JERUSALEM – Yossi Harel, the ship commander whose attempt to bring Holocaust survivors to Palestine aboard the Exodus 1947 built support for Israel's founding, died on Saturday. He was 90.
Harel's daughter Sharon said he died of cardiac arrest at his home in Tel Aviv.
Harel commanded four expeditions that brought thousands of refugees to the shores of Palestine, his daughter said. But the best known was that of the Exodus 1947, a ship that left France in July 1947 carrying more than 4,500 people — mostly Holocaust survivors and other displaced Jews — in a secret effort to reach Palestine.
At the time, Britain controlled Palestine and was attempting to limit the immigration of Jews.
The British Royal Navy seized the vessel off Palestine's shores, and after a battle on board that left three people dead, turned the ship and its passengers back to Europe, where the refugees were forced to disembark in Germany.
The ship's ordeal was widely reported worldwide, garnering sympathy for the refugees, especially since they were brought to Germany.
It inspired a fictionalized account by American writer Leon Uris and a classic 1960 film directed by Otto Preminger and starring Paul Newman.
Israel celebrates the 60th anniversary of its founding next month.
"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," Harel's daughter Sharon said.
The Jerusalem-born Harel is to be buried in Kibbutz Sdot Yam on Monday, his daughter said. The communal farm was the headquarters of the naval force of the Palmach, Israel's pre-state military.