Richard Irvine: Remember 1947 and the Exodus Ship

Roundup: Media's Take

[Richard Irvine teaches a course entitled "The Battle for Palestine" at Queen's University Belfast.]

No one can accuse history of not having a sense of irony. Sixty-three years ago, in July 1947, a passenger ship destined for Palestine and named the Exodus was stopped and boarded by the British navy. The ship was crowded with Holocaust survivors determined to make a new life for themselves in British-controlled Palestine. The British, facing Zionist terrorism and trying to keep promises made to the Palestinian Arabs to limit Jewish immigration, were determined to stop it. Accordingly, when the Royal Navy boarded the ship 20 miles out from Haifa, a full-scale battle ensued.

Three immigrants were killed and dozens injured as British troops beat the passengers on to three separate prison ships. From there these Holocaust survivors were transported back to Germany and were once again placed in camps. The world was horrified; an American newspaper ran the headline "Back to the Reich". Delegates from the UN Special Commission on Palestine who watched what occurred were similarly shocked; the Yugoslav delegate cited that what happened to the Exodus "is the best possible evidence we have for allowing Jews into Palestine"....

This week another small flotilla of ships was making its way to Palestine. Crammed with humanitarian aid and some 600 international peace activists and human rights workers, it was set for Gaza....

However, even as Israel celebrates its success in stopping the aid for Gaza, it should be aware that its position on blockading a whole people is not sustainable. At the time of the Exodus affair, future Israeli prime minister Golda Meir declared: "To Britain we must say: it is a great illusion to believe us weak. Let Great Britain with her mighty fleet and her many guns and planes know that this people is not weak, and that its strength will stand it in good stead." Replace Great Britain with Israel and the same applies today.

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