To the Gates of Jerusalem: The Diaries and Papers of James G. McDon­ald, 1945 – 1947

James G. McDon­ald; Goda, McDon­ald Stew­art, Hochberg, and Bre­it­man, eds.
  • Review
By – February 20, 2015

Per­haps no one had a bet­ter ring­side or inside seat at the delib­er­a­tions that even­tu­al­ly led to the Unit­ed Nations’ actions paving the way to Israel’s 1948 Dec­la­ra­tion of State­hood than James G. McDon­ald. His dogged and dex­ter­ous work as a key mem­ber of the Anglo-Amer­i­can Com­mit­tee of Inquiry was posi­tioned between two oth­er notable posts as the League of Nation’s High Com­mis­sion­er for Refugees in the 1930s and the first Unit­ed States Ambas­sador to Israel from 1949 to 1951.

The Com­mit­tee had the dou­ble charge of propos­ing solu­tions to the enor­mous prob­lem of Jew­ish refugees at the close of World War II and to the insep­a­ra­ble issue of the British Man­date for Palestine’s even­tu­al res­o­lu­tion. McDonald’s diary entries through­out the entire work of the Com­mit­tee con­sti­tute a unique pri­ma­ry source of infor­ma­tion on the progress of the Com­mit­tee toward its ulti­mate recommendations.

The hear­ings, the par­ti­san bick­er­ing and bar­gain­ing, the draft­ing and redraft­ing, and the mix­ture of tedi­um and emo­tion­al­ly super­charged moments are cap­tured in a stur­dy, often elo­quent style filled with col­or­ful descrip­tions and sharp judg­ments. McDonald’s com­ments about his fel­low com­mit­tee mem­bers are thor­ough­ly engag­ing, as are his descrip­tions of trav­els, accom­mo­da­tions, and recre­ation­al activ­i­ties that were very much part of the expe­ri­ence: McDonald’s records of abom­inable refugee camp con­di­tions cross­es paths with notes on con­certs, muse­um vis­its, glo­ri­ous sight­see­ing, and grand din­ners — with­out any appar­ent irony in the juxtapositions.

The cast of char­ac­ters with whom McDon­ald col­lab­o­rat­ed goes far beyond the Com­mit­tee mem­bers to major gov­ern­ment offi­cials and lead­ers of inter­na­tion­al asso­ci­a­tions, all of them vying for influ­ence — espe­cial­ly regard­ing the Mid­dle East par­ti­tion and immi­gra­tion issues. Indeed, it becomes clear that Har­ry S. Truman’s final posi­tion on a Jew­ish State was large­ly shaped by McDonald’s shrewd man­age­ment of the frus­trat­ed, sus­pi­cious Unit­ed States President.

Sur­round­ing the diary excerpts, the edi­tors pro­vide cohe­sive, expan­sive con­tex­tu­al­iz­ing com­men­tary, biogra­phies of key play­ers, and a con­stant stream of use­ful, well-turned foot­notes. Unusu­al­ly engag­ing and sus­pense­ful for a such a schol­ar­ly enter­prise, To the Gates of Jerusalem is an essen­tial vol­ume for all uni­ver­si­ty libraries and col­lec­tions focused on the his­to­ry of the Mid­dle East in the twen­ti­eth century.

Epi­logue, foot­notes, index, intro­duc­tion, preface.

Relat­ed content:

Philip K. Jason is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of Eng­lish at the Unit­ed States Naval Acad­e­my. A for­mer edi­tor of Poet Lore, he is the author or edi­tor of twen­ty books, includ­ing Acts and Shad­ows: The Viet­nam War in Amer­i­can Lit­er­ary Cul­ture and Don’t Wave Good­bye: The Chil­dren’s Flight from Nazi Per­se­cu­tion to Amer­i­can Free­dom.

Discussion Questions