Growing Up in Palestine during the British Mandate


Growing Up in Palestine during the British Mandate


Search our Archives:

Opinion & Society

The Day that an Illegal Ship was Beached on Mt. Carmel

By Eva Feld

Life in Palestine during under British sovereignty was a bag of mixed blessings mired in inconsistencies. For the most part it was safe in so far as our relationship to the war were concerned. That this fragile tranquility and safety could change at a moment's notice was something that only the British High Command and God knew and this miracle of safety was nothing short of Hash-gacha me-al (Divine Supervision.)

School infrastructure was set up to soothe Jewish Christian and Moslem cultural and religious requirements. It was a clever juggling act and it worked very well. Some schools had strict uniform codes. Not only were the uniform codes strictly enforced but even the criteria as to which youth group one could belong to was regulated. I went to such a school. The school only permitted membership in the Zofim - the Scouts - association with any other organization invited expulsion. As long as one was in uniform one was expected to adhere to the highest levels of grooming, behavior and discipline.

The school founder was a Berlin educated doctor of pedagogy who demanded the best from everyone right down to the janitor. There were three branches of that school. The main branch was in the Hadar section which had all the grades from the First to matriculation level. The second branch which had only four grades, was in the Merkaz HaKarmel and the upper grades were in the Achuza section of Mount Karmel. The slightest deviation from the strict codes of ethics brought down the Principal's wrath and what was even worse, a Hey-ra-a - demerit was sent home which required parental signature and stayed on one's school record forever.

The political life was cauldron of emotions and upheavals. The North European Aliyot (immigration) introduced to the predominant Russian, Polish demographics, an all encompassing milieu of cultural refinement which was foreign and strange in a world that understood only day to day survival under harsh conditions. The German immigrants maintained linguistic ties to Germany. German was spoken at home and Germanic decorum was the law. The children developed a self-defense mechanism of the diametrical conflicting cultural demands.

Most of us were able to switch very quickly from the homelife demands to the school survival demands, at times with severe mental consequences. German style cafes, even cabarets, sprouted everywhere, bakeries and delicatessen operated with finesse under the guidelines of the day. We were called "YEKAH" which was a derogatory acronym for "Yehoodim K' she Havana" (Stubborn Jews, or as it would be called today, Jews with a difficult attitude.) The German immigrant developed artificial family ties giving children a sense of "aunts", "uncles" and "cousins" even though these same people were strangers just a few days and sometimes only a few hours ago.

The fervor of Zionism brought focus toward achieving independence from the British to the young and wrought emotional havoc among those who just escaped the extremes of Nazism. Zionism was not something vague and remote that was in prayer or wishful thinking. Zionism was pregnancy come to full term. The songs we learned had Russian melodies but the words tore the heartstrings to shreds expressing a unique and an unquestionable love for the land. Ma od lo natanoo v'netaen (what have we not yet given and we will give it.)

The Arabs feared that a Jewish take over of Palestine would be their demise. The British appointed Haj Amin al-Husseini as the spiritual leader of the Arabs. He was known as the Mufti of Jerusalem. During the war Haj Amin was wined and dined by Adolf Hitler, which was an oxymoron if ever there was one. Hitler had to accommodate the Moslem leader with a kosher cuisine. The Mufti was a frequent houseguest in Berlin and assisted with suggestion to the final solution of the Jews of Palestine. To assure the Arabs that the British were with all sincerity on their side the British issued in 1939 a document, which was called The White Paper. In that Paper they claimed that Palestine was filled to overflowing with people, specifically Jews, that not even a "cat's tail could be properly fitted into the land." With the issuance of the White Paper and enforcing its non-immigration of Jews, the British felt assured of Arab unity and loyalty.

As horrors of the Holocaust were coming to light Jewish men and women flocked to enter the British Army. A request was made to form a Jewish Brigade. These soldiers were instrumental in finding abandoned ships barely seaworthy and enticed sea captains with large sums of money for an adventurous opportunity to transport escapees of the holocaust to safer shores. When the British Navy spotted the vessels, high sea piracy not withstanding, they stopped the ships long before they reached territorial waters. The ships were boarded and the passengers were summarily transported to Cyprus or Mauritius where the people were kept in detention camps.

Every now and again, a ship would slip through the blockade. The crew beached the vessel as close to shore as possible, usually during the rainiest, coldest and darkest of nights. The passengers had to wade to shore in the dead of night in icy cold waters and were quickly disbursed into the nearest kibbutzim. When news reached the Yishuv (the Jewish population) that an empty hull of a ship was found on the beach much to the chagrin of the British the jubilation could be heard from Dan to B'eer Sheva.

One such a ship beached itself on Mt. Karmel well, not literally but it might have as well done so.

We had an "Aunt" Mrs. "M". Her son Gad was my best friend. I had come home from school on a brisk winter day, spring was just tweaking the Crocus out of the ground. Aunt "M" was sitting teary eyed and on the verge of hysteria in our living room and mother was more than just delighted to see me come into the room in a timely fashion.

The first question out of both women's mouth was almost in unison.

"How was school?"


"Did something unusual happen in school today?"


"When was the last time you saw Gad?"

"I don't know. My voice trailed, I remember getting dryness in the throat.

"Did you see Gad at all in school today?"

"Yes, of course at morning parade."

Mrs. "M's" voice was shaking beyond recognition as she hammered away question after question. Usually I did see my friend but suddenly it occurred to me that the schoolyard was exceptionally empty during mid-morning recess there were only three grades on the playground. This school had eight grades and several hundred students attended daily. When Aunt 'M" repeated her question as to whether I saw Gad during the mid-morning recess I answered,


"Did you see any of the upper class students?"


I was only one class behind Gad, I was left behind one year due to illness.

My mother and Aunt "M" burst out crying and both yelling at me at the same time with rapid fire questions to remember as much of the school day as I could. The more they screamed and fired the piercing questions the more my mind went blank.

Aunt "M" ran home to be with her husband and the remaining older son. An invitation to stay for dinner was not done in those days because of the severe rationing of food. As the afternoon hours gave way to evening Gad came home dirty, tired, and happy with a big grin. The "M' family stood in front of us again this time hugging and kissing each other full of joy.

What happened?

A ship was beached in the early morning hours off the coast of Haifa and the passengers were herded to a settlement on Mt. Karmel called Rosh HaKarmel. The British military were in hot pursuit and surrounded the small village. In the meantime the school children from all the schools fourth level upward (approximate age 13) were bussed to the settlement without parental permission. Each child was given a long club. The children were ordered to cause mayhem, be around, be as troublesome as possible cause confusion and while being as pesky as they wished to be swing the clubs from side to side indiscriminately. If a British solider got hit in the knees or the shin bone so much the better.

Gad was not a violent youngster and the idea of standing around and making a nuisance of himself and swinging a club was not his style. He wandered off into a field, found a shady bush and fell asleep holding on to his club. When the children were gathered up to bring them back to school Gad was among the missing. Alarmed teachers and settlers scoured the countryside looking for him. Gad awoke from his nap and wondered around with a club in his hand. They did not know whether to reprimand him for delaying their departure or praise him for coming forward at their most desperate moment.

Life was never the same after this event. The schools overstepped their authority. No matter how many letters of apologies were sent out the incident was viewed as child exploitation. Trust became a victim and our school life changed. Confidence in the education system was limited to the high scholastic standards demanded. A wall grew between the parents and the schools and it never fell.


from the September 2001 Edition of the Jewish Magazine




The Jewish Magazine is the place for Israel and Jewish interest articles
The Current Monthly Jewish Magazine
To the Current Index Page
Write to us!
Write Us
The Total & Complete Gigantic Archive Pages for all issues
To the Big Archives Index Page