Hamas and its supporters have watched the movie Exodus, or perhaps have read the Leon Uris novel on which it is based. In that movie, the Haganah, the pre-State Jewish defense forces in mandatory Palestine, are trying to embarrass the British armed forces into allowing the Exodus, a ship filled with Jewish Holocaust survivor refugees, to leave Cypress and land in Palestine. Of course the ship cannot run the British naval blockade without a risk of loss of life--the British Navy in that era did open fire on ships trying to smuggle Jewish refugees into Palestine, sometimes resulting in deaths like the incident off Gaza this week. So Paul Newman, playing Haganah officer Ari Ben Canaan, comes up with the idea of a hunger strike, designed to swing world opinion against the British. It works, and the refugees are allowed to embark to Palestine.
The historic SS Exodus incident in the summer of 1947 ended more tragically, and in a manner more reminiscent of the Gaza flotilla. As recounted in Wikipedia's entry on SS Exodus:
The British Royal Navy cruiser Ajax and a convoy of destroyers trailed the ship from very early in its voyage, and finally boarded it some 20 nautical miles (40 km) from shore. The boarding was challenged by the passengers (the ship was in international waters where the Royal Navy had no jurisdiction), and so the British soldiers used force. Two passengers and one of the crews, 1st mate William Bernstein, a U.S. sailor from San Francisco, died as a result of bludgeoning and several dozen others were injured before the ship was taken over.
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 pro-Hamas organizers of the so-called humanitarian flotilla have successfully pulled off the same ploy as did the Haganah in Exodus, with perhaps even greater success. Danny Gordis presents the justice of the Israeli side of the incident well in this column. Yet at the same time he realizes the Israel won the at-sea skirmish while losing the propaganda war, again. Dan Pipes critiques the political fiasco well in this post. Pipes states that Israel has never adjusted to a new era of asymmetrical warfare, where the primary field of battle is world opinion. As a result, every Israeli military success begets a diplomatic disaster that leaves Israel weaker than before. [HT: Al Levine. Photo credit: Jerusalem Post.]