Jewish migration to Palestine

This post is part of a series offering a perspective on the conflict in Palestine

Human rights and the future of Palestine | Location location | A time between empires | Zionism as a colonial project | Jewish migration to Palestine | Dividing Palestine | The war of 1948 | Wars and rumors of war | Palestinian resistance | Creating a shared future in Palestine

Jewish community in Ottoman Palestine

There has been a continuous Jewish presence in Palestine from antiquity to the present time, with occasional waves of Jewish migration long before the rise of Zionism as a national movement. Similarly, there were ancient Jewish diaspora communities in many cities across the region, including Cairo, Aleppo, Damascus and Babylon. These Oriental Jewish communities had a very different historical and cultural experience from the Jews in Europe, as Christian anti-Semitism was not part of the Islamic outlook.

Towards the end of the Ottoman period there was a significant Jewish minority in Palestine. In 1880 the Jewish population was estimated at between 20,000 and 25,000 people. From 1890s onwards Jews were the majority group in Ottoman Jerusalem. 

Anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia triggered additional migration, with around 35,000 Jews arriving between 1882 and 1903. A further 35,000+ arrived between 1904 and 1914. These two waves of early Zionist migration were mostly from Russia and Eastern Europe.

By 1914 there were around 80,000 Jews in a total population of 722,000. The British mandate census in 1920 indicates a population around 700,000, of whom 76,000 were Jews.

Hopes for a Jewish national home in Palestine, together with the need to escape the genocidal policies of Nazi Germany and its allies during World War Two, triggered a significant increase in Jewish migration to Palestine during the period of the British Mandate. 

Around 40,000 additional Jews arrived between 1919 and 1923. These people were also mostly from Eastern Europe, whereas increasing numbers of Jews from Poland and across Europe more generally were a feature of 82,000 people who arrived in the period from 1924 to 1929. This rate of migration surged to 250,000 immigrants during the 1930s with the rise of Nazism in Germany and related anti-Semitic developments elsewhere in Europe.

During the 1920s and 1930s there was increasing tension around the rapid rise in the Jewish population, culminating in a decision by the British Mandate authorities to restrict Jewish migration during the early 1940s. Clandestine Jewish migration continued with an estimated additional 110,000 Jews migrating to Palestine illegally between 1933 and 1948.

By 1945, the total population of Palestine was 1,764,520, of which 553,600 Jews. In 1944 Jews comprised about two-thirds of Jerusalem’s population. These were the numbers which informed the UN Partition Plan.

Eugene Abeshaus (USSR and Israel, 1939–2008), Jonah and the Whale in Haifa Port, 1978. 
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About gregoryjenks

Anglican priest and religion scholar. Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology at Charles Sturt University. Dean, Cathedral Church of Christ the King, Grafton and Rector of the Anglican Parish of Grafton. Formerly Dean at St George's College, Jerusalem. The opinions expressed in my publications, including my blog posts, are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Diocese of Grafton nor Christ Church​ Cathedral in Grafton.
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