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'Illegal' Immigration

"ILLEGAL" IMMIGRATION

"ILLEGAL" IMMIGRATION (Aliyah Bet or ha'palah – "resolute ascent"), the clandestine immigration of Jews to Ereẓ Israel. This kind of immigration began under Ottoman rule. From 1882 onward the Turks did not permit Jews from Eastern Europe, with rare exceptions, to settle in Palestine, allowing them only a few months' stay to visit the holy places, but many thousands of Jews infiltrated during the First and Second *Aliyah to lay the foundations of the new yishuv. The terms Aliyah Bet and ha'palah were coined during the British regime in the 1930s.

Between the World Wars

Britain was enjoined by Article 6 of the *Mandate for Palestine to "facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable circumstances," but the immigration quotas fixed by the Administration of Palestine failed to meet the pressure of pioneers seeking to settle in the country and Jews fleeing from distress and persecution, or the need to safeguard the future of the Jewish National Home. From time to time immigration was drastically cut or entirely halted. The yishuv and the Zionist Movement felt no compunction in circumventing official restrictions which they regarded as illegal violations of Britain's duty under the Mandate.

Jews who had failed to obtain immigration certificates sometimes mingled with the passengers on regular immigrant ships; others crossed the borders in the north with the aid of Jewish settlers in Upper Galilee. Some came as tourists or visitors to such events as the Maccabiah Games in 1932 and 1935, and stayed as unregistered, "illegal" residents. Fictitious deposits of 1,000 Palestine pounds were arranged to secure "capitalist" visas; girls entered on the strength of fictitious marriages with Palestinian citizens or residents of Palestine. According to the Peel Commission's report there were some 22,000 illegal immigrants in 1932–33.

The rise of Hitler increased the pressure for aliyah, and in 1934 the first organized efforts at clandestine immigration by sea took place. The *He-Ḥalutz movement chartered the Greek ship Vellos and with the aid of *Haganah members landed some 350 pioneers, but operations were suspended after a second attempt had failed for lack of experience. In 1937, when there were signs that Britain intended to halt immigration, *Revisionists and *Betar groups restarted the effort and in two years sent out several ships, which transported several thousand immigrants from Eastern Europe under the slogan Af al pi ("in spite of …"). Their success encouraged He-Ḥalutz to resume the organization of "illegal" immigration; several boats were dispatched, beginning with the Poseidon in 1938, and at first landed their human cargoes without incident. Late in 1938 the Mosad le-Aliyah Bet ("Organization for 'Illegal' Immigration" – in brief, the Mosad) was set up by the Haganah under the leadership of Shaul *Avigur (Meirov). After the Nazi conquest of Austria and Czechoslovakia, refugee boats were also organized by private individuals.

The Mandatory government did everything in its power to stop the stream of "illegal" immigrants, exerting pressure on other governments to prevent them leaving and dispatching patrol boats to track the ships from the moment of their departure till their arrival off the Palestinian coast. At a later stage (1940–48) radar stations were erected and aircraft employed to detect immigrant vessels on the open sea. Angered by the ruling power's policy, the yishuv staged protest demonstrations and strikes. When in May 1939 Britain published the White Paper restricting Jewish immigration to 10,000 per annum, the Zionist leaders retorted by declaring clandestine immigration a prime means in the struggle for free aliyah and Jewish independence.

During World War ii

During the war years, ha'palah became an operation for rescuing Jews from extermination. Small, rickety boats, sailing from Romanian and Bulgarian ports, some of them crammed with 2,000 passengers, continued to reach the shores of Palestine, where most of them were intercepted by the British. When at the end of 1940 several thousands of refugees arrived from Romania in three ships, the British decided to transfer them to *Mauritius. Some of them were put on board the Patria for deportation, and Haganah emissaries sabotaged the ship in Haifa harbor to prevent it leaving, but, through a tragic miscalculation, it sank and some 250 lives were lost. About 1,600 of the immigrants were deported and detained in Mauritius until the end of the war. Another refugee boat whose passengers were refused entry was the Struma, which sank in the Black Sea in February 1942 with the loss of all 769 persons on board except one. During most of the war years the Mosad organized clandestine immigration by overland routes, mainly from the Middle East.

After World War ii

After the war large-scale operations at sea were resumed by the Mosad, the immigrants being mainly refugee survivors of European Jewry who had escaped by way of the *Beriḥah rescue operation and reached the shores of Italy, France, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Greece. Their passage was supervised by Mosad emissaries, the immigrants in most cases embarking at small, remote ports, and traveling under cramped conditions in densely packed vessels, most of which were unfit for passenger transportation. The Italians and others who at first constituted the crews of these ships were later joined by Palestinian and American Jews. The refugees were escorted by members of the Haganah and volunteers from the Diaspora, particularly from the U.S. The success of the operation was due in no small measure to the manner in which the refugees themselves, regardless of age or sex, willingly endured privation and danger, and to the total solidarity of the yishuv with the refugees. Haganah members and others received boats which arrived clandestinely at night at desolate places of the sea shore, carrying on their shoulders those who were unable to wade to the shore – the elderly, the sick, women, and children. Once on shore the refugees were immediately brought in buses and trucks to kibbutzim and having changed their clothes could not be recognized as such by the searching British police.

In the years from 1945 to 1948, 65 immigrant boats embarked for Palestine, all under the aegis of the Mosad, save for one boat dispatched by the Hebrew National Liberation Committee founded by Revisionists in the U.S. Most of these were intercepted by the British; among the few that succeeded in landing their passengers were the Dalin (August 1945), the Hanna Szenes (December 1945), and the Shabbetai Lozinski, which went aground on the rocks near Ashdod in March 1947, the immigrants mingling with hundreds of local residents who came to their rescue so that the authorities might not distinguish between them. Intercepted boats were impounded and the passengers transferred to a detention camp at Athlit, some of them later being released within the framework of the limited immigration quota. From August 1946 the British began deporting the clandestine immigrants to detention camps in *Cyprus, where 51,500 were kept under detention and 2,000 children were born. The detainees were by no means passive. They organized themselves and prepared for settlement in Ereẓ Israel with the aid of emissaries from there, learning Hebrew, and even undergoing military training. Seven hundred and fifty of the detainees, chosen by their own committees, were allowed to enter Palestine every month, the number being deducted from the official immigration quota, but the majority reached Israel only after independence, between May 1948 and February 1949.

The critical moment for all the immigrant ships was that of their interception by the British patrol boats, which were ready to attack if their orders were not obeyed. The methods of attack ranged from ramming the boats to using tear gas, batons, and, at times, firearms in order to overcome the immigrants' resistance. The men in charge had to decide on the measure of resistance to be offered, according to such factors as the age and condition of the passengers: sometimes the attackers were met with sticks, stones, and tins of preserves; generally, passive resistance was offered to the British soldiers, who dragged the immigrants to the deportation boats. Many were injured and several died in these encounters. Among the ships whose passengers offered the strongest resistance were the Latrun (October 1946), the Keneset Yisrael (November 1946), the Chaim Arlosoroff (February 1947), and the Theodor Herzl (April 1947). In March 1946 the British Army prevailed on the Italian authorities to prevent the departure from La Spezia harbor of the 1,014 refugees on board the Dov Hos and the Eliyahu Golomb; the immigrants reacted by declaring a hunger strike which aroused world public opinion and compelled Britain to permit the boats to reach Palestine.

Clandestine immigration was the spur to and a focal issue of the resistance movement against the "White Paper" regime. Mass demonstrations were held in Palestine on behalf of the refugees, frequently ending in bloody clashes with the military authorities. The Athlit internment camp was penetrated by a Haganah unit and internees released (October 1945); members of the *Palmaḥ sabotaged installations involved in the detention and arrest of clandestine immigrants, damaging British deportation boats and coastguard and radar stations.

The struggle for the right of free immigration reached its peak in summer 1947, when 4,515 refugees on board the Exodus 1947 reached the shores of Palestine. After the fight with the British on board (three killed, 28 injured), the passengers were removed from the Exodus to three transports which took them to France, but the French government refused to take them off the British deportation boat against their will, while the refugees themselves chose to endure the intense discomfort of their stifling cramped quarters in the summer heat rather than disembark. They were finally taken to Hamburg, where they were forcibly removed and transferred to a British internment camp in Germany. This incident aroused world opinion against Britain's policy of closing the gates of Palestine to survivors of the Holocaust. One of the last clandestine immigration operations was a convoy of two large boats, the Pan York and Pan Crescent, transporting more than 15,000 Jews, the majority from Romania, which left Bulgaria at the end of 1947 despite British and U.S. attempts to prevent their setting sail. The passengers were interned in the Cyrus detention camps.

Aliyah Bet came to an end with the establishment of the State of Israel in May 1948. Of the clandestine immigrants' boats impounded at Haifa port, the best were selected and adapted to serve as the first warships of the Israel Navy. From the early days of the Vellos more than 115,000 Jews had reached Palestine by means of Aliyah Bet (about 105,000 of them under the auspices of the Mosad), and some 800 of them fell in the War of Independence.

further information

Hitherto secret documents released by the British cabinet in January 1979 reveal that despite the strenuous efforts made by the British Mandatory government to stop the stream of "illegal" immigrants immediately prior to the establishment of the State, some British naval commanders ignored the orders and took steps to ensure that they reached Haifa safely, provided them with food and water and, after carrying out a token boarding inside Palestinian waters, piloted or towed them into harbor. Thus, when the engine of the Sylvia Starita broke down, a British destroyer, the Marauder, towed it into the harbor.

bibliography:

M.M. Mardor, Strictly Illegal (1964), chs. 7–12; J. and D. Kimche, Secret Roads (1954); B. Habas, Ha-Sefinah she-Niẓẓeḥah (1948); idem, Gate Breakers (1963); M. Basok (ed.), Sefer ha-Ma'pilim (1947); H. Lazar, Af Al Pi (Heb., 1957); Dinur, Haganah, 2 pt. 3 (19642), index s.v. Ha'palah; D. Niv, Ma'arekhot ha-Irgun ha-Ẓeva'i ha-Le'ummi, 2 (1965), 129–63; 3 (1967), 67–71, 321–34; J. Derogy, La loi du retour; la secrète et véritable histoire de l'Exodus (1968).

[Yehuda Slutsky]

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