In 1931, during the term of Arthur Wauchope, the High Commissioner and Commander-in-Chief for Palestine, Aliyah to the Land of Israel resumed. By 1939, 250,000 people had arrived. The major reason for this increase was Hitler’s rise to power in Germany and the extreme anti-Semitism that was manifesting itself in Germany and other European countries, such as Poland and Romania. In addition, in the early 1930s, the United States was suffering from the Great Depression which quickly spread all over Europe. Israel, on the other hand, was enjoying economic prosperity and seemed to be a safe haven for wealthy immigrants. The immigrants came from Eastern and Western Europe.
The immigrants that came from Austria, Czechoslovakia and mainly Germany brought with them western values, professional know-how and a rich cultural background. Their absorption was not easy as there were language difficulties and differences in culture and mentality between the new immigrants and the rest of the population. The Fifth Aliyah is called the Aliyah of the Yekim.
In the City and in the Village
Most of the immigrants of the Fifth Aliyah went to live in the cities. They brought with them money and they invested in building factories, planting groves and construction. In 1931, the population of Tel Aviv was 45,000. In 1939, there were 180,000 people living in Tel Aviv.
Some of the immigrants found their place in established villages, extending the areas of Jewish farming, while others established new farming villages, almost doubling the number of agricultural settlements. During this period, more orchards were planted, new sources of water were found and the market for the distribution of agricultural products expanded. German immigrants also joined the agricultural settlements although they had never before worked in farming.
A Difficult Period
Between 1936 and 1939, the Yishuv suffered from an economic depression, partially caused by a decrease in immigration and a decline in the transference of capital to the Land of Israel. Different branches of the economy suffered, which led to serious unemployment. The Arab riots which took place during those years actually helped bring about the economic recovery. A process of separation between the Arab economy and the Jewish economy began. The Jewish Yishuv began to develop its agriculture at a rapid pace and turned to mixed crop-livestock farming. A strike of Arab workers and the shut-down of the Jaffa port led to the building of the Tel Aviv port. The difficulties caused by the economic crisis together with the Arab riots led to a decline in the number of immigrants. Moreover, the British Mandate government placed obstacles in the way of immigration and limited the number of certificates (entry visas) to the Land of Israel. From 1940 until the State of Israel was born on May 14, 1948, most of the immigrants arrived with falsified certificates or as illegal immigrants by land or by sea.
The White Paper
During the period of the British Mandate in the Land of Israel (1920-1948), the British government published the White Paper three times. This was a document, wrapped in white, which proclaimed Britain’s policy regarding the two peoples that lived in the Land of Israel.
The first White Paper was issued in 1922 by British Colonial Secretary, Winston Churchill. It stated that the eastern side of the Jordan River was not included in the Land of Israel and that a continuation of Jewish immigration was dependent on “the economic capacity of the country to absorb new arrivals”. The document was opposed by the Jews and rejected by the Arabs.
The second White Paper was issued in 1930 by Colonial Secretary Lord Passfield. This one was even more severe. Jewish immigration and Jewish settlement were forbidden, claiming that the Arabs were being expelled from their land.
The third White Paper was issued in 1939. It was the brainchild of Malcolm MacDonald. David Ben Gurion claimed it was embezzlement. This document suggested the establishment of a bi-national state in the Land of Israel within ten years. Until then, the right to veto would be given to both the Arabs and the Jews. The British would maintain the balance between the two sides and would in fact continue to rule. For five years, Jewish immigration would be limited to 75,000 immigrants and its continuation would depend on the agreement of the Arabs. Jewish acquisition of land would be limited. Up to 95% of the area of the Land of Israel would not be sold to Jews because the rate of population growth among the Arabs was faster and so they needed more land.
Following the third White Paper, the Jewish Yishuv united in its opposition to the British and to the White Paper. The Yishuv declared a general strike in the entire country. In the big cities protest demonstrations were held. The underground organizations united in the Meri Movement in their struggle against the British. However, when World War II broke out, the Haganah decided to stop its activity against the British and to continue its activity in settlement and illegal immigration. Ben Gurion claimed, “We will fight the White Paper as if there is no war, and fight the war as if there is no White Paper.” Because of this decision, the Etzel stopped cooperating with the Haganah.