It’s a chapter in Israel’s short history which has not received the attention it deserved – until now. Channel 11 (Kan) recently broadcast a three-part documentary series on the ma’abarot. These were transit camps which greeted hundreds of thousands of immigrants to Israel in the 1950s and 1960s, doubling the local population almost overnight. Lyn Julius reviews Part 1 of the programme in her Jewish News blog (with thanks: Ralph):
The newcomers were promised that their stay would be transitory, but some remained in the camps for up to 13 years.
‘Bring a million Jews’, Prime Minister Ben Gurion had declared, even though many newcomers – especially the Jews of Yemen – arrived sick. The documentary showed starving children with twisted limbs. The new state tried to do what it could to save them, but nurses and doctors had stones thrown at them if they tried to move the children to hospital.
Inevitably, Part 1 of the programme dealt with the scandal of the ‘disappeared children’. Parents were told that their children had died but were not given death certificates, nor even shown the bodies. One Yemeni father was told that he might lose his job if he complained.
A nurse said she did not think that children were being trafficked for an adoption racket. Chaos reigned. Parents moved from one transit camp to another, sometimes leaving their children behind, she claimed.
For many, their time in the ma’abarot was a period of discomfort and distress. The disappointment was palpable – ‘for this we came to Israel?’ they asked. But ultimately, despite all the hardships, 586,000 Jews became successfully integrated into Israeli society and never looked back.
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