It's become something of a cliche to liken the Gaza flotilla, and Israel's massacre of its activists, to events surrounding the attempt in 1947 by the Jewish refugee vessel, Exodus, to challenge Britain's postwar blockade of Jewish refugees seeking entry into Palestine. Here, for example, is soft Zionist Uri Avnery's spin on that story:
"On the high seas, outside territorial waters, the ship was stopped by the navy. The commandos stormed it. Hundreds of people on the deck resisted; the soldiers used force. Some of the passengers were killed, scores injured. The ship was brought into harbour; the passengers were taken off by force. The world saw them walking on the quay, men and women, young and old, all of them worn out, one after another, each being marched between two soldiers... The ship was called Exodus 1947. It left France in the hope of breaking the British blockade, which was imposed to prevent ships loaded with Holocaust survivors from reaching the shores of Palestine. If it had been allowed to reach the country, the illegal immigrants would have come ashore and the British would have sent them to detention camps in Cyprus, as they had done before. Nobody would have taken any notice of the episode for more than two days. But the person in charge was Ernest Bevin, a Labor Party leader, an arrogant, rude, and power-loving British minister. He was not about to let a bunch of Jews dictate to him. He decided to teach them a lesson the entire world would witness. 'This is a provocation!' he exclaimed, and of course he was right. The main aim was indeed to create a provocation, in order to draw the eyes of the world to the British blockade. What followed is well known: the episode dragged on and on, one stupidity led to another, the whole world sympathized with the passengers. But the British did not give in and paid the price. A heavy price. Many believe that the Exodus incident was the turning point in the struggle for the creation of the state of Israel. Britain collapsed under the weight of international condemnation and decided to give up its mandate over Palestine. There were, of course, many more weighty reasons for this decision, but the Exodus proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back." (Exodus 2010, 6/6/10)
So, Bevin bad, bunch of Jews good, right? Or is there more to the Exodus affair than that?
The full story of the Exodus (or President Warfield, to give it its correct name) is covered exhaustively by Israeli historian Idith Zertal in her 1998 book From Catastrophe to Power: Holocaust Survivors & the Emergence of Israel. Zertal's account completely contradicts Avnery's assertion that the aim of the Exodus was simply to break Britain's blockade of illegal Jewish immigration into Palestine. She makes it abundantly clear that the whole affair was a joint Mossad/Jewish Agency media production designed to reap maximum publicity for the Zionist cause at a critical juncture (July 1947) in the United Nations' deliberations over the fate of Britain's Palestine mandate.
Culled from Displaced Persons camps in Germany and equipped with counterfeit documents, the ship's passengers were smuggled into France by Mossad agents with the aim of getting them to Palestine in time for the visit there of the United Nations Special Commission on Palestine (UNSCOP), the body charged with finding a solution to the Palestine problem following Britain's pullout in 1948.
As Zertal reveals, "Messages that Mossad headquarters in the Yishuv sent to the ship at sea and as it approached the shores of Palestine, are another piece of evidence of the importance the Zionists attached to the ship in light of the UNSCOP work. This included precise instructions regarding what the ship was to broadcast to the shore: descriptions of the suffering of the refugees, with an emphasis of their fierce desire to reach their homeland. In particular, the instructions stressed, the ship should broadcast from the high seas a call for UNSCOP to intervene, to board the ship and record living testimony before the commission's members leave the country. Accordingly, the ship's messages implored the members of the commission to come see with their own eyes the plight of Exodus's passengers." (p 56)
As for the British, in contrast to Avnery's Big Bad Bevin vs the Holocaust Survivors caricature, and his factually incorrect assertion that the Exodus affair preceded Britain's decision to bail out of Palestine, there was far more involved here than the mindset of Britain's foreign secretary: In the words of Britain's ambassador to France, "the illegal Jewish immigration traffic is not a spontaneous exodus of refugees, but a carefully-organized Zionist campaign designed to force the hand of His Majesty's Government and to increase the proportion of Jewish population in Palestine [and so cause] severe embarrassment and difficulty for His Majesty's government in its efforts to reach an equitable solution to the Palestine question." (p 65)
Zertal makes it quite clear that the unfortunate Holocaust survivors on board the Exodus were mere pawns in Zionist hands:
"Eighteen days after the President Warfield slipped away at dawn from the [French] port of Sete [12/7/47], its 4,500 passengers crowded onto three British prison ships appeared again on France's horizon. During the weeks between the ship's sailing from France and its passengers' return in British custody, while the President Warfield was still making its way towards Haifa, its name was changed at sea by the Mossad agent on board to the Exodus 1947. Its passengers engaged in a bloody battle against the British navy and eight British warships. They were then led to the port of Haifa, taken off their ship, and forced, in view of UNSCOP members, onto three British 'prison ships' meant to return them to the port from which they had departed. During this period the issue of the ship and its passengers never left the political agenda of the Zionist leadership, the British, and to a slightly lesser extent, the country from whose port they had sailed, France... [T]here was a three-way international confrontation of interests and forces... As in previous incidents, the Zionist struggle ostensibly fought over the fate of the Jewish refugees was, in fact, aimed higher, directed toward the great, decisive battle for the establishment of a Jewish state. The people who actually showed concern for the immediate fate of the 4,500 human beings thrown at their doorstep were the French, in whose territory the Exodus affair reached its climax. They displayed concern even though - or perhaps precisely because - they were the junior, accidental partner in the power triangle; in any case, they were not involved of their own volition. The Zionists had never intended to actually bring the 4,500 refugees onto the shores of Palestine, and such an effort had no chance of success since the Exodus was a show project from its conception. The ship's sailing was no secret, expect for the moment it made its way, at dawn, out of the port at Sete, and as it set sail, it was under close surveillance by a light British patrol plane and the ships of the British navy. The messages sent from the ship to the Mossad center in Palestine, and from the Mossad to the ship, as well as the Jewish Agency political department's invitation to the members of UNSCOP to be present in Haifa when the refugees were loaded onto the British deportation ships, prove that those involved on the Zionist side were aware of the tremendous political effect of a ship carrying thousands of Holocaust survivors being denied access to the shores of their 'national home' through the use of British force." (pp 82-83)
For further revelations by Zertal, as well as the lowdown on Avnery, simply click on the relevant tags below.