HAIFA, Israel (Reuters) - A cruise liner carrying some 300 Jewish passengers docked in the Israeli port of Haifa on Thursday in a symbolic re-enactment of an attempt by European Jews to settle in British-run Palestine 60 years ago.
The story of the ship “Exodus”, intercepted by the British navy in 1947, helped draw world attention to the efforts of Jews to flee Europe after the World War Two Nazi Holocaust and became an important episode in the founding of the state of Israel.
The British mandate government of Palestine prevented many Jewish migrants from settling in Palestine and turned them away, worried by Palestinian Arabs’ hostility to the newcomers and by Jewish militants’ attacks on British officials.
Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav told the mostly French passengers, some of them relatives of those on the original ship: “This re-enactment shows that the Zionist enterprise is not yet over, we have a lot of work to do and without you we would not be able to do it.”
“We decided to leave France for Israel, to make the trip to coincide with the anniversary of the ‘Exodus’ mission,” said Samuel Nasicimento, 38, who was moving to the Jewish state with his wife and two daughters.
“This is a trip in honor of our brothers back then, and now I am fulfilling the wish of my father,” he said.
The liner set sail from the Cypriot port of Larnaca on Wednesday.
The original “Exodus” sailed from a port near Marseille in July 1947 carrying some 4,500 Jews. It was stopped by British naval ships before reaching Palestine and towed to Haifa, where the migrants were forced onto ships that deported them back to Europe.
Some 52,000 migrants were interned on Cyprus — then a British colony — between 1946 and 1948, when the state of Israel was founded.
The fact that some of the “Exodus” passengers were deported to Germany added to embarrassment over the episode for Britain, which was struggling to keep order between Palestinian Arabs and Jews seeking a state in the Middle East.
“Exodus” was made famous by a Leon Uris novel and a 1960 Hollywood movie of the same name starring Paul Newman.
Additional reporting by Michele Kambas in Larnaca