The defense of the Mavi Marmara, which Israeli officials have shamelessly been describing as an “ambush” on its elite commandos, is not without historical precedent. Indeed, as Robert Mackey points out at the New York Times, there is a parallel that some Israelis now find impossible to ignore: the resistance to the British naval assault on the SS Exodus in July 1947, as Jewish refugees used every makeshift weapon they could lay their hands on in their effort to repel British soldiers.
The overcrowded passenger ship carried Jewish refugees fleeing from war-decimated Europe who hoped to become settlers in Palestine — then under British control — but the British were intent on blocking their entry.
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.
International outrage at the treatment of the passengers of the Exodus was instrumental in turning the tide of opinion in favor of the creation of a Jewish state. Who on board that ship would have anticipated that decades later it would be Jews themselves who became as callous as the British in their rejection of a humanitarian cause?