Why is there no Ma’ abarot Day?


Why is there no Ma’abarot Day to recall the first home – a tent camp – that 80 percent of Israel’s oriental immigrants experienced when they first arrived? Article in Haaretz:

An odd question is posed by the protagonist of the television series
“Zagouri Empire,” in the first episode of the new season. Why, he asks,
does the Israeli calendar have no “Ma’abarot Day” – a reference to the
1950s’ transit camps that mainly housed Jewish refugees from the Middle
East and North Africa.

You won’t find an entry for ma’abarot in the
Encyclopedia Hebraica. The 1978 edition contains a terse discussion of
the subject (27 lines), but not as a separate entry, rather in the
general volume devoted to the Land of Israel.

Nor do we have a “Museum of Ma’abarot.” We have an
Israel Air Force museum and a Yitzhak Rabin museum and a Palmach museum
and a Ya’ir Stern museum (commemorating the founder of the pre-state
underground organization Lehi). But to learn about transit camps, you’ll
have to poke around in archives or listen to old wives’ tales.

In a collection of Davar Le’Yeladim – the weekly
children’s magazine published by the (now-defunct) Hebrew daily Davar,
which was a mouthpiece for the ruling establishment – from 1951-1952, I
found barely 15 articles on the subject, most of them written by young
readers themselves.

Who is responsible for constructing our history?
Who is charged with the role of filling with content that odd and
self-interested concept referred to as “collective memory”?

When it comes to subjects like transit camps and
poverty, this is not only a question for learned historians. Recent
surveys have provided painful findings about the number of poor children
in Israel. A heated debate has also arisen about who’s responsible for
the fact that housing prices have lurched out of control – Benjamin
Netanyahu or Ehud Barak, or maybe it was the other Ehud (Olmert), or
possibly Menachem Begin, Golda or Ben-Gurion?

Perhaps the question should be rephrased: Who is
responsible for the fact that there are some people who have no prospect
of being able to buy an apartment today, whereas others own entire
buildings? That’s a question that calls for a consideration of the
history of poverty in this country.

The history of poverty here is a huge blank. Our
great cultural repression. The ma’abarot, the product of Israeli
poverty, are a historical wound that’s been removed from the map. And
not by chance.

In 1951, a quarter of a million people were living
in ma’abarot, 80 percent of them from Islamic lands. Most of the camps
were dismantled by 1959. Ten forgotten years. Memories erased.

Here, in a nutshell, are a few important points
which are apparently inconvenient to recall. The first inhabitants of
the ma’abarot lived in tents, one per family. Afterward, an improved
tent, hut-shaped but still made of canvas, came on the scene. Later,
there were tin huts and wooden shacks. Some of the ma’abarot weren’t
hooked up to the water or power supply, and filthy public toilets often
served dozens of people.

In April 1949, Zalman Aranne, a leading member of
the Mapai ruling party (and later minister of education), warned that a
“catastrophic situation” existed in the camps. Elihayu Dobkin, a senior
figure in the Jewish Agency, described the conditions as a “holy
horror.” But David Ben-Gurion ruled that the improved dwellings that
were being demanded for the new immigrants were too costly: “I don’t
accept this pampering [approach] with respect to people not living in
tents. We are spoiling them. People can live for years in tents. Anyone
who doesn’t want to live in them needn’t bother coming here.”

Beginning in September 1949, the Jews of Poland
were allowed to immigrate to the nascent Jewish state. Toward the end of
that year, the Agency reached the conclusion that the new arrivals from
Poland deserved better absorption conditions than the immigrants who
preceded them. “There are respected individuals among them,” was its

To spare these newcomers the suffering of the
transit camps, it was proposed to house them in hotels. At the same
time, meetings were held among the authorities about speeding up the
Poles’ placement in permanent housing – including in apartments
originally allocated for immigrants from the Arab countries.

“They were all aware that giving preference to the
Polish immigrants was wrong and so they resolved to keep it secret,”
wrote historian Tom Segev in his book “1949: The First Israelis.”

In January 1953, the Agency’s Immigrant Absorption
Department in Jerusalem noted, “Most of the European families have long
since left the ma’abarot, and more than 90 percent of the camps’
inhabitants are from the Oriental communities.”

During the past month I’ve been visiting distressed
areas in Israel – the winter 2015 version. Every morning I arrive in a
different place. Kfar Shalem, Ofakim, Or Yehuda, Ramle, the long and
depressing tenements of Jaffa Dalet. Distressed neighborhoods of Israeli
Jews. Happily, I haven’t seen especially harsh sights.

The images I had
in my mind of the ma’abarot and other sorts of immigrant camps have
been shattered. At the end of the 1970s, Project Renewal was launched to
rehabilitate rundown neighborhoods, and outwardly the situation has
over the years become fairly reasonable. But many of the people I’m
meeting are unemployed; a great many lead hardscrabble lives.

It seems to me that before we talk about the
distress of the retail price of Milky, the chocolate pudding snack that
symbolizes the middle class, we should recall this country’s distressed

Read article in full


  • Yes, the majority of the people in the ma'abarot were Sepharadi but that was mostly due to the fact that most olim at that time were Sepharadi… In fact, my own late father (immigrated to Israel in the early 50's from Poland) spent his first few years in Israel in the ma'abara next to Kiriat Tivon…

    He went on to serve in the Israeli navy and then started a career with ZIM Lines… It took many years but eventually he was upper middle class… Except for his insistence on my education I wouldn't be able to retain that level of socioeconomic success…

    In a modern society one has to emphasize education… Without something else (e.g. capital to start a business) one is doomed to remain in poverty…

    Another factor leading to poverty among Sepharadim was their propensity for large families… When one holds a low paid menial job and one has to support a large family one is doomed to exist in poverty…

    This last fact is hardly unique to Israel…

  • "Leftism" today is a cult and a manipulated body of public opinion. One of the traits of today's "leftist" is his need to feel superior, morally and intellectually, to all others. Feeling superior to people designated Orientals is part of the philosophy of Kant, Hegel, d'Holbach. Feeling superior to Jews is part of Christianity since the Middle Ages. In the philosophies of Kant, Hegel, d'Holbach and Voltaire, Jews as such (that is, all Jews) were designated as Orientals and Asiatics. As such, as Orientals and Asiatics Jews were perforce intellectually inferior. Indeed, Kant and/or Hegel said that even within the Oriental sphere Jews were inferior. That is, Jews were inferior to other Orientals. Left-wing movements picked up these prejudices, in the case of Marxism, because Marx's attitude toward Jews was basically formed on the grounds of Kant and Hegel's writings. So we see that Lenin was very hostile to Jews and wanted them to disappear or become simple, all-purpose proletarians. Stalin hated Jews both on Marxist and Leninist grounds and on Christian religious grounds since he studied for the priesthood before becoming a revolutionary. And the Israeli "left" inherited these prejudices against Jews and against Orientals from Marx, Lenin, Stalin and the whole German philosophical tradition with a few exceptions.
    Don't forget that the publisher who shaped Haaretz, Schocken, was German-born and educated.

    To be sure, this subject has more complexity than I can convey here. But these facts are basic. Bear in mind that most forms of "Leftism" are Judeophobic from their origins.

  • I agree with Ben that Haaretz is being disparaging to Mizrahim, but their reasons for doing so is in my view to humor their loyal readership and provide them with their daily fix.

  • Not all ma'abarot were temporary solutions. The purpose of maabarot in what are today Sderot, Sderot, Ofaqim or Kiriat Shmoneh was to SERVE the surrounding kibbutzim and moshavim, in terms of labor and in terms of services. You're right that they needed to produce a lot to feed the thousands of immigrants, but in the process they took away from them all chances to grow intellectually or spiritually. They were meant to be the proletariat of the new state for generations to come.
    The fact is that in my area except for the kibbutzim there is not one single school that offers liberal studies. The school system is still separate and unequal.
    Start from there then you get to what leads to poverty.

  • The article claims that these camps were more transitory for Polish and other European immigrants compared to the immigrants arriving from Muslim lands. This is what I have often heard as well but I am unsure as to how prevalent this racist privilege extended and for how long.

  • Sylvia, you don't know the history of our country.

    Israel in the 1940's and 1950's was an impoverished state facing war and deprivation. Its population increased fourfold in the 15 years following its founding, and the newcomers were almost all dispossessed refugees, and mostly from Moslem countries. It took a decade and more but by the 1960's proper housing and employment was provided for most if not all, an achievement that deserves praise by any objective criterion. The maabarot were a temporary solution to an emergency situation, and it is silly to suggest that there was anything sinister or malicious about them.

    Eliyahu is right to point out that Haaretz was often disparaging and disrespectful to Mizrahi Jews in the period in question, a relevant fact that has rightly been mentioned in the past in this blog, not least by myself. I would point out that today Haaretz is again being disrespectful and disparaging to the Mizrahim, by fomenting disaffection and grievance on a sectarian basis in an attempt to change the political orientation of Mizrahi voters.

  • I thought I've heard it all but Ben's revisionist theory just takes the cake: what he is saying is that those ma'abarot were populated by Jews from Muslim lands not because it was intended that way but only because Russian Jews hadn't made 'aliya yet.

  • It is ironic that articles with this point of view are now published in Haarets, since haarets in those days, the late 1940s-early 1950s, was very hostile to the new olim, especially but not only to those from Arab and Islamic lands. Think of an article by star reporter for Haaretz, Amos Elon, which was very disparaging about the people in the camps.

  • This article is typical of the childish whining and fundamentally uneducated screeds that pass for journalism in Haaretz these days. Nobody is suppressing the history of anyone or anything in Israel, though not everyone's history is accorded time and space by people in Israel. The author, like everyone else, is free to organize, campaign and work towards establishing commemorative projects of any stripe or colour should she so wish.

    The fact that most of the Ma'abarot were peopled by refugees and immigrants from Moslem countries is neither here nor there. Most of the newcomers to Israel during this period were from Moslem countries, because the majority of the surviving Jews of Europe at that time found themselves behind the iron curtain and were forbidden to leave for Israel, or they were living in Western Europe and were uninterested in moving to the country.

    As for the "history" of poverty in Israel, it is little different from the history of poverty anywhere else. The laws of sociology and human nature are not different in Israel. Poor people in Israel, as everywhere else, are poor because they lack the capital, skills or education needed to create and acquire wealth. Since almost all newcomers had also been dispossessed and Israel itself lacks natural wealth and resources, they were almost uniformly poor, and required considerable time and effort to change that situation.


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