Jewish immigration and the Ingathering of the Exiles

“Open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles…”

Registrar of new immigrants

From 1919 onward, immigration (or aliyah) officials of the Jewish Agency kept records on all Jews entering the Land of Israel. This listing was done in successive fashion at all seaports, airports, and border crossings, and was filed in standardized format up until 1975. The logbooks thus contained a chronological listing of all immigrants – as well as tourists and returning residents – according to the ships, airplanes, or trains on which they arrived. From the logbooks dating from the years of mass immigration immediately following the establishment of the state, it is clearly evident that immigrants originated from a remarkable diversity of lands. In the State Archives, a few thousand immigration documents are preserved, including passports, identity cards, immigration and aliyah certificates, and other such items belonging to Jews from all corners of the globe. Most of the documents date from the late 1940s to the mid-fifties.

The material was apparently collected as a result of a procedure which was in force at the time, under which immigrants would be granted Israeli citizenship. This procedure involved the renouncement of previous citizenship and the surrender of one’s former passport or citizenship documents at the Ministry of the Interior, in exchange for an Israeli passport and/or identity card. A small number of passports were actually obtained from the immigration office of the Palestine government from the days of the British Mandate, because the Mandatory authorities followed naturalization procedures that were similar to the subsequent Israeli procedures. In addition to passports and documents issued by sovereign states, the collection includes documents originating from an assortment of organizations and international bodies, such as the “Nansen passports” issued by the League of Nations, and documents issued by the “Victims of Fascism” organization; the British military occupation force in Cyrenaica, Libya; the Western military administration in Occupied Germany; and other organizations. Please note that this collection represents no more than a random sampling.

Shimon Peres (born: Szymon Perski) request for citizenship, 1943


An example of an Israeli Travel Certicicate which includes the place of birth: Kovno, and full date of birth: 4.6.1901. The certificate was issued by the immigration officer in Buenos Aires
A selection of

An example of an Israeli Travel Certicicate that was chosen randomly out of a file of foreign passports belonging to new immigrants from the period in which immigrants were required to exchange previous ID cards for their new Israeli ones

The Law of Return

The Law of Return (1950) represents the boldest legal expression of the State of Israel’s determination to be the state of the Jewish nation in its entirety. The law grants every Jew in the world the right to make aliyah – to immigrate to Israel and gain citizenship, receiving the status of a legal immigrant. According to the Citizenship Law of 1952, this status automatically bestows Israeli citizenship upon the bearer. The Law of Return was adopted by the Knesset on July 5, 1950.

Original copy of the Law of Return signed by the Knesset Speaker Joseph Sprinzak, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and Minister of the Interior Moshe Shapira, 5 July 1950

Aliyah – Jewish immigration and the ingathering of the exiles

Aliyah (immigration) from Yemen

Following the UN General Assembly resolution of November 29, 1947, calling for the establishment of both a Jewish state and an Arab state in Palestine, riots broke out in a number of Arab countries, with the violence directed against the local Jewish communities. The Muslim citizens of the Yemenite city of Aden attacked the Jewish community there, and threatened its very existence. Nevertheless, a rescue operation could not be undertaken until May 1949, following a change in the Yemenite regime. The operation was given a name derived from the Bible: “On the Wings of Eagles.” In the course of 1949, a massive airlift brought 50,000 Yemenite Jews to Israel.

Yemenite immigrants at Lod Airport, 1949. Photographer: Teddy Brauner, Israeli, born Germany, active 1940-1960. Gelatin silver print, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Couresy of the Government Press Office, Jerusalem

Newly arrived Yemenite immigrants at Lod Airport, 1949. Photographer: Teddy Brauner, Israeli, born Germany, active 1940-1960 Gelatin silver print. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Courtesy of the Government Press Office, Jerusalem


Upon the immigrants’ arrival, they were housed in makeshift camps. Two of the immigrants, who happened to still be in possession of currency and IOUs from their country of origin, sent a letter to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion appealing to him to intercede on their behalf with the Yemenite authorities and collect the money they were owed. All the rest of their possessions had been lost in Yemen in the riots and the looting. The course of events, as described in the letter, provides genuine, first-hand insight into the plight of Jews from Aden and other parts of Yemen upon their arrival in Israel.

Letter sent to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion from Yemenite immigrants Salem Awad Hassan of the Pardesiya transit camp (ma’abara), and Nissim Salem Awad of the Rosh Ha’ayin transit camp (ma’abara), describing their hardship in Israel

For additional photographs of Yemenite immigration visit the exhibition about the “Aliya from Yemen” Here

Aliyah from Iranian Kurdistan

From 1948 on the Jews of Kurdistan suffered persecution by the local Muslim population. In mid-1950 some 2,500 Jews from north-west Iran fled their villages and settled in two temporary camps in Teheran. A group of these refugees sent this greeting card for the New Year (Rosh Hashanah) to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion in September 1950 as part of a campaign to persuade the immigration authorities to bring them to Israel immediately. By the end of 1951 most of the Jews from Iranian Kurdistan, including the refugees from Teheran, had been brought to Israel.

A greeting card for the New Year (Rosh Hashanah) from Jewish refugees from Kurdistan in an immigrant camp in Teheran was sent to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion in September 1950 as part of a campaign to receive assistance in bringing them to Israel.

Settlement of immigrants from Kurdistan – Elro’i Settlement in Kiryat Tiv’on


The School of Nutrition, an exhibition of food and costumes of the tribes of Israel – Persia, Kurdistan and Iraq, Jerusalem, 1964

A dance band from Maoz Zion transit camp (name Mevaseret Zion) in traditional Kurdish dress,  1952. Photographer: Yehuda Eisenstark.

For additional files about immigration from Kurdistan,  Here

“Operation Solomon” to bring the Ethiopian Jews to Israel

The various Israeli attempts to rescue the Jews of Ethiopia began in the 1970s. These were all covert operations, and many difficulties were encountered. From November 1984 through January 1985, some 8,000 Ethiopian Jews were brought to Israel, as part of a campaign known as “Operation Moses.”

This operation was halted after its existence was leaked to the press, when it was revealed that the transport involved passage through Sudanese territory. The sudden ending of the operation resulted in the splitting of many families between Ethiopia and Israel and deterioration in the plight of hose stranded in Africa. In December 1989, diplomatic ties between Israel and Ethiopia were renewed. In May 1991, rebels fighting against the regime of President Mengistu Haile Mariam were beginning to take control of Ethiopia, and in Israel there were growing concerns regarding the fate of the Jews after his overthrow.

In a lightning operation that took less than 36 hours, 15,000 Ethiopian Jews were brought to Israel. This came immediately after the Israelis were given approval for the operation from the Mengistu regime; Mengistu himself had already fled the country. As the classified telegram with the “Operation Order” suggests, the operation was handled like a military campaign, with the full cooperation and participation of the IDF.

Ethiopian immigrants in a military airplane on their way from Addis Ababa to Israel, 1991. Photographer: Natan Alpert. Chromogenic print. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Courtesy of the Government Press Office, Jerusalem.

Classified telegram, containing orders for “Operation Solomon”, 16 April 1991. In this operation some 15,000 Ethiopoian Jews were brought to Israel in just a day and half.

Aliyah from the USSR

At the beginning of 1987, a turning point began in the policy of the Soviet Union, which was called the Iron Curtain, and prohibited Jewish immigration from its territory to the State of Israel. Following the policy shift, the Soviet Union allowed a large influx of Jewish immigration. In light of the situation, David Stern, the president of the Association of Contractors and Builders, approached Minister Moshe Arens asking to prepare housing solution for the new immigrants. Minister Arens ordered his assistant Gil Samsonov to answer Stern. Stern’s prediction was actualized and the immigration from the Soviet Union grew to become a mass wave of more than half a million immigrants in the years 1989-1993.

Telegram from David Stern, head of the Contractors’ association, to a government minister Moshe Arens, requesting a national program to absorb new immigrants from the Soviet Union, 9 February 1987.

In some areas of the Soviet Union, Jewish academics who wished to immigrate to Israel were required to pay ransom for this purpose, and some of them were imprisoned and severely tortured.

Academic ransom payments from the Soviet Union

Preventing emigration from Israel

Along with the government’s efforts to increase immigration to Israel, the state is also concerned about preventing emigration from Israel by identifying the reasons for the desire to emigrate. A committee of directors-general was established to deal with the issue and identify the main reason for emigration.

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