Jewish Refugees on Legendary Ship "Exodus" Would Be Called Terrorists by Israeli Gov
"They were mobbed, they were clubbed, they were beaten, stabbed, there was even a report of gunfire. And our soldiers had to defend themselves," [Bibi Netanyahu] said.
[Defense Minister Ehud] Barak voiced regret for the deaths, but called the flotilla a political provocation and said the sponsors of the flotilla were violent supporters of a terror organization.
Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, meanwhile, said the soldiers were forced by violent activists to respond with live fire.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said earlier Monday that the organizers of the Gaza aid flotilla have connections to international terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Al-Qaida, and called the aid convoy a violent and provocative attempt to break the blockade on Gaza.
I was brought up to be a liberal Zionist of sorts, and as a young person I was profoundly moved by Leon Uris's brilliant novel, Exodus. I read it twice during my teens.
It was the story of the creation of the state of Israel, as seen through the eyes of a handful of dauntless Jewish refugees, fleeing the cruelest oppression and ultimately carving out a little safe haven for themselves, despite an array of seemingly insurmountable obstacles blocking their way. The story of that journey -- from beleaguered detainees in a British refugee camp on Cyprus to young statehood -- is an important part of Israeli lore. When Otto Preminger made Uris's tale into the film starring Paul Newman in 1960, it had a measurable impact on the American public's view of the Israel-Arab conflict.
There was, of course, a real Exodus. Uris loosely based the early part of his novel on its journey, which required running the British blockade of then-Palestine.
In international waters off Palestine the British Royal Navy intercepted the Exodus and British troops attempted to board.
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 New York Times, "the violent way the British Navy seized that ship and deported the refugees backfired, creating global sympathy for the plight of stateless Jews."
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.
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.
The Times noted this as well:
On Monday, activists wounded by the Israeli military during the raid on the ships were brought to Haifa for medical treatment. Sixty-three years ago, the world saw photographs and newsreel footage of dazed Jewish refugees, some wounded by the British military, disembarking the Exodus 1947, under armed guard, in Haifa.
Another parallel between the events of 1947 and those on Monday is a dispute over what might have justified the use of deadly force against civilians. Israeli officials insisted in initial statements that shooting activists in the flotilla was justified because commandos boarding one ship were met with “live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs.” That assertion was called “a lie,” by one of the flotilla’s organizers. In his live-blog post, Mr. Sheizaf wrote that Channel 10, an Israeli television station, reported that the Israeli military had completed a search of the ship and “no weapons discovered except for the two pistols that were taken from the soldiers.” Later in the day an Israeli military Web site posted a photograph of knives and sticks that were found on the ship where civilians were shot and killed.
In August 1947, a New York Times article on the clash at sea the previous month was headlined: “Crew Man From the Exodus 1947 Denies the British Met Firearms; Grauel, on Arrival in New York, Says Naval Boarding Party Shot at Jews Whose Weapons Were Potatoes, Canned Goods.”