Exodus symbol of the immigration of Jews to Israel

Ha’apala (also known as Aliyah Bet) is the Modern Hebrew name given to the illegal, clandestine and organized immigration of Jews to the Land of Israel during the British Mandate. During the Mandate, the British enforced severe restrictions on immigration of Jews to the land. The Ha’apala started in the year 1934 and continued until the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948.


The illegal immigrants would come into Israel via air, land, but mostly by sea. After WWII, the Ha’apala to Israel Increased and about 70,000 immigrants sailed to Israel. Over the years, there were 142 Voyages and over half of them were stopped by the British patrols. Most of the intercepted immigrants were sent to internment camps in Cyprus and others were sent to camps in Palestine. The British held as many as 50,000 people in the camps and over 1,600 immigrants drowned at sea. Only a few thousand actually entered Palestine.

One of the most famous ships to bring immigrants to Israel was the “Exodus 1947” which was an old passenger ship that carried 4,500 Jewish pilgrims, all Holocaust survivors from Europe to the land of Israel. The ship left France on July 11 1947 and 7 days later, on July 18 the British patrols stopped the ship close to the shores of Israel. The passengers of the “Exodus 1947” were not allowed into Israel, since they were all Holocaust survivors and did not have legal immigration certificates. The Exodus became a symbol for the illegal immigration to Israel.

The ship was originally an old worn-out US passenger ship launched in 1928. Jewish “Hagana” (an underground Jewish military organization) members bought the ship with the purpose of bringing more Jews from ‘post Holocaust’ Europe to the land of Israel. On July 11, 1947, the ship left from Sète, France towards Israel but never arrived. On July 18, just a day before it was planned to arrive at the Israeli shore two British destroyers surrounded it.

About 50 British soldiers were able to board the ship using smoke bombs and tear gas, even though the “Hagana” members prepared the ship in advance for this scenario by wiring all sides of the ship. The passengers did not give-up easily but after a hard struggle, where two passengers and a crewmember were killed and dozens injured, the ships commander decided to surrender.

The British troops towed the ship to Haifa port, and as they approached the land all 4500 passengers sang “Hatikva” (the Israeli anthem). Once they arrived in Haifa all passengers were forced off the ship and on to three smaller “deporting ships” on which they were deported that night out of Israel. Unlike past deports the ships did not go to Cyprus where there were Internment camps but, sailed back to Europe.

On July 29, the ships docked back in France but the passengers refused to get off the ships. The passengers, including many orphaned children, forced the issue by declaring a hunger strike, which lasted 24 days. Mounting pressure from international media coverage pressed British authorities to find a solution. Because of the unwillingness of French authorities to force passengers off the ship, the British had no other option but to return them to Hamburg in the British-occupied area of Germany. Arriving in Germany, all passengers were forced off the ship and they were placed in camps in north Germany.

After a year, living back in camps most of the Exodus passengers were transported to Israel, while the last of them traveled to Israel on September 8th 1948. The ship was to be transferred into a Museum that commemorates the “ha’apala”, but it mysteriously burnt down under unknown circumstances in 1952 and was completely ruined. The exodus became a symbol of the Ha’apala due to the determination of the passengers that wouldn’t give up on their dream to live in Israel.