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A Great Aliyah

For many years most Israelis believed that the mass aliyah of the early years of the State was unlikely to repeat itself; that it was a "one-off' affair. Then came the great aliyah of the early 1990s, disproving this historic "fact."

Four hundred thousand immigrants arrived in 1990/91 alone, and in the following years, 70-80,000 olim a year - a number that would have been considered completely improbable a few years earlier. Aliyah, which for a long period prior to 1990, had made no progress, soared to unknown heights, and Israelis looked on in awe at this miraculous spectacle. The Soviet Union broke up and formed the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and hundreds of thousands of Jews left and settled in Israel - some because they wanted to and others because they were unable to reach other countries. Israel, yet again, had become an open house, ready, at the drop of a hat, to absorb an unlimited number of olim.

The absorption of hundreds of thousands of new immigrants within a few short years was difficult - in terms of housing, employment and integration into Israeli society. There were a great many problems - as there were with most previous waves of aliyah - but this aliyah included many thousands of academics for whom finding suitable employment was a priority, and who had no knowledge of a democratic society. Despite this, most of the olim from the CIS were eventually absorbed. Evidence that this process is not over can be found in the results of elections to the 13th Knesset in May 1996. For the first time in decades, an immigrant party - Israel beAliyah - won serious representation in the Knesset (eight delegates). It then requested aid for the new olim by political means, and not through existing political bodies.

In May 1991, the arrival of some 15,000 olim from Ethiopia in the framework of Operation Solomon drew world attention. In a 36-hour period, 36 planes, mostly Boeing 747s carrying over 1,250 immigrants at a time, airlifted the olim to Israel in a dramatic operation organized by Israel, the Jewish Agency and international bodies. During the operation, seven babies (brand new Israeli immigrants!) were born.

Between 1990 and 1996, Israel experienced a number of great foreign and security developments. Firstly, there was the Gulf War. Israel did not participate in it but did serve as a target for dozens of Iraqi Scud missiles. Then two far-reaching treaties were reached: the Oslo Peace Accords (1993/94) with the PLO, and a peace treaty with Jordan (1994). Even though the peace agreement with Jordan was welcomed in Israel, the agreement with the PLO created great tension, as well as polarization between the Right and Left. This led, in part, to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995. Terrorist attacks in Israel by extreme Palestinian elements, which negated the Oslo Accords, unquestionably contributed to this polarization.

In the 1996 elections, in which the Israeli nation went to the polls for the first time to vote directly for its prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud party, was elected prime minister.


During the first months of the year, increased numbers of Soviet Jews arrive in Israel on a weekly basis.

June 12
The 50,000th oleh of 1990 arrives in Israel. In light of this enormous number, matters relating to aliyah, absorption and housing occupy the Israeli public.

As aliyah increases, so too do demonstrations by Israel's homeless, who set up encampments in city centers in order to protest what they consider the favoring of olim over native Israelis.

Keren Hayesod marks its 70th year. It operates around the world and in Israel, raising money for aliyah, absorption, settlement and development enterprises.

August 2
Iraq invades Kuwait and occupies it, a move that leads to the Gulf War at the beginning of 1991.

September 11
Aliyah is at a high point - 100,000 olim have arrived since the beginning of the year, almost all from the USSR.

Israel imports thousands of temporary structures (caravans) in order to cope with the housing problem created by the influx of increasingly large numbers of olim. On October 30, the first caravan neighborhood is inaugurated in Bat Yam. There is public criticism regarding the building of new ma'abarot (immigrant transit camps).

During this month, 26,562 olim arrive in Israel, 95% of them from the USSR.

December 23
Israel and the USSR agree on consular relations between them, a sign of improved relations between the countries. This, of course, affects aliyah.

During the last week of December 1990, 1,500 new olim arrive daily - a total of 36,000, and an all-time record for a single month.

December 31
The 200,000th oleh of 1990 arrives in Israel. He is Igor Goldfarb, a 25-year-old engineer from the USSR.

Only in 1949 had Israel witnessed aliyah on such a scale, when 239,000 olim arrived in one year.

In 1990, the Jewish Agency initiates the First Home in the Homeland project in which thousands of new olim are absorbed directly into the country's kibbutzim. The project combines kibbutz ulpan (Hebrew classes) with initial preparations for living and working in the kibbutz or a city.

Dozens of Jewish Agency shlichim are sent to large Jewish population centers in the USSR to aid in the aliyah of Jews to Israel.

Keren Hayesod marks 70 years to its founding, while Operation Exodus - the mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of Jews from the former Soviet Union - is getting underway. (Some one million people will make aliyah by 2001.)


January 17 - February 28
The Gulf War begins. Israel does not participate in the war but is bombarded by Iraqi Scud missiles (39). Although this results in serious damage to property, there are relatively few casualties.

May 25
Operation Solomon ends, during which 15,000 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel in 36 planes. Some belonged to El Al Israel Airlines, some to the Israel Air Force, and some were rented.

Aliyah from the USSR continues on a large scale. On October 7, the world is witness to the first direct flight of olim from the USSR to Israel.

December 16
The UN Assembly rescinds its anti-Zionist resolution of 1975, determining by a large majority (111 in favor, 25 against) that Zionism is not racism.

The Jewish National Fund celebrates its 90th anniversary.

During 1991, some 170,000 olim arrive in Israel, mostly from the USSR, which has broken up and formed the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).


The Russian authorities grant official recognition to the World Zionist Organization and permit it to operate in its territory. This permission is later given to Zionist shlichim in other republics of the former USSR.

June 23
An upset in elections to the 13th Knesset. The Likud loses power and the Labor party, headed by Yitzhak Rabin, forms the next government.

July 26-30
The Thirty-second Zionist Congress convenes in Jerusalem and discussions focus on renewed aliyah from the CIS and changes in the former USSR. It is announced that aliyah from the CIS is continuing at a considerable rate and that 60 Jewish Agency shlichim have been sent to 24 cities and 14 centers of activity around the CIS. It is also reported that the Youth and Hechalutz Department is active in 220 communities in the Diaspora, which has resulted in increased numbers of youth movement graduates among olim from Western countries.

At this Congress it is decided to establish a committee to examine the structure of the World Zionist Organization, and a committee to examine the system of elections to the Congress. It is also decided to strengthen the involvement of the Zionist movement in the lives of Jewish communities around the world, including in the CIS and in Eastern Europe. The Congress re-acknowledges the Hungarian Zionist Federation, which has renewed its activities after years of Communist rule.

There are initial signs of reduced unemployment, which rose significantly with the arrival of the most recent wave of aliyah. Economists estimate that the Israeli economy is recovering and that many olim are finding jobs.

1992 is the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews of Spain. The Department for Sephardi and Oriental Communities of the WZO holds a series of events in Israel and abroad to mark the occasion.

Dozens of olim arrive from Bosnia, where battles are raging between Serbs and Bosnians.

December 14
Almost 32 years after the "Egoz" sank near the Moroccan coast, the remains of the deceased are brought to Israel (with the approval of King Hassan), and re-interred at Mount Herzl in a state ceremony.

During 1992, 71,000 olim arrive in Israel, most of them from the former USSR.


A wave of Palestinian terror sweeps the country and the administered territories, including stabbings and stonings. A full closure is placed on the administered territories.

July 25-30
The IDF embarks upon Operation Accountability following continued Katyusha rocket attacks on northern Israeli settlements, and heavily bombards Hizbullah bases north of the security zone in southern Lebanon.

July 29
The Supreme Court of Justice acquits Ivan Demanjuk for lack of conclusive evidence and orders him banished from Israel.

August 30
There is great surprise in Israel, the Arab world and the administered territories when it is discovered that Israel and the PLO have been holding secret negotiations in Oslo, Norway and have arrived at an agreement based on the withdrawal of IDF troops from "Gaza and Jericho first."

September 13
Israel and the PLO sign a Declaration of Principles in Washington. This contains a set of mutually agreed-upon general principles regarding the five-year interim period of Palestinian self-rule, which will begin upon Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and Jericho area.

October - December
Terror attacks continue in Israel, the administered territories and in southern Lebanon.

During 1993, 77,000 olim arrived in Israel, mostly from the USSR.


October 26
After several months of discussions, a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan is signed. US President Bill Clinton attends the event, which is held in the Arava, north of Eilat.

December 10
The Nobel Peace Prize for 1994 is awarded to Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat.

Eighty thousand olim arrived in Israel during 1994.


A very tense year in Israel. Terror attacks continue and tension is high between supporters and opponents of negotiations with the Palestinians. The latter demonstrate, block roads and even threaten important public figures.

September 20
Oslo 2 is signed. The PLO commits to canceling the Palestinian Covenant, and the IDF commits to withdrawing from six cities in Judea and Samaria (Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarem, Kalkiliya, Ramallah and Bethlehem).

November 4
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is assassinated when leaving a mass peace rally in Tel Aviv's Kings of Israel Square. His murderer is Yigal Amir, a Jewish law student at Bar-Ilan University.

In 1995, 77,000 olim arrived in Israel.

During the year the economic situation improved, the standard of living increased and unemployment dropped. Inflation stood at 8.1%, the lowest for 26 years.


Israel mounts Operation Grapes of Wrath in southern Lebanon following Katyusha rocket attacks on targets in the Galilee. The IDF attacks Hizbullah positions with artillery and fighter planes.

May 29
The 1996 general elections introduce a new feature to the system - the direct election of the prime minister: in addition to voting for one's party, the electorate can also cast a ballot for one of the candidates for prime minister. Binyamin Netanyahu of the Likud defeats Shimon Peres of Labor by a small majority to form the new government. Among the surprises: the success of the Israel beAliyah party (most of whose members are olim from the CIS) in winning eight seats in the Knesset.

The educational focus in schools during the 1996 academic year is "One Hundred Years of Zionism." Ceremonies and events are held to mark the Jubilee all over Israel as well as in WZO centers in the Diaspora.

Many fires destroy JNF forests - the result of arson by Palestinians.

The Jewish National Fund formulates a plan to deal with the fires.

The fighting between IDF troops stationed in southern Lebanon and the Hizbullah increases. Katyusha rockets fall on northern settlements.

Seventy thousand olim arrive in Israel during the year, mostly from the CIS. Among the arrivals is a large group of Jews from war-torn Chechnya, who were rescued at great risk.


January 17
The IDF redeploys in the city of Hebron, in accordance with the Hebron Accord between the government of Israel, headed by Binyamin Netanyahu, and the PLO.

Israel completes its withdrawal from the main towns in Judea and Samaria, in accordance with Oslo 2.

February 5
Banks in Switzerland establish a fund of 100 million francs to compensate the descendants of Jews who deposited money with them but did not survive the Holocaust.

July 14
The 15th Maccabiah begins in Ramat Gan. The opening ceremony is overshadowed by a grave disaster: while the Australian delegation crosses a temporary bridge above the polluted Yarkon River on its way to the stadium, the bridge collapses. Four members of the delegation die and many more are injured.

December 23
The Thirty-third Zionist Congress is held in Jerusalem, marking 100 years to the establishment of the WZO. Discussions focus on the controversy between the different streams in Judaism, especially in the United States.

In 1997, 66,000 olim arrive in Israel, mostly from the USSR.

According to the World Zionist Congress, the damage caused to Jews in World War II amounts to between 230 and 320 billion dollars.


April 30
Israel celebrates its 50th Independence Day with a series of festive ceremonies. Many tourists and guests arrive from abroad, including representatives of Jewish communities and Zionist federations.

August 12
A federal court in New York rules that banks in Switzerland must pay 1.25 billion dollars to Holocaust survivors.

October 15-23
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks take place at the Wye Plantation in Maryland, US, presided over by President Bill Clinton. A new agreement is reached between Netanyahu and Arafat for moving the peace process forward.

November 16
The annual assembly of Jewish federations in the US (the General Assembly - GA) is held in Jerusalem for the first time, in honor of Israel's Jubilee.

December 14
The Palestine National Council meets in Gaza and nullifies the articles of the Palestine National Charter that call for the elimination of Israel. Guest of honor at this gathering is US President Bill Clinton. In Israel doubts are expressed regarding the reliability of such a decision.

Fighting in southern Lebanon continues throughout the year, with many shooting incidents in the administered territories.

In 1998, 56,000 olim arrive in Israel - 46,000 (82%) of them from the CIS. More than 3,100 olim arrive from Ethiopia (5.5%).


During the year, the Birthright program takes shape, which aims to enable every Jewish boy and girl from the Diaspora to visit Israel. It is funded by the Jewish Agency, the State of Israel and a number of Jewish-American donors.

Tension increases between secular and religious Jews (particularly Orthodox) in Israel. On February 14, hundreds of thousands of Orthodox demonstrate in Jerusalem against court rulings regarding State and religion.

May 17
In elections to the 15th Knesset, Ehud Barak, the Labor party nominee, is elected prime minister with a 56% majority. His opponent, Netanyahu, announces his retirement from political life.

The Assembly and Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency convene in Jerusalem. Sallai Meridor replaces Avraham Burg as Chairman of the Executive.

Simultaneously, the World Zionist Youth Congress takes place in Jerusalem with the participation of 150 representatives from throughout the Jewish world.

Barak's new government expresses a willingness to reach an agreement with the Palestinians as soon as possible, and is prepared to make sacrifices.

An Aliyah Fair (Expo Israel 99) takes place in Buenos Aires to offer potential immigrants concrete aliyah and job opportunities in Israel. It is visited by 13,000 Argentinean Jews.

The number of olim rose this year - 77,000 - 90% of them from the CIS. Some 17,000 Jewish youth from around the world visited Israel during 1999 in the framework of the Jewish Agency's Israel Experience programs. One thousand Israeli youth leaders left for Jewish camps throughout the world. The educational activities of the Jewish Agency were advertised in dozens of countries worldwide; 90,000 Jews in the CIS participated in these activities during the year.

End of the year, the decade, the century and the millennium. In Israel there are 6.15 million inhabitants, 4.85 million of whom are Jews (79%). The number of Jews in Israel at the end of the 20th century is almost one hundred times more than at the beginning of the century in Eretz Israel (50,000).

There are many anti-Semitic incidents around the world, most of which, especially in Europe, are carried out by Muslims.


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