The arrival of the modern Jewish pioneers (halutzim) in Eretz Israel

By Gideon

The beginning of the modern Jewish return to Eretz Israel – the Land of Israel -, which laid the foundations for the establishment of the State of Israel, was the result of a combination of three causes:

  • The age-old devotion of the Jews to their historic homeland
  • The wave of pogroms in Russia
  • The efforts of an active minority convinced that the Return to the homeland was the only lasting and fundamental solution to the Jewish problem

Since the first centuries of the Common Era most Jews had lived outside the Land of Israel (Eretz Israel), although there had been a constant presence of Jews there as well. According to the Bible and Judaism, Eretz Israel was promised to the Jews by God. The Diaspora began in 586 BCE during the Babylonian occupation of Israel.

In 1850, Eretz Israel had about 350,000 inhabitants. Roughly 85% were Muslims, 11% were Christians and 4% Jews.

In 1854, Judah Touro (1775 – 1854), an American businessman and philanthropist, who lived in New Orleans and was one of the wealthiest and most prominent members of the city’s Jewish community, bequeathed money to fund Jewish residential settlement in Eretz Israel. Sir Moses Montefiore was appointed executor of his will, and used the funds for a variety of projects, including building the first Jewish residential settlement and almshouse outside of the old walled city of Jerusalem in 1860, which is known today as Mishkenot Sha’ananim.

The Mikveh Israel Agricultural School

Mikveh Israel was founded in April 1870 by Charles Netter, an emissary of the French organization Alliance Israélite Universelle, aiming to be an educational institution where young Jews could learn agriculture and leave to establish villages and settlements all over the country and to make the desert blossom. It was established on a tract of land southeast of Jaffa leased from the Ottoman Sultan, who allocated 750 acres (3.0 km2) to the project.

On May 17, 1860, in Paris, in response to antisemitic incidents such as the abduction of Edgardo Mortara and the Damascus affair, Charles Netter was one of the six founders of the Alliance Israélite Universelle. The founding members defined the organization’s goals:
“To gather good-natured people to fight against hate and prejudice.
To create a society of young idealist and militant Jews that feel solidarity with all those who suffer from their condition as Jews or all those who are victims of prejudice, regardless of their religion.
To ensure that culture replaces the ignorance of fanatics, for the good of all.
If you believe that this would be an honor for your religion, a lesson for the people, a progress for humanity, a triumph for truth and for universal reason to witness all the vibrant forces of Judaism come together, small with respect to number but large with respect to love and good will, come to us, we are thus founding the Alliance israélite universelle.”
Netter was appointed general secretary of the newly formed organization, and was joined 4 years later by French-Jewish politician Adolphe Crémieux who would serve as the president of the society while holding the position of French Minister of Justice.

In 1868 Netter visited Eretz Israel for the first time. He was sent as a representative of the AIU, to examine the needs of the Jewish community. Upon his return he recommended that a new agricultural settlement be founded, and be used as an agricultural school for Jewish men. Netter obtained an audience with the Ottoman Emperor in Constantinople, and was rewarded with land near Jaffa. The required funds were acquired from the AIU, and Mikveh Israel (Hebrew: מקוה ישראל‎‎) was founded in 1870.

During the first years Netter struggled with objections of the Jewish Old Yishuv leaders, who concentrated on Torah studies and relied on donations from Jews in the diaspora. The Old Yishuv opposition to Jewish manual labor in the holy land, and clashes with Arab inhabitants of nearby Yazur disrupted development and recruitment of students. The funds proved insufficient as well, and Netter donated his own money, and raised funds from other philanthropists, like Crémieux and the Baron Maurice de Hirsch. Netter managed the school until 1873. He overcame the difficulties of establishing and maintaining the settlement, but accustomed to living conditions in Western-Europe, his health deteriorated. Following his doctor’s advice he returned to Europe, but continued to raise funds and support the school, and continued his activities for the AIU. He was involved in protecting the rights and safety of the Jewish community in Morocco, and was in charge of emigration of Russian-Jewish refugees to North-America following the introduction of the May Laws.

Netter, the first headmaster, introduced new methods of agricultural training, with Baron Edmond James de Rothschild contributing to the upkeep of the school. Netter pioneered progressive educational methods and a new way of life and agricultural training to the future farmers of this land. There were only about 20,000 Jews in the country at that time, virtually all established in the old traditional cities of Judaism: Jerusalem, Tiberias, Safed and Hebron.

In 1898 Theodor Herzl met the German Emperor Wilhelm II at the main entrance of Mikveh Israel during Herzl’s only visit to Eretz Israel. The meeting, a PR event engineered by Herzl to publicly meet the Kaiser, was misinterpreted by the world media as a legitimization of Herzl and Zionism by Germany. 

For many decades the school served as the research center for the country. Their teachers wrote the first study books about agriculture and served as field advisors. Most of the agricultural know-how of the first 50 years was collected and published by Mikve Israel. After finishing their studies, the thousands of graduates left Mikve Israel to start agricultural settlements of all kinds, villages and kibbutzim, moshavim, farms and agricultural schools; or serving in management positions; or continued their agricultural studies in institutions of higher learning and filling positions in research and development, the export branches, marketing and agricultural management.

1881 – 1903: The 1st Aliyah period

In 1881, Tsar Alexander II of Russia was assassinated, and the authorities 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 did the similar Bilu movement. Both movements encouraged Jews to emigrate to Eretz Israel, which was part of the Ottoman Empire.

In the Russian Empire, waves of pogroms of 1881-1884 (some allegedly state-sponsored), as well as the anti-Semitic May Laws of 1882 introduced by Tsar Alexander III of Russia, deeply affected Jewish communities. More than 2 million Jews fled Russia between 1880 and 1920. The vast majority of them emigrated to the United States, but some decided to form an aliyah (Jewish immigration to Eretz Israel.

Hovevei ZionIn 1882, a group of Hovevei Zion enthusiasts which included noted philanthropist Isaac Leib Goldberg founded Rishon LeZion, the first Zionist settlement in the Land of Israel, despite obstacles posed by the Turkish government, which hindered the purchase of land. Later, Bilu pioneers strengthened the settlement and enlarged it.

In order to attain legal recognition by the authorities, the Russian branch of Hovevei Zion had to meet a demand to be registered as a charity. Early in 1890 its establishment was approved by the Russian government as “The Society for the Support of Jewish Farmers and Artisans in Syria and Eretz Israel,” which came to be known as The Odessa Committee. It was dedicated to the practical aspects in establishing agricultural settlements and its projects in 1890–1891 included help in the founding of Rehovot and Hadera and rehabilitation of Mishmar HaYarden.

One of the major donors was the famous tea merchant, Kalonimus Wolf Wissotzky, who founded the largest tea company in Russia, Wissotzky Tea. Wissotzky financed agricultural colonies in Eretz Israel and visited the country in 1884-1885. He later published a book about his visit. 

In 1897, before the First Zionist Congress, the Odessa Committee counted over 4,000 members. Once the Congress established the Zionist Organization, most of the Hovevei Zion societies joined it.

In the winter of 1884, another group of Bilu pioneers founded Gedera.  Gedera was established on a tract of land purchased from the Arab village of Qatra by Yehiel Michel Pines of the Lovers of Zion through the auspices of the French consul in Jaffa.

The First Aliyah (also The agriculture’ Aliyah) is a term used to describe a major wave of Zionist immigration to what is now Israel (aliyah) between 1882 and 1903. Jews who migrated to Ottoman Israel in this wave came mostly from Eastern Europe and from Yemen. This was the first large wave of immigrants that were motivated by nationalism.

The resurrection of the Hebrew language under the leadership of Eliezer Ben Yehuda at the time of the First Aliyah brought about revolutionary changes in education and culture, especially due to the establishment of Hebrew-language schools.

The First Aliyah laid the cornerstone for Jewish settlement in Israel and created several settlements. Though they were inexperienced idealists, most chose agricultural settlement as their way of life and founded moshavot — farmholders’ villages based on the principle of private property. Three early villages of this type were Rishon Lezion, Rosh Pina, and Zikhron Ya’akov. Immigrants of the First Aliyah also contributed to existing towns and settlements, notably Petah Tikva. The first neighborhoods of Tel Aviv (Neve Tzedek and Neve Shalom) were also built by members of the aliyah, although it was not until the Second Aliyah that Tel Aviv was officially founded.

Immigrants of the First Aliyah arrived in two waves, stimulated by pogroms and violence against the Jews.  The first influx followed pogroms in Russia in 1881-1882, and the second mass influx from Russia took place during 1890-1891 as a result of anti-Jewish legislation and the expulsion of Jews from Moscow.  Immigration from Yemen was primarily motivated by messianic expectations.

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. He was the main philanthropist that supported the 1st Aliyah period.

The First Aliyah settlers encountered many difficulties, including an inclement climate, disease, crippling Turkish taxation and Arab opposition. They required assistance and received scanty aid from Hibbat Zion, and more substantial aid from Baron Edmond de Rothschild. He provided the moshavot with his patronage and the settlers with economic assistance, thereby averting the collapse of the settlement enterprise. The Yemenite olim, most of whom settled in Jerusalem, were first employed as construction workers and later in the citrus plantations of the moshavot.

In all, nearly 35,000 Jews came to Eretz Israel during the First Aliyah. Almost half of them left the country within several years of their arrival, some 15,000 established new rural settlements, and the rest moved to the towns.

The majority of Jews that left Russia and Rumania during this period chose to immigrate to the United States. Those that came to the Land of Israel were mainly middle class people with families.  Among them were also emissaries from different cities, organizations, and communities, who came to investigate the possibilities for settlement on behalf of their constituents.  Because of their middle-class backgrounds and lack of familiarity with rural life, most of these immigrants chose to settle in cities, primarily Jaffa and Jerusalem.  Only one quarter chose agricultural settlements.  Despite their small numbers, these original farmers became the foundation of the later pioneering agricultural settlements.

During the First Aliyah period some 2500 Jews also emigrated from Yemen.  The majority settled in Jerusalem, where many of them encountered economic difficulties as well as a lack of housing, and unfriendly treatment by other residents of the city. As a result, they created separate housing, community, and financial organizations for themselves.

The relationship of the members of the First Aliyah with the Old Yishuv (Jews who lived in Eretz Israel before 1882) was strained. The First Aliyah’s settlement efforts were opposed not only by the Old Yishuv’s traditionalists, but also by their own settlers. The First Aliyah’s people, on their part, viewed the Old Yishuv as a foreign agency. There were additional disagreements about economic and ideological issues. Only a few groups from the Old Yishuv sought to take part in the First Aliyah’s settlement effort, one such group being the Peace of Jerusalem (Shlom Yerushalayim)

A large majority of the Jewish emigration movement came from Russia, Romania, and Galicia. The pogroms that took place in Russia and Romania during 1881-1882 caused massive emigration of Jews. During the time of the programs, Jews were mistreated and, as a result, left Romania and Russia. The First Aliyah occurred from 1881-1903 and did not go as planned as Zionists ran out of funds. The Rothschild organization rescued the Zionist movement as the Rothschild organization funded Zionists through purchasing large settlements and created new settlements as well. At the closure of the first Aliya, the Jews had purchased 350,000 dunams (86487 acres) of land.

The first central committee for the settlement of the Land of Israel and Syria, which was also under Ottoman rule, was established by a convention of “Unions for the Agricultural Settlement of Israel” (Focsani Congress) held on January 11, 1882 in Romania. The committee was the first organization to organize group aliyahs, such as the Jewish passenger ships that set sail from Galaţi. After the first wave (early 1880s) there was another spike in aliyah in 1890. The reasons for the increase were:

  • The Russian government officially approved the activity of Hovevei Zion in 1890. The same year, the “Odessa Committee” began its operation in Jaffa. The purpose of this organization was to absorb immigrants to Ottoman Syria who came as a result of the activities of Hovevei Zion in Russia.
  • Russian Jewry’s situation deteriorated:
    • The authorities continued to push Jews out of business and trade.
    • Moscow 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).

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.

Petah Tikva (Gateway of Hope) was the first modern Jewish agricultural settlement in Ottoman Southern Syria. Its nickname as “Mother of the Moshavot”. It was established by a group of religious Jews desiring to leave Jerusalem and establish an agricultural moshav. It was built on what was at the time a swamp area near the source of the Yarkon River. The land was purchased from the village of Mulabbis.  

The settlers founded a society to work the land, hoping to revolutionize the existence of Jerusalemites, who lived for the most part by charity of the Halukkah charity.

The initial settlement was short lived due to disappointing harvests and an outbreak of malaria. In 1882, there were only 10 houses and 66 residents. Soon after as conditions deteriorated due to malaria and other health hazards, the residents abandoned the settlement. In 1883, a new group of immigrants from Russia, known as BILU settled in Petah Tikvah and were soon aided by Edmund Rothschild who provided funds to drain the area’s swamps. The draining of the swamps enabled the new residents plant citrus groves which in turn led to economic development and more residents. By 1900, there were 818 residents in Petah Tikvah.

 Petah-Tiqva became a training ground for thousands of pioneers, who learned to be farmers  before they ventured out to establish tens of settlements.

Rishon LeZion was founded on July 31, 1882, by ten Hovevei Zion pioneers from Kharkiv, Ukraine (then the Russian Empire) headed by Zalman David Levontin. Reuven Yudalevich was also a member of the group. The pioneers purchased 835 acres of land southeast of present-day Tel Aviv, part of the townland of the Arab village of Ayun Kara. 

The founders faced numerous difficulties. The soil was sandy, water was scarce and the settlers had no agricultural experience. After a well was dug and more pioneers arrived – the Biluim – the colony slowly took shape. When Baron Edmond James de Rothschild took over, sending in his administrators, major progress was made in the spheres of agriculture, citrus and viticulture. Under Rothschild’s patronage, the Carmel-Mizrahi Winery was established in 1886.

The first Hebrew school in the country opened in Rishon LeZion in 1886. Dov Lubman Haviv taught there and Mordechai Lubman Haviv was an educational inspector. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, known as the father of modern Hebrew, was a teacher in Rishon LeZion. In 1890, Rishon LeZion had a population of 359. Five years later, the figure had risen to 380, and by 1900, to 526. In 1911, 4,000 dunams of land in Rishon LeZion were planted with grapes and 254 dunams with other fruit orchards.

Development was hindered by the lack of a water source. Baron Rothschild brought in experts who located water at 42 meters below ground. The groundwater table in the area was found to be uneven and wells were mostly constructed at between 20 and 25 meters in depth. Orchards were then developed around the settlement, and by the late 1920s the city developed a burgeoning citrus industry.

Zikhron Ya’akov  was founded in December 1882 when 100 Jewish pioneers from Romania, members of the Hovevei Zion movement, purchased land in Zammarin. The difficulty of working the rocky soil and an outbreak of malaria led many of the settlers to leave before the year was up.

In 1883, Baron Edmond James de Rothschild became the patron of the settlement and drew up plans for its residential layout and agricultural economy. Zikhron was one of the first Jewish agricultural colonies to come under the wing of the Baron (along with Rishon LeZion and Rosh Pinna), who renamed it in memory of his father, James (Ya’akov) Mayer de Rothschild.

To accomplish his first objective, Baron de Rothschild brought in planners who designed and allotted housing lots along the main road for the use of settlement farmers. Each lot included a house facing the street, a long interior courtyard and a rear building for storing agricultural implements. The French-inspired architecture included tiled roofs and painted wooden windows. Each farmer was given a salary and placed under the direction of Elijah Shaid, the Baron’s clerk. The Baron also commissioned the construction of the Ohel Ya’akov Synagogue, named after his father, to serve the town. Sparing no expense to build the edifice, the synagogue features a majestic ark made of white marble. The synagogue opened in 1886 and has conducted daily prayer services continuously to this day.

Following a number of economic failures, in 1885 Rothschild helped to establish the first winery in Israel, Carmel Winery, together with a bottling factory, in Zikhron Ya’akov. This was more successful economically although it was initially short-lived as in 1892 the grapevines succumbed to phylloxera, a type of parasite. After a brief set-back, American seedlings which were resistant to phylloxera were grown and the winery began to flourish. Today, the winery remains in action, as do the huge wine cellars that were carved into the mountain over a century ago. In 1954, the remains of Baron Edmond de Rothschild were reinterred in Zikhron Ya’akov.

Zikhron Ya’akov came to fame during World War I for the establishment of the Nili spy ring by Sarah Aaronsohn, together with her brothers, Aaron (a noted botanist) and Alex, and their friend Avshalom Feinberg. The group volunteered to spy on Ottoman positions and report them to British agents offshore. In September 1917, the Ottomans caught one of Sarah’s carrier pigeons and cracked the Nili code. In October, they surrounded Zikhron Ya’akov and arrested Sarah and several others. After four days of torture, they planned on transporting Sara elsewhere, she requested to be taken home to change her clothes and shot herself with a pistol hidden in her bathroom and died after several days. Sara shot herself in the throat, leaving her unable to speak, in order to avoid releasing classified information. The Aaronsohn House–Nili Museum recreates the history of this period.

1904 – 1914: The 2nd Aliyah period

The depression caused by the stagnation of the first settlements, the controversies in the Zionist Organization over the Uganda Scheme and the death of Herzl in 1904 were followed by a new upsurge of pioneering fervor which produced the Second Aliyah. The first impetus of the new wave came from the Kishinev Pogroms of 1903 and others two years later. The Second Aliyah consisted of young men and women, mainly from Russia, many of them imbued with socialist ideas. These young men and women were guided not only by a more conscious and consistent national ideology, but were also fired by the ideal of laying the foundation for a workers’ commonwealth in the Eretz Yisrael.

The young pioneers of the Second Aliyah generally worked as hired laborers in the moshavot (see moshava) or the cities. They established the first Jewish labor parties – Po’alei Zion, based on the philosophy of Ber Borochov, and Ha’Poel HaZair, which was influenced by the philosophy of A.D. Gordon. It was also their initiative that led to the establishment of the first kevuzah ( kibbutz).The young pioneers of the Second Aliyah were also active in the beginning of Jewish self defense and established the HaShomer watchmen’s association. They introduced Hebrew into all spheres of life and laid the foundation for a new Hebrew press and literature.

The Second Aliyah was an important and highly influential aliyah (Jewish emigration to the Land of Israel) that took place between 1904 and 1914, during which approximately 35,000 Jews immigrated into Ottoman-ruled Land of Israel, mostly from the Russian Empire, some from Yemen.

The Second Aliyah, in the wake of pogroms in Czarist Russia and the ensuing eruption of anti-Semitism, had a profound impact on the complexion and development of modern Jewish settlement in Eretz Israel. Most of its members were young people inspired by socialist ideals. Many models and components of the rural settlement enterprise came into being at this time, such as “national farms” where rural settlers were trained; the first kibbutz, Degania (1909); and Ha-Shomer, the first Jewish self-defense organization in Eretz Israel. The Ahuzat Bayit neighborhood, established as a suburb of Jaffa, developed into Tel Aviv, the first modern all-Jewish city. The Hebrew language was revived as a spoken tongue, and Hebrew literature and Hebrew newspapers were published. Political parties were founded and workers’ agricultural organizations began to form. These pioneers laid the foundations that were to put the yishuv (the Jewish community) on its course toward an independent state.

In all, 40,000 Jews immigrated during this period, but absorption difficulties and the absence of a stable economic base caused nearly half of them to leave.

The Second Aliyah was a small part of the greater emigration of Jews from Eastern Europe which lasted from the 1870s until the 1920s. During this time, over two million Jews emigrated from Eastern Europe. The majority of these emigrants ended up in the United States where there was the greatest economic opportunity. Others ended up in South America, Australia, and South Africa and only a small fraction of Jews who migrated went to Eretz Israel.

The influx of new Jewish immigrants to Eretz Israel, was interrupted by the outbreak of World War I.

1909 – 1920: Hashomer

Hashomenr was a Jewish defense organization in Eretz Israel founded out of Bar-Giora in April 1909. It ceased to operate after the founding of the Haganah in 1920. The purpose of Hashomer was to provide guard services for Jewish settlements in the Yishuv, freeing Jewish communities from dependence upon foreign consulates and Arab watchmen for their security. It was headed by a committee of three—Israel Shochat, Israel Giladi, and Mendel Portugali.

Hashomer was originated by Socialist Zionists, mostly members of Poale Zion, including Israel Shochat, Manya Shochat, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and Ben-Zvi’s wife Rachel Yanait, several of whom had earlier formed a small secret guard society called Bar-Giora, which guarded the Sejera commune (now Ilaniya) and Mes’ha (now Kfar Tavor). Bar-Giora was founded in September 1907 by Israel Shochat, Alexander Zeid and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, among others. Less than two years later, on April 12, 1909 the Bar-Giora leadership decided at a meeting in Mes’ha to disband their organization and create a larger one, the Hashomer. While earlier settlers had undertaken to defend their lands and communities, Hashomer was the first attempt to provide an organized defense for all the Jewish communities. A serious obstacle was the lack of funds with which to buy arms. On Yehoshua Hankin’s advice, they asked Eliahu Krause, the manager at Sejera, to lend them the money. The first guns were bought, several of the members refusing to part from them even for a moment.

They adopted local dress, and many of the customs of the Bedouins, Druze and Circassians. They also drew inspiration from the history of the Cossacks. The first few ‘Shomrim’ (guards), worked on foot, but soon acquired horses, which vastly increased their effectiveness. Mendel Portugali laid down the rules of engagement.

Hashomer was successful in providing defense for settlements throughout the country; though it sometimes aroused the ire of Arab watchmen who lost their jobs and of pilferers, and antagonized the Arab population by retaliatory raids. Some of the older settlers were also worried that Hashomer might upset the status-quo with the local population. During World War I many of its members were exiled to Anatolia by the Ottoman government because they were enemy (Russian) nationals. Several were hanged. When the Turks caught Yosef Lishanski of the Nili group, he told all he knew, implicating twelve members of Hashomer. The group nonetheless survived.

In 1920 it was decided to organize the Haganah, a much broader-based group, to cope with new defense challenges and needs of the growing Jewish community in Eretz Israel. Many members of Hashomer joined the Jewish Legion, while others joined the mounted police, and played a prominent part in the defense of Tel Hai and Jerusalem during the Arab riots in 1920 and 1921. In June 1920 HaShomer ceased to exist as a separate body. Its members, however, maintained contact and made an important contribution to the Yishuv’s defense. The Haganah itself became the core of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

In addition to their role as watchmen of the Jewish settlements in the country, members of Hashomer established a number of settlements of their own, including Tel Adash, Tel Hai, and Kfar Giladi.

1914 – 1918: The Jewish Legion

The Jewish Legion was a military formation of Jewish volunteers in World War I who fought in the British army for the liberation of Ereẓ Israel from Turkish rule. When Turkey entered the war on the side of the Central Powers (Oct. 30, 1914), two different concepts of the Jewish role in the world conflict emerged among Zionists. In November David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi submitted to the Turkish commander in Jerusalem a proposal to raise a Jewish Legion attached to the Turkish army. The project was approved by the Turkish military council in Jerusalem, and the first 40 Jewish volunteers began their training. Authorization, however, was soon canceled by Jamal Pasha, the supreme commander of the Turkish army in Eretz Israel and Syria, who instigated severe persecutions of Zionists. Many were imprisoned; others, among them Ben-Zvi and Ben-Gurion, were deported. Of the 18,000 Jewish deportees and refugees, some 12,000 landed in Alexandria, Egypt.

Vladimir Jabotinsky advanced a diametrically opposite concept. In December 1914, while a roving correspondent of a Moscow daily, he arrived in Alexandria and expounded to the Eretz Israel deportees the idea of raising a Jewish Legion to fight with the Allies in order to liberate Eretz israel from the Turks. Joseph Trumpeldor , one of the deportees, fully embraced Jabotinsky’s idea. It was also endorsed by the majority of the Eretz Israel Refugees’ Committee. On March 22, 1915, about half of the 200 people present signed a seven-line resolution in Hebrew to form a Jewish Legion and propose to England its utilization in Eretz Israel. Within a few days about 500 enlisted, and training started immediately. Nonetheless, General Maxwell, commander of the British force in Egypt, told a delegation of the volunteers that an offensive on the Eretz Israel front was doubtful and that regulations prohibited the admission of foreign nationals into the British army. He suggested that the volunteers serve as a detachment for mule transport on some other sector of the Turkish front. His proposal was rejected by most members of the Legion Committee, including Jabotinsky, but Trumpeldor’s position was that any anti-Turkish front would “lead to Zion.”

Together with Lieutenant Colonel John Henry Patterson , delegated by the British military authorities, Trumpeldor succeeded in forming the 650-strong Zion Mule Corps; 562 of its members were sent to the Gallipoli front under Patterson, with Trumpeldor as second in command. The Zion Mule Corps’ services were highly appreciated by General Ian Hamilton, commander of the Gallipoli Expeditionary Force, who wrote to Jabotinsky on Nov. 17, 1915: “The men have done extremely well, working their mules calmly under heavy shell and rifle fire, and thus showing a more difficult type of bravery than the men in the front line who had the excitement of combat to keep them going.” The unit, however, posed severe disciplinary problems, and punishments such as public flogging had to be meted out. In addition, the differences between the idealists and those who had joined only in order to escape from the misery of the refugee camps resulted in clashes between Trumpeldor, the “Russian”, and the Sephardi Jews. It was Patterson’s goodwill and patience, coupled with Trumpeldor’s devotion, that held the unit together throughout the Gallipoli campaign. Six legionnaires were killed, 25 were wounded, three received military honors, and one was decorated with a Distinguished Conduct Medal. The Corps was disbanded after the withdrawal of the ill-fated Gallipoli expedition early in 1916.

1919 – 1923: The 3rd Aliyah period

The Third Aliyah refers to the third wave—or aliyah—of Zionist immigration in modern times to Eretz Israel from Europe. This wave lasted from 1919, just after the end of World War I, until 1923, at the start of an economic crisis in Eretz Israel.

Approximately 40,000 Jews arrived in Eretz Israel during the Third Aliyah. The bellwether of the Third Aliyah was the ship SS Ruslan, which arrived at Jaffa Port on December 19, 1919 carrying well over 600 new immigrants and people returning after being stranded in Europe during the war.

The Third Aliyah was triggered by the October Revolution in Russia, anti-semitic pogroms in Eastern Europe, the British occupation of Eretz Israel, and the Balfour Declaration. The pioneers of the Third Aliyah originated mainly from Eastern European countries: 45% from Russia, 31% from Poland, 5% from Romania, and three percent from Lithuania.

Most of the newcomers were young halutzim (pioneers), who built roads and towns and commenced the draining of marshes in the Jezreel Valley and the Hefer Plain. Afterwards they became a smaller proportion of the immigrants. The importance of those pioneers was just as great as that of the pioneers of the Second Aliyah. Their ideology contributed a great deal to the construction of Eretz Israel, and so they imprinted their mark on Zionism and also on the development of the Jewish settlements in the country of Israel. The Histadrut Labor Federation was established at this time.

Related Articles:
Yosef Trumpeldor – The man and the legend

The war of the Jewish underground in Israel against the British Army 1945-1947


The videos below (in Hebrew) provide additional information on the period






With Golda Meir – The 3rd Aliyah period