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Echoes of the past in Israeli ship raid

The raid on the Mavi Mamara has parallels with another chapter of history in the region.

Last modified: 2 Jun 2010 20:44
The Exodus 1947 carried Jewish refugees bound for Palestine

It was a military raid on a civilian ship bound for Palestine, carried out in the international waters of the Mediterranean to prevent the boat from reaching its blockaded destination.

When the soldiers boarded they met with stiffer resistance than they expected, and so they used force, killing some of the passengers and injuring many others.

The commandeered ship was towed to port and the survivors were detained, before being deported amid a storm of international condemnation.

The year was 1947, and the boat - the Exodus 1947- was carrying Jewish refugees seeking to land without the permission of the British military force in charge of Palestine.

The incident, which left three dead, is now seen as a key event in the lead up to the end of the British mandate in Palestine and the establishment of the state of Israel.

Israeli historians will be hoping that this week's raid on the humanitarian flotilla that was bound for Gaza will not be Israel's own Exodus moment.

It is too early to tell whether the incident will change the way the world sees Israel's strangling blockade of the Gaza Strip. But the parallels between this week's events and those of 1947 will be enough to worry Israeli historians.  

In 1947, international sympathy for Holocaust-surviving Jews and their quest for a homeland crystalised around the treatment of those on board the Exodus, who were eventually sent, in a move of stunning insensitivity given recent history, to detention camps in Germany.

In 2010, it is the residents of Gaza, themselves stateless and suffering in the aftermath of a brutal conflict, whose plight has been highlighted by a misjudged military assualt.

The violence on board the Mavi Mamara is being seen as a symptom of the blockade on Gaza, just as the events of 1947 were seen as evidence of a deep unfairness in the treatment of refugee Holocaust survivors.

Then, there was a recognition that the status quo was not tenable, and a year later, the state of Israel was founded.

As a result of Israel's raid on the Mavi Mamara, it is today's bitter status quo that is now being questioned. It is unclear whether the incident will, like the Exodus did 63 years ago, represent a tipping point, or just another sad milestone on a road to further suffering.

There are as many differences as similarities between the two situations. It would be wrong to make too much of the parallels.

But it would also be wrong to disregard them. Tipping points tend not to be visible until they have been crossed.