Monday, June 7, 2010

Did History Repeat Itself?

I hadn't planned to comment on last week's Israeli attack on the FreeGaza aid convoy that was attacked in international water but a friend sent me a link on a story that I had recalled reading about many years ago. While I'm not saying that the two stories are completely linked, there are some parallels that are quite stunning.

After the Second World War, the British struggled with the Jewish question, in particular because Palestine was under their mandate. The Jews had suffered greatly during the war and in 1946, the Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah (the precurser to the Israeli Defence Forces that was regarded by the British as a terrorist organization responsible for acts of sabotage), as part of their anti-British operations, purchased a ship from the United States War Shipping Administration. The War Shipping Administration was an emergency war agency of the United States government whose job it was to purchase and operate the civilian shipping tonnage during the war. After purchase, the ship was renamed Exodus 1947 and ended up in the hands of Hamossad Le'aliyah Bet, a branch of the Haganah that operated to assist the illegal (Aliyah Bet) Jewish immigration to Palestine. This immigration was against explicit orders of the British that were crafted back in 1938. Prior to the start of the war, the Hamossad was able to bring nearly 20,000 Jewish immigrants to Palestine. Once the war began, their activities were curtailed until 1945; between the end of the war and the founding of the Jewish state of Israel in January 1949, the Hamossad were able to bring nearly 100,000 Jews to Palestine by sea and by land. Interestingly enough, the Hamossad became the Mossad, the intelligence gathering agency of today's Israeli government.

Back to the story of the Exodus 1947. The ship left the United States in February 1947, crossed the Atlantic and picked up 4515 passengers in France on July 11, 1947 and then set sail for Palestine where it arrived on July 18th. It had been tracked by the British Navy who finally rammed and boarded the ship 40 kilometres from the shores of Palestine in international waters. The boarding was resisted by the unarmed civilian passengers requiring the use of force by the British. Two emigrant passengers and one of the crew members were killed as a result of bludgeoning and 30 additional passengers were injured. The ship was then towed to Haifa and passengers were forced to disembark.

At that point, the British government deported the emigrants back to France, under far less than humane conditions, to enforce their message to all countries that any Jewish immigrants that were sent from any country to Palestine would have the immigrants returned. It was hoped that this would stem the flood of immigrants attempting to enter Palestine with the goal of establishing a Jewish state. In the end, France refused to accept the passengers and they were forced to disembark in Hamburg Germany.

The British handling of the Exodus 1947 passengers caused them a great deal of negative press. Interestingly, prior to these events, it had become apparent that the British were incapable of handling the immigration of Jews to Palestine and, under pressure from the United States, the United Nations brokered a solution for the creation of an American-backed Jewish State.

The parallels between last week's boarding of a protesting aid ship by Israeli Defence Forces, while definitely not 100%, are rather striking. Rather than enter the fray of finger pointing, I'll let my readers draw their own conclusions as to whether history repeats itself. Sometimes it seems that we do forget the lessons of history.


Fascinating photographs of the Exodus 1947 can be found here.

A history of the Haganah can be found here.

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