David Ben Ami
David Ben Ami is a friend of Ari Ben Canaan, the main character. Together they are part of the Jewish underground trying to bring illegal immigrants into Palestine. David has been at the University of Jerusalem, studying to become an archaeologist and historian to preserve the history of his people. He is passionately in love with Jordana Ben Canaan and with the city of Jerusalem, which he dies defending. His knowledge of archeology allows the Jews to find a secret way into Jerusalem to lift the siege. He knows all the mystical lore of the Jews and explains it to Kitty. He is described as friendly and gentle.
Akiva Ben Caanan
Akiva Ben Canaan (Yakov Rabinsky) with his older brother Jossi was born in the Russian Pale of Settlement. After their father is killed in a pogrom, the two brothers escape and walk to Palestine where they become pioneering farmers. Yakov is the poet and constantly quotes Biblical passages, yet once Arabs kill his wife and daughter he forms the underground terrorist group, the Maccabees, thus estranging himself from his brother Barak who wants to do things legally. He bears some resemblance to the real life Avraham Stern of the Lehi group. He is killed by the British during a breakout at Acre jail.
Ari Ben Canaan
Ari Ben Canaan is the main character, a freedom fighter for the Israeli military forces. He is over 6 feet tall, with dark hair and eyes, as handsome as a movie star, and attractive to women. Ari was born and raised on an Israeli kibbutz by his parents who were Zionist pioneers to Palestine. His father is Barak Ben Canaan, formerly Jossi Rabinsky, a Russian Jew who fled to Palestine. His uncle is Akiva Ben Canaan (Yakov Rabinsky), leader of the Maccabees, the militant organization. Ari’s mother is Sarah Ben Canaan, who was tortured by Arabs as she was about to give birth to Ari. His sister is Jordana, a wild and tough soldier for the Palmach. Ari’s fiancée, Dafna, was tortured and killed by Arabs, leaving him bitter and cynical. His blood brother is Taha, Kammal’s son from the Arab village. He is devastated when he and Taha become enemies, and he has to destroy Taha, his people, and their village.
Ari is thought to be cold and calculating, but inside he is warm, with no chance to let out his affection in a climate of total war from the day he was born. He watches all his dear ones and friends killed before their time, and holds back his grief so he can be the objective military commander. All his intelligence and energy go into military strategy. He knows how to get men to follow him loyally, and he is brilliant at paramilitary tactics, often outbluffing the British and Arab troops. Ari is wanted for every campaign by the Haganah and Palmach because he can win against the odds with few men and weapons. He is like David against Goliath, but Ari is not a religious person. He is a realist. He falls in love with Kitty Fremont, a Christian widow, but does not know how to court her. His father has to tell him the secret to a woman’s heart: he has to be vulnerable and need her. He finally wins Kitty, warning her she has to accept his ongoing military duty, obviously the focus of his life. Ari is the prototype of the modern heroic Jew, a man of action, rather than a meek religious ghetto Jew. He is probably based on the figure of Moshe Dayan, the Israeli political leader.
Barak Ben Canaan (Jossi Rabinsky)
Barak is the father of Ari, born in Russia, but fleeing persecution, settles in Palestine with his brother as a farmer. He meets and marries Sarah, his wife, and has a son, Ari, and daughter, Jordana. They work on the kibbutzim and raise their children to be the new Jewish nation, self-sustaining and enterprising. Barak is a natural leader and negotiator. He makes friends with Kammal, an Arab muktar, and buys land from him. He becomes skilled at dealing with Arabs and is a land buyer for the new settlers in Palestine. Barak breaks with his brother Akiva for becoming a Jewish terrorist with the Maccabees. The brothers remain estranged in life, but are buried next to each other. Barak is a wise old man, teaching his son all he knows , including how to get a woman. Barak is depicted as a negotiator for Israel at the United Nations and the writer of a paper defending the Jewish treatment of Arabs after Independence, during the Arab refugee crisis.
Jordana Ben Canaan
Jordana Ben Canaan is the younger sister of Ari, in love with David Ben Ami. She is a leader in the Palmach special forces unit and trains the children of Gan Dafna. She has been brought up as the native Jewish women with military training and knowing harsh survival skills. She is initially jealous of Kitty whom she thinks a pampered American and unworthy of her brother, until Kitty saves Ari’s life. When David, her fiancé, is killed, she is depressed but does not complain. She has fiery red hair and rides horses fearlessly among the Arab men. The Arab Taha is hopelessly in love with her.
Major Fred Caldwell
The British aide to Brigadier Bruce Sutherland on Cyprus, Caldwell is a Jew-hater and reports Sutherland to London for being lax on Jews. When Caldwell makes sure a Maccabee prisoner is thrown out of a car into an Arab village where he is killed, the Maccabees get revenge by killing Caldwell.
Karen Hansen Clement
Karen Hansen Clement, a Holocaust orphan, is a German Jewish child, sent by her father, Professor Clement, out of Nazi Germany to Denmark to be adopted when she is 8 years old. She grows up as the Christian daughter of Aage and Mete Hanssen with all the luxuries she could want, and is accepted to the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen as a teenager. At the end of the war, she searches for her family, and when she finds they have been killed, she goes to Palestine to see if her father survived. She meets Dov Landau, her boyfriend, on Cyprus at the detention camp for Jews. She and Dov sail on the Exodus to Palestine and live in the Youth Village, Gan Dafna. Kitty Fremont is her foster mother, always trying to adopt Karen and get her to come to America. Karen is described as angelic and kind, and full of religious faith, a ray of light in darkness. She mothers the younger orphans and eventually becomes a nurse. She inspires others, as she inspires Dov, with the faith that there is still goodness in the world. Karen becomes an Israeli army nurse and is killed by fedayeen at her settlement post in the desert before she can marry Dov. She is tall and beautiful with long brown hair.
Dafna is Ari’s former fiancée, a member of the Haganah, as he is. While on military duty, she is captured by Arabs, raped, tortured, and killed. Ari is so grief-stricken he never mentions her name again. Her statue, with a gun in her hand, is in the courtyard of the Youth Village named for her in northern Palestine, Gan Dafna, where much of the story takes place.
Katherine “Kitty” Fremont
Kitty Fremont is an American Christian nurse from Indiana whose husband, Tom, was killed in World War II. Her baby daughter also died of polio, causing Kitty to have a nervous breakdown. She is blonde, blue-eyed and beautiful, the wholesome American girl next door. To come out of her grief, Kitty went abroad to nurse war orphans. She meets Ari Ben Canaan on Cyprus and becomes an aide to his escape plan for the children of the Caraolos detention camp by working at the camp and being a courier for the Jewish underground. She constantly fights her attraction to Ari, finding him cold and arrogant, though magnetic. She also fights her attraction the land of Palestine but follows Ari and the orphans there, because she wants to adopt one of them, Karen Hansen Clement, who reminds her of her dead daughter. Kitty works at Gan Dafna rehabilitating the Holocaust children and trying to get Karen to go with her to America. Kitty is contrasted in her refinement to the wild Jordana who is a soldier and scorns pretty clothes. Kitty struggles to understand the Jews’ passionate desire to fight for Israel, but in the end becomes their close friend and ally, even being won over to stay with Ari and be his wife. She saves Ari’s life when he is shot in the Acre jail escape, by extracting a bullet from his leg.
Zev Gilboa is one of Ari’s close friends and colleagues in the Jewish underground. He is a farmer from Galilee and helps Ari with the Exodus incident and during the War of Independence. He is killed trying to storm Fort Esther against Ari’s orders. Ari crawls up to him where he is dying and gives him a grenade to blow himself and the enemy up.
Kammal is the muktar or ruler of the village of Abu Yesha next to the Gan Dafna Youth Village. Kammal became a friend of Barak Ben Canaan when he first arrived in Palestine and helped him and other Jews settle there. In return a friendship blossomed, and Barak shared secrets of irrigation and farming with the Arabs. When Kammal is killed by hostile Arabs for helping Jews, his son Taha is raised on a Jewish kibbutz for safety.
Dov Landau, a Holocaust orphan, grew up in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw and learned as a child to steal, spy, kill, fight, and forge papers to stay alive. His entire family is killed in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and he is sent to Auschwitz where he forges for the Nazis and has to clean up the gas chambers after Jews are exterminated. He is said to have been starving and on the verge of madness when the camp is liberated. As an angry teenager he makes his way to Palestine, first detained on Cyprus by the British, and finally part of the 300 on the ship Exodus. His girlfriend, Karen Clement, is the only one who can communicate with him and bring him out of his morose rebellion. They are happy at Gan Dafna together until he decides to run away to Jerusalem to become a Maccabee terrorist. After he is put in jail, sentenced to death, and then rescued by Ari, he changes and decides to have a life with Karen. He educates himself and is accepted to an American engineering school as a military officer working under Ari Ben Canaan. When Karen is killed, he decides to spend his life to make her proud of him. He is small in stature, with blonde hair and blue eyes.
Mark Parker is an American reporter with the American News Service who leaks the Exodus story at Ari’s urging so it will have international publicity and sympathy. He is Kitty’s high school friend from Indiana and her husband Tom’s best friend. He has always been half in love with Kitty, though they remain friends not lovers.
Brigadier Bruce Sutherland
Bruce Sutherland is the commanding British officer on Cyprus, in charge of the Caraolos detention camp and keeping the Jews from going to Palestine. He has a difficult time of it because of his conscience. He denied his Jewish mother a Jewish burial as she requested, and he is haunted by this and the fact that he is part Jewish. He is relieved of command because he is too soft on the Jews. He buys a villa in Palestine and befriends the Jews there, advising their military strategy during their wars.
Taha is the son of Arab muktar, Kammal of Abu Yesha. When his father is killed he rules the village but dies with the people and village rather than take the part of the Jews in the War of Independence. Ari is forced to become the enemy of his friend and destroy the village. Taha decides to fight the Jews when Ari refuses him as a suitor to Jordana.
Joab Yarkoni is a dark-skinned Jew from Morocco, a friend of Ari’s and one of his hand-picked companions for dangerous assignments in the Mossad Aliyah Bet, the underground immigration organization. He trains the children in the Caraolos detention camp to make them ready for the Exodus journey.