Treasure Trove: David Matlow explores the long history of Israeli protests

For over 30 weeks there have been rallies and general strikes across Israel, protesting the government’s judicial reform initiatives. But it’s not the first time Israelis have taken to the streets in mass demonstrations. Prior to Israel’s independence in 1948, there were many protests and strikes directed at the British mandatory government. 

In September 1940, three ships carrying Jews fleeing Europe left Romania bound for Palestine. Two of the ships, Milos and Pacific, reached Palestinian waters in early November, where they were intercepted by the British and escorted to Haifa. The 1,900 passengers were moved to a deportation ship, Patria, which the British announced would go to Mauritius, an island 2,000 kilometres east of Africa, in an action designed to thwart further illegal immigration.

The National Council (the quasi-government of the Jewish citizens of Palestine) called a 12-hour general strike for Nov. 20, 1940 demanding that the passengers be allowed to disembark. This is the leaflet that was distributed giving notice of the general strike. 

The strike was generally observed but without marked enthusiasm, largely because of dissension among Jewish leaders, many of whom argued that overt action against British authority in wartime could harm the Zionist cause.

In an attempt to prevent the Patria from leaving Haifa, the Haganah, a Jewish paramilitary group, placed a bomb on board designed to disable the ship. It exploded at 9 a.m. on Nov. 25, causing the ship to sink. About 267 passengers, including more than 200 Jewish refugees, died as a result. 

On Nov. 27, in an “act of clemency” the British cabinet decided that the surviving passengers could remain in Palestine.