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The First Aliyah (also The Farmers' Aliyah) was the first modern widespread wave of Zionist aliyah. Jews who migrated to Palestine in this wave came mostly from Eastern Europe and from Yemenmarker. This wave of aliyah began in 1881–82 and lasted until 1903. An estimated 25,000–35,000 Jews immigrated to Ottoman Syria during the First Aliyah. While all throughout history Jews immigrated to Israel (such as the Vilna Gaon's group), these were generally smaller groups with more religious motives, and did not have a purely secular political goal in mind.

Eastern European immigration

Reasons for immigration

The immigration to Palestine occurred as part of the mass emigrations from Eastern Europe of approximately 3.5 million people that occurred towards the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.

A rapid increase in population had created economic problems in Eastern Europe. The problems affected Jewish societies in the Pale of Settlement, Galicia, and Romania.

Russian persecution of Jews was also a factor. In 1881, the czar Alexander II of Russia was assassinated, and the ruling bodies blamed the Jews for the assassination. Consequently, in addition to the May Laws, major anti-Jewish pogroms swept the Pale of Settlement. A movement called Hibbat Zion (love of Zion) spread across the Pale (helped by Leon Pinsker's pamphlet Auto-Emancipation), as well as the similar Bilu movement, which both encouraged Jews to immigrate to Palestine.

Jews emigrated in relatively high numbers, proportionate to the Jewish population. About 2 million of the 3.5 million went to the United Statesmarker. Only a small minority of 25,000 Jews moved to Palestine.Immigration took place in two primary stages 1881-2 and 1890-1.

The first central committee for the settlement of Israel and Syria was established by a convention of "Unions for the Agricultural Settlement of Israel" (Pukshan Congress) held on January 11, 1882 in Romaniamarker. The committee was the first organization to form group aliyahs, such as the Jewish passenger ships it set sail from Galaţimarker.

After the first wave (early 1880s) there was another spike in aliyah in 1890. The reasons for the increase were:
  • The Russianmarker government officially approved the activity of Hovevei Zion in 1890. That same year the "Odessa Committee" began its operation in Jaffamarker. The purpose of this organization was to absorb immigrants in Palestine that came as a result of Hovevei Zion in Russia.
  • Russian Jewry's situation deteriorated:
    • The authorities continued to push Jews out of business and trade.
    • Moscowmarker was almost entirely "cleansed" of Jews.
  • The financial situation of the settlements from the previous decade improved due to the Baron de Rothschild's assistance (orchards were planted, wineries started).

The immigrants

Nearly all of the Jews from Eastern Europe before that time came from traditional Jewish families, hoping to improve their lives. . The immigrants that were part of the First Aliyah, however, came more out of a connection to the land of their ancestors. Most of these immigrants worked as artisans or in small trade, but many also worked in agriculture. Only some of them came in an organized fashion, with the help of Hovevei Zion, but most of them were unorganized, in their 30s, and had families.

Aliyah from Yemen

The first group of immigrants from Yemenmarker came approximately seven months before most of the Eastern European Jews who arrived in Palestine.


The First Aliyah laid the cornerstone for Jewish settlement in Israel and created several settlements - Rishon LeZionmarker, Rosh Pinamarker, Zikhron Ya'aqovmarker, Gederamarker etc.

Most settlements met with financial difficulties and most of the settlers were not proficient in farming. Baron Edmond James de Rothschild took several of the settlements under his wing, which helped them survive until more settlers with farming experience arrived in subsequent aliyot.

Immigrants of the First Aliyah also contributed to existing towns and settlements, notably Petah Tikvamarker. The first neighbourhoods of Tel Aviv (Neve Shalommarker and Neve Tzedekmarker) were also built by members of the aliyah, although it was not until the Second Aliyah that Tel Avivmarker was officially founded.

Israeli historian Benny Morris wrote:

But the major cause of tension and violence throughout the period 1882-1914 was not accidents, misunderstandings or the attitudes and behaviors of either side, but objective historical conditions and the conflicting interests and goals of the two populations.
The Arabs sought instinctively to retain the Arab and Muslim character of the region and to maintain their position as its rightful inhabitants; the Zionists sought radically to change the status quo, buy as much land as possible, settle on it, and eventually turn an Arab-populated country into a Jewish homeland.

For decades the Zionists tried to camouflage their real aspirations, for fear of angering the authorities and the Arabs.
They were, however, certain of their aims and of the means needed to achieve them.
Internal correspondence amongst the olim from the very beginning of the Zionist enterprise leaves little room for doubt.

Morris provides excerpts from three letters written in 1882 by these first arrivals:

  • Vladimir (Ze'ev) Dubnow, one of the Biluim wrote to his brother, the historian Simon Dubnow, in October 1882: "The ultimate goal ... is, in time, to take over the Land of Israel and to restore to the Jews the political independence they have been deprived of for these two thousand years .... The Jews will yet arise and, arms in hand (if need be), declare that they are the masters of their ancient homeland." (Dubnow himself shortly afterward returned to Russia.)
  • Ben-Yehuda, who settled in Jerusalemmarker in September 1881, wrote in July 1882 to Peretz Smolenskin in Viennamarker: "The thing we must do now is to become as strong as we can, to conquer the country, covertly, bit by bit ... We will not set up committees so that the Arabs will know what we are after, we shall act like silent spies, we shall buy, buy, buy."
  • In October 1882 Ben-Yehuda and Yehiel Michael Pines, who had arrived in Palestine in 1878, wrote to Rashi Pin, in Vilnamarker: "We have made it a rule not to say too much, except to those ... we trust ... the goal is to revive our nation on its land ... if only we succeed in increasing our numbers here until we are the majority [Emphasis in original] .... There are now only five hundred [thousand] Arabs, who are not very strong, and from whom we shall easily take away the country if only we do it through stratagems [and] without drawing upon us their hostility before we become the strong and populous ones."

The Jewish Virtual Library[303884] says of the First Aliyah that nearly half the settlers did not stay in Palestine.


  1. aliyah: Definition and Much More from
  2. Scharfstein, Sol, Chronicle of Jewish History: From the Patriarchs to the 21st Century, p.231, KTAV Publishing House (1997), ISBN 0-88125-545-9
  3. The First Aliyah
  4. Industrial Revolution
  5. Jewish Immigration
  6. pp. 5
  7. History of the Jews in Russia and the Soviet Union#Mass emigration and political activism
  8. Palestine/Israel
  9. Morris, Benny. Righteous Victims: A history of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001. Vintage Books, 2001, p. 49.
  10. Shapira, Anita. (Heb).) Land and Power. Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1992, p86-87 cited in Morris, Benny. Righteous Victims: A history of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001. Vintage Books, 2001, p49.
  11. Be'eri,Eliezer. (Heb.) The beginning of the Israeli-Arab conflict, 1882-1891. Haifa: Sifriyat Po'alim/Haifa University Press, 1985, p38 cited in Morris, Benny. Righteous Victims: A history of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001. Vintage Books, 2001, p49.
  12. Ibid., p38-39 cited in Morris, Benny. Righteous Victims: A history of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001. Vintage Books, 2001, p49.

Further reading

  • Ben-Gurion, DavidFrom Class to Nation: Reflections on the Vocation and Mission of the Labor Movement (Hebrew), Am Oved (1976)

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