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Ma'abara near Nahariya (northern Israel), 1952.

The Ma'abarot (Hebrew: מַעְבָּרוֹת plural) were refugee absorption camps in Israel in the 1950s. The Ma'abarot were meant to provide accommodation for the large influx of Jewish refugees and new Jewish immigrants (olim) arriving to the newly independent State of Israel, replacing the less habitable immigrant camps or tent cities. The ma'abarot began to decline by mid-1950s and were largely transformed into Development Towns. The last Ma'abara was closed in 1963.

Term origin

The Hebrew word Ma'abara (singular) derives from the word ma'avar (Hebrew: מעבר‎, transit). Ma'abarot (plural) were meant to be temporary communities for the new arrivals. Immigrants housed in these communities were Jewish refugees mainly from Middle East and North Africa, as well as Holocaust survivors from Europe.


Immigrant camps

The sudden arrival of over 130,000 Iraqi Jews in Israel in the early 1950s meant that almost a third of immigrant camp dwellers were of Iraqi Jewish origin. At the end of 1949 there had been 90,000 Jews housed in immigration camps; by the end of 1951 this population rose to over 220,000 people, in about 125 separate communities.[1]

Conversion of tent camps into transition camps

More habitable housing had been provided to replace the tents of the immigrant camps, and the camps were renamed into "transition camps", or "ma'abarot". Most of ma'abarot residents were housed in temporary tin dwellings. Over 80% of the residents were Jewish refugees from across Arab and Muslim countries in Middle East and North Africa.

Dissolution of the camps

Over time, the Ma'abarot metamorphosed into Israeli towns, or were absorbed as neighbourhoods of the towns they were attached to, and residents were provided with permanent housing. The number of people housed in Ma'abarot began to decline since 1952, and the last Ma'abarot were closed sometime around 1963.[1] Most of the camps transformed into Development Towns - "Ayarat Pitu'ach". Ma'abarot which became towns include Kiryat Shmona, Sderot, Beit She'an, Yokneam, Or Yehuda and Migdal HaEmek.


Most of ma'abarot residents were housed in temporary tin dwellings. Conditions in the Ma'abarot were very harsh, with many people sharing sanitation facilities. In one community it was reported that there were 350 people to each shower and in another 56 to each toilet.[1]

Unlike the situation in immigrant camps, where the Jewish Agency provided for the immigrants, the residents of the transition camps were required to provide for themselves.

Films about Ma'abarot camps

Israeli satirist Ephraim Kishon produced a satirical film about the Ma'abarot called Sallah Shabbati. The film was nominated for an Academy Award and is regarded as an Israeli classic.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 (Hebrew) Ma'abarot by Miriam Kachenski, Israeli Center for Educational Technology