Monday, 4 February 2013

Jews of Yemen (ctd) - Ma'abarot'- The tent camps, Prefab and permanent housing (Sepharadim: Part 6)

From My Life-Golda Meir  pps217-20

But there  had to be priorities, and for me, at least, housing and jobs for the immigrants headed the list. Not all of my colleagues atree.....explained to me.....why a housing programme of the kind I envisaged.....would only lead to inflation. It would be far wiser to put the little money at our disposal into factories or streamlined methods of agriculture. But I couldn't accept or support any recommendation that didn't deal with the absorption of immigrants, first and foremost, from the human point of view...The creation of a good society - depended to an overwhelming degree on how people lived, and there was no point in our talking loftily about social responsibility, education or even public health unless we got at lest some of the new immigrants out of those dreadful tents and into proper housing as soon as possible.....
We couldn't make houses out of milk and honey (not that those commodities were available either), so I took myself off to the States....and once again asked the Jews of America for help..
I went to our Parliament two weeks ago last Tuesday, and presented a project for 30,000 housing units by the end of this year. Parliament approved it, and there was great joy in the country. But actually I did a strange t hing: I presented a project for which I didn't have the money. ....It is an awful thing to do - to forge a signature to a cheque, but I have done it. I have promised the people at home and the people in the camps that the government is going to put up these 30,000 units and we have already started to do so with the little money we have.
 I got the money and we began to build.....Not a single family that entered Israel in those great waves of immigration ever lacked shelter of some kind. Somehow we found or invented accommodation for everyone. When the corrugated metal huts ran out, we used canvas and nailed it to wooden frames and created tens of thousands of fabric shacks; when these ran out we went unhappily back to tents for a while. But no one slept out of doors and we never stopped building.....

If we were not to create two classes of Israelis - the relatively well-established  'oldtimers', on the one hand, and the new immigrants in their crowded, ugly ma'abarot on the other - we would have to supply a lot more than just housing. We would have to see to it, that the new immigrants worked and got paid for their work.... a public works programme.

This was not easy either. the majority of the so-called oriental Jews (those from the Middle East and North Africa) had virtually no skills that were applicable to their circumstances in the new state. We feared that many of them would get used to doing nothing but living on a dole for year.......lauched a massive road-building scheme throughout the country, and hundreds upon hundreds of acres of stony, stubborn land were cleared, terraced and afforested, by hand. And all the time we went onn bilding and training the immigrants, though the tide of immigration didn't slow down until 1952.

I remember how pessimistic..disapproving.. some of my colleagues were about the road-building. Not only didn't we need all those approach roads, but importing the building materials was in itself a luxury, and anyhow the roads would be no good because we didn't have the kind of workers we needed. But I relied on three things: the dedication and ingenuity of the oldtimers; the growing desire of the new immigrants to earn an honest day's wage and not to be turned into perpetual wards of the state or the Jewish Agency;
Looking back, I must say that I was very rarely disappointed, though anyone watching the way way in which those roads were built in 19449  and the early 1950's would have been justified in considering us all to be a little mad. We used to take one skilled construction worker from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, turn him overnight into the foreman of a road-building crew somewhere in the south and leave him to cope with the problem of supervising ten men who spoke ten different languages, came from ten different countries and had only been in Israel for a few intolderably confusing months. But somehow or other, though perhaps inefficiently and too expensively, the roads (wryly nicknamed 'the golden roads' in my honour) were built.

In 1952 when the immigration began to taper off at last - to 1,000 a day - we started to direct newcomers away from the ma'abarot into regular quarters in new development areas and border villages all over Israel and stress agriculture rather than public works. We gave each immigrant family not only a tiny house but also a plot of land, livestock and lessons in farming. We made mistakes about that, too. We tried probably too soon, to turn the pressure cooker into a melting pot. We created villages populated by combinations of people like the road-building crews. They had nothing much in common with each other and found it difficult (sometimes impossible) to live together in a totally isolated part of the country, and they usually had neither any experience nor any taste for farming. Many of them rebelled and drifted away to the towns, where they settled into slums. But most of them stayed and became first-rate farmers whose children today grow the israeli fruit, flowers and vegetables that are bought around the world.

No comments:

Post a Comment