Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Exodus 2010

Noam Sheizaf, an Israeli journalist who is rounding up reports and commentary on the attack on his blog, “Promised Land,” points to a post in Hebrew by Rafi Man of the Israel Democracy Institute which asks: “Will This Be the Palestinian Exodus?”

Mr. Man was referring to the story of the “Exodus 1947,” a ship filled with Jewish Holocaust survivors who wanted to immigrate to Palestine in July 1947. That month, the British Navy intercepted the ship to enforce a ban on Jewish immigration to the territory, which was then under British control.

As my colleague Margalit Fox wrote in December — in an obituary for Yitzhak Ahronovitch, the captain of the Exodus 1947 — the violent way the British Navy seized that ship and deported the refugees backfired, creating global sympathy for the plight of stateless Jews. Ms. Fox explained:

The refugees had no legal authority to enter Palestine, and the British were determined to block the ship. In the battle that ensued, three Jews aboard the Exodus were killed. The ship’s passengers — more than 4,500 men, women and children — were ultimately deported to Germany.

The attack and its aftermath, which focused attention on the plight of many European Jews after the war, made headlines worldwide and helped marshal support for an Israeli state. [...]

Captain Ahronovitch was 23 when he took the helm of the Exodus. On July 11, 1947, he picked up the refugees at Sète, in southern France. On July 18, as the ship neared the coast of Palestine, the British Navy intercepted it. Captain Ahronovitch tried to break through, but two British destroyers rammed the ship.

Several hours of fighting followed, with the ship’s passengers spraying fuel oil and throwing smoke bombs, life rafts and whatever else came to hand, down on the British sailors trying to board, The Times reported at the time. Soon the British opened fire. Two immigrants and a crewman on the Exodus were killed; scores more were wounded, many seriously. The ship was towed to Haifa, and from there its passengers were deported, first to France and eventually to Germany, where they were placed in camps near Lübeck.

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, when refugees from the Exodus 1947 were forced into displaced persons camps in Germany by the British military:

Large protests erupted on both sides of the Atlantic. The ensuing public embarrassment for Britain played a significant role in the diplomatic swing of sympathy toward the Jews and the eventual recognition of a Jewish state in 1948.

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