Theodor Herzl

After Hitler's attempt to achieve the "Final Solution" to the "Jewish problem" through extermination, European Jews were convinced that their only hope for a secure future would lie within the borders of their own, independent state. In 1945, therefore, the return from "diaspora" - the dispersal of the Jews by the Romans 1,800 years before - began with renewed desperation.

The British, however, aware of the effect large-scale immigration would have on local Arab feeling, refused to admit more than a trickle of immigrants and set the Navy to blockade the shores of Palestine. To Zionists, this was both inhuman and a betrayal of the terms of the British mandate. They determined to secure their ends illegally. With American support, European Jews acquired ships, crammed them with would-be immigrants and challenged the blockade.

Superficially, the campaign was a failure - only five out of 63 vessels got through - but in terms of publicity for the Zionist cause it was a huge success. One case, that of the Exodus, whose immigrant cargo was sent back to Germany after the vessel was intercepted, acquired special fame. The story, exploited to the full, was retold in book form and then as a film. It became a symbol of the Jews' struggle to build their new nation.

Palestine: Britain's Crown of Thorns


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by Stephen Luscombe