Health and Hegemony: Medical Inspection, Immigrants and the Israeli Melting Pot, 1948-1956

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


This paper focuses on the social history of medical inspection practices during the period of mass immigration to Israel. In this period, the newly established country with a population of only 600,000 faced the formidable task of absorbing over 1,000,000 new immigrants. Already in their countries of origin, Jewish immigrants were concentrated in camps where medical inspections were carried out. Gaps in medical screening and categorization resulted in the establishment of the Shaar Ha'aliyah (Gate of Immigration) processing camp in Israel. Between 1949-1952, 400,000 newcomers out of 700,000 who passed through the facility underwent medical inspection immediately upon arrival to Israel. Throughout the history of the Zionist movement an ambivalent relationship has existed between the Zionist establishment and Jewish immigrants. Zionist ideology considered Jewish immigration to Israel as one of the most important objectives of the Zionist movement. Yet, over the years, tensions have arisen at times between the outlook that views immigrants as the most important asset in of the nation and viewing newcomers as chomer enoshi (human material) as the immigrants were dubbed a term that reflects both fears and suspicion of changes such immigrants were liable to cause veteran Jewish society. The immigrants who included Holocaust survivors and immigrants from Asiatic and North African countries were conceived as problematic; it was questioned whether the immigrants would be able to withstand the burden of building a new nation without turning into a burden themselves. The health of the newcomers that would compose the Zionist Jewish community in Palestine and later in the Israeli State was conceived to be of utmost political importance by the Zionist leaders. Attempts to liberate the new society from the chains of the diaspora Jew on the one hand and from an Oriental model on the other were an important component of the public health agenda. Analyzing the medical inspection practices can help us to reconstruct the ties between public health policy, racial tensions and divergent perceptions of the body within Zionist ideology and among various groups of immigrants.
Original languageEnglish
StatePublished - 15 Nov 2003
EventThe 131st Annual Meeting of APHA -
Duration: 15 Nov 200319 Nov 2003


ConferenceThe 131st Annual Meeting of APHA


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