SS Exodus

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Exodus 1947 after British takeover.jpg
Exodus 1947 after British takeover. Banner says: "Haganah Ship Exodus 1947".
History
Flag of the United States.svg United States
Name: SS Exodus
Owner: Baltimore Steam Packet Company
Route: Norfolk to Baltimore
Builder: Pusey and Jones
Completed: 1927
In service: 1928
Out of service: 1947
Fate: Sunk as a breakwater
General characteristics as USS President Warfield
Tonnage: 1,814 t
Length: 320 ft (98 m)
Beam: 56 ft 6 in (17.22 m)
Draught: 18 ft 6 in (5.64 m)
Speed: 15  kn (28 km/h)
Troops: 400
Complement: 70

Exodus 1947 was a ship that carried 4,500 Jewish immigrants from France to British Mandatory Palestine on July 11, 1947. Most were Holocaust survivors who had no legal immigration certificates for Palestine. The ship was boarded by the British in international waters; three of those on board were killed and ten injured. The ship was taken to Haifa where ships were waiting to return the Jews to refugee camps in Europe. [1]

Contents

The ship was formerly the packet steamer SS President Warfield for the Baltimore Steam Packet Company. From the ship's launch in 1928 until 1942, it carried passengers and freight between Norfolk, Virginia and Baltimore, Maryland, in the United States. During World War II, it served both the UK and the United States Navy; for the latter as USS President Warfield (IX-169).

Background

After World War II, some 250,000 European Jews were living in Displaced Persons camps within Germany and Austria under harsh conditions. Zionist organizations began organizing an underground network known as the Brichah ("flight", in Hebrew), which moved thousands of Jews from the camps to ports on the Mediterranean Sea where ships took them to Palestine. This was part of the Aliyah Bet immigration scheme that commenced after the war. [2] At first many made their way to Palestine on their own. Later, they received financial and other support from sympathizers around the world. The boats were largely staffed by volunteers from the United States, Canada and Latin America. [3] Over 100,000 people tried to illegally immigrate to Palestine, as part of Aliyah Bet. [4]

The British vehemently opposed large-scale immigration. Displaced person camps run by American, French and Italian officials often turned a blind eye to the situation, with only British officials restricting movement in and out of their camps. In 1945, the British reaffirmed the pre-war policy restricting Jewish immigration which had been put in place following the influx of a quarter of a million Jews fleeing the rise of Nazism in the 1930s. The British prepared a massive naval and military force to turn back the refugees. Over half of 142 voyages were stopped by British patrols, and most intercepted immigrants were sent to internment camps in Cyprus, the Atlit detention camp in Palestine, and to Mauritius. About 50,000 people ended up in camps, more than 1,600 drowned at sea, and only a few thousand reached Palestine.

Of the 64 vessels that sailed in the Aliya Bet, Exodus 1947 was the largest, carrying 4,515 passengers [5] – the largest-ever number of illegal immigrants to Palestine. Its name and story received a lot of international attention, thanks in no small part to dispatches from American journalist Ruth Gruber. The incident took place near the end of Aliyah Bet and towards the end of the British mandate, after which Britain withdrew its forces and the state of Israel was established. Historians say Exodus 1947 helped unify the Jewish community of Palestine and the Holocaust-survivor refugees in Europe as well as significantly deepening international sympathy for the plight of Holocaust survivors and rallying support for the idea of a Jewish state. [6] [7] One called the story of the Exodus 1947 a "spectacular publicity coup for the Zionists." [8]

Early history

President Warfield en route to Europe in 1947, where she would be renamed Exodus 1947 President Warfield 1947.png
President Warfield en route to Europe in 1947, where she would be renamed Exodus 1947

The 98 m (320-ft) ship was built in 1927 by Pusey and Jones Corp., Wilmington, Delaware, for the Baltimore Steam Packet Company. Initially named President Warfield, for Baltimore Steam Packet Company president S. Davies Warfield (the uncle of the Duchess of Windsor), it carried passengers and freight on the Chesapeake Bay between Baltimore, Maryland and Norfolk, Virginia from 1928 until July 12, 1942, when the ship was acquired by the War Shipping Administration (WSA) and converted to a transport craft for the British Ministry of War Transport. [9] [10] [11]

Manned by a British merchant crew led by Capt. J. R. Williams, it departed St. John’s, Newfoundland on September 21, 1942, along with other small passenger steamers bound for the United Kingdom. Attacked by a German submarine 800 nautical miles (1,500 km) west of Ireland on September 25, the ship evaded one torpedo and reached Belfast, Northern Ireland after the scattering of its convoy. In Britain, it served as a barracks and training ship on the River Torridge at Instow. [10]


Returned by Britain, it joined the U.S. Navy as President Warfield on May 21, 1944. In July it served as a station and accommodations ship at Omaha Beach at Normandy. Following duty in England and on the Seine River, it arrived at Norfolk, Virginia, July 25, 1945, and left active Navy service September 13. President Warfield was struck from the U.S. Naval Vessel Register on October 11 and returned to the War Shipping Administration on November 14. [10]

Voyage preparations

On November 9, 1946, using the Potomac Shipwrecking Co. of Washington, D.C. as its agent, the Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah bought President Warfield from the WSA [10] and transferred control of it to Hamossad Le'aliyah Bet, the branch of the Haganah that organized Aliyah Bet activities.

The British had recently announced that they would begin deporting illegal immigrants to Cyprus rather than Atlit, whereupon Aliyah Bet organizers decided immigrants should begin resisting capture. The President Warfield was well-suited for that, because it was fast, sturdy enough to not easily overturn, made of steel which would help it withstand ramming, and was taller than the British destroyers which would be trying to board it. [12]

The ship was also chosen because of its derelict condition. It was risky to put passengers on it and it was felt this would compel the British to let it pass blockade because of this danger or put the British in a bad light internationally.

All "illegal immigration" ships were renamed with Hebrew names designed to inspire and rally the Jews of Palestine and Hamossad Le'aliyah Bet renamed President Warfield to Exodus 1947 (and, in Hebrew, Yetz'iat (sic) Tasbaz, or Yetzi'at Eiropa Tashaz, "Flight from Europe 5707") after the biblical Jewish exodus from Egypt to Canaan. The name was proposed by Israeli politician and military figure Moshe Sneh, who at the time headed illegal immigration for the Jewish Agency, and was later described by Israel's second Prime Minister Moshe Sharett (then Shertok) as "a stroke of genius, a name which by itself, says more than anything which has ever been written about it." [13]

For months, teams of Palestinians and Americans worked on the Exodus 1947 with the goal of making it harder for the British to take over the ship. Metal pipes, designed to spray out steam and boiling oil, were installed around the ship's perimeter. Lower decks were covered in nets and barbed wire. The machine room, steam room, wheel house and radio room were covered in wire and reinforced to prevent entry by British soldiers. [14]

The President Warfield left Baltimore February 25, 1947, and headed for the Mediterranean. [10]

Voyage to Palestine

According to Israeli historian Aviva Halamish, the Exodus 1947 was never meant to "sneak out toward the shores of Palestine," but rather "to burst openly through the blockade, by dodging and swiftly nipping through, beaching herself on a sand bank and letting off her cargo of immigrants at the beach." The ship was too large and unusual to go unnoticed.

Indeed, even as people began boarding the ship at the port of Sète near Montpellier, a British RAF plane was circling overhead and a British Royal Navy warship was waiting a short distance out at sea. [12]

The Exodus 1947 left Sète sometime between two and four in the morning of July 11, 1947 [15] flying a Honduran flag and claiming to be headed for Istanbul. [16] It was carrying 4,515 passengers including 1,600 men, 1,282 women, and 1,672 children and teenagers. [17] Palmach (Haganah's military wing) skipper Ike Aronowicz was its captain [18] and Haganah commissioner Yossi Harel was commander. [19] The ship was manned by a crew of some 35 volunteers, mostly American Jews. [20]

As she left the port, the Exodus was shadowed by the sloop HMS Mermaid and by RAF aircraft. Later, the Mermaid was relieved by the destroyer HMS Cheviot. [15]

On the first evening of its voyage, the Exodus reported that a destroyer had tried to communicate with it but that it had not replied. Through its journey, the ship was followed by between one and five British destroyers as well as an airplane and a cruiser. [21]

During the journey, the people on the Exodus prepared to be intercepted. The ship was divided into sections staffed by different groups and each went through practice resistance sessions. [22]

The ship was loaded with enough supplies to last two weeks. Passengers were given cooked meals, hot drinks, soup, and one liter of drinking water daily. They did their washing in salt water. The ship had only 13 lavatories. A British military doctor, inspecting the ship after the battle, said that it was badly over-crowded, but that hygiene was satisfactory and the ship appeared well prepared to cope with casualties. Several babies were born during the week-long journey. One woman, Paula Abramowitz, died in childbirth. Her infant son died a few weeks later, in Haifa. [23]

The British finally boarded the ship on 18 July, some 20 nautical mile s (40 km) from the Palestinian shore. Boarding it was difficult, and was challenged by the passengers and Haganah members on board. [24] One crew member, the second officer, an American Mahal volunteer, Bill Bernstein, [25] died after being clubbed to death in the wheelhouse. Two passengers died of gunshot wounds. Two British sailors were treated afterwards for fractured scapula, and one for a head injury and lacerated ear. About ten Exodus passengers and crew were treated for mild injuries resulting from the boarding, and about 200 were treated for illnesses and maladies unrelated to it. [26]

Due to the high profile of the Exodus 1947 emigration ship it was decided by the British government that the emigrants were to be deported back to France. Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin suggested this and the request was relayed to General Sir Alan Cunningham, High Commissioner for Palestine, [27] who agreed with the plan after consulting the Navy. [28] Before then, intercepted would-be immigrants were placed in internment camps on Cyprus, which was at the time a British colony. This new policy was meant to be a signal to both the Jewish community and the European countries which assisted immigration that whatever they sent to Palestine would be sent back to them.

Not only should it clearly establish the principle of refoulement as applies to a complete shipload of immigrants, but it will be most discouraging to the organisers of this traffic if the immigrants ... end up by returning whence they came. [27]

The Exodus, formerly President Warfield, arriving at Haifa (British Admiralty photo) Exodus 1947 ship.jpg
The Exodus, formerly President Warfield, arriving at Haifa (British Admiralty photo)

Return to France

The British sailed the commandeered ship into Haifa port, where its passengers were transferred to three more seaworthy deportation ships, Runnymede Park, Ocean Vigour and Empire Rival. The event was witnessed by members of UNSCOP. These ships left Haifa harbour on July 19 for Port-de-Bouc near Marseilles. Foreign Secretary Bevin insisted that the French get their ship back as well as its passengers. [27]

When the ships arrived at Port-de-Bouc on August 2, the French Government said it would allow disembarkation of the passengers only if it was voluntary on their part. Haganah agents, both on board the ships and using launches with loudspeakers, encouraged the passengers not to disembark. [24] Thus the emigrants refused to disembark and the French refused to cooperate with British attempts at forced disembarkation. This left the British with the best option of returning the passengers to Germany. Realizing that they were not bound for Cyprus, the emigrants conducted a 24-day hunger strike and refused to cooperate with the British authorities.

Media coverage of the contest of wills put pressure on the British to find a solution. The matter also came to the attention of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) members who had been deliberating in Geneva. After three weeks, during which time the prisoners on the ships held steady in difficult conditions, rejecting offers of alternative destinations, the ships were sailed to Hamburg in Germany, which was then in the British occupation zone.

Operation Oasis

The British concluded that the only option was send the Jews to camps in the British-controlled zone of post-war Germany, They realized that returning them to camps in Germany would elicit a public outcry, but Germany was the only territory under their control that could immediately accommodate so many people. [29]

Britain's position was summed up by John Coulson, a diplomat at the British Embassy in Paris, in a message to the Foreign Office in London in August 1947: "You will realize that an announcement of decision to send immigrants back to Germany will produce violent hostile outburst in the press. ... Our opponents in France, and I dare say in other countries, have made great play with the fact that these immigrants were being kept behind barbed wire, in concentration camps and guarded by Germans." [30] Coulson advised that Britain apply as best they could a counter-spin to the story: "If we decide it is convenient not to keep them in camps any longer, I suggest that we should make some play that we are releasing them from all restraint of this kind in accordance with their wishes and that they were only put in such accommodation for the preliminary necessities of screening and maintenance." [31] The mission of bringing the Jewish refugees of the Exodus 1947 back to Germany was known in diplomatic and military circles as "Operation Oasis." [29]

Disembarkation

On August 22 a Foreign Office cable warned diplomats that they should be ready to emphatically deny that the Jews would be housed in former concentration camps in Germany and that German guards would not be used to keep the Jews in the refugee camps. It further added that British guards would be withdrawn once the Jews were screened.

The Exodus 1947 passengers were successfully taken off the vessels in Germany. Relations between the British personnel on the ships and the passengers were afterwards said by the passengers to have been mostly amicable. [32] Everyone realized there was going to be trouble at the forced disembarkation and some of the Jewish passengers apologized in advance. A number were injured in confrontations with British troops that involved the use of batons and fire hoses. The passengers were sent back to DP camps in Am Stau near Lübeck and Pöppendorf. Although most of the women and children disembarked voluntarily, the men had to be carried off by force.

The British identified one of the ships, the Runnymede Park, as the vessel most likely to cause trouble. A confidential report of the time noted: "It was known that the Jews on the Runnymede Park were under the leadership of a young, capable and energetic fanatic, Morenci Miry Rosman, and throughout the operation it had been realised that this ship might give trouble."

One hundred military police and 200 soldiers of the Sherwood Foresters were ordered to board the ship and eject the Jewish immigrants.

The officer in charge of the operation, Lt. Col Gregson, later gave a frank assessment of the operation which left up to 33 Jews, including four women, injured. Sixty-eight Jews were held in custody to be put on trial for unruly behaviour. Only three soldiers were hurt. Gregson later admitted that he had considered using tear gas against the immigrants. He concluded: The Jew is liable to panic and 800-900 Jews fighting to get up a stairway to escape tear smoke could have produced a deplorable business. ... It is a very frightening thing to go into the hold full of yelling maniacs when outnumbered six or eight to one." Describing the assault, the officer wrote to his superiors: "After a very short pause, with a lot of yelling and female screams, every available weapon up to a biscuit and bulks of timber was hurled at the soldiers. They withstood it admirably and very stoically till the Jews assaulted and in the first rush several soldiers were downed with half a dozen Jews on top kicking and tearing ... No other troops could have done it as well and as humanely as these British ones did...It should be borne in mind that the guiding factor in most of the actions of the Jews is to gain the sympathy of the world press."

One of the official observers who witnessed the violence was Dr Noah Barou, secretary of the British section of the World Jewish Congress, who described young soldiers beating Holocaust survivors as a "terrible mental picture": "They went into the operation as a football match ... and it seemed evident that they had not had it explained to them that they were dealing with people who had suffered a lot and who are resisting in accordance with their convictions. ... People were usually hit in the stomach and this in my opinion explains that many people who did not show any signs of injury were staggering and moving very slowly along the staircase giving the impression that they were half-starved and beaten up."

When the people walked off the ship, many of them, especially younger people, were shouting to the troops 'Hitler commandos', 'gentleman fascists', 'sadists'. One young girl "came to the top of the stairs and shouted to the soldiers, 'I am from Dachau.' And when they did not react she shouted 'Hitler commandos'."

The British denied using excessive force, yet conceded that in one case a Jew "was dragged down the gangway by the feet with his head bumping on the wooden slats".

A homemade bomb with a timed fuse was found on the Empire Rival. [33] It was apparently rigged to detonate after the Jews had been removed. [34]

Camp conditions

The treatment of the refugees at the camps caused an international outcry after it was claimed that the conditions could be likened to German concentration camps.[ citation needed ]

Dr Barou was once again on hand to witness events. He reported that conditions at Camp Poppendorf were poor and claimed that it was being run by a German camp commandant. That was denied by the British.

It turned out that Barou's reports had been untrue. There was no German commandant or guards but there were German staff carrying out duties inside the camp, in accordance with the standard British military practice of using locally employed civilians for non-security related duties.

But the Jewish allegations of cruel and insensitive treatment would not go away and on 6 October 1947 the Foreign Office sent a telegram to the British commanders in the region demanding to know whether the camps really were surrounded with barbed wire and guarded by German staff.

Final destination

A telegram written by Jewish leaders of the camps on 20 October 1947 makes clear the wishes and determination of the refugees to find a home in Palestine:

Nothing will deter us from Palestine. Which jail we go to is up to you [the British]. We did not ask you to reduce our rations; we did not ask you to put us in Poppendorf and Am Stau.

The would-be immigrants to Palestine were housed in Nissen huts and tents at Poppendorf and Am Stau but inclement weather made the tents unsuitable. The DPs were then moved in November 1947 to Sengwarden near Wilhelmshaven and Emden. For many of the illegal immigrants this was only a transit point as the Brichah managed to smuggle most of them into the U.S. zone, from where they again attempted to enter Palestine. Most had successfully reached Palestine by the time of the Israeli Declaration of Independence. Of the 4,500 would-be immigrants to Palestine there were only 1,800 remaining in the two Exodus camps by April 1948.

Within a year, over half of the original Exodus 1947 passengers had made other attempts at emigrating to Palestine, which ended in detention in Cyprus. Britain continued to hold the detainees of the Cyprus internment camps until it formally recognized the State of Israel in January 1949, when they were transferred to Israel.

Jewish retaliation

On September 29, 1947, the militant Zionist groups Irgun and Lehi blew up Central Police HQ in Haifa in retaliation for British deportations of Jews who arrived illegally on the Exodus 1947. [35] [36] [37] 10 people were killed and 54 injured, of which 33 were British. [35] Four British policemen, four Arab policemen, an Arab woman and a 16-year-old were killed. [35] The 10-story building was so heavily damaged that it was later demolished. [35] The bomb type was a barrel bomb, described by police as a "brand new method" and the first use of a barrel bomb by Jewish forces. [35] Irgun would make many more barrel bomb attacks during 1947/48.

Historical importance

The United Nations Special Committee on Palestine also covered the events. Some of its members were even present at Haifa port when the emigrants were removed from their ship onto the deportation ships and later commented that this strong image helped them press for an immediate solution for Jewish immigration and the question of Palestine.

The ship's ordeals were widely covered by international media, and caused the British government much public embarrassment, especially after the refugees were forced to disembark in Germany.

The resting place of the Exodus

Commemorative plaque at Exodus 1947 launch site in Sete, France Sete memorial Exodus 47.JPG
Commemorative plaque at Exodus 1947 launch site in Sète, France

After the historic voyage in 1947, the damaged former President Warfield aka Exodus, like many other Aliyah Bet ships, was moored to a breakwater in Haifa port as a derelict and forgotten. The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 brought massive immigration of European Jewish refugees from displaced persons camps to Israel. Almost simultaneously, Arab countries expelled 600,000 Jews, who arrived in the new state. There was little time or money to focus on the meaning of the Exodus. Abba Khoushy, the Mayor of Haifa, proposed in 1950 that the "Ship that Launched a Nation" should be restored and converted into a floating museum of the Aliyah Bet — the story of the clandestine or the illegal immigration of Jews to Palestine. During the process of restoring the ship that had been left decaying in the port, an unexplained accident occurred and the Exodus burned to the waterline on August 26, 1952. [38] Her hulk was towed and scuttled north of the Kishon River near Shemen Beach. In 1964 a salvage effort was made to raise her steel hull for scrap. The effort failed and she sank again. In 1974 another effort was made to raise her wreck for salvage. She was refloated and was being towed toward the Kishon River when she sank again. Parts of the Exodus' hull remained visible as a home for fish and destination for fishermen until the mid-2000s. The Port of Haifa may have built its modern container ship quay extensions on top of the wreck. The quay where the wreck may be buried is a security zone and not accessible today. [39] An unsuccessful dive effort was made to locate the remains of the Exodus in October, 2016. [40]

Exodus Memorial, International Cruise Ship Terminal, Haifa, Israel Exodus Memorial, Haifa, Israel.jpg
Exodus Memorial, International Cruise Ship Terminal, Haifa, Israel

In historic recognition of the Exodus, the first Israeli memorial to the Exodus [41] was dedicated in a ceremony on July 18, 2017. [42] The Memorial, designed by Israeli sculptor Sam Philipe, is made of bronze in the shape of an anchor, symbolically representing the role the Exodus played in the birth of the modern State of Israel, affixed to a relief map of the country. The anchor is sited on the sculpture which is located outside the International Cruise Ship Terminal in the port of Haifa.

Cultural references

See also

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  15. 1 2 Stewart, Ninian (2002). The Royal Navy and the Palestine Patrol. London: Frank Cass. p. 116. ISBN   0714682543.
  16. Halamish, Aviva (1998). The Exodus affair: Holocaust survivors and the struggle for Palestine (1. ed.). Syracuse, NY: Syracuse Univ. Press. pp.  68–69. ISBN   0815605161.
  17. Gruber, Ruth (2007). Exodus 1947: the ship that launched a nation. New York: Union Square Press. p. 45. ISBN   1402752288.
  18. Fox, Margalit (December 23, 2009). "Yitzhak Ahronovitch, 86, Jewish Refugee Ship's Captain, Dies" via NYTimes.com.
  19. The real exodus. The Guardian, June 30, 2007
  20. Gruber, Ruth (1999). The Ship That Launched a Nation: Exodus 1947. New York: Random House. p. 68. ISBN   0-8129-3154-8.
  21. Halamish, Aviva (1998). The Exodus affair: Holocaust survivors and the struggle for Palestine (1. ed.). Syracuse, NY: Syracuse Univ. Press. pp.  78. ISBN   0815605161.
  22. Halamish, Aviva (1998). The Exodus affair: Holocaust survivors and the struggle for Palestine (1. ed.). Syracuse, NY: Syracuse Univ. Press. pp.  80. ISBN   0815605161.
  23. Halamish, Aviva (1998). The Exodus affair: Holocaust survivors and the struggle for Palestine (1. ed.). Syracuse, NY: Syracuse Univ. Press. pp.  69–74. ISBN   0815605161.
  24. 1 2 Cordon and Search, R. Dare, The Battery Press, Nashville 1984
  25. "American Jewish History, markers, articles". www.jewish-american-society-for-historic-preservation.org.
  26. Stewart, Ninian (2002). The Royal Navy and the Palestine Patrol. London: Frank Cass. p. 125. ISBN   0714682543.
  27. 1 2 3 "Secretary of State to High Commissioner for Palestine 14.7.47" in Alan Cunningham Collection, box 2 folder 1, Middle East Centre Archives, St. Antony's College, Oxford.
  28. "High Commissioner for Palestine to Secretary of State 15.7.47" in Alan Cunningham Collection, box 2 folder 1, Middle East Centre Archives, St. Antony's College, Oxford.
  29. 1 2 Katz, Gregory. "Documents Show UK Post-WWII Dilemma over Jewish Refugees." USA Today.com. Associated Press, 4 May 2008.
  30. As cited in: Stern, Paula. "The Flotilla and the Exodus" [blog post]. Arutz Sheva, IsraelNationalNews.com. 6 June 2010.
  31. "As cited in: "Documents: British worried about Exodus flak." Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 8 May 2008.
  32. Wilson, R. Dare. Cordon and Secure: With the 6th Airborne Division in Palestine. The Battery Press, Nashville, 1984.
  33. "Bomb Found On Jewish Ship ."Battle" Leaders Sent To Jail". Glasgow Herald. September 10, 1947. p. 5.
  34. "Bomb Found On Jewish Ship "Battle" Leaders Sent To Jail". Glasgow Herald. September 10, 1947. p. 5.
  35. 1 2 3 4 5 "'Barrel Bomb' in Haifa Kills 10, Injures 54". Los Angeles Times . September 30, 1947.. Database: ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times (last accessed June 29, 2015)
  36. John Bowyer Bell (1976). Terror Out of Zion. Transaction Publishers. p. 245. Retrieved June 28, 2015.
  37. Henry E. Mattox (2004). Chronology of World Terrorism, 1901-2001. McFarland. p. 54. Retrieved June 28, 2015.
  38. Brown, pp. 123124.
  39. Klinger, Jerry. "In Search of the Exodus". Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation.
  40. "The Search for the Exodus, October 2016". January 4, 2017 via YouTube.
  41. "First Israeli monument to 'Exodus' inaugurated in Haifa - Israel News - Jerusalem Post". www.jpost.com.
  42. "Exodus Memorial Dedication July 18, 2017". August 5, 2017 via YouTube.
  43. Exodus 1947 on IMDb

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Coordinates: 32°49′12″N35°00′16″E / 32.8201°N 35.0045°E / 32.8201; 35.0045