30 Jahre Deutsche Einheit Mehr erfahren
Eine Frau geht an einer Weltkarte, die aus Kinderporträts besteht, am Freitag (18.06.2010) im JuniorMuseum in Köln vorbei.

1.6.2008 | Von:
Jan Schneider

Historical development of Jewish immigration

Before the founding of the state

Jews have been migrating to Palestine since the early 1880s and the emergence of the Zionist movement. Five waves of immigration (aliyah, plural: aliyoth) are generally identified for the time leading up to the founding of the state in 1948.

The first aliyah, between 1882 and 1903, comprised about 25,000 mostly Russian and Romanian Jews and was, not least, a reaction to a series of anti-Semitic pogroms in southern Russia. It led to the first major towns and agricultural holdings in an area that had hitherto been relatively sparsely populated and economically poorly developed. Between 1904 and 1914 a further 40,000 Jews came to Palestine. This group predominantly consisted of members of the "Zionist Workers" in Russia who were dissatisfied with the slow pace of social reform and who had likewise become victims of anti-Semitic attacks as a consequence of the 1905 revolution. The third aliyah, between 1919 and 1923, was made up of a further 35,000 immigrants, approximately, predominantly from Poland and Russia or the Soviet Union and motivated, among other things, by the Balfour Declaration and the associated boost for the Zionist project, which aspired towards an independent Jewish state. [1]

Between 1924 and 1931 a further 80,000 Jews arrived, once again primarily from the Soviet Union and Poland. The Polish Jews in particular suffered from anti-Semitism in Polish government policy, which excluded them from important segments of the economy. By contrast, the prospects for economic development for Jews in Palestine at this time were already significantly improved, and a Jewish infrastructure had been established. The biggest pre-state wave of immigration, the fifth aliyah between 1932 and 1939, involved about 200,000 Jews. They had recognised the signs of the times, largely following the assumption of power by the National Socialists in 1933, and decided to leave their homeland. The immigrants of the 1930s also already included several thousand Jews from Middle Eastern countries with large Jewish communities such as Yemen and Iraq. Between 1939 and 1945 around a further 70,000 European Jews from Poland, Germany, Romania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia succeeded in fleeing from Nazi terror. They are sometimes also included in the fifth aliyah. These immigrants not only had to overcome the difficulties of leaving Central and Eastern Europe, but, against a background of the looming partition of Palestine, were also confronted by the British Mandatory power's restrictive immigration regulations. On the eve of the founding of the Israeli state, the Jewish population of Palestine numbered more than 600,000 people.

The War of Independence: refugeeism and displacement

At the start of Jewish immigration at the end of the 19th century Palestine was by no means uninhabited. Living in the area – initially in peaceful coexistence with the Jewish immigrants, for the most part – was a partly nomadic, partly settled Arab population totalling about 400,000 people. [2] In addition, there were a number of small Jewish communities which, taken together, numbered about 20,000 people and whose settlement went back predominantly to Jews driven out of Spain at the end of the 15th century as well as Jewish pilgrims from the latter years of the Middle Ages.

At the end of the 19th century and turn of the 20th century the living space and economic areas of both population groups overlapped, especially in the mixed-population cities of Haifa, Yaffo (Jaffa), Ramle and Akko. Like the Jews, Arabs, too, migrated from surrounding regions to Palestine and settled there. The early 1920s, however, saw riots and at times armed conflict between Jews and Arabs (mostly over land issues) as well as between both groups and the British Mandatory power in Palestine. In the 1930s and 1940s there were civil war-like clashes, increasing in magnitute after the United Nations (UN) Partition Plan of 1947 which proposed two states on Palestinian soil,. Immediately after the Declaration of Independence made by the Jewish National Council on the 14th May 1948, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Iraq declared war on the new state of Israel. This first Arab-Israeli war lasted over a year and led to massive displacement and refugee movements, since the victorious Israel also conquered areas that, according to the UN Plan, were to belong to the Arab state of Palestine.

In all, between 600,000 and 800,000 people of Arabic origin were left without a homeland: more than 450,000 settled in the Gaza Strip as well as in the part of the West Bank under Jordanian control until 1967, 70,000 in Transjordan (today's Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan), 75,000 in Syria and a further 100,000 in Lebanon. Palestinian refugees also found themselves in Iraq (about 4,000) and in Egypt (around 7,000). [3] Unlike most Jews, who saw in the newly-founded and defended independence of Israel the realisation of the Zionist dream, the war, refugeeism and displacement of the year 1948 meant catastrophe (Nakba) for Arab Palestinians. In 1948 a small number of Arabs stayed in the newly founded state: a good 150,000 non-Jews were granted Israeli citizenship, making them an ethnic minority. Depending on (self)definition, members of that minority are described as Israeli Arabs or as Palestinian Israelis. Today this group comprises more than 1.4 million people.


Between 1917 and 1948, Great Britain as victors in the First World War wielded the administrative and military power in Palestine ("Mandate") which had previously belonged to the Ottoman Empire. The so-called Balfour Declaration was a letter from the British Foreign Secretary at the time, Arthur Balfour, in which Great Britain declared that it was essentially sympathetic with Zionist aspirations to establish a "national home for the Jewish people".
The Arabs in Palestine were not an homogeneous group of people. They were predominantly Sunni Muslims, including some Bedouin. In addition there were large groups of both Christians and Druze (members of a non-missionary sect of Shiite-Islamic origin with strong group identity and their own, partly arcane religious practices).
Cf. Gilbert (1996)


Zuwanderung, Flucht und Asyl: Aktuelle Themen

Ein Kurzdossier legt komplexe Zusammenhänge aus den Bereichen Zuwanderung, Flucht und Asyl sowie Integration auf einfache und klare Art und Weise dar. Es bietet einen fundierten Einstieg in eine bestimmte Thematik, in dem es den Hintergrund näher beleuchtet und verschiedene Standpunkte wissenschaftlich und kritisch abwägt. Darüber hinaus enthält es Hinweise auf weiterführende Literatur und Internet-Verweise. Dies eröffnet die Möglichkeit, sich eingehender mit der Thematik zu befassen. Unsere Kurzdossiers erscheinen bis zu 6-mal jährlich.

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