A Transit Camp on the Border
01 January 2023 to 30 June 2023
During Israel’s first years, hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants found themselves in ‘transit camps’. Some camps were indeed transitory tent compounds, but others became the nuclei of poor neighbourhoods and peripheral townships with a lasting impact on the landscape of inequalities in the country. The early 1950s were a formative period in terms of the making of class divisions in Israel. While immigrants, mostly of European descent, typically spent less than a year in a camp, others, especially ‘Arab Jews’ from all over the Middle East, stayed for several years with little access to worthwhile education or work. For many Jewish immigrants, this was the site where notions of citizenship and politics, dependence and solidarity were forged.
Historians have usually treated them as objects of government policies, at best as unruly, tumultuous crowds. The study is a social history of one of the largest camps, located on the very border between Israel and the West Bank. It was set up near an established agro-town. The local elite controlled the town council, the labour exchange, welfare services, local companies and credit providers and had direct access to political patrons in Israel’s government. The camp, on the other hand, was populated mostly by Jewish Iraqi immigrants, in walking distance from refugee camps, which had been set up just two or three years earlier as a provisional shelter for Palestinians expelled from this very same agricultural region. Chronically unemployed, camp dweller were subject to tight control by government agencies, the security services and the local elite. Nevertheless, within months of arrival, they started a series of protests that soon spread beyond their isolated camp. I seek to understand the rise and demise of this movement, the making of a short-lived collective subject. At the heart of this microhistory story lies a suppressed event – the secret military operation, in which the camp was dismantled, and its inhabitants dispersed in seven different locations. I trace the afterlife of the forgotten protests and their violent suppression – locally, in the impoverished neighbourhood which arose at the same site, and in the different camps to which the banished where relocated. Finally, I follow the main protagonists – the families who led local protests and the party boss whom they confronted – into the 1960s, seeking explanations for the suppression of the memory of these early revolts.
Gadi Algazi is professor of history at the Department of History at Tel Aviv University and currently director of Minerva Center for German History. He is serving in the editorial board of Past and Present, co-editor of the Hebrew historical quarterly Zmanim, and earlier was senior editor of History & Memory: Studies in the Representation of the Past. His main fields of interest are the social and cultural history of Western Europe between 1350 and 1600, historical anthropology, especially the history of family, kinship and gender, the social history of science, colonialism and settler societies.