Jewish immigration (into Israel and the Occupied Territories)

The two main waves of Jewish immigration to Palestine, Aliya, which means Ascent in Hebrew, were between 1881 and 1916 with people coming from Poland and Russia. During this period the Jewish population of Palestine went up from 24.000 to 55.000. From 1917 to 1925, because of the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate, another 97.000 immigrants arrived, mostly from the same regions.

Between 1926 and 1928, net immigration was negative with more people leaving than arriving.

1929-1939: 250.000 Polish, German, and other European Jews went to Palestine.

1939-1948: immigration was mostly clandestine and, therefore, there are no reliable figures.

From 1948 (creation of Israel) to 1988: 1.850.000 Jews entered the country of whom 445.000 from Arab countries. Immigration figures fluctuated over the years from a maximum of 240.000 in 1949 to a minimum of 10.347 in 1953, to go practically down to zero from 1982 to 1988. Immigration later picked up in 1989 with over 13.000 arrivals, mainly from the Soviet Union.

In 1990, following the opening of Soviet borders and the collapse of Eastern Europe, 200.000 new immigrants went to Israel in just twelve months. According to a US State Department report published in March 1991, 8.830 Soviet immigrants arriving after 1989 settled in the Occupied Territories.

In the first half of 1991, the immigration department of the Jewish Agency recorded 100.000 immigrants amongst whom 78.000 from the former Soviet Union, 14.000 from Ethiopia and 8.000 from other countries, mainly from Eastern Europe.

While at the end of 1989 fewer than 15% of the Jews who left the Soviet Union went to Israel, they were practically forced to between January 1990 and July 1991, subsequent to an agreement between Israel and the Soviet Union providing for a quick procedure which deprived them of nationality as soon as they asked to leave the USSR for Israel. They then received Israeli travel documents, valid only in Israel. This procedure became possible after the opening of an Israeli consulate in Moscow: until then the Dutch embassy which took care of Israeli interests in the USSR refused to apply this rule which goes against the Helsinki agreements. Fortunately this regulation has been changed on 1 July 1991 due to a new Soviet passport law which will allow Soviet citizens to travel more freely abroad and will put them all on the same footing.

Finally, nearly 1 million Jews from the ex-Soviet Union have migrated to Israel between 1989 and 2000. They have since then become a political force and a determining electorate, although very conservative. If 40% of them vote for « traditional » parties, others give their vote to sectorial parties such as Yisra’el Ba-Aliya ( » Israel through Immigration « , right-wing, Nathan Sharansky) and Yisra’el Beiteinu ( » Israel Our Home », far right, Avigdor Liberman). In August 2000, a dissident branch emerged from the centre-left around the Labour Party, Behira Demokratit ( » Democratic Choice « , centre-left).