Israel successfully absorbed nearly its own population in refugees within a decade

They came with nothing, not even a basic education in some cases, desperately seeking safety from genocidal tyrants in lands where murder was not only acceptable, but encouraged. Hundreds of thousands of homeless people, searching for an open door, an open heart.

During the first decade of Israel’s life, Jews, barely clinging to existence in Europe, being forced to flee pogroms in the Arab world, and unwelcome in most of the world, headed in droves to the one place which would accept them unconditionally. Israel.

At that time the country was poor, underdeveloped, and in the throes of a battle for its very existence. The war of 1948-9 left the land in ruins; farmland was devastated and infrastructure was turned to dust. Food and other resources had to be rationed, yet the beleaguered nation welcomed the refugees with open arms. They were housed in temporary camps while the building of new homes was underway.

But these refugees, no matter their origins, didn’t sit around waiting for things to be built or given to them; they tended the fields, laid bricks, and served in the military like the natives did. They took advantage of education programs offered to learn Hebrew and other useful subjects.

Israel’s population nearly doubled in that first decade as the number of refugees came close to equaling that of the natives. Yet it turned none of them away; some had to wait a while for the state to catch up with the necessary processing of individuals and manufacturing of basic goods, but they were all taken in.

Integration was a success because Israel did not demand that the new citizens leave all of their traditions behind, nor did it let the new cultures supercede the native ones. A balance was struck between the two which enabled the refugees to maintain German or Polish or Iraqi traditions while becoming Israeli. In time, people with different backgrounds intermarried and disparate cultures fused, becoming the Israeli melting pot of today. Also key was the fact that these Jews from all over the world shared certain moral philosophies; despite the diversity of belief and practice, the core tenets of Judaism remained.

As Europe struggles with floods of migrants today, many of whom possess a worldview radically different from that of the West, Israel’s integration model could be of use in preventing the children of these immigrants from turning to extremism and violence, which is caused by feelings of isolation and mistrust. People tend not to try to destroy communities or countries they feel part of and care for.

This model includes a program to teach new arrivals the language of the host country, and help getting them a job, which will most likely be unskilled labor, but it is a place to start. It gives them responsibility for their own finances – and therefore their lives – rather than giving them everything for free. In addition, they will be interacting with natives on a daily basis, which will help them build friendships and learn the cultural norms of their new country. Education in various useful subjects is also a part of the model, which will help the new arrivals get better jobs later on; in the case of Europe, this could also include an element of cultural acclimation, whereby the migrants are taught what is and is not acceptable in european society, but it must also be paired with appropriate punishments when the law is broken, including deportation in the case of violent crimes.

Of course, none of this will work if those arriving in Europe don’t want it to.


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