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Always he pleaded on behalf of the humanitarian needs of the refugees and noted that the special character of Jerusalem and the holy places – Christian, Jewish and Muslim – must be protected. So strong were his concerns he gave testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on 26 July 1951. In his statement he noted,

The Palestinian Arabs are the innocent victims of warfare that engulfed them and forced them out of their homes, and as the fourth successive year of this tragedy now begins, it finds them in the same continuing need…

McMahon’s pleas on behalf of the Palestinians, however, aroused concern from the American-Jewish community, which perceived his stance on behalf of the Palestinians as opposition to the existence of the State of Israel.

Extensive memoranda to Cardinal Spellman record lively exchanges with American Jewish leaders such as Rabbi Gold, Rabbi Bernard Landers and Rabbi Hillel Silver. Also, McMahon met with Aubrey Eban, Israel’s U.N. representative, as well as Chaim Herzog (later president of the Jewish state) and Moshe Sharrett (Shertok), Israel’s foreign minister at that time. Clearly both the American-Jewish community and the Israelis were interested in the views of this New York-born priest. As one would expect, his meetings were often tense gatherings as McMahon sought justice for the Palestinians while the Israelis sought the security of their own state.

McMahon summed up his views on these matters quite clearly in his responses to Congress’s questions on 26 July 1951. He noted with some prophetic vision:

…I say you cannot settle the question of the refugees, you cannot get the friendship of these Arab people for the United States or Britain so long as the Palestine question remains unresolved….

You will never achieve peace in the Middle East until you have given these hundreds of thousands of people the rights that are most certainly theirs.

Msgr. McMahon noted further:

Palestine is the Holy Land on which three rights are involved. The three rights are Jewish, Moslem and Christian, so that one is not anti-Semitic when he urges the Christian right in Palestine.

McMahon’s testimony is as prophetic today is it was when he uttered it more than 40 years ago.

In a statement made at the United Nations in 1947 and reported in The New York Times, McMahon is quoted as saying,

We are not unaware that there are forces striving to perpetuate social chaos, to facilitate ideological infiltration and to gain control of the vast underground wealth of oil in the Near East.

How many commentators spoke about Near East oil in 1947?

McMahon was an astute observer and an articulate commentator. Memoranda to superiors are incisive and pointed. In debate he was a formidable presence. The archives of the Association and the Pontifical Mission reveal that he was a prolific writer. His writings contain not only references to Palestine, but tracts on the heritage and spirituality of the many Eastern churches.

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Tags: Refugees CNEWA Palestine Israel Holy Land