Israel : The first half century
One of Israel's first tasks was to absorb the massive influx of Jewish refugees from Moslem countries, and from the displaced persons camps of Europe. By 1960, the Jewish population of Israel had grown from some 650 000 to almost 2 million. The immigrants,mostly poor and unskilled, were given temporary shelter and employment. After the 1967 war, immigration from the free world increased; between 1967 and 1972, 30 000 immigrants arrived in Israel from the USA alone. For the first time , Soviet Jews openly demanded the right to settle in Israel and in 1971 - 1972, 45 000 were allowed to immigrate.
In January 1949, the first elections were held for the 120 member Knesset (parliament); they were subsequently held every four years. The Knesset included representatives of the Arab minority, which was guaranteed civil rights. The coalition Cabinet was presided over by David Ben Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister. Chaim Weizmann was elected first President.
The country became almost self-supporting in staple foodstuffs. Industrial output was doubled; copper and phosphate resources were exploited; a merchant shipping fleet and a national airline ElAl were built up. Exports jumped. The port at Eilat, on the Red Sea was enlarged and became a major tourist resort. A new port was built at Ashdod on the Mediterranean. A score of new towns were developed and peopled, mainly with new immigrants. World Jewry supported Israel by providing large scale funds, as well as investment. There were also grants and loans from the USA. West Germany paid $845 million in reparations for the destruction of Jewish property during the Holocaust.
Free compulsory primary education was instituted, organised in religious and secular school networks. Great stress was placed on higher learning and scientific research. To these ends, universities and technical institutes were established though out the country. Cultural problems included the gap between veterans and newcomers, Arabs and Jews, and between the religious and secular. Issues of concern were the Peace Process and the matter of religion and state, particularly the issue over who was defined as a Jew.
The Israel - born youth felt less affinity with Diaspora Jewry than their elders, though the trial of Adolf Eichmannn in 1961 and the trials of subsequent Nazi war criminals gave them an insight into the Holocaust.
Archaeology gripped a nation living on the land of its past. The land also yielded an independence to roam throughout the country on treks and hikes, discovering Israel's vast beauty.
Index to Footsteps through Jewish History