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Aliyah, Absorption and Development
1950s were characterized by a long series of processes and actions - the
direct result of Israel achieving its independence in the late 1940s. I
refer, first and foremost, to absorption of the great aliyah that saw olim
streaming into Israel at a rate unprecedented before or after the
establishment of the State.
Zionism's slogan for many years was: "Medina Ivrit, Aliyah Hofshit! - "A Hebrew State, Free Immigration!" With the establishment of the State in 1948, these words were accorded new meaning. The State had arisen and the gates of Israel were wide open. Now came the real test: could the young country cope with such a great aliyah and bear the burden of its absorption, despite being at war with its Arab neighbors? The leaders of the country and of the World Zionist Organization were in no doubt that it was possible, despite the difficulties. Hundreds of thousands of olim arrived in Israel, and within three-and-a-half years, Israel's population (which was 650,000 on the day the State was declared) had doubled; it had absorbed close to 700,000 new immigrants from dozens of Diasporas - a fete unprecedented anywhere in the world.
A kind of "distribution of labor" between the Israeli government, the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency was agreed upon, which was expressed in the "World Zionist Organization - Jewish Agency for Israel Status Law, 1952" and in the covenant of 1954. Even after the State was established, the Zionist institutions took it upon themselves to handle all matters relating to Aliyah, absorption and settlement, while the country dealt with everything else - security, economics, education and employment. The Jewish people were bound - by means of Zionist and even non-Zionist bodies, especially in the Unites States - to building a Jewish State - Israel. However, these things could not be accomplished in a day and, not surprisingly, there was more than a little tension between certain leaders, especially between David Ben-Gurion and the heads of American Jewry. Tension, and even protracted conflicts, also existed between Ben-Gurion and some of Israel's leaders due to Ben-Gurion's belief that the WZO's role had ended now that the State of Israel had been established. On the other hand, Ben-Gurion accepted the fact that as Diaspora Jews are citizens of their own country, they cannot, therefore, be politically loyal to Israel.
Although the political policy of the WZO continued to consider aliyah to Israel as the crowning glory of the Zionist endeavor, the "work of the present" model in the Diaspora was actively adopted (but without the need to make aliyah to Israel), on the grounds that it helps maintain the character of the Jewish people. Since then, the WZO has taken upon itself the nurturing of Jewish identity in the different Diasporas, seeing the creation of a strong home front throughout the world as an important contribution both to the Jewish communities and to the State of Israel.
The 1950s were mostly turbulent years for the young State, which was trying to absorb hundreds of thousands of Jews. By the end of the decade, Israel had two million Jewish citizens - more than three times the number counted on the first day of statehood - as well as hundreds of new settlements, most of which had been established by new immigrants. The government and the Zionist institutions invested vast amounts of money in development projects relating to the mass absorption of new immigrants, resulting in many crises for Israeli society. This was the period of the ma'abarot (immigrant transit camps), during which hundreds of thousands lived in tents, metal huts and shacks, a fact which left its imprint on Israel's residents for many years to come.
These were, at least in the first half of the decade, tempestuous years from a security point of view. The Arab states would not accept the fact that they had been defeated in the War of Independence, and embarked on an armed struggle against Israel that lasted for years. The Arabs called it, indirectly, "round two," and aimed to use it to correct all the "injustices" of the late 1940s. The security situation reached a peak in 1956. The threats against Israel, especially from Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser, the fedayeen ("suicide fighters") attacks and the closure of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping - all brought about the Sinai Campaign (also known by its code name Kadesh), a preemptive operation which resulted in a great victory for Israel. The eight-year-old Israel defeated Egypt, the largest Arab state, captured the entire Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip and opened the Straits of Tiran. However, a few months later, Israel was forced to forgo its military victories in the Sinai Campaign but its right to move freely in the Straits of Tiran was recognized and a UN force was stationed in the Sinai Peninsula, which separated Israel from Egypt. Peace reigned on Israel's southern border for more than ten years.
In 1958, Israel celebrated ten years of its existence. These were good times for the State, for its citizens and for world Jewry. The dream of generations in which the People of Israel would return to the Jewish homeland had not only came true; the country was standing on its own feet, had absorbed some one million olim, established hundreds of new settlements and proved its military might. It was clear that there was a long way to go but a beginning had been made, and it was an impressive one. The State of Israel was an established fact in the landscape of the Middle East.
In 1950, approximately 170,000 olim arrive in Israel. Some 40% of them live in more than 60 transit camps; others establish dozens of new moshavim throughout the country.
During the year, social and political tension in the camps rises when the religious parties demand that new immigrant children receive a religious education. This leads to a crisis in the government.
In January, the Hula Valley reclamation project begins - to turn swampland into arable land. This is one of the largest development projects to be implemented during the first years of the State.
Ben-Gurion provokes a number of public storms during the year, especially when he questions the future of the Zionist movement. In his opinion, the role of the WZO has come to an end. Instead of Zionist Organizations in different countries, he proposes the establishment of Leagues for Israel.
In 1951, 175,000 olim arrive in Israel and the ma'abarot reach a record number - 140. Hundreds of thousands of residents of Israel live in tents, huts and shacks. The push to settle olim in new moshavim continues.
At the beginning of the year reparations from Germany is on the public agenda, causing much political tension and public protest. On January 9, the Knesset approves Prime Minister Ben-Gurion's message on negotiation with West Germany regarding compensation.
Throughout the year the government declares an easing in austerity measures and rationing. This is mostly due to the increasing stretches of arable land throughout Israel and the growing of vegetables by members (mostly new immigrants) of newly established agricultural settlements.
Aliyah to Israel in 1952 is low in comparison to previous years - only 24,000. One of the reasons for this is the economic hardship and inflation in Israel (some 60% a year). Another deterrent to aliyah is the system of "selection" that is inclined to favor young, healthy olim.
Aliyah continues to drop and hundreds, rather than thousands, arrive each month.
Only 11,000 olim arrive this year and there is increased yerida (emigration) from Israel due to the harsh living conditions and lack of work.
The small number of olim enables the absorption authorities to step-up building for immigrants, close some of the ma'abarot, and transfer their inhabitants to permanent housing.
New settlement is at a low ebb. Nevertheless, the Jewish Agency's Agricultural Settlement Department introduces a new method of regional settlement - the settling of entire districts. In the first stage this involves the Lachish district in southern Israel and the Ta'anakh district in the southern Jezreel Valley.
Serious security incidents along Israel's border with the Egyptians and the Jordanians - fedayeen ("suicide fighters") infiltrate and murder Israeli civilians. The Israel Defense Forces launch a series of retaliatory attacks.
Following the signing of the arms agreement between Egypt and Czechoslovakia, which involves supplying large amounts of weapons to Egypt from Eastern Europe (intended for use against Israel), Israel implements a campaign to strengthen the country. Israeli citizens contribute millions of lira through the Security Fund and men, women and children donate jewelry, savings, saving funds and gifts.
Aliyah, which in previous years had reached a low point, picked up in 1955, with 37,000 olim arriving in Israel, mostly from Morocco. This is a result of increased Pan Islamic influences and strengthened nationalist elements in Morocco, which is about to be granted independence.
The tense situation along the borders continues almost until the end of the year. Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser threatens to destroy Israel, and the Straits of Tiran close to Israeli shipping traffic. Israel declares repeatedly that it will act in response to Egyptian threats, fedayeen terror and the blockade of the Straits of Tiran.
France helps supply Israel with weapons and ammunition - including munitions and airplanes. Throughout the spring months thousands of laborers and volunteers leave for the front-line settlements, in the south and in the Negev, in order to help with digging and fortification work to counter an Egyptian attack.
In the summer and autumn months, tension along the borders reaches a peak. Jordan joins Egypt and Syria in the establishment of a unified command against Israel. Israel warns Jordan that it will not tolerate further attacks from the Jordanian side. Many in Israel and around the world believe that a war between Israel and Jordan is imminent.
October 29 - November 6
Israel is pressured into withdrawing its forces from the occupied territories.
During 1956, in spite of the tense security situation, aliyah continues and 56,000 olim arrive, most of them from North Africa. During the year, Morocco is granted independence and a ban is placed on Jewish emigration. In the coming years, the "illegal" immigration of Moroccan Jews is organized at a rate of a few thousand a year. Near the end of 1956, the first olim from Egypt arrive. They were deported following the Sinai Campaign.
January - March
Aliyah continues and during 1957, 71,000 olim arrive - the largest number between 1952 and 1990. Most are from countries that have undergone political crises, such as Egypt, Hungary and Poland.
Only a few new settlements are established this year, but the development towns of Ma'alot and Natzerat lilt are founded.
The draining of the Hula Valley is completed. Thousands of dunams of land are added to the farms in the Galilee.
February - March
The minister for education and culture, Zalman Aranne, initiates a program of "Jewish Consciousness" in the Israeli education system. This is intended to deepen and increase Israeli youths "moral affinity to world Jewry, by acknowledging a mutual destiny and historical continuity which will unite world Jewry in every country for generations."
During 1959, 24,000 olim arrive and two new settlements are established.
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