Zionist expansion in Arab lands began towards the end of the 19th century, and the first Jewish agricultural settlement in Palestine, Petah Tikvah, was established in 1878. In 1882, the settlement of Rishon Letzion was established along with other housing and agricultural colonies. This cycle continued until the outbreak of the first world war, during which emigration and settlement were temporarily frozen. Zionist endeavors in the political arena now intensified when capitalist Jews rendered services and help to the British war effort in the scientific and military areas. By virtue of these services, and the convergence of the mutual interests of the British and the Jews in Palestine, the Jews won the Balfour Declaration from Britain in 1917.
Subsequently, the Zionist movement was to succeed through American and international political support to realize its far-reaching goal of establishing the state of Israel in 1948. In the meantime, the Zionist movement realized that it would be impossible to actualize its dream of a homeland without achieving two central objectives: first, seizing land and filling it with Jewish emigrants, and second, seizing water resources to keep in pace with the needs of agricultural and industrial development.
The 1948 war resulted in important consequences for Palestinian existence.
One of the foremost results was the forced emigration and dispersion of thousands of Palestinians from their ancestral lands beyond the so¬-called Green Line (Israel's 1948 borders) and to neighboring Arab countries. Furthermore, it culminated in the destruction of the existential, political and economic infrastructure of the Palestinian people.
One of the prominent characteristics of the Israeli political system is the determination to guarantee the control and supremacy of the Jewish element in the country. To accomplish this objective, the Israelis attempted to eradicate Palestinian Arab traces on the one hand, and implement the Judaization policy on the other. Also, Israel opened the doors of emigration to world Jewry to settle in the promised land by promulgating "The Law of Return", which was ratified by the Israeli Knesset on July 5, 1950, giving every returning Jew, as soon as he or she arrived in the country, the right of Israeli citizenship. As for non-Jews, i.e. Palestinian Arabs, they have no right to return. This has been Israel's consistent policy since the creation of the State.
Stages in Jewish emigration
Emigration expanded after the pogroms against the Jews during the years 1903-1905 in Czarist Russia, especially after the Balfour Declaration of 1917. Fluctuating waves of emigration flowed into Palestine with the help of the British Mandatory Government, bringing about 454,000 Jews to Palestine between 1882 and 1948. The peak years between the two world wars were 1925 (33,801) and 1935 (61,854). Jews from Asia and Africa formed 10.4% of the overall number while Jewish emigrants from Europe and America formed 89.6% (Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, number 39, 1988, p. 157).
In the post-State stage, 1,794,294 emigrants came to Israel between May, 15, 1948 and the end of 1987. Jews from Asia and Africa formed 43.5% of this number and those from Europe and America 56.5%. The highest yearly averages were recorded in the first three and a half years since the establishment of the state (1948-1951), with between some 140,000 and 175,000 emigrants per year. There was a sharp drop to 18,000 yearly in the 1952-1954 period, caused by objective factors, the most prominent of which was economic hardships in Israel. Peak figures up to 1980 reached between 64,000 and 71,000 (1957 and 1963 respectively). In the recent periods, larger figures reappear, mainly as a result of emigration from the USSR and the Commonwealth of Independent States since 1989 (William Fahmy, Jewish Emigration to Palestine, Institute for Arab Research Studies).
International and Regional Motives
Three incentives lie behind the emigration of the Jews from the Soviet Union to other countries, especially Israel: (a) social-ethical, (b) material-economical and (c) political-ideological.
Historically it is known that it is impossible for the Jewish people to be integrated in societies that host it. The Jewish people have their own social environment within which they become secluded. The Jews are convinced that isolation is the best way to preserve their traditions and identifying culture and that it is these which assure their survival and prevent their melting into other societies.
Ethical-social incentives deal mainly with the rights of the group and the individual. In a case like the USSR of a system which fails to provide and cater for these rights, we see that Soviet Jews are among the most dissident groups because they object to the lack of human rights in the country.
Material incentives are considered the second in importance because, in the capitalist society, material allurements constitute a factor of attraction for the emigration of Soviet Jews. Liberal societies and free economic systems which make available possibilities for abundant gain provide an attractive climate for the Jews (al-Bayader al-Siyasi, no. 408, July 1990).
As for the third factor, the political-ideological incentives, they stem from the context of Zionist ideology and its literature. These represent the establishment of the state of Israel as the embodiment of the goals of this ideology as well as the expression of the historical experience of Jewish existence, religion, and freedom. This is what has attracted and allured world Jewry and especially the Jews of the Soviet Union to emigrate to Israel (Ibid).
The Soviet Jewish emigration in our time was not something new or unexpected. On the contrary, it was much prepared for and talked about via most regional and international mass media. The topic was frequently mentioned in the Soviet-American summit conferences. As a matter of fact, it took a central place in the meeting between the American and Soviet presidents at the summit in Reykjavik, the capital of Finland, in October 1986.
During the depression in the USSR, prior to Gorbachev's assuming power, the Soviet Union held on to its Jewish population as part of the Soviet set-up. Tables were turned during Gorbachev's administration which welcomed the emigration of Jews desirous of going to Israel. Gorbachev's new policy was related to security, economic and internal social considerations on the one hand, and on the other, to his expectations for cooperation with Jewish financial institutions for the purpose of reviving the economy of the Soviet Union in the framework of his Glasnost and Perestroika policies.
In order to understand the roots of this emigration, we must shed light on the new developments that took place in the Soviet Union itself, and in the new pattern of its international relations structure. The USSR was a society of a mosaic culture composed of several ethnic groups in which the Russians comprised the ruling element. The ethnic characteristic, which has prevailed since Czarist Russian days, is the main overall moving force for change in the structure of the federal state. Ethnic minorities, manifesting their national traits in various forms, the most prominent being the preservation of language, culture, and traditions, surfaced under the policy of modernization.
We must not overlook the influence of the new Soviet policy of Perestroika and Glasnost in causing social and economic change in the basic national structure of the Soviet Union. Although potential for such change always existed in the dictionary of Soviet modernization and development, it did not in effect take practical form until the Gorbachev era. In describing the aims of Perestroika, the new leader emphasized the human values in the economy and its political and social relations and culture. It was in the success of such progress and development that he saw the future of socialism in general. From the aforementioned, one can deduce that the success of Perestroika necessitated dealing with two major problems. First, to add a democratic impetus to social life and economic reforms so as to give incentive to the Soviet people to participate actively in the decision-making process and in public affairs. However, such social flexibility and toleration of ethnic differences, can transform the awareness and perceptions of the multiple ethnic society toward new patterns of political culture that depend on social democracy. This entails abolition of the central authority and, among other things, can pave the way for ethnic nationalities to insist on the introduction of social, economic, political, and geographical reforms.
Second, the turning point in Soviet policy came with the culmination of the change in the structure of international relations that governed the policies of the two superpowers. When the old rules began to disintegrate, it became clear to the superpowers that it was possible to build a new structure on the debris of the old one - if the gaps between the socialist and capitalist system could be narrowed.
After assuming power, Gorbachev faced an economic problem so serious that it prompted him to formulate a new foreign policy based on his own national interests rather than on the balance of world power. By and large, Gorbachev succeeded in implementing this policy, thus ending the era of the cold war.
The struggle between the superpowers in the international arena had taken the form of an undeclared war, expressed in the cold war. The Middle East occupied a central focus in the different regional struggles. When the nature of the relations between the two superpowers changed in the last years of the 1980s, Zionism invested in this new political climate. With the support of the United States, it induced the Soviet Union to open the door of emigration for Soviet Jews to Palestine. Conversely, the Soviet Union sought for its own reasons to calm the conflict-charged atmosphere and ensure one compatible with the new world order in which the Middle East would not be the site of permanent struggle between the two superpowers. Besides, Europe has deep historical and economic roots in the Middle East region, especially with the rise of a unified Europe in 1992 (Atif al-Karim, "Jewish Immigration and the Policy of Gorbachev in the M.E", Al-Ahram February 9, 1990).
The political observer cannot ignore the direct coordination between the American administration and the Zionist lobby which reached its climax during the Reagan period when this coordination took an overt form. Discussion between the two revolved around whether it is better to link the issue of the emigration of the Soviet Jews to the issue of disarmament or to tie it to trade relations. The policy of Perestroika and Glasnost enabled the United States to get a new status in the Eastern bloc, symbolized by categories like American wheat bargains, the signing of the SALT II treaty, and the acquisition of advanced American equipment and technology (such as computers). The US linked trade agreements to Jewish emigration, as well as closing the doors of the US itself so that the emigrants have nowhere to go except Israel.
The harbinger of the political breakthrough between West and East thus became the issue of the Soviet Jews who considered that their position embodied the sort of violation of human rights which is opposed by the United States (Imad Jad, Al-Ahram February 2, 1990). Zionist allegations about the suffering of Soviet Jews from human rights violations had always been bolstered by the US government, as against the Soviet claim that Jewish citizens were treated on an equal footing within the structure of the institutions of the state.
The moral rights of man differ in interpretation between the Soviet Union and the United States. The former considered the Soviet Jews as an inseparable part of Soviet society and claimed that with time, anti-Semitic features had completely disappeared in the socialist system. There was to a certain degree anti-Semitism in the USSR but it diminished under Gorbachev. Jewish organizations, apparently religious, now exploited the application of Perestroika and Glasnost to induce the Soviet Jews to emigrate abroad, especially to Israel. Since the issue of human rights emerged as pivotal in the new Soviet policy, the new policies of modernization and openness could not put obstacles before the freedom of man to travel.
As for the United States and the countries of the Western bloc, they all viewed the road to improve their relations with the Eastern bloc as contingent on the extent to which the Helsinki Accords on human rights would be respected. Due to American pressure, the Soviet Union agreed to grant the Jews the right to leave the USSR in an orderly fashion according to standards set by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union had been accused of violating human rights, but it is the same Soviet Union that had been applauded by the international Zionist mass media as having saved the lives of hundred thousands of Jews and having granted them the right of asylum when they escaped from Nazism (Ibid). Neither can one deny the direct influence of the Soviet Union in the establishment of the state of Israel, an influence no less than that of the United States. Furthermore, a closer look at the institutions of the Soviet state in the past and in the present reveals that a large number of politicians and diplomats were Jewish, and that the ratio of Jews is still dominant within the institutions which occupy the higher echelons (Ibid.).
In its attitude to Jewish emigration, the Soviet Union has been ambivalent, supporting emigration to Israel but opposing that to the Occupied Territories. By 1990, all barriers and standards regulating this emigration had fallen down. Successive waves of Soviet Jewish emigrants, which attracted the attention of world public opinion, followed. Thus, for example, about 185,000 Soviet Jews emigrated to Israel in the year 1990, with the total emigration (200,000) being the largest since 1951. In the last week of December 1990, there were as many emigrants (12,000) than in the whole of 1988. Even when this major wave subsided, considerable numbers of Soviet Jews have continued up to this day to arrive in Israel year by year.
The number of Soviet Jews is about 2.5 million, most of whom live in large cities and enjoy a good socio-economic status. This tallies with the fact that the majority of those who emigrated to Israel were white-collar professionals, such as engineers, physicians, and academicians (Zuhair AI¬Sabagh, AI-Nahhar, no. 222, June 2, 1992).
The Short-Term and the Long-Term Goals of the Emigration of Soviet Jews
The goals that Israel felt necessary to achieve through the unnatural increase of Israel's population by means of the emigration of the Soviet and Eastern European Jews, are clearly defined. One is an accelerated building program in the Occupied Territories, for absorption purposes, and another is securing water supplies from new sources in the North. Increasing population through this sort of migration means improved economic production, in addition to adding to the country's combat capabilities both in offence and defense (Kamel Abdel-Hamid, Al-'Itisam, April, 1990).
Conversely, the aforementioned and other considerations connected with absorbing the emigration will narrow opportunities for a peaceful solution when returning the Occupied Territories to the Palestinians. Emigration has very high priority to the political decision-makers in Israel, particularly because they see in the arrival of emigrants a solution to the threatening demographic problem - the rise of the natural increase averages of the Arab inhabitants. Scientific studies and their expected results indicate that the Arabs will outnumber the Jews in the year 2000 in Palestine. If the situation remains as it is without massive Jewish emigration, the Jews will in the long run become a minority. The emigration of the Soviet Jews in large numbers, and the possibilities of Israel's application of the policy of large-scale forced eviction (transfer) of the Arabs are the two central solutions to Israel's population problem. The waves of Soviet Jewish emigrants concur with the rightists' dream of establishing greater Israel from the River to the sea. This is a strategy for fulfilling the dream of "Eretz Israel".
The Palestinian Attitude to the Soviet Jewish Emigration
The Palestinian Lawyers Committee in the West Bank and Gaza Strip issued in April 1990 an appeal condemning the emigration and pointing out that the emigration of the Soviet Jews has no right over that of the Palestinian people to self-determination. The following are excerpts from the declaration:
... the Committee, even if it does not object in principle to the right of any human being to mobility, draws attention (to the fact) that the right of one human being cannot be honored through overlooking the basic right of another human being. The right to mobility is legally guaranteed, but it becomes a violation if it is in conflict with the right of another people to existence, life, and independent development on its land.
The international agreements and charters, including the Helsinki Accord and the UN Charter of Human Rights, clearly indicate the illegality of mobility and emigration if it contradicts the wishes and rights of the people of the country to which emigration is intended. Here, basically, do the dangers of this emigration lie. The conduct of this emigration completely ignores the wishes of our people, their freedom, their existence and the sanctity of their homeland, as well as their aspirations and their national character, which are internationally guaranteed.
This emigration is a conspiracy against our basic right to existence. It is an irony of fate that this emigration is carried out under international conditions that witness a steep turn towards democracy and human solidarity. In the name of the new world order, our people are targeted as victims (so as) to exploit the situation in order to create a new demographic reality. This reality would abrogate the possibility of achieving Palestinian national independence and bolster the influence of extreme rightists party inside Israel…"
(Filastinal- Thawra, no. 792, August 8, 1990)