After the attempt last spring to break the Israeli security blockade off the coast of the Gaza Strip, the British government denounced the Israeli navy’s forceful seizure of the blockade-runners as “completely unacceptable.” Long forgotten is Britain’s disgraceful history as a blockader of the Zionist Jews, and as a violent enforcer of that blockade. A brief account of this travesty would be instructive:
Following the end of WWI, the Jewish survivors of Hitler’s Holocaust were desperate to leave the European killing grounds for a new life in Jewish Palestine. Knowing that the Palestinian Arabs were in the habit of launching an intifada against any new wave of Jewish immigrants, the British Mandate authorities imposed a dense and costly Royal Navy blockade on the Palestine coast against the Zionist refugee flotilla (code-named “Aliyah Bet”) – a fleet of over sixty barely seaworthy crafts. But the blockade, backed up by long-range patrol planes, a squadron of destroyers, a thick network of coastal radar stations, and 100,000 troops, was too formidable to break, and the refugees ended up in British prison camps in Palestine, Cyprus, and in Kenya.
I sailed on two blockade-runners, and can give an eyewitness account of British tactics against our ships. After we were spotted, a Brit destroyer overtook our boat, announced by loud hailer that our captain would be held responsible for any casualties, and then struck a glancing blow, hull to hull, as it pulled alongside. At the moment of contact, armed Royal Marines swarmed aboard and attempt, usually against opposition from young survivors, to seize the bridge and engine room.
The Brits were right to warn us. They were mounting a very dangerous operation: colliding with our very frail “rust-buckets,” ships whose corroded hulls could easily tear and buckle from the force of a ship-to-ship collision. The stricken ship could flood and sink in minutes with her massed human cargo, including many women and children, still aboard.
But a recent book reveals that the Brits employed even more dangerous tactics. In “The Secret History of MI6,” Keith Jeffery reviews the history of the Brit Intelligence Services, including their hitherto secret role in subverting the Aliyah Bet. Operation Embarrass was launched after a meeting held in early 1947 between officials from MI6, the armed services, the Colonial Office, and the Foreign Office.
Among the sabotage measures contemplated were: tampering with a ship’s fresh water supplies or the crew’s rations, lighting a fire on board a ship in port, interfering with fuel supplies, and using frog-men to attach Limpet mines to the hulls of docked immigrant vessels.
During the summer of 1947 and early 1948, five attacks were launched against ships in Italian ports; leaving one “a total loss,” while two others were damaged. Two more Limpet mines were discovered before they went off. Operation Embarrass also considered blowing up the “President Warfield,” which later became famous in Israeli history as “Exodus 47”– the ship that launched a nation.
There is irrefutable evidence of a sabotage attempt against one of my ships, the Abril, and I suspect there were at least two more. The “Abril” was an Irgun (i.e., “terrorist”) ship, therefore of special concern to the Brits. A raging dockside fire next to her berth in New York’s Gowanus Canal could have been the work of Operation Embarrass. Luckily, the blaze was extinguished by a fireboat before the Abril caught fire. A large dockside fire in Varna, Bulgaria also threatened my second ship, the “Paducah.”
These fires could have been incidental, but there was no ambiguity regarding the sabotage attempt against the Abril in Port-Du-Bouc, France. We were leaving the French coast on the way to Palestine with 650 refugees aboard, when our starboard diesel engine suddenly broke down. Inspection revealed that a fuel pump connecting rod had been almost completely hack sawed through in the shipyard, puncturing the engine sump as it broke. Motor oil poured into the bilges, leaving the engine without lubrication. The damage also left the Abril afloat on the mine-thick waters of the post-war Mediterranean with only one unreliable engine.
Presumably, the Brits assumed that we would have to turn back. But we didn’t. Instead, Lilleby and Sorenson, our two Norwegian diesel engineers, worked three days straight, fabricating from deck plates a patch for the sump – a repair that got us to our rendezvous with the Royal Navy off Palestine. That patch was still in place when the Abril eventually joined the new Israeli navy.
The Brits closed the gates to Palestine, thereby helping Hitler trap the Jews of Europe. Despite bearing much indirect responsibility for the Holocaust, the Brits did not relent: they penned up the post-war survivors in stinking prison camps. And now, the Brits continue to evade responsibility by accusing the Jews of committing their sins – mounting a punitive blockade against a captive population. They are beginning to adopt the manners and rhetoric of their terrorist enemies.