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Palestine Illegals

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There has been considerable discussion and agitation on the question of tourists who become unauthorized or illicit settlers in Palestine. According to the immigration regulations, it is permissible for a person to visit Palestine as a tourist, for three months, and before the end of that period to apply for permission to stay permanently in the country, this permission being dependent upon his satisfying the ordinary immigration regulations of the country. It is stated that in the last two years a considerable number of Jews who have come into Palestine as tourists have remained in the country without permission.

While it is naturally in the interests of everyone—the Jews no less than the Government— that the laws of the country should be faithfully observed, it has to be remembered, in considering the case of these unauthorized settlers, that the situation of the Jews in many countries today is such as must lead to large numbers of them seeking opportunities for emigration. This is especially the case in Germany and Eastern Europe, where conditions are becoming worse instead of improving. Moreover, immigration into the countries of the West, which have in the past absorbed large numbers of Jewish refugees, has now been cut down to a minimum, and it is only natural, therefore, that the Jew should look to Palestine as the only remaining refuge in a hostile world.

Further, the principle of absorptive capacity which, according to the declared policy of the Government, should have served as a guiding line for assessing immigration, has been disregarded in practice for some time past. The urgent need for additional labor could be satisfied only by numbers of tourists remaining in the country.


The Government claims that it had from time to time judged that the country could absorb a certain number of immigrants, but the numbers it had authorized were increased, and its calculations were upset by the settlement in Palestine of a very large number of Jews who entered with tourist visas and remained as settlers. But it is a remarkable fact that, although these tourists have remained in the country, not only has there been no unemployment among Jews in Palestine throughout this period, but, on the contrary, there now, prevails a shortage of labor; this clearly proves that the number of authorized immigrants has fallen short, in a very marked degree, of the possibilities of absorption, and that the requests of the Jewish Agency have not been exaggerated.

Nor can the Arabs of Palestine have a legitimate grievance on account of the settlement of Jews in Palestine without authority. Whatever be thought of this process from the legal standpoint, it is clear that the settlement of these people, who have not fallen a charge upon the public funds, nor driven any section of the population out of employment, but were able to establish themselves, thanks to the steady expansion of the country’s absorptive capacity by Jewish efforts, can by no means be taken as a ground for genuine grievance on the part of the Arab population, unless opposition to Jewish immigration, as such, is to be recognized as justified in itself.


Severe measures,—fines, imprisonment and deportations — have been adopted against Jews remaining in the country without permission. The Government must, of course, enforce the law, but surely, if these people have found no other way of settling in Palestine than by committing a formal offense against the law, the main cause is the practice of the immigration authorities in denying permission of entry to immigrants whose admission is fully warranted both by the law and by the country’s absorptive capacity.

Some of the punishments meted out, especially deportation, are out of all proportion to the nature of the offense. In addition, deportation deeply offends the feelings of a Jew returning to Palestine as to his National Home.

Had the Government seen its way to authorize Jewish immigration, in all its categories, to the full extent of the country’s needs and possibilities, there would have been no inducement for illicit settlement, and no need to resort to administrative and penal measures against tourists, which are bound to be detrimental to the interests of the country as a whole, and to hurt the feelings of all Jews.

The Government inaugurated a year ago a practice of deducting a number of certificates from the Labor Schedule on the supposition that so many tourists would in all probability remain in Palestine without authority during the coming six months. There is surely no justification for this extraordinary innovation, whereby the Government annuls a number of certificates in respect of people whose entry the Government itself considers justified, on economic grounds, within the framework of the officially recognized absorptive capacity, without at the same time making provision for admitting them as legal immigrants.


The phenomenon of unauthorized or illicit settlers must be distinguished from that of illegal immigrants. From time to times, arrests are made, both of Jews and Arabs, who have been caught in the act of crossing the frontiers without permission. A recent statement made on behalf of the Government is to the effect that supervision in regard to illegal immigration is made to apply with equal severity to Jewish and to non-Jewish illegal immigration, and that, for example, Hauranis were being turned away in hundreds. This is therefore a phenomenon not restricted to Jews.

On the other hand, it must be pointed out that the severe punishments of imprisonment and deportation suffered by Jews who are caught trying to enter Palestine without permission, represent a hardship infinitely greater than that of others who may try to enter illegally. These Jews are often human beings who have reached the lowest depths of destitution and despair, and for whom no other hope exists but the possibility of settling in Palestine.

This phenomenon of illegal immigration is in itself a very small one in relation to the total Jewish immigration which is now taking place, though in terms of human suffering it is very grave. A more generous interpretation of the immigration possibilities of the country would probably lead to the elimination of this problem, and to the saving of these people from despair, without any detriment to Palestine itself, and perhaps even with some advantage to the country as a whole.

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