 the British withdrew from Israel and a State of Israel was declared which was immediately recognized by the US and the Soviets. The Arab League members consisting of Egypt, Transjordan, Syria and Lebanon declared war, renounced the UN partition decision and claimed the right of self-determination of the Arabs over the whole of Palestine. The Arab armies were initially successful but met very tough Jewish resistance. The Israel Defense Forces were formed whose numbers were strengthened by a large number of Jewish immigrants, many of them Holocaust survivors.

In March 1949 a ceasefire was agreed and Israel’s interim borders, later known as the Green Line, were established. Israel held the area round Galilee and Negev whilst Syria held a strip of territory along the Sea of Galilee. The Lebanese occupied a small area at Rosh Hanikra and the Egyptians held the Gaza strip, whilst the Jordanians occupied East-Jerusalem and the West Bank. The State of Israel was recognized by Britain and in May 1949 Israel was admitted as a member of the United Nations. The issue of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is one which continues today with no end in sight to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

In January 1949 Israel held its first elections with David Ben-Gurion as Prime Minister. In 1950 the Jewish parliament, the Knesset passed a law which granted all Jews the right to migrate and settle in Israel. In the space of a few years the Jewish population doubled and by 1958 the population had risen to two million, most of the immigrants living in temporary camps or shacks built by the government.

As political tension in the Palestine area escalated and the conflict between the Arabs and the Jews became more serious the work of the mission was badly affected and the village clinics of Nablus hospital had to be closed for some time. The Bishop Gobat school was the only school in Jerusalem which did not close in the summer term.

Only Transjordan, which had remained a wholly Arab state, remained comparatively peaceful. Amman was growing rapidly as the seat of government and a centre of commerce and Rev Donald Blackburn was able to develop the provision of education here. In 1942 he wrote that in order for evangelization to succeed in a Moslem world it was necessary for missionaries to be specially trained and to have some background of Arabic and Moslem belief. The Newman School of Missions, the school of languages and Islamic Studies set up by the CMS missionary Eric Bishop, a noted Arabist and an ecumenical enthusiast, was instrumental in helping to achieve this goal and was still working effectively in 1948.

CMS became actively involved in helping the Palestinian refugees as a large number of these were Christians, educated in Christian schools and colleges in Palestine. In the Gaza district, which was under Egyptian administration, CMS work was centred round the CMS Hospital at Gaza which provided care for sick and wounded refugees from the nine camps. In Transjordan, which had received most of the Arab refugees, the CMS missionaries at Zerka, Salt and El Husn were all engaged in relief work. The Zerka Refugee Relief Centre, under the leadership of Miss Winifred Coate, was mainly concerned with helping the children, providing play centres and education. She also started occupational work with the men and women, organizing pottery and basket making classes and sewing classes for the women and girls. At Es Salt Miss Morris’s centre for the distribution of milk and soup and baby welfare work flourished with the help of the evangelist, Sitt Cecilia Istafan. Miss Grimwood at El Husn worked with the Red Cross to provide village schools. Nablus in Arab Palestine (administered by the State of Jordan) was fortunate in having Miss Rickard who was involved with the Red Cross in organizing clothing for the refugees.

CMS work in Israel during this period only took place in Nazareth at the CMS Orphanage. Miss Wilkinson was head of the orphanage which continued to work not only with children but also took in Moslem refugees from nearby villages.

In 1951 it was decided that the Jerusalem and East Mission should take over the work of the CMS in Israel and the following properties were handed over: the Nazareth Orphanage, the Jaffa School and the Lydd Mission House.

Changes also affected the CMS medical missions. The hospital at Gaza was taken over by the Southern Baptist Mission of America in 1955, the Jaffa hospital was sold, while the United Nations took over the financing of the work at Salt.

The properties retained by CMS were let out, the proceeds being used to pay taxes and repairs and the Society’s contribution towards the salary of Colonel Clarke who was specially appointed to supervise the property of the three Anglican Societies in Israel. After Colonel Clarke’s return to England in 1952 Mr E Gavison, an Israeli lawyer was appointed to administer the property.

The mission was operating against the background of major political events such as the Suez Crisis of 1956.

The Suez Canal had been opened in 1869, financed by the French and Egyptian governments. It was strategically important to the British and other European powers as it was the ocean link with Britain’s colonies and in 1875 Britain bought the Egyptian shares of the operating company obtaining partial control of the canal’s operations and sharing it with mostly French private investors. In 1888 the Convention of Constantinople declared the canal a neutral zone under British protection and it was agreed that international shipping should pass freely through the canal in time of war and peace. However in both World Wars Britain and France closed the canal to non-Allied ships. In 1948 the British Mandate of Palestine ended and British forces withdrew from the region and the UN Special Committee on Palestine recognised the Jewish state of Israel. This was not however recognized by the Arab League and led to the first 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

Since 1948 and the establishment of the state of Israel, shipments to and from Israel had been intercepted and destroyed while trying to pass through the canal.

In the early 1950’s in the light of the Cold War and the importance of oil from the Middle East, Britain reassessed its role in the area and its military strength around the canal was greatly strengthened. In 1951 Egypt abrogated the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 which had given Britain a lease on the Suez base for twenty years. Britain refused to withdraw from Suez and there followed increasing hostility towards Britain and British troops in Egypt.

During 1953 and1954 Britain tried to mend Anglo-Egyptian relations and in October 1954 they agreed to a phased evacuation of British troops from the Suez base. However throughout 1955 and 1956 the internal and foreign policies of President Nasser of Egypt resulted in further hostility between the two countries and things were brought to a head when Nasser in May 1956 recognised the People’s Republic of China and nationalized the Suez canal.

The British decided on military intervention and made a pact with the French and Israeli governments to regain control of the Suez canal. The US government attempted to reduce tension but in October 1956 Operation Kadesh began with the Israelis landing in the Sinai Peninsula. To support the invasion Britain and France had stationed planes in Cyprus and Malta and in early November forces were parachuted into El Gamil Airfield and surrounding areas. The forces progressed and the invasion went well.

However the US was perturbed by events, fearing a wider war when the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact nations threatened to support Egypt and attack London, Paris and Tel Aviv. Saudi Arabia also started an oil embargo against France and Britain. The US forced a cease fire and put financial pressure on Britain to end the invasion. A cease fire was announced on 6 November and troops began withdrawing. A United Nations Emergency Force was created and sent to Egypt to keep the peace.

In 1957 the Diocese of Jerusalem was elevated to an archdiocese under the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury. In the following year Najib Cubain, the first Arab bishop, was consecrated Bishop of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria including East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Contents include:

  • Correspondence between Miss Mabel C Warburton, the Middle East Adviser in London and Archdeacon A C MacInnes, Secretary of the mission including details on hospitals, schools, missionaries, war damage, finances and evacuation
  • Minutes of meetings and conferences discussing CMS policy
  • Reports of Rev Donald Blackburn on the Transjordan mission
  • Report by Miss Winifred A Coate on women’s work, 1957
  • CMS Newsletters for Jordan, Palestine and Transjordan
  • Reviews of the CMS relief work for Arab refugees with papers on Miss Winifred A Coate’s work at the Zerka Relief Centre
  • Letters and reports from Miss Mabel C Warburton, Middle East Adviser on the Arab refugee situation
  • Correspondence with the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief regarding CMS work with Arab refugees, 1949
  • Letters from P E J and Margaret Cutting of the Gaza Hospital on air raids and casualties, 1948
  • Report by Rev Donald Blackburn on Arab refugees at Nablus and Es Salt, Transjordan, 1948
  • Extracts of letters from missionaries on the sufferings of the Palestinian Arab refugees, 1948
  • Report by Mabel C Warburton on refugee rehabilitation projects at Zerka, 1955
  • Letters from the Secretary in London to Rev E F F Bishop of the Newman School of Missions, Jerusalem
  • Minutes of meetings of the Finance Committee and correspondence regarding financial matters
  • Minutes of meetings of the Provisional Diocesan Board of Education
  • Correspondence with the Jerusalem and the East Mission and the Finland Missionary Society regarding the transfer of CMS property including Nazareth Orphanage, Girls’ School at Jaffa and the Lydda Mission House
  • Correspondence with Mr E Gavison, lawyer appointed by CMS to deal with the transfer of CMS property
  • Notes on a visit to Israel by Rev C S Milford, West Asia Secretary, 1952
  • Report on CMS property in Israel by Colonel Clarke and Miss Wilson, 1952
  • Letters regarding War Damage Compensation
  • Extensive detail on the furore caused by the decision to make the swimming pool in Jerusalem open to both sexes
  • Memorandum on the history and work of the Palestinian Native Church Council (PNCC)
  • Report on a tour of the Jerusalem and the East Mission by C W Williams, 1951
  • Report on conditions in the Palestine Mission by Rev C S Milford, 1951
  • Details on the integration of the CMS mission with the Diocese of Jerusalem
  • Details on the Jordan Church Sites and Buildings Fund
  • Proceedings of the Palestine Sub-Committee
  • Correspondence between the Secretary in London and Rev E F F Bishop of the Newman School of Missions, Jerusalem
  • Correspondence regarding the appointment of Colonel Clarke to deal with CMS property in Israel, 1951
  • Notes on a visit to Israel by Rev Donald Blackburn, 1950
  • Report on mission wartime work by Rev A C MacInnes, 1941
  • Report from CMS hospital in Jaffa by Isabel Gilliland describing difficult wartime conditions, 1938
  • Pamphlet “The Arabs in Palestine”, printed by the British Society for International Understanding, 1950
  • Reports on the Arab refugees and on the Israeli situation by Dr James Parkes
  • Minutes of Medical Sub Conference, Standing Committee, General Conferences, StandingCommittee of the Palestinian Native Church Council and reports of the Evangelistic Committee, Educational Committee, Building Committee and on Moslem Evangelism
  • Reports and details on the Girls’ School in Amman, Bishop Gobat School in Jerusalem, the Girls’ College in Jerusalem and the CMS Orphanage in Nazareth
  • Reports and correspondence regarding the CMS centres of Amman, Gaza, Jaffa, Jerusalem, Lydd, Nablus, Ramleh, Salt and Shefa Amr
  • Reports and correspondence concerning the medical missions at Gaza, Jaffa, Nablus, Salt and Zerka


We also include in this part the CMS papers for Middle East General, 1935-1959. These consist of:

  • Reports of the Adviser to the Middle East Missions, Miss Mabel C Warburton, 1935-1954
  • Diaries of tours to the Middle East by Rev C Murray Rogers and Canon C S Milford, West Asia Secretary, 1955-1956
  • Reports of the Medical Adviser for Sudan, Egypt, Palestine and Jordan, H G Anderson, 1951-1953
  • Papers of the Near East Christian Council, 1935-1959



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