Aliya and Absorption
The ingathering of the exiles to their ancestral homeland is the raison d’etre of the State of Israel. Aliya (literally ascending) is the Hebrew word for immigration to the Land of Israel. The meaning of ascent in this context is spiritual as well as physical; all Jews are educated in the belief that this ascent is an essential part of Judaism. It is the ultimate form of identification with one’s people, the Jewish people, whose life and destiny are inextricably tied to the Land of Israel. Since the beginning of the waves of aliya in the late 19th century, many hundreds of thousands of immigrants have arrived in the Land. The background, traditions and expertise brought by each wave have been of immeasurable value in the development of Israel’s pluralistic, democratic society and modern economy.
The Jews and the Land of Israel
Following their expulsion and after the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 70 CE, the majority of the Jews were dispersed throughout the world. The Jewish national idea, however, was never abandoned, nor was the longing to return to their homeland.
Throughout the centuries, Jews have maintained a presence in the Land, in greater or lesser numbers; uninterrupted contact with Jews abroad has enriched the cultural, spiritual and intellectual life of both communities.
Zionism, the political movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland, founded in the late 19th century, derives its name from word "Zion", the traditional synonym for Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. In response to continued oppression and persecution of Jews in eastern Europe and disillusionment with emancipation in Western Europe, and inspired by Zionist ideology, Jews immigrated to Palestine towards the end of the nineteenth century. This was the first of the modern waves of aliya that were to transform the face of the country.
The First Aliya followed pogroms in Russia in 1881-1882, with most of the olim (immigrants) coming from Eastern Europe; a small number also arrived from Yemen. Members of Hibbat Zion and Bilu, two early Zionist movements that were the mainstays of the First Aliya, defined their goal as "the political, national, and spiritual resurrection of the Jewish people in Palestine." Though they were inexperienced idealists, most chose agricultural settlement as their way of life and founded moshavot – farmholders’ villages based on the principle of private property. Three early villages of this type were Rishon Lezion, Rosh Pina, and Zikhron Ya’akov. The First Aliya settlers encountered many difficulties, including an inclement climate, disease, crippling Turkish taxation and Arab opposition. They required assistance and received scanty aid from Hibbat Zion, and more substantial aid from Baron Edmond de Rothschild. He provided the moshavot with his patronage and the settlers with economic assistance, thereby averting the collapse of the settlement enterprise. The Yemenite olim, most of whom settled in Jerusalem, were first employed as construction workers and later in the citrus plantations of the moshavot.
In all, nearly 35,000 Jews came to Palestine during the First Aliya. Almost half of them left the country within several years of their arrival, some 15,000 established new rural settlements, and the rest moved to the towns.
The Second Aliya, in the wake of pogroms in Czarist Russia and the ensuing eruption of antisemitism, had a profound impact on the complexion and development of modern Jewish settlement in Palestine. Most of its members were young people inspired by socialist ideals. Many models and components of the rural settlement enterprise came into being at this time, such as "national farms" where rural settlers were trained; the first kibbutz, Degania (1909); and Hashomer, the first Jewish self-defense organization in Palestine. The Ahuzat Bayit neighborhood, established as a suburb of Jaffa, developed into Tel Aviv, the first modern all-Jewish city. The Hebrew language was revived as a spoken tongue, and Hebrew literature and Hebrew newspapers were published. Political parties were founded and workers’ agricultural organizations began to form. These pioneers laid the foundations that were to put the yishuv (the Jewish community) on its course towards an independent state.
In all, 40,000 Jews immigrated during this period, but absorption difficulties and the absence of a stable economic base caused nearly half of them to leave.
The Third Aliya
This aliya, a continuation of the Second Aliya (which was interrupted by World War I), was triggered by the October Revolution in Russia, the ensuing pogroms there and in Poland and Hungary, the British conquest of Palestine and the Balfour Declaration. Most members of the Third Aliya were young halutzim (pioneers) from Eastern Europe. Although the British Mandatory regime imposed aliya quotas, the yishuv numbered 90,000 by the end of this period. The new immigrants built roads and towns, and projects such as the draining of marshes in the Jezreel Valley and the Hefer Plain were undertaken. The General Federation of Labor (Histadrut) was established, representative institutions for the yishuv were founded (the Elected Assembly and the National Council), and the Haganah (the clandestine Jewish defense organization) was formed. Agricultural settlement expanded, and the first industrial enterprises were established.
Approximately 40,000 Jews arrived in Palestine during the Third Aliya; relatively few returned to their countries of origin.
The Fourth Aliya was a direct result of the economic crisis and anti-Jewish policies in Poland, along with the introduction of stiff immigration quotas by the United States. Most of the immigrants belonged to the middle class and brought modest sums of capital with which they established small businesses and workshops. Tel Aviv grew. Notwithstanding the yishuv‘s economic woes, with an economic crisis in 1926 – 1928, the Fourth Aliya did much to strengthen the towns, further industrial development and reinstate Jewish labor in the villages.
In all, the Fourth Aliya brought 82,000 Jews to Palestine, of whom 23,000 left.
The Fifth Aliya
The signal event of this aliya wave was the Nazi accession to power in Germany (1933). Persecution and the Jews’ worsening situation caused aliya from Germany to increase and aliya from Eastern Europe to resume. Many of the immigrants from Germany were professionals; their impact was to be felt in many fields of endeavor. Within a four-year period (1933-1936), 174,000 Jews settled in the country. The towns flourished as new industrial enterprises were founded and construction of the Haifa port and the oil refineries was completed. Throughout the country, "stockade and tower" settlements were established. During this period – in 1929 and again in 1936-39 – violent Arab attacks on the Jewish population took place, called "disturbances" by the British. The British government imposed restrictions on immigration, resulting in Aliya Bet – clandestine, illegal immigration.
By 1940, nearly 250,000 Jews had arrived during the Fifth Aliya (20,000 of them left later) and the yishuv‘s population reached 450,000. From this time on, the practice of "numbering" the waves of immigration was discontinued – which is not to say that aliya had exhausted itself.
Youth Aliya was originally founded (1933) to rescue Jewish youth from Nazi Germany. Some 5,000 teenagers were brought to the country before World War II and educated at Youth Aliya boarding schools; followed, after the war, by an additional 15,000, most of them Holocaust survivors. Today Youth Aliya villages continue to play a vital role in the absorption of young newcomers, as well as offering thousands of disadvantaged Israeli youth a second chance.
During World War II, the aliya effort focused on rescuing Jews from Nazi-occupied Europe. Some olim entered the country on visas issued under the "White Paper" quota; the majority came as illegal immigrants. This immigration, called Aliya Bet, arrived by land and by sea, from Europe and the Middle East, in contravention of the Mandatory Government’s orders.
The loss of contact with European countries, the hazards of maritime travel under wartime conditions, and the difficulty in obtaining vessels for transport of illegal immigrants placed severe constraints on Aliya Bet. Several boatloads of immigrants who managed to reach Palestine were sent back by British authorities upholding the quota system. Many lost their lives at sea or in the Nazi inferno in Europe.
During the years 1944-1948, the Jews in Eastern Europe sought to leave that continent by any means. Emissaries from the yishuv, Jewish partisans and Zionist youth movements cooperated in establishing the Beriha (escape) organization, which helped nearly 200,000 Jews leave Europe. The majority settled in Palestine.
The number of immigrants during the entire Mandate period, legal and illegal alike, was approximately 480,000, close to 90% of them from Europe. The population of the yishuv expanded to 650,000 by the time statehood was proclaimed.
On May 14, 1948 the State of Israel was proclaimed. The Proclamation of the Establishment of the State of Israel stated: "The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and the ingathering of the exiles; it will foster the development of the country for all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice, and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex…" This was followed in 1950 by the Law of Return, which granted every Jew the automatic right to immigrate to Israel and become a citizen of the state. With the gates wide open after statehood was declared, a wave of mass immigration brought 687,000 Jews to Israel’s shores. By 1951, the number of immigrants more than doubled the Jewish population of the country in 1948. The immigrants included, inter alia, survivors of the Holocaust from displaced persons’ camps in Germany, Austria and Italy; a majority of the Jewish communities of Bulgaria and Poland and one third of the Jews of Romania; and nearly all of the Jewish communities of Libya, Yemen and Iraq.
Additional mass immigration took place in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when immigrants arrived from the newly independent countries of North Africa, Morocco and Tunisia. A large number of immigrants also arrived during these years from Poland, Hungary and Egypt.
Immigration from Western Countries
While mass immigrations to Israel have mostly been from countries of distress, immigration of individuals from the free world has also continued throughout the years. Most of these persons are motivated by idealism. This aliya gained strength after the Six-Day War, with the awakening feelings of Jewish identity among Diaspora Jewry.
Immigration from the Soviet Union and the former Soviet Union
From 1948 to 1967, the relations between Jews in the Soviet Union and the State of Israel were limited. Following the Six-Day War, Jewish consciousness among Soviet Jews was awakened, and increasing numbers sought aliya. As an atmosphere of detente began to pervade international relations in the early 1970s, the Soviet Union permitted significant number of Jews to emigrate to Israel. At the end of the decade, a quarter of a million Jews had left the Soviet Union; 140,000 immigrated to Israel.
Immigration from Ethiopia
The last decade has witnessed the aliya of the ancient Jewish community of Ethiopia. In 1984, some 7,000 Ethiopian Jews walked hundreds of miles to Sudan, where a secret effort known as Operation Moses brought them to Israel. Another 15,000 arrived in a dramatic airlift, Operation Solomon, in May 1991. Within thirty hours, forty-one flights from Addis Ababa carried almost all the remaining community to Israel.
|Each wave of immigrants has brought its unique experiences, cultural background and talents to contribute to the mosaic of Israel’s society, facing the challenges of the 21st century.|
* 1948-51 includes 24,000 immigrants whose last continent of residence is unknown; in later years it includes a small number of such immigrants.