Historical Notes : The struggle for a Jewish state

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
THE MAIN object of the Zionist movement following the Second World War was the founding of a Jewish state in Palestine. Holocaust survivors were assigned a key role in the struggle for achieving that goal. They created a link - in world public opinion - between a solution for the problem of the Jewish Displaced Persons (DPs) in Europe and the establishment of a sovereign, independent Jewish state in Palestine. The idea was to keep the plight of the DPs, still languishing in Europe so many months after the war, alive in the headlines and to drive home the fact that they were yearning to settle in Palestine.

This was done by an organised operation of illegal immigration. In the three years between the end of the Second World War and the founding of the state of Israel, 64 illegal immigration ships made their way from European ports eastward, carrying some 70,000 Jews. Most of the ships were intercepted by vessels of the Royal Navy and their passengers temporarily imprisoned in detention camps.

Historians have puzzled over the question of whether the Zionist policy behind illegal immigration was in keeping with the interests of the survivors of the Holocaust, or whether it had more to do with the Zionist struggle in general, and whether the illegal immigration operation, in particular, actually conflicted with the desire of its human objects.

Initially, the Holocaust survivors were portrayed as ardent Zionists desiring to emigrate to Palestine and as passive objects, activated by emissaries from Palestine. This wave of writings was used as a semi-official historiography, intended to answer the needs of the Israeli society in transition from voluntary society to independent state.

Years later, research introduced the Holocaust survivors as subjects making their own calculated decisions. Palestine was the preferred emigration destination, for various reasons. Some had always been Zionists keen to emigrate to Palestine. Others were post-catastrophe Zionists: the Holocaust had converted them to Zionism. There were those who wanted to emigrate to Palestine because if they were still capable of thinking in terms of "home", then Eretz-Yisrael - or Palestine - was it.

This wave of research offered a synthetic version of the role played by Holocaust survivors in the struggle for a Jewish state. Further, more recent, studies accuse Zionist leadership of manipulation of Holocaust survivors in the struggle for a Jewish state.

In looking for a reply to the question regarding the attitudes of the Holocaust survivors themselves, bear in mind that they embarked on the ships of the illegal fleet on a completely voluntary basis. And had it not been for the Zionism and the Jewish community in Palestine who were so eager to found a Jewish state, what would have happened then to the many thousands of Jewish DPs?

Illegal immigration into Palestine of Holocaust survivors was a unique method chosen by the Jewish national liberation movement - Zionism - in its struggle for independence. Not personal or blind terror, nor acts of violence involving physical attacks on the enemy and casualties on the part of the perpetrators; but a calculated blend of political and diplomatic activity and a struggle which took advantage of the weakness of the strong and the power of the weak. This struggle also bears a universal message, which traverses the boundaries of time and place, of the spirit of man, of his willingness to struggle and of his ability to overcome hardship, when faced with an objective in which he believes and is convinced that he is able to achieve.

Aviva Halamish is the author of 'The Exodus Affair - Holocaust survivors and the struggle for Palestine' (Valentine Mitchell, pounds 35/pounds 18)