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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. Jews who migrated to Ottoman Palestine in this wave came mostly from Eastern Europe and from Yemen. An estimated 25,000-35,000 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.
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.
The immigration to Ottoman Palestine from Eastern Europe occurred as part of the mass emigrations of approximately 2.5 million people that took place towards the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.
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. 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. 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:
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. 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.
The first group of immigrants from Yemen came approximately seven months before most of the Eastern European Jews who arrived in Palestine.
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.
Morris provides excerpts from three letters written in 1882 by these first arrivals:
The Jewish Virtual Library says of the First Aliyah that nearly half the settlers did not stay in the country.
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).
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.