How Did Jews Flee to Israel From the Arab World?

A look at some of the brave souls who risked their lives to reach Israel before and just after the state's founding...

A new immigrant from Morocco in Jerusalem, ca. 1950 (Photo: Werner Braun). This photo is part of the Israel Archive Network project and has been made accessible thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Yad Ben Zvi Archive, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the National Library of Israel

It’s an incongruous sight: a WWII plane marooned among the trees at the Atlit Museum of Clandestine Immigration near Haifa.

But this latest addition to the army camp where illegal immigrants were detained during the British Mandate is no ordinary plane. It took years to be tracked down – and it was finally found in Alaska.

The plane, a Commando C-46,  is a replica of that which was used for Operation Michaelberg – a 1947 mission to transport 150 illegal immigrants to British Mandate Palestine from Iraq and Italy.

A Commando C-46 with immigrants from Iraq near a bonfire-marked landing strip in the Galilee during Operation Michaelberg, 1947 (Photo: Nadav Mann, BITMUNA). From the collection of Yitzhak Altuvia, part of the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

It was the first time that a civil aircraft was used to transport illegal immigrants from the Muslim world.

Before the establishment of the State of Israel, most clandestine arrivals to Mandatory Palestine came from European countries, yet hundreds of thousands of Jews also risked life and limb to flee Arab and Muslim states.

Illegal immigration before 1948 was known as “Aliyah Bet,” short for “Aliyah Bilti Legalit“, which literally means “illegal immigration”. It was run by Mossad LeAliyah Bet, a section of the Palmach, the elite fighting force of the Haganah, and was funded by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Aliyah Bet was mainly by sea in defiance of quotas imposed by the British White paper of 1939.

In the post-war years preceding the creation of the State of Israel, some 100,000 immigrants arrived. It is claimed that as many as a third came from Arab or Muslim countries. After Israel was established this task fell to the Mossad, Israel’s secret service.

Once founded, Israel could fling open its gates and accept all Jews who wanted to come. There followed some of the greatest  migrations in history by land, sea and air: 650,000 Jews arrived from Arab countries – 90 percent of the communities of Libya, Iraq and Yemen, a third of the Jews of Morocco.

But the window to leave soon closed. Arab countries would not allow their Jews out – they were hostages to the conflict. This was the case for six years in Morocco, until the 1970s in Iraq and Egypt and until the 1990s in Yemen and Syria.


The Mandate Period

Ironically, during WWII around 4,000 Yemenite Jews came as legal immigrants, because there were not enough European Jews to fill the quota of legal immigration permits set by the ruling British.

In 1944, it became Zionist policy to encourage immigration from Arab countries: the so-called “One Million Plan”. As Arab antisemitism rose, the plight of Jews became more desperate. But while the British were in charge, the only way into Palestine was to try to run the shipping blockade – or employ an overland smuggling route.

Zionism in French-ruled North Africa became very active in 1943 but emigration did not become legal until 1949. Local Zionist youth groups set up an underground network with the help of smugglers. Almost 1,000 Jews passed through Tanas, a secret camp in Algeria, and boarded Haganah ships bound for Palestine.

Jewish immigrants on a boat, Algiers, 1950 (Photo: Nadav Mann, BITMUNA). From the collection of Yani Avidav via Ofer Avidav; part of the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Shmuel Sibon, a teenager from Sefrou, Morocco, spent a month at Tanas, and was one of the few who was not a member of a Zionist group. Food was short. Lice was plentiful. He boarded the Yehuda Halevi ship from the Algerian coast. A voyage which should have taken days lasted three weeks. The ship was surrounded by British destroyers. One holed the ship, and water poured in. The Yehuda Halevi was diverted to Cyprus where Sibon spent nine months. The camp inmates greeted the passengers, asking, “Where are the Africans?” as they expected to see black Jews.

The famous Exodus had 50 North Africans on board – “Africa on the Exodus” – a tiny proportion of the 4,000 passengers. Shlomo Busqiuila was one. There was nothing to eat, he reported.  The best thing for him was that he met his wife on board: Hava, a Hungarian Holocaust survivor.

In Libya, the Jewish Brigade fighting alongside the British did much to inspire the local community to make Aliyah – and 90 percent did so. Until 1949, however,some 1,300 made it to Israel via Italian DP camps. They were survivors of horrific wartime labour camps such as Giado and the 1945 Tripoli pogrom in which 130 Jews had died. Many did not have citizenship. The International Refugee Organisation was unsympathetic and claimed they were not asylum seekers but economic migrants.


Illegal emigration from Morocco

After Israel was declared, emigration from Morocco became legal: waves of Jews headed for the border with Algeria. After  independence in 1956, Morocco introduced a ban. Emigration went underground. At first Tangier, then the Spanish territories of Ceuta and Melilla became important staging posts.

Migrants headed for Gibraltar on commercial lines and then boarded Jewish Agency ships bound for Israel. They were not told when they would be leaving, only the time and place where a vehicle would pick them up. They were given false papers. The smuggling was timed to coincide with pilgrimages to saints’ tombs or Christian celebrations. The police were bribed at exit points. The migrants ran the risk of being arrested and tortured.

A family of new immigrants from Morocco celebrate their first Passover in Israel, ca. 1951 (Keren Hayesod). This photo is part of the Israel Archive Network project and has been made accessible thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Yad Ben Zvi Archive, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the National Library of Israel

Jews continued to leave in secret until the Egoz (Pisces) disaster  in January 1961.  The ship was about to do its 13th illegal crossing to Gibraltar. All 42 on board were drowned including the Spanish machine operator. The captain saved himself. The tragedy caused the immigration ban to be lifted.

Between 1961 and 1964, nearly 100,000 Jews left Morocco as part of Operation Yachin, an effort conducted by the Mossad following an agreement between David Ben-Gurion and King Hassan II, whereby the Moroccan government received payment for every Jewish émigré.


Aliyah from the Middle East

In 1942, Aliyah Bet began to send emissaries to Iraq, Syria, Iran and Lebanon. About 9,000 Jews, including 1,300 Syrian Jews, were escorted in daring and complex operations overland to Mandatory Palestine. Rachel Yanait Ben-Zvi, wife of  Israel’s second president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, made it a priority to bring teenage girls from Syria. By 1945, 1,000 young people had made the journey.

Nissim Arkeli gives a graphic description of his escape:

“…the Arab border smugglers sat us on horses and instead of saddles, we sat on several sacks. The road which wound through mountains and hidden wadis was difficult and taxing, with the ever-present life- threatening danger  of falling from the horses and breaking one’s neck on the rocks. We very quickly developed calluses on our bottoms and thighs. By the second night the calluses had become very painful, bloody wounds.”

In November 1947, conditions became critical for Syrian Jews. Riots broke out in Aleppo resulting in most of the population fleeing. Thousands went from Syria to Lebanon, the only Arab country to see its Jewish population increase during this period.

The first illegal immigrants to Mandate Palestine from Iraq arrived on their own after the 1941 massacre known as the Farhud, primarily through Transjordan, a route 1,500 kilometers long. Some walked all the way. The shortest and quickest route was along the oil pipeline. Bedouin smugglers, taxi drivers, even officials of the Royal Jordanian Court acted as guides. The Iraqis and the British tried to thwart Aliyah with military inspections. Migrants could be imprisoned and interrogated.

Zionist activists in Baghdad, 1934. This photo is part of the Israel Archive Network project and has been made accessible thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Yad Ben Zvi Archive, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the National Library of Israel

Smugglers charged excessive prices. The Zionist movement was willing to pay exorbitant sums per emigrant. Several hundred left posing as tourists with forged passports.

Avner Shashua was detained when he tried to escape:

“One evening we were called to leave. Bedouin clothes were prepared for us: abayas, akals and keffiyas… we got into the waiting car  with the driver/smuggler… at one of the curves in the road the police were waiting for us… the smuggler was in cahoots with the police. We were taken to a detention centre. We had no beds, no mattresses and no blankets; we grabbed a corner and sat on the floor.”

The Mossad preferred a route through Syria from Mosul to Qamlishi, Aleppo, Damascus or Beirut. From 1943 to 1946, about 5,000 of the 7,500 immigrants from Iraq were smuggled in twos or threes across Israel’s northern border.  Many returned to Iraq, finding it difficult to adjust to their new environment.

Emigration was stagnating by 1947. The Zionist movement in Iraq had 2,000 members, but only 50 had made it to Israel.


Operation Michaelberg

Shlomo Hillel was increasingly frustrated. He was a 23-year old Mossad LeAliyah Bet agent who had moved to Israel from Iraq. Operation Michaelberg was conceived when he learned of two veteran American pilots with an itch for adventure and empty pockets who had offered their services.

They flew a C-46 plane to Baghdad with Hillel aboard. The plan was for 50 immigrants to be transported in ten cars past an Iraqi military camp and then climb through a breach in the airport fence. The plane almost took off without the passengers of the tenth car –  but it arrived just in time.

The plan worked perfectly. They landed in a field in the Galilee. A Mossad agent handed the pilots a briefcase of cash. The Haganah ran the operation one more time, bringing back 50 more Iraqis before the outbreak of war made the operation too risky.

Immigrants getting off the plane in the Galilee during Operation Michaelberg, 1947 (Photo: Nadav Mann, BITMUNA). From the collection of Yitzhak Altuvia, part of the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

In 1948, Iraq declared war on Israel and ramped up persecution of its Jews. Illegal immigration surged through the south and over the border into Iran. Soon it was running at 1,000 a month. The situation became so embarrassing for the Iraqi government that it decided to allow  emigration for one year only, thinking only hotheads and undesirables would want to leave. As it turned out, 120,000 Jews registered to go.

Shlomo Hillel went back to Iraq to negotiate the airlift. It became known as Operation Babylon or Operation Ezra and Nehemiah.


Aliyah from Yemen

In 1949, Israel made a deal with Alaskan Airways to transport Yemenite Jews from  the British colony of Aden at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula.

The Yemenite Jews were in a desperate state. Many had walked through the desert to the Hashad transit camp in Aden. Hundreds died of malnutrition or disease. Ultimately 50,000 Jews were airlifted to Israel during 1949-50 – almost the entire community.

Preparations at the port in Aden to bring Yemenite immigrants to Israel, June 29, 1950 (Photo: Benno Rothenberg). From the Meitar Collection, The Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Throughout the 1950s, 1960s and into the 1990s, the Mossad continued to run clandestine operations– from Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Iraq and Iran. They saved thousands of Ethiopian Jews in the 1980s and 1990s, bringing them to Israel.

With the arrival of the C-46 plane at the Atlit museum, and the inauguration of a  dedicated hall, in some small way clandestine Sephardi immigration takes up its rightful place in Israel’s history. The brave souls who risked their lives to rescue and be rescued from Muslim countries are being remembered after being largely overlooked for so many years.


This article has been published as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to connect with people, institutions and communities across Europe and beyond, through storytelling, knowledge sharing and community engagement.

An Eternal Love Song: 10 Classic Israeli Hits Inspired by the “Song of Songs”

A tour through the Bella and Harry Wexner Libraries of Sound and Song - Legacy Heritage Foundation at the National Library of Israel reveals the biblical Song of Songs is ever-present in contemporary Israeli music

Shoshana Damari and Yehoram Gaon (the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection) and a Tu B’Av celebration in Hadera, early 20th century (Sonia Kolodany, the Khan Hadera Archive and Museum, colorization by MyHeritage)

Love is in the air, the hot, muggy air. This year, the August heat, the full moon, and the Perseids meteor shower will coincide to create love – or something close to it – on Tu B’Av eve.

Tu B’Av – for those unfamiliar with this minor Jewish holiday with clearly pagan roots – falls on the eve of the 15th of the Hebrew month of Av, when the moon is full. During the Second Temple period, the date marked the beginning of the grape harvest. According to tradition, on that date, unmarried young women would go dance in the vineyards, dressed in white, to eventually be joined by the young men – hopefully in the bonds of matrimony.

The early kibbutz movement revived Tu B’Av as a day for celebrating the grape harvest, and a day for weddings. The modern State of Israel brought Tu B’Av back to what it probably always was – a good excuse to party all midsummer night long. However, given its history, Tu B’Av deserves a proper romantic playlist featuring 10 favorites. And where better to start if not with the Songs of Songs?


Search the National Library of Israel’s music collection using the category “love songs” and you’ll get a long and detailed list of sub-categories, like “suffering” and “unrequited” (the most common of this genre in any language, place, or time), but there are also “courtship”, “dreams”, “hope” – and the “fifteenth of Av”.

Most prominent under the sub-category “fifteenth of Av” is a recording of Kol Dodi (“The voice of my beloved”), as performed by its composer, Israel Prize laureate Sara Levi-Tanai, choreographer and founder of the Inbal Dance Theater. The Library’s recording is from the 1950s but the most famous version by far of this love song, which takes its lyrics from the Song of Songs, was performed by Shoshana Damari, whose archive is housed at the National Library of Israel.

Shoshana Damari sings Kol Dodi 


Another melody penned by Levi-Tanai with lyrics from the Song of Songs was El Ginat Egoz, (“To the Walnut Garden”). The NLI music archive notes, “Written and choreographed straightaway as a folk dance in 1947, the song’s success gave birth to an entire genre of slow-tempo Yemenite-inspired dance-songs with the same hallmarks: lyrics taken from or in the spirit of the Song of Songs, structured in two short parts of two or four bars each, a melody based on a single motif with Eastern musical elements, and a 2/4 or 4/4 beat time signature, based on the Yemenite dance step.”


The Song of Songs also figures in the song Yesh Li Gan (“I Have a Garden”). First penned by Hayim Nahman Bialik in 1908 as poem of longing as spoken by an unnamed woman for her beloved David, who may or may not return to her garden, the text is similar in style to the biblical text. The melody from the 1930s, (mistakenly attributed as a Syrian folk song, but later rightly credited to the famous Egyptian singer-composer Sheikh Muhammad ‘Abd al-Rahim al-Maslub), was adapted by singer, songwriter, musicologist, and actor Bracha Tzfira. The Library’s collection also includes a performance by singer Nechama Hendel, recorded at the Kol Yisrael (Voice of Israel) public radio studios in 1961.


Another recording from 1961: Keshoshana ben HaHohim (“Like a Rose Among Thorns”). Composed by Yosef Hadar – one of the most important Israeli composers of the 1950s and early 1960s – the song was complemented by choreography by Yankele Levy, one of Israeli folk dance’s founding fathers. With romantic verses from the Song of Songs (Like a rose among thorns / So is my beloved among the young women / Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest / So is my beloved among the young men), Keshoshana ben HaHohim has become a couples folk dance standard.

Dance demonstration of Keshoshana ben HaHohim


The song Dodi Li, whose lyric also comes verbatim from the Song of Songs, (I am my beloved’s / and my beloved is mine), was originally set to music in 1948 by musician-composer Nira Chen. It became a popular folk dance in the 1950s, with the song performed by singers like Naomi Tzuri and groups like Lahakat HaUzim (also known as Lahakat HaHalutzim). Sometime in the late 1960s, however, the new generation of Israeli artists apparently felt the need to bring sexy back and allow the Song of Songs’ simmering passion to rise. Check out this hip version by jazz vocalist Rimona Francis.


No list of Israeli love songs would be complete without Erev shel Shoshanim (“Evening of Roses”). Composed by the aforementioned Yosef Hadar with lyrics by the poet Moshe Dor, which again borrowed imagery from the Song of Songs, it was first recorded in 1955 by singer Miriam Avigal and then in 1957 by Yaffa Yarkoni. But the song gained international fame with a version by singing duo HaDudaim. Following the Six-Day War, Erev shel Shoshanim became a hit throughout Europe, recorded in countless versions till today.

Yaffa Yarkoni sings Erev shel Shoshanim


The dark-skinned female in the Judeo-Spanish song Morena, Morenica, a traditional Ladino cancionero with roots in old Spanish poetry, was perhaps inspired by the Song of Songs verse, “I am black and beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem”. For centuries, this verse had been set to music; in modern Israel it was adopted by composers like Daniela Dor (pseudonym of Hungarian-born Barbara Kaufman), who wrote the song Schora Ani u Na’ava for the unusual four-octave vocal range belonging to Eritrean-born Yemenite-Israeli singer Hanna Ahroni.

Hanna Ahroni sings Schora Ani u Na’ava


Another song in Ladino, Avre Tu Puerta Cerrada (“Open Your Closed Door”), is among the most-loved and much-performed of the romancas – the Judeo-Spanish variation of traditional Spanish ballads of the Middle Ages. Doors, windows, and garden gates, whether open or closed, were frequent symbols in medieval Iberian poetry and song, and the lyric, from the would-be lover’s point of view, is an expression of deep desire.

The Library catalogue lists at least 40 other recordings, including those from a series of radio broadcasts in Ladino launched in 1954 by musicologist Yitzhak Isaac Levy, head of the Kol Yisrael ethnographic department. While these recorded performances – like this one from 1958 – represent an important resource for researchers, they are also hugely enjoyable, such as this swinging version by pop star – and Israel’s first Eurovision entrant (in 1973) – Ilanit.

However, perhaps the best-known version was recorded by Yehoram Gaon, in a 1969 album that broke Ladino music through to mainstream Israeli popular culture.

Yehoram Gaon sings Avre Tu Puerta Cerrada

9 and 10

As the Mizrahi music genre began slowly gaining legitimacy within the Israeli music establishment, the “I am black and beautiful” verse – but with a far different melody – won first place in the 1977 Israel Oriental Song Festival. Sung by Shimi Tavori, the song Schora Ani u Na’ava started a winning streak that ended only in 1982 when Tavori opted out of the contest. This allowed the now-legendary Zohar Argov to step in, and win with the now-iconic – and Song of Songs-adjacent – HaPerach beGani (“The Flower in My Garden”).

Zohar Argov sings HaPerach beGani   

There are hundreds more songs of romance, passion and longing to be found in the Bella and Harry Wexner Libraries of Sound and Song – Legacy Heritage Foundation at the National Library of Israel. These recordings span decades, and a multiplicity of languages – Arabic, English, French, Greek, Russian, Yiddish, and more – plus the universal language of love (or something close to it).


The Suicide of the Man Who Loved David Ben-Gurion

“My life’s work has been to serve you”: The tragic death of Nehemiah Argov, David Ben-Gurion’s trusted aide…

David Ben-Gurion and his military secretary, Nehemiah Argov. This image is part of Archive Network Israel and is made available through the collaboration of the Ben-Gurion Archive, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the National Library of Israel

“My very dear Ben-Gurion,

My life’s work has been to serve you.

I believe with complete faith that the Jewish people would not have achieved independence, nor would it have reached its position in the world without your amazing character.”

So ends our story.

And so began the farewell letter written by Nehemiah Argov, David Ben-Gurion’s military secretary, to the man he admired. The letter is dated November 2, 1957, but several days would go by before Ben-Gurion would read the letter addressed to him.

Let’s rewind a bit. Our story begins four days earlier, on October 29, 1957. On that day, Moshe Dweck, suffering from a mental illness, tossed a hand grenade from the stands into the plenum of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, which was then at Frumin House on King George Street in Jerusalem. Four ministers were injured in the incident, as well as Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion who was hit by shrapnel and rushed to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.


Headline in the newspaper Haboker, October 30, 1957:”Grenade Tossed in the Knesset – Ben-Gurion and 4 Ministers Injured”

Although Ben-Gurion was only slightly wounded, his loyal military secretary Nehemiah Argov was very worried by the “Old Man’s” condition, and for several days did not leave the Prime Minister’s bedside. And so he wrote in a letter to a friend:

“The ‘Old Man’ will remain in the hospital for a few more days, with injuries to his leg and hand. The shrapnel from his leg will only be removed tomorrow. He is in good condition, and there are no concerns. However, it is hard to see this lion lying in bed . . . this lion’s place is not in a hospital bed!”

Four days after the grenade attack on the Knesset, on Saturday, November 2, Argov was driving from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to visit the “Old Man,” when he was distracted for an instant, losing control of the wheel and hitting a cyclist named David Kadosh. He placed the injured man in his car and sped to the hospital. Doctors initially feared that Kadosh would not survive the accident.

Argov was broken by the event and felt that he could not live with his actions. Believing that it was his fault that a life had been taken, he chose to end his own with a gunshot to his temple. He left two letters behind. One letter to his friends and family, and one letter to David Ben-Gurion.


David Ben-Gurion and his military secretary Nehemiah Argov, Bitmuna. The Edgar Hirschbein Collection. Collection source: Tamar Levy. The Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

In the letter to his friends he wrote:

“Today, the car I was driving from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem hit the cyclist David Kadosh. I am afraid that he won’t make it. David Kadosh has a wife and four children. I cannot forgive myself for the injury I have caused to this family. Even if David Kadosh does survive, who knows if he will be able to continue to care for his sacred family?”

In the letter he asked to leave his money to the victim of the accident and at the end he wrote:

“I imagine I have some friends who will be sorry for what I am going to do. I beg them not to be angry with me for doing what I did. I am not worthy of being mourned.”


The item published in Haboker, November 4, 1957


In his farewell to Ben-Gurion, he wrote:

“I was happy during the ten years that I had the privilege of serving you. I don’t know by whose right I had the privilege to serve you.”

He signed the letter “Your loving admirer, Nehemiah.”

The conclusion of Nehemiah Argov’s letter to David Ben-Gurion, Israel State Archives

But Ben-Gurion did not read the letter on November 2. Nor the next day either.

The doctors at Hadassah feared that the news of Argov’s death would worsen Ben-Gurion’s condition, as the Prime Minister was still recovering from the events of the grenade incident.

In an unprecedented move, the daily Israeli newspapers did something that had never been done before: they printed several special issues of their respective papers without the report of Argov’s death. The censored copies were brought to Hadassah hospital, and David Ben-Gurion, who would read the newspapers every day, remained in the dark about the tragedy.

We tried our best to locate the special issues at the National Library of Israel and in the archives of the daily newspapers, but unfortunately no copies were preserved.


“Last night, everything was done to keep this news from the Prime Minister who is at hospital, recuperating from his injuries sustained when a grenade was thrown in the Knesset […] ‘Maariv’ will also print special editions, which will not include this article concerning the Argov affair. Mr. Ben-Gurion is receiving these amended editions today…” – Item published in Maariv, November 4, 1957

Ben-Gurion was given the difficult news the next day. As expected, he was shocked and heartbroken. Two weeks later, on the speaker’s podium in the Knesset, he said:

“The thing that set Nehemiah apart is that he had one exceptional quality, and that is devotion and loyalty. Nehemiah was a man of the highest dedication . . . Nehemiah was endowed with a precious and rare gift from God—the great gift of love. This was a flame that burned in Nehemiah continuously and by which he was consumed, with love and agony.

Please permit me to stand here alone, in silence, for a short moment in his memory.”

Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion napping on the grass during a lunch break on a tour ahead of the Sinai Campaign (1956). Behind Ben-Gurion is his military secretary Col. Nehemiah Argov (reading a newspaper). This image is part of Archive Network Israel and is made available through the collaboration of the Ben Zvi Institute, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the National Library of Israel

The cyclist David Kadosh, the victim of the accident, eventually made a complete recovery. With the weight of Argov’s suicide on his shoulders, he also sent a letter to David Ben-Gurion, written from his hospital bed:

“Forgive me and accept my condolences for the great tragedy that has taken your great aide from you, the noble, honest and gentle soul, the late Nehemiah Argov.”


The letter sent by David Kadosh to David Ben-Gurion, the Ben-Gurion Archive

Further Reading

David Ben-Gurion: A Biography – by Michael Bar-Zohar

Nehemiah Argov (Hebrew)


Mapping 50 Years of Zionist Pioneering

The desert was pushed back, the swamps were dried up and water reached every corner of the land - this historic map celebrated 50 years of the Zionist enterprise…

To mark the jubilee of the Zionist Organization, a pictorial map was published by the Jewish National Fund in 1947. It surveyed 50 years of Zionist settlement and development of the Land of Israel. Edited by Ernst Mechner, and designed by S.F. Loeb, the map was issued in three editions: Hebrew, English and Yiddish.

The Rutenberg Power Station and adjacent settlement of Tel Or, south of the Sea of Galilee, the Eran Laor Cartographic Collection
The complete map presents the development of Jewish settlement over three periods, and the green shading indicates the expansion of Jewish owned land

The Zionist Organization, established at the First Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897, the Palestine Office and its successor the Jewish Agency, Keren Hayesod, which coordinated the collection of donations for the development of the country, and the Jewish National Fund, all assisted over the years in purchasing land and establishing Jewish settlements in the Land of Israel. In this map, summarizing the work of these bodies between 1897 and 1947, the editor chose to highlight the sites that in his view constituted milestones in the timeline of settlement of the Land of Israel.

For example, “Degania 1909 ‘The Mother of Kvuzot’” – Degania was the first Jewish communal settlement to be established in the Land of Israel.

Degania, “The Mother of  Kvuzot”, was established at the initiative of the Palestine Office, which  invited a group of pioneers there in 1909 to work the settlement for wages. This is the reason for the date that appears on the map, and not 1910, which is considered the official date of the founding of the Degania communal settlement.
The commune’s pioneers at Umm Juni (Degania), 1912. Photo: Leo Kahan. This image is part of Archive Network Israel, made available through the cooperation of the Ben Zvi Institute, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the National Library of Israel
Degania’s buildings in a German aerial photograph from 1918, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

The swampy marshlands of the Jezreel Valley which appear in the illustration above should be taken with a grain of salt. We know that swamps characterized some settlement regions, such as the area south of Zichron Yaacov (the Kabara swamps), or the area around Hadera, but in the Jezreel Valley swamplands represented only a minimal percentage of the area, as can be seen for example in the article, The Swamps of Emek Yizre’el (Jezreel Valley) – Myth and Reality, by Yoram Bar-Gal and Shmuel Shamai. The association of swampland with the Jezreel Valley reinforced the idea of the redemption of desolate land and its transformation into flourishing settlements, and it seems that in this map that message took precedence over geographical-historical accuracy.

Water sources were a necessity for settlement: special effort was invested in a water carrier system to provide water for both drinking and agriculture purposes to the Negev; to illustrate the immensity of this Zionist project, the pioneer on the map is depicted as a giant.

Laying the first water pipes to the Negev, 1946–1947
Excavations in preparation for laying the water pipes to the Negev. Nadav Mann, Bitmuna, the Hanan Bahir Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel
Laying the water pipes to the Negev. Nadav Mann, Bitmuna, the Edgar Hirschbein Collection. Collection source: Tamar Levy. The Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

The map includes eighteen figures of pioneers, three of them women.

A female pioneer picking oranges

Pioneers working with a pickaxe, fishing in the Sea of Galilee, plowing a field with a tractor and guarding on horseback.


The Rutenberg Power Station in Naharayim and the adjacent settlement Tel Or where the workers and their families lived. The power station supplied electricity to the settlements in the Land of Israel from 1928 to 1948, when the station ceased operations and the settlement was abandoned.


Construction of the power station at Naharayim, ca. 1927. The image is part of Archive Network Israel, made available through the cooperation of the Ben Zvi Institute, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, and the National Library of Israel


Construction of the power station at Naharayim, ca. 1927. The image is part of Archive Network Israel, made available through the cooperation of the Ben Zvi Institute, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, and the National Library of Israel


In the most recent section of the map, the caption refers to the Jewish Agency’s efforts to establish settlement positions in the northern Negev in 1946.


The map shows the year of the establishment of the Tel Aviv port, the number of Jewish residents in the city, the establishment of the new workers’ settlements and more.


The bay of Haifa, with the industrial center and the petrochemical refinery cooling towers. To the north is the tower and stockade settlement of Kibbutz Hanita


Metzudoth Ussishkin (Ussishkin Strongholds), a group of settlements that Menachem Ussishkin (a Zionist leader and president of the JNF) requested be named for him, including tower and stockade settlements, such as the Kibbutzim Dafna and Dan


An epigram by Herzl is printed on the back of the map:


Besides serving as a summary and documentation of the past, the colorful, trilingual editions of this map served the Jewish National Fund as a means of fundraising for the Zionist institutions, as they continued their efforts to purchase land and develop the country.