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Yemenite Jews in Ma'abarat Rosh Ha-Ayin, 1950

Ma'abarot (Hebrew: מַעְבָּרוֹת‎) were refugee absorption camps in Israel in the 1950s. The Ma'abarot were meant to provide accommodation for the large influx of Jewish refugees and new Jewish immigrants (olim) arriving to the newly independent State of Israel, replacing the less habitable immigrant camps or tent cities. The ma'abarot began to decline by mid-1950s and were largely transformed into Development Towns. The last Ma'abara was closed in 1963.


Ma'abara in Beit Lid

The Hebrew word Ma'abara (singular) derives from the word ma'avar (Hebrew: מעבר‎, transit). Ma'abarot (plural) were meant to be temporary communities for the new arrivals. Immigrants housed in these communities were Jewish refugees mainly from Middle East and North Africa, as well as Holocaust survivors from Europe.


Ma'abara near Nahariya, 1952

The first Jews to arrive in Israel post-WWII were mostly Ashkenazi Holocaust survivors from displaced-persons camps in Germany, Austria, and Italy, and British detention camps in Cyprus. These refugees were mostly from central and Eastern Europe. In subsequent years, the number of Ashkenazi Jewish refugees declined, and the number of Sephardi Jews from North Africa and Mizrahi Jews from the Middle East increased.[1]

The sudden arrival of over 130,000 Iraqi Jews in Israel in the early 1950s meant that almost a third of immigrant camp dwellers were of Iraqi Jewish origin. At the end of 1949 there had been 90,000 Jews housed in immigration camps; by the end of 1951 this population rose to over 220,000 people, in about 125 separate communities.[2]

More habitable housing had been provided to replace the tents of the immigrant camps, and the camps were renamed into "transition camps", or "ma'abarot". Most of ma'abarot residents were housed in temporary tin dwellings. Over 80% of the residents were Jewish refugees from across Arab and Muslim countries in Middle East and North Africa.

Scholars Emma Murphy and Clive Jones offer a critique of the ma'abarot system, contending that "housing policies weighted in favour of Askenazi immigrants over Oriental Jews. Housing units earmarked for Oriental Jews were often reallocated to European Jewish immigrants, consigning Oriental Jews to the privations of ma'abarot for longer periods."[3]

Jonathan Kaplan describes the characteristics of the ma'abarot residents as follows: "The [Holocaust] survivor population was usually older and contained fewer children. On the other hand, the Jews from developing countries in Asia and Africa tended to have a large number of children but a smaller elderly population. The European immigrants were generally better educated. Neither group however, resembled the profile of pre‑state immigration: a significantly lower percentage of the post‑1948 immigrants were in the primary wage earning group (only 50.4% in the 15‑45 age group as compared to 66.8% in earlier immigration waves) and consequently fewer could participate in the work force of the new state. The newer immigrants had less education: 16% of those aged 15 and above had completed secondary education as compared to 34% among the earlier settlers."[4] The Ashkenazi refugees were thus better positioned to take advantage of the pre-state Ashkenazi-led society in Israel, as long as they were willing to acculturate by (for example) minimizing religious observance, and adopting Hebrew and leaving behind Yiddish.[5] By contrast, Jews from North Africa and the Middle East often experienced more significant discrimination.

According to a journalist's description of his encounter with Migdal Gad maabara, "in the whole camp there were two faucets for everyone. About a thousand people. The toilets had no roof and were infested with flies."[6]

Over time, the Ma'abarot metamorphosed into Israeli towns, or were absorbed as neighbourhoods of the towns they were attached to, and residents were provided with permanent housing. The number of people housed in Ma'abarot began to decline since 1952, and the last Ma'abarot were closed sometime around 1963.[2] Most of the camps transformed into Development Towns - "Ayarat Pitu'ach". Ma'abarot which became towns include Kiryat Shmona, Sderot, Beit She'an, Yokneam, Or Yehuda and Migdal HaEmek.

Most of ma'abarot residents were housed in temporary tin dwellings. Conditions in the Ma'abarot were very harsh, with many people sharing sanitation facilities. In one community it was reported that there were 350 people to each shower and in another 56 to each toilet.[2]

Media and popular culture[edit]

Israeli satirist Ephraim Kishon produced a satirical film about the Ma'abarot called Sallah Shabbati. The film was nominated for an Academy Award and is regarded as an Israeli classic.

See also[edit]


Dvora Hacohen,Immigrants in Turmoil: Mass Immigration to Israel and Its Repercussions in the 1950s and After, Syracuse University Press, 2003.


  1. ^ Kaplan, Jonathan. "The Mass Migration to Israel of the 1950s". My Jewish Learning. Retrieved 27 February 2019.
  2. ^ a b c (in Hebrew) Ma'abarot by Miriam Kachenski, Israeli Center for Educational Technology
  3. ^ Clive Jones (Israel Institute), Emma Murphy (Durham University), Israel: Challenges to Identity, Democracy, and the State, Routledge, 2004, p.37
  4. ^ Kaplan, Jonathan. "The Mass Migration to Israel of the 1950s". My Jewish Learning. Retrieved 27 February 2019.
  5. ^ Kavon, Eli. "When Zionism Feared Yiddish". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 27 February 2019.
  6. ^ Anita Shapira, Israel: A History