The 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.
A new radio station, Kol Zion laGola (The Voice of Zion to the Diaspora), begins broadcasting from Jerusalem. At first the broadcasts are in Yiddish, English and French, then later on in other languages. They are aimed at Jews throughout the world and funded by the World Zionist Organization. Kol Israel (The Voice of Israel) broadcasts are in Yiddish, Ladino, French, Romanian, Hungarian, etc. and are intended for the hundreds of thousands of olim who have not yet mastered Hebrew.
The Knesset returns to Jerusalem after being in exile in Tel Aviv for almost a year.
Aliyah to Israel continues on a grand scale. In order to surmount the housing problems, a new kind of settlement appears - the ma'abara (immigrant transit camp) - a temporary camp made of tin, wood or cloth that can be assembled within days. The first such camp is set up in Kesalon in the Judean hills on May 16.
A new air-borne aliyah begins: Ezra and Nehemiah. Within a year it will have brought some 120,000 Iraqi Jews to Israel.
A record 20 new settlements are established in one month, most of them moshavei olim (immigrant settlements).
In a special festive session on this day, 46 years after the death of the visionary of the Jewish State, Dr. Theodor Herzl, the Knesset passes the Law of Return, which grants every Jew in the world the right to make aliyah to Israel.
The Billion Conference convenes in Jerusalem at the initiative of the State of Israel and the WZO. The wealthy Jewish participants, mostly from the United States, are called on to invest in Israel.
It is agreed that an Israel Bond issue be floated in the United States as a means of opening up a new source of urgently needed funds. This constitutes the launching of the Israel Bonds organization (see the chapter entitled "Glossary of Terms").
Operation Magic Carpet comes to an end - an air-borne operation that brought some 50,000 Jews from Yemen and Aden to Israel.
Due to shortages throughout Israel, a comprehensive operation against black market dealings, headed by David Ben-Gurion, is implemented.
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.
The Kfar Yeroham ma'abara, later to become the development town of Yeroham, is set up in the central Negev, some 35 kilometers southeast of Beersheva. From this point on the development town model begins to grow and mature.
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.
David Ben-Gurion visits the United States, for the first time as prime minister. He is welcomed with great excitement by hundreds of thousands of American Jews, and meets with President Harry S. Truman.
The Ezra and Nehemiah Operation ends, having brought to Israel, by air, the majority of Iraqi Jewry.
A new kind of settlement is born: Nahal outposts (He'ahzut), in which Israel army units prepare for cooperative agricultural settlement. The first outpost is named Nahlaim Aleph opposite Gaza (today Nahal Oz). In the decades to come more than 100 outposts are set up, many of which become permanent settlements.
The Twenty-third Zionist Congress convenes in Jerusalem, the first Congress to be held in the State of Israel. It constitutes a special meeting of Israeli heads of State and Zionist leaders from all over the Jewish world. Zionist representatives from the United States emphasize the difference between exile and dispersion. In their opinion, the United States should not be considered an exile, as in exile Jews are threatened and are unable to leave freely and make aliyah to Israel, which is not the case in the US. The Congress approves the Jerusalem Program (see the chapter entitled "Glossary of Terms"). From now on all Congresses will be held in Jerusalem.
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.
Talks begin in Holland between the Federal Republic of Germany, Israel and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (an umbrella of all major Jewish organizations including the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, B'nai Brith, and the Joint Distribution Committee) with regard to reparations. They quickly run into difficulties, are stopped, then renewed.
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.
A reparations treaty between the Federal Republic of Germany and the State of Israel is signed in Luxembourg. West Germany is obligated to pay Israel three billion marks (some three quarters of a billion dollars) and 450 million marks to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, representing 23 Jewish organizations.
Dr. Chaim Weizmann, President of the State of Israel and one of the great Zionist leaders of the twentieth century, dies at the age of 79. Professor Albert Einstein is offered the presidency, but he declines.
The Knesset passes the "World Zionist Organization - Jewish Agency for Israel Status Law, 1952," which determines a division of labor between the government, the WZO and the Jewish Agency. This distribution of duties, which centers on institutionalizing the management of aliyah and absorption, as well as new settlement by the Jewish Agency, is ratified in a covenant between the sides in 1954 (see the chapter entitled "Documents").
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.
The Jewish world is staggered when the "Doctor's Plot" comes to light in the Soviet Union: the authorities falsely accuse a group of senior Jewish doctors of planning to poison the country's leaders. The charges are dropped three months later when Stalin, who had treated the Jews extremely harshly in his final years, dies.
Israel celebrates its fifth year of statehood. It awards Israel Prizes for the first time. During the summer, Jerusalem hosts a large exhibition of its achievements on the theme "the conquest of the wilderness."
The State Education Law is passed by the Knesset, enabling the existence of two streams: State and State-Religious.
David Ben-Gurion, the prime minister of Israel since its inception, announces his resignation as prime minister and defense minister and his intention to settle in a young Negev kibbutz - Sde Boker. Moshe Sharett becomes the country's new prime minister.
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.
Israel pays its respects to Baron Edmond de Rothschild, whose tremendous contribution made the establishment of the State possible. His coffin, and that of his wife Adelheid, is brought to Israel from France by naval boat, and the two are re-interred in Ramat haNadiv near Zikhron Ya'akov.
The government of Israel and the Zionist Executive sign the "World Zionist Organization - Jewish Agency for Israel Status Law, 1952." This covenant defines the role of the WZO-Jewish Agency in the country as "the authorized agency" for "the development and settlement of the country" and "the absorption of immigrants from the Diaspora." The low aliyah rate continues and in 1954, only 18,000 olim arrive in Israel.
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.
A new immigrant town is founded in the western Negev - Ofakim.
Otzem, the first settlement in the Lachish district, is established. Additional settlements are set up in the following two months. The majority of their residents are absorbed in a new fashion -"From Ship to Village" (the immediate placement of immigrants in agricultural settlements or development regions where housing or employment is available) - bypassing the problematic ma'abarot stage.
Bar-Ilan University, Israel's third university and an institution with a religious character, opens in Ramat Gan. It is named after the deceased Jewish religious leader Meir Bar-llan.
Dimona, another new development town, rises in the Negev.
A stream of oil gushes from the Heletz oil rig in southern Israel. Israelis are enormously optimistic about the possibility of discovering extensive reservoirs of oil.
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.
The foundations are laid for the town of Kiryat Gat, which is to be the urban center of the Lachish district.
The Knesset legislates the Keren Hayesod Law, and determines that its main goal is to institutionalize the fundraising sources for the financing of aliyah and absorption.
New taxes are imposed on the Israeli public in order to finance security needs.
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.
The Twenty-fourth Zionist Congress convenes in Jerusalem. It focuses on the difficult security situation in the State of Israel and ways in which world Jewry can help.
Netivot, a new development town, is founded in the Negev. Mitzpe Ramon in the Negev mountains and Ashdod-Yam in the southern coastal plain are also founded during the year. In a few short years this development town becomes the city of Ashdod.
An exciting event for the Jews in the USSR: a football match between the Israel national team and that of the Soviet Union takes place in Moscow. Although Israel loses 5:0, the enthusiasm of the thousands of Jewish supporters for the Israeli players is boundless.
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 attacks Egypt - the Sinai Campaign (code name Kadesh). The world is astonished by the Israeli operation in Sinai, which within a few short days results in Israel's capture of the entire Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip. The threat against Israel is eliminated and the Straits of Tiran open to Israeli shipping vessels. At the same time, the armies of England and France attack the Suez Canal - which was nationalized a few months previously by the Egyptians - in order to restore international control and secure passage for ships of all nations. The Anglo-French operation, however, fails.
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
Israel is forced to give in to international pressure and completes the evacuation of Sinai and the Gaza Strip. A UN emergency force separates Israel and the Egyptian army. The Straits of Tiran are open to Israeli shipping traffic.
As a result of the Sinai Campaign, an oil line is laid from Eilat to Beersheva.
There is great excitement among Soviet Jews, who are forbidden to exhibit any national sympathies: a large delegation from Israel is participating in the Democratic Youth Festival, which is being held in Moscow. Thousands of Soviet Jews attend their performances.
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.
The first three settlements are established in Adullam - a new settlement district. Their founders are olim from Hungary, India, Persia and Morocco.
Israel celebrates its 10th anniversary. Processions and a large lDF military parade are held, and guests from all over the world, especially from the Diaspora, pour into the country. Israel currently has two million inhabitants, 90% of whom are Jews. Since the establishment of the State, the number of Jews has tripled, mostly due to the great aliyah.
Aliyah from Eastern Europe, especially from Romania, increases and thousands arrive each month. Israel's citizens are called upon to help with the economic burden that the wave of aliyah has created, and are forced to purchase aliyah bonds.
The number of olim this year - 27,000.
After ten years, the government removes the regulations on the last commodities still being rationed. The age of austerity is over.
February - March
Arab countries object to increased aliyah to Israel and the issue is even brought before the UN Assembly. The USSR informs the Arabs that it will not allow the aliyah of Jews from its domain.
In the Haifa neighborhood of Wadi Salib, populated mainly by Moroccan immigrants, social and economic frustrations lead to violent protest when demonstrators clash with police. Olim also demonstrate in other parts of the country.
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.