Skip to comments.'Cowboy zionistí who led the Exodus
Posted on 05/11/2008 10:22:47 PM PDT by XR7
It was more an embarrassment than a ship. Nearly 20 years old, its single tall funnel poked out above dilapidated decks and scarred paintwork. It was heading for the breakers yard until the Haganah, the Jewish underground, bought it. Now, loaded with more than 4,500 Jewish refugees, many of them Holocaust survivors, it was approaching the Palestinian port of Haifa and its moment of destiny.
Its commander that July day in 1947 was Yossi Harel, who has died at 90. The ship was the USS President Warfield but Harel had renamed it Exodus 1947. Nearing Haifa it was pursued by British warships mounting a blockade to stop Jewish refugees landing. The 28-year-old Harel raised the blue and white star of David, soon to be Israels flag, while loudspeakers played Hatikvah, to be its national anthem. When the British shot across the ships bows and sent troops to board, it was Harel who led fierce resistance by the unarmed passengers and crew.
Harels gallant defiance of the British was to echo round the world. It would turn international opinion against Britain, which then ruled Palestine under a League of Nations mandate. Above all, it would ensure that the United Nations backed the establishment of the state of Israel, created 60 years ago this week. Some even date the creation of Israel to the day when the Exodus tried to run the British blockade. As Harels biographer, Yoram Kaniuk, put it: The state of Israel came into existence before it acquired a name, when its gates were locked to Jews, when the British fought against the survivors of the Holocaust.
Aware of Arab sensitivities, in 1939 Britain had restricted Jewish immigration into Palestine to 75,000 over five years. Anxious to preserve stability and with a UN decision on an Israeli state pending, the British stuck to the quota after the second world war. For the moment they had the upper hand. During the fighting on the Exodus, three Jews and a British soldier died. More than 30 people were wounded.
When the British took the wheelhouse Harel surrendered against the wishes of the ships captain so as to save lives. Even so, the impact on public opinion was even greater than Harel might have hoped. For the Exodus was towed into Haifa and the refugees transferred to three British steamers under the eyes of the UN. As US Congressman Howard Berman put it this week: Members of the UN Special Commission on Palestine saw first-hand as these refugees with their meagre possessions were unloaded from the ramshackle Exodus and prepared for their return to Europe just precious feet away from the land they had so desperately yearned to reach.
Worse was to follow. The refugees were shipped back to France, which had agreed to take them but for 24 days they went on hunger strike and refused to disembark. The French would not remove them by force and Britain decided the only place to house so many refugees quickly was the British-controlled zone of Germany. Secret papers released this week by the UKs National Archive show that the British recognised the risk of what one of diplomat called a violent, hostile outburst in the press. Yet Britain used troops to force the Jews off the ships at Hamburg. They shouted Hitler commandos, gentlemen fascists and sadists as they disembarked.
They were sent to camps in Germany rumoured to be concentration camps, which caused international outrage. The rumours were false, though initially the camps had been surrounded by barbed wire and watch towers. Eventually, after huge damage to Britains reputation, the Exodus refugees were released. Many eventually found their way to Palestine.
Meanwhile Harel was taking more shiploads of Jews to their biblical homeland. He made four trips, including that on the Exodus, and carried 24,000 people to what was soon to become Israel.
He was born in Jerusalem in 1918 to a family, originally called Hamburger, that had lived there since the 19th century. His father, Moshe, was a grocer. His beautiful and aristocratic mother, Batya, was mentally fragile and his childhood was difficult. Aged 15 and described by biographer Kaniuk as a cowboy zionist, he ran away and joined the Haganah. By turns he fought the British and took part in Arab-Jewish conflicts. His courage and leadership skills were soon recognised. He became a founder member of the Nodetet, a small commando supported by the eccentric British officer Orde Wingate, which intended to make pre-emptive strikes during the Arab revolt of the 1930s. In 1938 Harel became the personal bodyguard to Chaim Weizmann, later the first president of Israel but, after the outbreak of the war, he joined the British army. Sent to Greece, he was badly injured and discharged. After the war he was sent on a coastal navigation course run by Haganah and made head of an illegal operation known as Aliyah Bet Immigration B. Set up to circumvent British limits on Jewish immigration, this was run by Palyam, a clandestine Jewish naval force.
The voyage of the Exodus was the base for a novel of the same name by Leon Uris that had a big influence on American attitudes towards Israel. It was followed in 1960 by an Otto Preminger film in which Paul Newman played Ari Ben Canaan, the character based on Harel. The real Harel moved to the US after the 1948 Arab/Israeli war and studied mechanical engineering. In 1954 Moshe Dayan, then head of Israeli defence, put him in charge of Unit 131, a secret group that ran spies in Arab countries.
In later life Harel collected avant garde art and pursued a successful business career that gave him cover to continue intelligence work. Though charming and gregarious, the habits of secrecy remained ingrained. Often he would lie about his whereabouts in calls to friends just in case. He is survived by his wife, Julie, two sons and a daughter, Sharon, wife of British venture capitalist Sir Ronald Cohen. Speaking two years ago he pointed out that in the 1948 Arab/Israeli war 6,000 out of the 600,000 Jews who fought were killed. Of the 100,000 who ran the blockade, 3,000 died. Yet they kept coming. A nation destroyed was coming back to life.
A nation destroyed was coming back to life.
So, the Jews actually existed in Palestine before the "Palestinian people" were "forced" off "their" land. Who would have known?
Ruth Gruber, an American journalist with close ties to the refugee situation was witness to the incident that became world-famous from Leon Uris' book Exodus
While in Jerusalem, [Gruber] learned that a former American pleasure boat, renamed the Exodus 1947, had attempted to deliver 4,500 Jewish refugees including 600 children, mostly orphans but was attacked by five British destroyers and a cruiser. Gruber left immediately for Haifa and witnessed the Exodus entering the harbor, looking, as Gruber wrote, "like a matchbox splintered by a nutcracker."
During the "battle," the British rammed the Exodus and stormed it with guns, tear gas and truncheons. Gruber noted that the crew, mostly Jews from America and Palestine, fought back with potatoes, sticks and cans of kosher meat. The Exoduss second officer, Bill Bernstein of San Francisco, was clubbed to death trying to prevent a British soldier from entering the wheelhouse. Two orphans were killed, one shot in the face point blank after he tossed an orange at a soldier.
When she learned that the prisoners from the Exodus were being transferred to Cyprus, she flew there overnight. While she waited for the Exodus detainees, she photographed earlier Jewish prisoners living behind barbed wire in steaming hot tents with almost no water or sanitary facilities. "You had to smell Cyprus to believe it," she cabled the New York Herald.
The British changed plans and sent the Exodus prisoners to Port de Bouc in southern France, where they had first embarked. Gruber rushed there from Cyprus. When the prison ships arrived, the prisoners refused to disembark. After 18 days in which the refugees endured the blistering heat, the British decided to ship the Jews back to Germany. World press reaction reflected outrage. While hundreds of journalists descended on Port de Bouc, only Gruber was allowed by the British to accompany the DPs back to Germany.
Aboard the prison ship Runnymeade Park, Gruber photographed the refugees defiantly raising a Union Jack on which they had painted a swastika. Her photo became Life Magazines "Picture of the Week." Crushed together on the sweltering ship, making their way back to Germany, the refugees sang "Hatikvah," the Hebrew song of hope, soon to become Israel's National Anthem.
Grubers book Exodus 1947 about the DPs endurance would later provide Leon Uris with material for his book and screenplay, Exodus, which helped turn American public opinion in favor of Israel.
Actually, there was no Palestine.
Joan Peters’s book, From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine, will lay out facts like no other source has in the past.
“The weight of the comprehensive evidence found and brilliantly analyzed by Joan Peters answers many crucial questions, among them: Why are the Arab refugees from Israel seen in a different light from all the other, far more numerous people who were displaced after WWII? Why...are they seen differently from the Jewish refugees [800,000 people] who were forced, in 1948 and after to leave the Arab countries to find a haven in Israel? Who, in fact are the Arabs who were living within the borders of present-day Israel, and did THEY come from?”
In short, many Jews never left the ME. There was a migration of European Jewry into Palestine (a name based on the Philistines, Palestina, originated by the Roman Empire) during the 18th century, where due to plagues and mismanagement by the Ottoman Turks, much of the land lay deserted and fallow. The Jews created farms and fellahin came to work for them.
This is an eye-opening, and sad to say, a thorough and depressing read that will really piss you off at Saudi Arabia and the British. (The answer for today's problem is - you guessed it! - Petroleum.)
Israel’s is an amazing history that I hope is featured extensively this week on its 60th birthday. I know I have much to learn.
The very first person killed by the British armed forces after World War II started in September 1939, was a Jew attempting to enter “Palestine”, not a German.
My friend’s uncle is Frank Levine. He was the radioman and currently lives in Medford MA. Mazeltov! Frank.
My friend’s uncle is Frank Levine. He was the radioman and currently lives in Medford MA. Mazeltov! Frank.
Thank you. I don’t know how I managed to mess that up so badly.
No doubt cos we were obviously working for the Germans!
I probably wouldn’t read too much into that.
Are coming home
Ruth Gruber turns 104 today.
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