Commander of legendary ship Exodus dies at 90

Yossi Harel commanded four expeditions that brought thousands of refugees to the shores of Palestine.

exodus 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy )
exodus 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy )
Yossi Harel, commander of the illegal Jewish immigrant ship Exodus, immortalized in the Leon Uris novel and Otto Preminger movie, died Saturday at the age of 90. His daughter Sharon said Harel suffered cardiac arrest at his Tel Aviv home. The ill-starred voyage of the Exodus, which sought to bring thousands of European refugees to Palestine after World War II, became a potent symbol of the Jewish struggle for statehood. More than 4,500 Holocaust survivors packed the ship in 1947 when it tried to run the British blockade of Palestine, meant to severely limit the immigration of Jews. The British Navy seized the vessel off Palestine's shores in July 1947, and after a battle on board that left three people dead, turned the ship and its passengers back to Europe. The Exodus' fate later inspired a fictionalized account by Uris and a movie directed by Preminger and starring Paul Newman. In all, Harel commanded four expeditions that brought thousands of refugees to the shores of Palestine, his daughter said. "He was an extraordinary, unusual man, very brave, very modest and very lucky because he was able to touch the lives of so many people," she said. The Jerusalem-born Harel is to be buried in Kibbutz Sdot Yam on Monday, she said. The communal farm was headquarters of the naval force of the Palmach, Israel's pre-state military. "History has proven that you cannot defeat refugees," Harel was quoted as saying two decades ago by the now-defunct Israeli newspaper, Hadashot. "It starts now with one boat. After that, dozens more will come," he said.