Ma’abarot – The Israeli Transit Camps, directed by Dina Zvi Riklis, narrated by Yael Abecassis, is a very hard-hitting and highly critical documentary look at the treatment that new immigrants to Israel received during the early years after the establishment of the state. This is a story of racism and oppression.
When masses of new immigrants began to flood the gates of the country – from Arab lands and from Europe – temporary tent camps were built to house them. These tent camps were later replaced with shacks. Some of the immigrants lived in these camps for more than 10 years, which is shocking to think about since the conditions were so terrible.
In a well-documented manner, the film reveals the story through interviews with historians, archival footage, government documents, newspaper clippings, and most crucially, personal stories told by individuals talking about their memories and traumas from that time. These personal stories make up the most important part of the film – retelling memories that can bring you to tears. There are the stories of siblings who suddenly disappear, kidnapped by health workers who were somehow convinced that these children were better off removed from their parents’ households. There are the humiliations of being sprayed with DDT and terribly painful hot wax treatments to remove ringworm. There are the stories of children removed from their families and sent to kibbutzim for schooling, where they were looked down upon and their culture and music were denied. They were forced to speak only Hebrew and when they went home to visit their parents in the transit camps they often found themselves ashamed of them and their broken Hebrew.
Originally, these transit camps held a diverse group of immigrants from countries such as Iraq, Romania, Turkey, Morocco and Holocaust survivors from Poland. There was a clear inequality in the treatment of the immigrants -- the Ashkenazi immigrants received housing within two years, and the Mizrahi immigrants (Jews from Arab lands) were left behind to wallow in the terrible conditions of the camps. This situation was compounded by the influx of reparations monies which permitted so many survivors to buy their own homes and cars. Not that they didn’t deserve these monies, but it helped to create a large middle class, leaving the Mizrahi immigrants even farther behind.
Ma’abarot, a documentary film (83 minutes), tells of poverty, hardships, suicides and despair, all of which are part of a terrible story of mistreatment at the hands of the authorities – a story that needs to be told and remembered. The film is available from Go2Films.