By March 10, 2008 Read More →

Jewish Immigration During the 1920s, Shira Klein, COJS.

The beginning of the civil administration in Palestine, headed by Jewish High Commissioner Sir Herbert Samuel, removed some of the legal and political obstacles impeding the building of a Jewish national community. The Zionist leadership was eager to advance Jewish immigration to Palestine, also known as Aliyah, and during the 1920s assembled a mechanism to promote, finance and control this immigration. Thus, in 1920, the Zionist Organization established an Executive in Jerusalem, including an Immigration Department, as well as a financial body—Keren Hayesod (the Foundation Fund)—to raise money for immigration and settlement.

The first year of Samuel’s rule saw a very liberal policy with regard to Aliyah. Following an Immigration Ordinance from September 1920, the British allowed a quota of 16,500 immigrants for the following year, provided the Zionist Organization would be responsible for their initial maintenance. However, the Zionist Organization was in financial distress, and the Yishuv could offer the newcomers very little employment. Though only 10,000 of the certificates were used, even these proved to be a great difficulty, and the Zionists, anxious to reduce immigration drastically, at one point suggested allowing no more than 1,000 immigrants a year.

Upon observing that the Zionists could not raise sufficient funds to absorb the newcomers, Samuel considered a new immigration policy. The decision, however, was spurred on by a political rather than a financial occurrence, when the Arab anti-Jewish riots of May 1921 broke out. As one of the main reasons for the agitation was the Jewish Aliyah, Samuel announced a temporary suspension of immigration. In early June, he stated that the Jewish immigration into Palestine must not exceed the country’s economic capacity to absorb the newcomers, and later that month he divided immigration candidates into several categories. According to the new system, there would be strict control of labor immigrants—that is, immigrants with no independent means who relied on finding employment in Palestine. The Churchill White Paper of June 1922 made the principle of “Economic Absorptive Capacity” the official criterion for immigration. In 1925 the British once more redefined the conditions under which candidates could receive immigration visas, especially with regard to labor immigrants. Henceforth, labor immigration schedules were drawn up for six-month periods, based on the demand for labor.

The driving force behind Jewish immigration in the years 1919–1923—also called the “Third Aliyah”—was the He-Halutz (“the Pioneer”) movement, an association of Jewish youth whose aim was to train its members to settle land in Palestine. Of the 35,000 immigrants arriving during these years, half were from Russia, a third were from Poland, and the remainder were from other Eastern European countries. Upon their arrival, the halutzim (pioneers) were put to work on road building, house construction, and agriculture. Many formed collective settlement groups and also contributed to the rise of industry. The Yishuv was incapable of offering constant occupation, however, and the year 1922 saw an unprecedented degree of unemployment. This affected mainly the newcomers, and, in 1923, as European Jews heard of the worsening financial conditions in the Yishuv, immigration decreased. Thousands were unemployed that year, and while 8,200 Jews immigrated to Palestine, as many as 3,200 people left the country.

The tide changed in 1924, with the rise of middle-class immigration, mostly from Poland. Wladislaw Grabski, the Polish Finance Minister, imposed serious economic restrictions on the Jews, and at the same time the United States began closing its doors to mass immigration. The result was that masses of Polish Jews went to Palestine. This wave of immigrants—also called the “Fourth Aliyah,” or the “Grabski Aliya”—included many shopkeepers and artisans. They chose to settle in towns, primarily Tel Aviv, and invested their capital in building, as well as in factories, hotels, restaurants, and shops. This development attracted even more newcomers and in 1925 the number of Jewish immigrants rose to 34,300.

In 1926, the economic situation in Poland worsened, the flow of capital to Palestine stopped, and the Yishuv deteriorated financially once more. Immigration decreased rapidly and more Jews left the country. Thus, in 1926, of the 13,000 newcomers, more than half left the country; in 1927, only 3,000 immigrants arrived and almost twice as many emigrated; in 1928 the number of newcomers and émigrés was more or less the same—about 2,000; and only in 1929, with the creation of the enlarged Jewish Agency and the new hopes it brought, the number of immigrants surpassed that of the emigrants.

Despite the crises of the 1920s, Jewish immigration during these years had a significant impact on the Yishuv. The size of the Jewish community almost trebled, rising from 56,000 in 1918 to over 160,000 in 1929. During this period the Yishuv also underwent social and economic development.


Louvish, Misha, “Israel, State of- Aliyah, Absorption, and Settlement,” Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol. 9, Jerusalem- Keter, 1972, pp. 520–528.

Mossek, M., Palestine Immigration Policy Under Sir Herbert Samuel, London- Frank Cass, 1978.

Slutsky, Yehuda, “Israel, State of- Historical Survey,” Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol.9, Jerusalem- Keter, 1972, pp. 340–343.

Smith, Barbara J., The Roots of Separatism in Palestine- British Economic Policy, 1920–1929, Syracuse- Syracuse University Press, 1993, Chap. 4.

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