The Mass Migration

The years between 1948 and 1951 witnessed the largest migration ever to reach the shores of modern Israel. This influx began at a time when the state was in the throes of its greatest struggle for survival, the War of Independence, and continued throughout a period troubled by both security concerns and economic hardship. It is known by the term The Mass Migration (Hebrew: Ha'Aliya Ha'Hamonit).

In the mid-1950s, a second smaller wave arrived in Israel. The immigrants of the country's first decade radically altered the demographic landscape of Israeli society as well as the balance between Israel and the Jewish diaspora. Many of today's social issues are rooted in this mass migration: Israel's rapid economic growth, social stratification and the formation of new political frameworks and elites.


Some 688,000 immigrants came to Israel during the country's first 3 and a half years at an average of close to 200,000 a year. As approximately 650,000 Jews lived in Israel at the time of the establishment of the state, this meant in effect a doubling of the Jewish population, even in light of the fact that some 10% of the new immigrants left the country during the next few years. Although immigration declined rapidly during the early 1950s, another 166,000 arrived in the middle of the decade.


The first immigrants to reach the new state were survivors of the Holocaust, some from Displaced Persons Camps in Germany, Austria and Italy, and others from British Detention Camps in Cyprus. The remnants of certain communities were transferred virtually in their entirety, for example Bulgarian and Yugoslav Jewry. Large sections of other communities such as those from Poland and Rumania came to Israel during the first years.

After the initial influx of European Jews, the percentage of Jews from Moslem countries in Asia and Africa increased considerably (from 14.4% in 1948 to 71.0% in 1951). During 1950 and 1951, special operations were undertaken to bring over Jewish communities perceived to be in serious danger: the Jews of Yemen and Aden (Operation “Magic Carpet”) and the Jewish community in Iraq (Operation “Ezra and Nehemiah”). During the same period, the vast majority of Libyan Jewry came to the country. Considerable numbers of Jews immigrated from Turkey and Iran as well as from other North African countries (Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria).

Immigration to Israel (1948-1951) By Major Countries of Origin (Numbers in thousands): Iraq -123.3, Rumania - 118.0, Poland -106.4, Yemen and Aden - 48.3, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria - 45.4, Bulgaria - 37.3, Turkey - 34.5, Libya - 31.0, Iran - 21.9, Czechoslovakia - 18.8, Hungary - 14.3, Germany, Austria - 10.8, Egypt - 8.8, USSR - 8.2, Yugoslavia - 7.7 [Source: Moshe Sicron, "The Mass Aliyah - Its Dimensions, Characteristics and Influences on the Structure of the Israeli Population," in Mordechai Naor, ed., Olim and Ma'abarot 1948-1952 (1986)].

There were considerable differences between the immigrants from European countries and those from Asia and Africa. The 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 15-45 age group and consequently less could participate in the work force of the new state. Women, especially among the immigrants from Asia and Africa, tended less to work outside the home. The professions of the new arrivals were also different than those of their predecessors: few had engaged in agriculture or modern professional skills and most had been either small craftsmen (tailors, cobblers, carpenters, smiths) or traders and peddlers.

Effects on the Israeli Population:

First and foremost, the mass migration led to a steep rise in the Israeli Jewish population. Not only was the population doubled within a short period of time, but the high fertility rate of many of the newcomers led to continued population increase in the years ahead. This growth was significant both with regard to the ratio between Jews and non-Jews in Israel and to the demographic role of Israel in the Jewish world.

Secondly, due to the large percentage of immigrants from Asia and Africa and to their higher fertility rate, the mass migration led to a change in the ethnic composition of Israeli society. An indication of this trend can be seen in the rise of the proportion of foreign-born Israelis who were born in Asia and Africa. In November 1948 this proportion stood at 15.1%, but by the end of 1951 it had risen to 36.9%. Thirdly, the new state now had to deal with a considerable population that to a large extent lacked agricultural or modern professional skills, or the same degree of modern education as the veteran population. Moreover, due to an under-representation of that age group that could best adapt vocationally to new social and economic conditions, it was difficult to quickly integrate the new population. One of the most important social issues in Israel resulted from the difficulties involved in absorbing the new immigrants resulted in some serious social issues whose consequence have lingered even to this day.

Written by Jonathan Kaplan and published by the Jewish Agency for Israel.

The stamp shows the Independence Day poster from Israel’s 41st Independence Day (1989), designed by Asaf Berg. The designer integrated figures of the throngs of new immigrants making their way down the ship’s gangway, hands held up toward the Heavens in prayer and joy, into the poster. The ship is designed in the shape of a large Star of David and illustrates the enormity of the Zionist enterprise of the absorption of the immigrants.

The stamp was issued in 2008.