Yossi Harel, 90, commander of the illegal Jewish immigrant ship Exodus whose attempt to bring Holocaust survivors to Palestine built support for Israel's founding, died Saturday of cardiac arrest at his home in Tel Aviv, according to his daughter Sharon.
The Jerusalem-born Harel commanded four of the 66 expeditions that brought thousands of refugees to the shores of Palestine, his daughter said. But the best known was 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, which was then controlled by the British.
The British Royal Navy seized the vessel off Palestine's shore, 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 reported worldwide and garnered sympathy for the refugees and the idea of a state of Israel.
It inspired a fictionalized account by American writer Leon Uris and a 1960 film, "Exodus," directed by Otto Preminger and starring Paul Newman.