Monday, April 22, 2013

The First Two Weeks of Immigration to Independent Israel

The earliest document in Ben Gurion's "immigration file", ג-3013.12 (see our previous post), was a report by Haim Barlas, a high official in the Jewish Agency, to Moshe Shapira, the brand new minister of immigration, written in Tel Aviv on May 31, 1948. It summarized the actions of the two weeks since independence.

(Why the Jewish Agency, you ask? Ah, that's a large question. The short answer is that prior to May 15, 1948, there was no State of Israel and also no government of it, so the Jewish Agency filled the main functions of the government-in-preparation. Once there was a state, the relationship between the old institution and the new one was interesting and a bit complicated. In the long run, the state took on the functions of the state, and the Jewish Agency did some things through outsourcing. And mostly, it faded away. As of today, 65 years later, it still does things here and there, and has not yet fully faded away.)

Here's a short English-language version of Barlas' interesting report, which starts with a single sentence of pathos and then gets down to work:
On the day of the declaration of the resurrection of Israel, ships of olim (immigrants) arrived in the ports of Haifa and Tel Aviv and were received as free immigrants without any limitation decrees of foreigners. Three ships with a total of 1040 immigrants. However, the bombing of Tel Aviv by enemy planes, and the prevention of immigration in Haifa by the British who still control the port, means the immigration is now coming in through smaller, unofficial ports such as Acre and Cesarea. [The second century Talmudic scholars would have been tickled by the use of Cesarea, but that's a different story.] During the first two weeks, 4839 immigrants arrived, from Marseilles, Genoa, and the British-run detention camps in Cyprus.
Our orders were to prefer immigrants between the ages of 17-35, but that didn't work out, and we brought in people of all ages. Still, 2150 of the immigrants were of military age, and they were sent straight to the military induction center.
Cyprus: we had a plan to transfer more than 24,000 immigrants who are detained in the camps there. However, various problems slowed the process: the British who still control Haifa [they left only at the end of June], potential attacks on the ships by enemy planes, and the need to register the ships under Israel's flag. We're still working on this; some of the immigrants may yet be brought in by plane, and we've found armed escorts for the ships.
We're creating a ministry of immigration, with an administration, a unit of visas, immigration police, and a consular and citizenship department. There are also offices in Europe: Munich, Salzburg, Rome, London, Warsaw, Bucharest, Prague, Stockholm, Paris, Budapest, Brussels, and also New York. [A list which reflects the aftermath of the Holocaust, of course.]
We're trying to integrate the Jewish Agency immigration officials in Israel into the government system.
Fees have been set for immigrants (1 Pound per immigrant, 20 cents for children, 1 Pound for a visa and also for a travel permit for Israelis).
Measures we urgently need:
1. A law of immigration.
2. Appointments of officials.
3. Adapting the European offices to the new needs.
4. Budget. [Heh.]
5. A plan to integrate the 50,000 immigrants we expect in the next two months. [Is it possible Barlas didn't understand the first two months, and the first 50,000 immigrants, would merely be the tip of the iceberg?]

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