First Aliyah
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First Aliyah
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The First Aliyah (Hebrew: ?, HaAliyah HaRishona), also known as the agriculture Aliyah, was a major wave of Zionist immigration (aliyah) to Palestine between 1881 and 1903.[1][2] Jews who migrated to Ottoman Palestine in this wave came mostly from Eastern Europe and from Yemen. An estimated 25,000[3]-35,000[4] Jews immigrated to Ottoman Palestine during the First Aliyah. It is estimated that between 40% to 90% of those immigrants left Palestine again, most of them a few years after their arrival. Because there had been immigration to Palestine in earlier years as well, the term "First Aliyah" is highly criticized by some scholars.

Eastern European immigration

Reasons for immigration

The Jewish people lived as a minority in numerous countries throughout the world, among many different ruling nations and under different regimes. Competing ideologies within the Zionist movement had to cooperate with each other. The difficulties of achieving National Sovereignty for Jews in a country where they were at first a tiny minority made even the most extreme "political" Zionists regard such sovereignty as an ultimate goal which had to be approached by stages. This specific view opened up the way for other Zionists, concentrating on nationalist cultural or social and economic aims, to enlist general immediate support for their objectives. In fact, this position caused not only Zionism but all modern Jewish ideologies to assume a distinctly different character from comparable movements among other peoples.[5]

The immigration to Ottoman Palestine from Eastern Europe occurred as part of the mass emigrations of approximately 2.5 million people[6] that took place towards the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.

A rapid increase in population had created economic problems in Eastern Europe. The problems affected Jewish societies in the Pale of Settlement, Galicia, and Romania.

Russian persecution of Jews was also a factor. In 1881, Tsar Alexander II of Russia was assassinated, and the authorities blamed the Jews for the assassination. Consequently, in addition to the May Laws, major anti-Jewish pogroms swept the Pale of Settlement. A movement called Hibbat Zion (love of Zion) spread across the Pale (helped by Leon Pinsker's pamphlet Auto-Emancipation), as did the similar Bilu movement. Both movements encouraged Jews to emigrate to Ottoman Palestine.

Only a small minority of the 6,000 remained in Ottoman Palestine. This accounted for only about 2% of the emigrants who went to Palestine. A large majority of the Jewish emigration movement came from Russia, Romania, and Galicia.[7] The pogroms that took place in Russia and Romania in 1881-1882 caused massive emigration of Jews. The First Aliyah occurred from 1881 to 1903 and did not go as planned as Zionists ran out of funds.[7] The Rothschild organization rescued the Zionist movement as the Rothschild organization funded Zionists through purchasing large settlements and created new settlements as well. At the closure of the first Aliya, the Jews had purchased 350,000 dunams of land. Thus, the First Aliyah was considered a success through the eyes of some historians since Zionists were able to migrate and thrive economically in Palestine. Others may say the First Aliyah was not a success because many of these immigrants did not stay and there was a shortage of funds necessary to sustain the movement before looking for money through another source. Immigration of the Jews to Palestine took place from 1882 to 1904 but Jewish immigration continued thereafter. The Land of Israel, also referred to as Palestine and Southern Syria, was part of the Ottoman Empire during this period.

The first central committee for the settlement of the Land of Israel and Syria, which was also under Ottoman rule, was established by a convention of "Unions for the Agricultural Settlement of Israel" (Focsani Congress) held on January 11, 1882, in Romania. The committee was the first organization to organize group aliyahs, such as the Jewish passenger ships that set sail from Gala?i.

After the first wave (early 1880s) there was another spike in aliyah in 1890. The reasons for the increase were:

  • The Russian government officially approved the activity of Hovevei Zion in 1890. The same year, the "Odessa Committee" began its operation in Jaffa. The purpose of this organization was to absorb immigrants to Ottoman Syria who came as a result of the activities of Hovevei Zion in Russia.
  • Russian Jewry's situation deteriorated:
    • The authorities continued to push Jews out of business and trade.
    • Moscow was almost entirely "cleansed" of Jews.[8]
  • The financial situation of the settlements from the previous decade improved due to the Baron de Rothschild's assistance (orchards were planted, wineries started).

The immigrants

Nearly all of the Jews from Eastern Europe before that time came from traditional Jewish families, hoping to improve their lives and fleeing anti Semitism.[] The immigrants that were part of the First Aliyah, however, came more out of a connection to the land of their ancestors.[3][7] Most of these immigrants worked as artisans or in small trade, but many also worked in agriculture. Only some of them came in an organized fashion, with the help of Hovevei Zion, but most of them were unorganized, in their 30s, and had families.[]

Aliyah from Yemen

The first group of immigrants from Yemen came approximately seven months before most of the Eastern European Jews who arrived in Palestine.


Kindergarten in Rishon Lezion, c.1898

The First Aliyah laid the cornerstone for Jewish settlement in Israel and created several settlements - Rishon LeZion, Rosh Pinna, Zikhron Ya'akov, Gedera etc.

Most settlements met with financial difficulties and most of the settlers were not proficient in farming. Baron Edmond James de Rothschild took several of the settlements under his wing, which helped them survive until more settlers with farming experience arrived in subsequent aliyot. He was the main philanthropist.

Immigrants of the First Aliyah also contributed to existing Jewish towns and settlements, notably Petah Tikva. The first neighbourhoods of Tel Aviv (Neve Tzedek and Neve Shalom) were also built by members of the aliyah, although it was not until the Second Aliyah that Tel Aviv was officially founded.

Israeli historian Benny Morris wrote:

But the major cause of tension and violence throughout the period 1882-1914 was not accidents, misunderstandings or the attitudes and behaviors of either side, but objective historical conditions and the conflicting interests and goals of the two populations. The Arabs sought instinctively to retain the Arab and Muslim character of the region and to maintain their position as its rightful inhabitants; the Zionists sought radically to change the status quo, buy as much land as possible, settle on it, and eventually turn an Arab-populated country into a Jewish homeland.

For decades the Zionists tried to camouflage their real aspirations, for fear of angering the authorities and the Arabs. They were, however, certain of their aims and of the means needed to achieve them. Internal correspondence amongst the olim from the very beginning of the Zionist enterprise leaves little room for doubt.[9]

Morris provides excerpts from three letters written in 1882 by these first arrivals:

  • Vladimir (Ze'ev) Dubnow, one of the Biluim wrote to his brother, the historian Simon Dubnow, in October 1882: "The ultimate goal ... is, in time, to take over the Land of Israel and to restore to the Jews the political independence they have been deprived of for these two thousand years .... The Jews will yet arise and, arms in hand (if need be), declare that they are the masters of their ancient homeland." (Dubnow himself shortly afterward returned to Russia.)[10]
  • Ben-Yehuda, who settled in Jerusalem in September 1881, wrote in July 1882 to Peretz Smolenskin in Vienna: "The thing we must do now is to become as strong as we can, to conquer the country, covertly, bit by bit ... We will not set up committees so that the Arabs will know what we are after, we shall act like silent spies, we shall buy, buy, buy."[11]
  • In October 1882 Ben-Yehuda and Yehiel Michael Pines, who had arrived in Palestine in 1878, wrote to Rashi Pin, in Vilna: "We have made it a rule not to say too much, except to those ... we trust ... the goal is to revive our nation on its land ... if only we succeed in increasing our numbers here until we are the majority [Emphasis in original] .... There are now only five hundred [thousand] Arabs, who are not very strong, and from whom we shall easily take away the country if only we do it through stratagems [and] without drawing upon us their hostility before we become the strong and populous ones."[12]

The Jewish Virtual Library says of the First Aliyah that nearly half the settlers did not stay in the country.[13]

Relationship with the Old Yishuv

The relationship of the members of the First Aliyah with the Old Yishuv was strained. There were disagreements about economic and ideological issues. Only a few groups from the Old Yishuv sought to take part in the First Aliyah's settlement effort, one such group being the Peace of Jerusalem (Shlom Yerushalayim).[14]

The 28 settlements established by the First Aliyah

The settlements established by the First Aliyah are known in Hebrew as moshavot. These are:

Not included here: the five ephemeral settlements of the First Aliyah in the Hauran.


  1. ^ Bernstein, Deborah S. Pioneers and Homemakers: Jewish Women in Pre-State IsraelState University of New York Press, Albany. (1992) p.4
  2. ^ Scharfstein, Sol, Chronicle of Jewish History: From the Patriarchs to the 21st Century, p.231, KTAV Publishing House (1997), ISBN 0-88125-545-9
  3. ^ a b "New Aliyah - Modern Zionist Aliyot (1882 - 1948)". Jewish Agency for Israel. Archived from the original on 2009-06-23. Retrieved .
  4. ^ The First Aliyah
  5. ^ Halpern, Ben; Reinharz, Yehuda (1998). Zionism and the Creation of a New Society. Oxford University Press. p. 8. ISBN 9780195092097.
  6. ^ Industrial Revolution
  7. ^ a b c Palestine/Israel
  8. ^ History of the Jews in Russia and the Soviet Union#Mass emigration and political activism
  9. ^ Morris, Benny. Righteous Victims: A history of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001. Vintage Books, 2001, p. 49.
  10. ^ Shapira, Anita. (Heb). Land and Power. Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1992, p86-87 cited in Morris, Benny. Righteous Victims: A history of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001. Vintage Books, 2001, p49.
  11. ^ Be'eri, Eliezer. (Heb.) The beginning of the Israeli-Arab conflict, 1882-1891. Haifa: Sifriyat Po'alim/Haifa University Press, 1985, p38 cited in Morris, Benny. Righteous Victims: A history of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001. Vintage Books, 2001, p49.
  12. ^ Be'eri, Eliezer. (Heb.) The beginning of the Israeli-Arab conflict, 1882-1891. Haifa: Sifriyat Po'alim/Haifa University Press, 1985, pp. 38-39 cited in Morris, Benny. Righteous Victims: A history of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001. Vintage Books, 2001, p. 49
  13. ^ The First Aliyah (1882-1903) Jewish Virtual Library
  14. ^ Kark (2001), p. 317


Further reading

  • Ben-Gurion, David (1976), From Class to Nation: Reflections on the Vocation and Mission of the Labor Movement, Am Oved (in Hebrew)

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