Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Reading Exodus by Leon Uris: Part 2

Continuing from Part 1 let us continuing looking at the 1958 novel Exodus by Leon Uris. Members of the Palmach are preparing hundred of Jewish refugee detained in British detention camps on Cyprus to make a break for freedom in Palestine on board the Exodus.

Let us continue.

(NOTE: There will be spoilers.)

The Clever Ari

In the last post we saw evidence indicating that the main character, Ari Ben Canaan, is an author insert. Ari in Hebrew means Lion. The author's first name is Leon which bears the same meaning. The other characters keep describing him in an adulatory manner. And it turns out that the author named Ari after himself. This adulation of Leon/Ari continues.
[Mrs. Fremont.] "Do you really think he can get away with this utterly fantastic plan of his?"
[Mr. Parker.] "He's a clever man." (Chapter 9, p. 52.)
Ari: The Only Messiah is a Bayonet

To try and persuade Katherine Fremont to join in the plan to get about three hundred children to Palestine she is persuaded to take a look at the detention facility. While there they see a tent with Orthodox Jews in it. Ari makes the following comment.
"The old men in there," Ari said, "don't quite realize that the only Messiah that will deliver them is a bayonet on the end of a rifle." (Chapter 10, p. 56.)
Who is the target?

At the time of this book's publication Zionism was mainly secular. At first most religious Jews were vehemently opposed to the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine. It was only with the rise of Nazism that many of them came to drop their opposition. But even after that the Zionist movement was still for the most part a secular endeavor. It was not until 1967 that the religious parties began to be more prominent in Israeli society.

Karen's Story

(Regarding Karen's name it is worth looking at the author's dedication. This character is named after a real life person. This is also true in connection with the character Mark Parker.)

Reading this one can see why this book became so famous. It is quite well written and a most harrowing story that exposes a small measure of the social devastation caused by the many horrors inflicted upon the world by the Nazis. It mainly discusses events in Germany and Denmark. (Thankfully Ari only has a small cameo role in this story so he does not detract from it.)
[The Nazis said] the main reason for the occupation [of Denmark] was to protect the Danes from Bolsheviks. (Chapter 12, p. 69.)
Indeed one pretext the Nazis used to demonize the Jews was to stereotype them as Communists. This accusation was used to slur all Jews collectively. It is frightening to imagine that such lies would prepare the way for the Nazis' extermination of about six million Jews.

Jews Can Only Live in Dignity in ...?
Galil, the Palestine girl, was her only confidante and felt that Karen, like all Jews, should go to Palestine. It was the only place a Jew could live with dignity, Galil argued. (Chapter 14, p. 82.)
Since this is a novel, not a political tract, the following words are directed at the idea, not the author, since it is perfectly possible the author is merely expressing other peoples' ideas.

So Jews can only live in dignity in Palestine? All the time that Jews lived everywhere else in Europe or the United States they had no dignity? Living in the homes they lived in all their lives and where their mothers would sing lullabies to their little children, meant they had no dignity just because they were not in Palestine? Is it right that Jews should feel ashamed for living in their homes if they should happen to be born in the United States or any other countries except Palestine?
[Galil:] "Zionism is a first person asking money from a second person to give to a third person to send a fourth person to Palestine." (Chapter 14, p. 83.)
Never heard it described like that before.

It is mentioned that Palmach members would talk about the land they dreamed of.
[Palmach] members held nightly campfires and told wonderful stories of the Land of Milk and Honey and sang wonderful oriental songs right out of the Bible. (Chapter 15, p. 85.)
Bill Fry's Thoughts

Eventually Karen is part of an attempt to clandestinely ship Jewish refugees into Palestine despite Britain's refusal to let them in. However she is captured by the British and in the hospital she talks with the ship's captain, Bill Fry, an American Jew who volunteered to help. Fry shares some thoughts about his identities as a Jews, an American and as one who takes pride in the armed insurgency among some Jews in Palestine. 
[Bill Fry:] "We're Americans but we're a different kind of Americans. Maybe we make ourselves different ... maybe other people make me different ... I'm not smart enough to figure those things out. All my life I've heard I'm supposed to be some sort of coward because I'm a Jew. Let me tell you, kid. Every time the Palmach blows up a British depot or knocks the hell out of some Arabs he's winning respect for me. He's making a liar out of everyone who tells me Jews are yellow. These guys over here are fighting my battle for respect ... understand that?"
[Karen Clement:] "I think so."
[Bill Fry:] "Well, damned if I understand it." (Chapter 17, p. 95.)
It is true that there was widespread hostility against Jews in the United States partly stirred by such scurrilous publications as The Dearborn Independent and such groups as the Ku Klux Klan. No doubt the pain of being stereotyped as "cowardly" hurt deeply. The pain is quite real. It is wrong to stereotype people and make themselves feel ashamed of themselves. We must give no place to hatred against Jews or any other people.

One cannot help but note that there are other opportunities to combat this hostile and dehumanizing stereotype. Many American Jews fought and died in World War II. The author himself served in World War II fighting against the Japanese Empire in Guadalcanal and Tarawa. His first novel was Battle Cry (1952) which describes these things.

And with the end of Chapter 17 (p. 96) Karen's story ends and Ari returns to the story. I suspect one reason why Karen's story is so well made is because Ari was barely in it. He did have a small cameo role but he did not detract from it with his flawlessness, extreme cleverness and superhuman stamina.

Palestinian Mustaches

So the Jews in Palestine of this time were associated with mustaches? Never heard that one before.
Ari had insisted he [Joab Yarkoni] shave off his big black mustache. Zev's mustache met the same fate, for Ari feared this would identity them as Palestinians. (Chapter 18, p. 97.)
Jews in Palestine were known for having big mustaches?

One great thing about fiction is that mundane information like that is more likely to be mentioned than in a work of non-fiction. The mundane and ordinary can become extraordinary and worthy of mention.
Orthodox Children
There were Orthodox children among the three hundred, and this posed a particular problem. Yarkoni had to seek out the head of the Jewish community on Cyprus and have "kosher' food especially processed and canned for them according to dietary law. (Chapter 18, p. 99.)
For much of its history Zionism was largely a secular movement. From its rise in 19th Century Europe until the rise of Nazism the religious Jews opposed the idea of creating a Jewish state in Palestine. And even after that the religious Jews were not particularly important or influential in the State of Israel until after the Six Day War. This is reflected in this novel as these religious tend to be viewed peripherally. They are there in the background of events but the characters of this book are not in this strand of the Jewish religion.

The Flawless Leon/Ari Ben Canaan

Ari in Hebrew means Lion. The author's first name is Leon which bears the same meaning. Ari seems to be an author insert. Some of what he does is described with lavish praise.
The forgeries were so perfect.... (Chapter 18, p. 97.)
Ari did not make them but he authorized them so it is blessed with flawlessness.
Ari Ben Canaan had the utter audacity to form a fake unit of the British Army. (Chapter 18, p. 99.)
Ari's not just audacious, he is utterly audacious.

Later Mark Parker contemplates what has happened.
...his nerves were on edge It had all gone too easily. Ben Canaan and his gang of bandits had run circles around the British. ... Mark marveled at the finesse and skill of Ben Canaan and the courage of the Palmachniks. The outfitting of the Exodus, the training of the children had gone off perfectly. (Chapter 18, p. 100.)
Of course they could "run circles around the British." Of course it was so perfect. Of course Ari had such finesse and skill. This is Leon/Ari under discussion. He is flawless. These passages are further evidence that Ari is an author insert character and that he is too flawless.

No More Barbed Wire 

As they prepared for the children to board the Exodus the Palmachniks covertly taught the children how to fight. At night they would build bonfires and tell stories about what it would like once they reached Palestine.
[They would] tell the children how wonderful it would be for them in Palestine and how they would never live behind barbed wire again. (Chapter 18, p. 100.)
These Jewish children were detained in British camps in Cyprus. Sometimes Israel's Wall in the West Bank is minimized by saying most of it is merely "a chain link fence". But these Jews who dreamed of a Jewish State also yearned to live without fences of barbed wire. It is any surprise that Palestinians divided by the Wall would share the same dream? 

"They Need People to Fight the Arabs"

Karen and another character, Dov Landau, get into an argument. During the argument Dov says the following:
"...Don't you know yet why they're breaking their necks to smuggle Jews into Palestine? ... They're doing it because they need people to fight the Arabs." (Chapter 21, p. 109.)
Shortly after the time this scene is set in there would indeed be a war in which the newly established Jewish State needed as many fighters and workers as possible to prevail. That is an intriguing thought. How does Karen respond?
"And what about the Americans...?" (Chapter 21, p. 109.)
In other words that accusation was not directly addressed by Karen in this heated exchange.

Later Karen complains that Dov merely wishes to lash out in violence once he gets to Palestine.
"All you want to do is go to Palestine so you can join the terrorists and kill..." (Chapter 21, p. 109.)
The argument is later resolved.

And then Dov's story begins but that is for another post.

To be continued...

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