Remembering Howard Grief

A champion of Israel’s legal rights to all Eretz Israel and “the” expert on the subject died last week.

June 10, 2013 21:27
THE OLD CITY walls in east Jerusalem contrast against the modern buildings in west Jerusalem

View of Jerusalem 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

When I first met Howard Grief, in the Rose Garden adjoining the Knesset in 1995, I had no concept of the amazing person he was going to turn out to be. It didn’t take me long to discover that I had had the good fortune to meet “the” expert on the international legal rights of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. The Canadian attorney, who had immigrated to Israel in 1989 and served as adviser to the late Prof. Yuval Ne’eman, minister of energy and infrastructure in Yitzhak Shamir’s government, was a recognized world leader in this field.

This thought, among others, passed through my mind last Monday as I accompanied Howard to his final resting place. In my mind I saw Howard’s monumental, 700-page work on The Legal Foundation and Borders of Israel under International Law, a legacy which Howard, basically a very humble man, required months of encouragement – on my part and on the part of others of his close friends – to produce.

But once he became convinced of the need for such a book, there was no stopping him. It took him a good few years to put down in readable form the product of the decades of research he had devoted to the subject. We used to sit at my computer at my home in the Old City of Jerusalem as often as four or five days a week, for two or three hours each session, inching forward on his grand project, the complexity of which would have overwhelmed any normal man. But Howard’s spirit was insurmountable. Howard loved his people, the Jewish people, and he loved our land, the Land of Israel, and nothing could stand before that love.

I became familiar with concepts and expressions I had only rarely – if ever – encountered before I began to work with Howard: the Balfour Declaration of November 1917, which Howard viewed as a solemn promise by the United Kingdom to world Jewry (a promise the British apparently took great joy in breaking during the subsequent years up until 1948); the San Remo Peace Conference of April 1920, one of a series of peace conferences that marked the conclusion of the Great War, during which the Principal Allied Powers – Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan – adopted a resolution (the San Remo Resolution) whereby the promise of the Balfour Declaration was transformed into an element of international law; the awarding of a Mandate for Palestine to Great Britain at San Remo, subsequently confirmed unanimously by the Council of the newly-formed League of Nations in July of 1922; followed by the gradual detachment by Great Britain of Eastern Palestine (Trans-Jordan) from the Jewish National Home, effected by a series of “White Papers” – statements of British policy – starting with the Churchill White Paper of 1922 – culminating in the formal recognition of the Hashemite Kingdom of Trans-Jordan in 1946.

I learned from Howard of British perfidy throughout the Mandate for Palestine period, and his conclusion that Winston Churchill donned the guise of an ardent Zionist whenever he was not in power, but that his policies when in power exuded a stench of a different sort altogether.

Howard’s book appeared in print in 2008, but he refused to view its publication as the end of his mission. On the contrary, he put together a mailing-list of over 150 names, of people scattered all over the world, and avidly engaged in writing to them and arguing with them over various points of history and law, each of which made up a firm part of his legal-historical view of the Jewish People in the Land of Israel.

Over the years he composed articles on various aspects of his subject, articles published in the main by the Ariel Center for Policy Research in their Nativ Journal, but appearing also on various websites participating in his struggle for the recognition of our legal rights to the Land of Israel.

Following the publication of his book, Howard’s expertise and readiness to combat what he viewed as “the forces of evil” attempting to deprive the Jewish people of parts of their legally recognized homeland, became more widely known, and he became recognized as a prominent adviser to various groups, in Israel and more especially in Europe and Canada, who were doing their bit to fight off the would-be “de-legitimizers” of Israel.

It is with great pleasure that I recall a meeting I had over two years ago with the present defense minister, a meeting at which I had intended to convince him of the importance of Howard’s work. I was completely and most pleasantly surprised to find that Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon – whom Howard considered for years to be the future prime minister of the State of Israel – was already very familiar with Howard’s work, having met with one of the aforementioned groups (in Canada) on a recent visit to that country and having devoted time and effort to studying Howard’s work in depth.

Howard Grief, champion of Israel’s legal rights to all Eretz Israel, was plagued over the past decade by deteriorating health, a condition which caused him considerable distress, but had no effect on the clarity of his legal reasoning. Besides his normal work burden, he composed lengthy petitions to be presented to the Parliament of Canada (already done) and to the United States Congress, calling on these august bodies to reconfirm their earlier support for Jewish legal rights to the entirety of the Land of Israel. His hospitalization over the last few weeks of his life prevented him from completing the two books we had been working on over the past five years, and which will hopefully reach the public over the months to come.

The author, 72 years old, is a university graduate in Hebrew Language and Semitic Linguistics, and was a close friend and coworker of Howard Grief for almost two decades.

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