Transit Camps or Refugee Camps? Managing the Migration of Iraqi Jews in 1950s Israel


My talk studies the ongoing waves of protests, demonstrations, and strikes, organized in Israel by newcomers from Iraq in the early 1950s. During the years 1950–1951 over 120,000 Iraqi Jews arrived in Israel. Many of them had come to Israel with virtually no money, because of legislation passed in 1951 in Iraq that froze most of their assets. Holocaust survivors, Jews from Arab states, and other migrants all flocked to the young Israeli state, which lacked sufficient resources to absorb them. Consequently, transit camps (Hebrew: Ma‘abara, plural: Ma‘abarot) were established by the state all over the country; most Iraqi Jews found themselves in these camps, alongside migrants from Poland, Iran, Romania, Yemen, and other countries. In 1951, 100 camps held 212,000 people, 80,000 of whom were Iraqis. There were clashes and demonstrations in these camps arising from the migrants’ demands to be granted basic citizenship rights, such as labor and housing, and in protest of the state’s indifference to their sufferings and their insufferable living conditions. My talk analyzes the ways in which these migrants interacted with the Israeli state, that is, the ways in which the Israeli state attempted to help the migrants, but also curtail their protests and their politicization, and the activities of Iraqi Jews within these years.