Jewish Immigration to Palestine

The story of who went to Palestine, and how these successive waves of Jewish immigration shaped Jewish life there from 1881-1939.

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·        Third, the nature of this emerging society was shaped also by political tensions within the Zionist leadership, and ideological conflicts among the immigrants who perceived the Zionist enterprise in vivid utopian colors.

Therefore, dividing the history of modern Jewish Palestine according to the successive aliyot is well justified, since each wave of immigration brought with it specific ideological and social characteristics which shaped the development of the yishuv. The First Aliyah (1881‑1903) created the moshavot, villages of independent farmers; the Second Aliyah (1904‑1914) brought the collective settlement (the kibbutz); the Third (1919‑1923), Fourth (1924‑1928), and Fifth Aliyot (1933‑1939) were responsible for spectacular urban and industrial growth.

In 1880, the total number of Jews in the country was 20,000‑25,000, two‑thirds of whom were in Jerusalem; on the eve of independence they ­numbered about 650,000, in old and new towns and in hundreds of settlements throughout the land. There were 44 Jewish agricultural settlements, mostly moshavot, when the British conquered Palestine in 1917; by the time the State of Israel was established in 1948, the pioneering ideology of "conquest of soil and labor" of the Second and Third Aliyot added another 148 kibbutzim and 94 cooperative villages (moshavim). Even more impressive was the development of the urban sector, which absorbed more than three‑quarters of the immigration. Tel Aviv, the "first Hebrew city," numbered 40,000 inhabitants in 1931, 135,000 at the end of the Fifth Aliyah, and 200,000 in 1945.

From the beginning, the Zionist movement considered the yishuv as a territorial political entity, a united, autonomous, and democratic community, even before the British conquest and at an accelerated pace afterwards. The Palestinian Jewish community created governmental institutions based on universal suffrage and principles of western democracy--notably the Assembly of Deputies and the National Council--which had departments corresponding to government ministries.

However, the most typical feature of political life in Palestine was the central role played by the parties--comprehensive political societies with networks of clients, colonization federations, economic, cul­tural, and sports institutions, even para‑military units. And first among them was the left‑wing Labor Party which held sway over the yishuv and later over the State of Israel for several decades.

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Eli Barnavi is the Director of the Morris Curiel Center for International Studies and a Professor of Jewish History at Tel Aviv University