TEL AVIV (Feb. 5)
Protests, mainly by school children, have led to the preservation of an historic landmark of the late Mandatory period in Palestine and the early years of Israel’s statehood. The landmark is the old Atlit camp just south of Haifa, once a prison, later an internment center for “illegal” Jewish refugees and finally a temporary transit station for new immigrants.
With aliya down, the Jewish Agency, which owns the property, planned to tear it down and construct warehouses on the site. But the protests were overwhelming, many of them from children unborn when the many incidents involving Atlit in Israel’s struggle for independence occurred. Bowing to the pressure, the Jewish Agency authorities agreed to preserve the larger part of the camp as a center for Zionist studies.
The British used Atlit as a prison during the Mandate. After World War II, they turned it into an internment camp for thousands of Jewish survivors of Nazism who came to Palestine without visas. One winter night in 1946, a unit of Palmach, the strike force of Haganah, raided Atlit and liberated the internees who were dispersed to Jewish settlements all over Palestine. The unit was commanded by a young officer, Yitzhak Rabin.
When the State was established, the Jewish Agency turned Atlit into a temporary immigrant hostel. For many of the tens of thousands of olim who arrived every month during those early years of statehood, Atlit was their first home on Jewish soil.