Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

Proof through the night

Posted on: April 15, 2019

england flag

There are some who think Leon Uris punched above his literary weight with Exodus, his 1958 novel, recounting the journey to Mandate Palestine undertaken by a large group of Holocaust survivors.

The refugees sail to Haifa aboard a ship renamed Exodus and enter Israel illegally according to the terms of the British Mandate. Within a year, the United Nations vote for partition and the State of Israel is created. The book tells of the lives of the characters, in the ghettos and camps during the war, on the difficult voyage and after settlement in Israel. There is also a flashback story about two brothers who make their way from Tsarist Russia to Ottoman Palestine before World War One.

Otto Preminger made a film of Exodus in 1960. The book and film were enormously influential, depicting horrors of the Holocaust through the experiences of sympathetic characters, the significance of Israel as a place of refuge and the hostility of Israel’s neighbours to the Jewish State.

I just watched the film again, in connection with this blog post which has the working title ‘Flags’. I wanted to see if a certain scene, memorable since 1960, was still affecting, given that the film is imbued with some of the sentiment and stereotype of its time.

The scene is set in 1947, before the United Nations voted for partition of the territory.  The Haganah – Israel Defence Force – has organized the escape of 611 Jewish survivors of the Shoah, being held in a detention camp in British Cyprus. They have acquired a down at heel ship called the Olympia and brought the refugees aboard with a view to sailing to Palestine – and the name Palestine is used by all in the film to designate the homeland to which Jews and Arabs both lay claim. When the British blockade the harbour to prevent the ship from sailing, the Haganah and the refugees  aboard the Olympia/ Exodus commence a hunger strike.

The flag of the Star of David is raised and flutters from the flagpole, while a non-diegetic orchestra plays Hatikvah. Within the narrative of  survivors of genocide struggling to reach a place of greater safety which they can call home, it is as affecting now as it was then in 1960. The film goes on to depict both amity and violent hostility between Jews and Arabs in post war Mandate Palestine. It does not gloss over the violence of the Irgun against British army personnel, killed when the Irgun blew up the King David Hotel. Characters are depicted with broad brush strokes: the saintly, the heroic, the well-meaning, the stupid, the broken and the adamantine.

flag exodus

The script of Exodus was written by Dalton Trumbo, towards the end of his years on the  Hollywood blacklist. The film appeared the same year as Trumbo’s other great epic, Spartacus. Otto Preminger, Stanley Kubrick and Kirk Douglas all played a part in restoring Dalton Trumbo’s reputation under his own name in the American film industry

I set out in this blog post to write about the emotive potency of flag flying. I was going to mention the famous photo at Iwo Jima and the triumphant fluttering of the Seven Samurai’s banner in Kurosawa’s film.


The Star Spangled Banner depicts love of the flag as love of country.

Oh say can you see by the dawn’s early light

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming

Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight

O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?

Any questions you might want to raise about the displacement of the indigenous population, the global role of the United States or the incumbent President are legitimate but the human response to a flag is under the jurisdiction of the heart. iwo jima

The office of the Communist Refoundation Party in the Castello district of Venice displays the words 7 Martiri, referring to seven hostages killed by the German occupiers in 1944, as a reprisal for the death of a German soldier. The hammer and sickle is displayed to this day on the door of the building as well as on the red flag – the Soviet flag – which flies from a flag pole to the left of the entrance. Just a metre to the right is an altar, depicting the Sacred Heart.

The juxtaposition of Communist flag and Catholic altar interested me and I painted it.7 martiri

Flag waving is not restricted to nationality, politics and ideology. A flag is often above eye level, causing the raising of the eyes. In the Passover song Adir Hu, God is likened to a flag or banner, ‘Dagul hu,’ meaning to say ‘He is exalted’. In the book of Numbers, each of the tribes has their own banner, their degel.

We know – at the very least, from films we have watched – that enemy flags strike fear and detestation. Thus it is with the swastika.

It was reported in The Times today that a Labour party candidate posted on social media that she wanted to vomit on seeing the Israeli flag.

Indeed, Labour is so partisan at the present time on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that a mass of Palestinian flags was unfurled at the Labour Party Conference in 2018. Did those present feel the exaltation of looking upwards at a symbol of their ardent beliefs and identification? Or were they just experiencing jouissance in showing us Jews that our time in Labour was done, unless we renounce the Star of David, our chosen symbol since – and this is the terminus ante quem – an eleventh century manuscript of the Hebrew bible, known as the Leningrad Codex. labour pal flags

When I was born, here in London, my aunt in Australia sent over a tiny gold Star of David for me to wear in due course, as a necklace. I wore it often, including under the wedding canopy, but later it was lost; I do not know how.

I have not so far said a word about the Union Jack, which I like to see on display at the Last Night of the Proms, or the England flag which I find inspirational at the time of international football fixtures, or the European flag, which is visible every day outside Parliament as long as this Brexit crisis persists.


One may be roused by many flags, including those of other countries, especially when we want to show solidarity with them. The impact is always visual but there is often an aural accompaniment such as a national or political anthem, a band or an orchestra.

I have sometimes posted images of flags of other countries when they come under terrorist attack: France, Belgium and possibly more.

There must be a roaring trade in enemy flags in those countries where public flag burnings are customary. It does seem a pity to obtain flags with a view to igniting and trampling.

burning flags

As a general but not invariable rule, it is better for multiple flags to fly alongside each other. That way we can look up at our civic buildings and see the precious symbols of our own and other communities, flying side by side.

all flags

2 Responses to "Proof through the night"

Flags can be very emotive. At infant school, circa 1969, I drew a flag of Japan, largely because the big red circle with a white background was easy. My teacher, Mrs Phensaheim, made me draw over it. Later my Mum explained that my teacher’s Dad had recently died after a series of illnesses as he had never really recovered from being tortured and maltreated by The Japanese army in Burma.

Gosh. My late husband went to Jewish schools, primary and then the Hasmonean. He told me that when he was young, he drew a swastika, finding the symmetry and shape fascinating. It was seen by a teacher who was a survivor. Poor teacher! Poor David (muy husband)!

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