The Old Yishuv were the Jewish communities of the southern Syrian provinces in the Ottoman period, up to the onset of Zionist aliyah and the consolidation of the New Yishuv by the end of World War I. As opposed to the later Zionist aliyah and the New Yishuv, which came into being with the First Aliyah (of 1882) and was more based on a socialist and/or secular ideology emphasizing labor and self-sufficiency, the Old Yishuv, whose members had continuously resided in or had come to Eretz Yisrael in the earlier centuries, were largely ultra-orthodox Jews dependent on external donations (Halukka) for living.
The Old Yishuv developed after a period of severe decline in Jewish communities of the Southern Levant during the early Middle Ages, and was composed of three clusters. The oldest group consisted of the Ladino-speaking Sephardic Jewish communities in Galilee and the Judeo-Arabic speaking Musta'arabim who settled in Eretz Yisrael in the Ottoman and late Mamluk period. A second group was composed of Ashkenazi and Hassidic Jews who had emigrated from Europe in the 18th and early 19th centuries. A third wave was constituted by Yishuv members who arrived in the late 19th century. The Old Yishuv was thus generally divided into two independent communities – the Sephardim (including Musta'arabim), mainly constituting the remains of Jewish communities of Galilee and the four Jewish holy cities, which had flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries; and the Ashkenazim, whose immigration from Europe was primarily since the 18th century.
The Old Yishuv term was coined by members of the 'New Yishuv' in the late 19th century to distinguish themselves from the economically dependent and generally earlier Jewish communities, who mainly resided in the four holy cities of Judaism, and unlike the New Yishuv, had not embraced land ownership and agriculture. Apart from the Old Yishuv centres in the four holy cities of Judaism, namely Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias and Safed, smaller communities also existed in Jaffa, Haifa, Peki'in, Acre, Nablus and Shfaram. Petah Tikva, although established in 1878 by the Old Yishuv, nevertheless was also supported by the arriving Zionists. Rishon LeZion, the first settlement founded by the Hovevei Zion in 1882, could be considered the true beginning of the New Yishuv.
Beginning of modern Aliyah
The Ottoman government was not supportive of the new settlers from the First and Second Aliyah, as the Ottoman government officially restricted Jewish immigration. The Yishuv relied on money from abroad to support their settlements.
In 1908 the Zionist Organization founded the
Palestine Office, under Arthur Ruppin, for land acquisition, agricultural settlement and training, and later for urban expansion. The first Hebrew high schools were opened in Palestine as well as the Technion, the first institution for higher learning. Hashomer, a Zionist self-defence group, was created to protect the Jewish settlements. Labor organizations were created along with health and cultural services, all later coordinated by the Jewish National Council. By 1914, the old Yishuv was a minority and the new Yishuv began to express itself and its Zionist goals.
The Zionist movement tried to find work for the new immigrants who arrived in the Second Aliyah. However, most were middle class and were not physically fit or knowledgeable in agricultural work. The Jewish plantation owners had previously hired Arab workers who accepted low wages and were very familiar with agriculture. The leaders of the Zionist movement insisted that plantation owners (those who arrived in the First Aliyah) only hire Jewish workers and grant higher wages. The conquest of labor was a major Zionist goal. However, this caused some turmoil in the Yishuv for there were those who felt that they were discriminating against the Arabs just as they had been discriminated against in Russia. The Arabs became bitter from the discrimination despite the small number of Arabs that were affected by this.
The First Aliyah was the very beginning of the creation of the New Yishuv. More than 25,000 Jews immigrated to Palestine. The immigrants were inspired by the notion of creating a national home for Jews. Most of the Jewish immigrants came from Russia, escaping the pogroms, while some arrived from Yemen. Many of the immigrants were affiliated with Hovevei Zion. Hovevei Tzion purchased land from Arabs and other Ottoman subjects and created various settlements such as Yesud HaMa'ala, Rosh Pinna, Gedera, Rishon LeZion, Nes Tziona and Rechovot. These agricultural settlements were supported by philanthropists from abroad, chiefly Edmond James de Rothschild. and Alphonse James de Rothschild.
Eliezer Ben-Yehuda also immigrated during the first Aliyah. Ben-Yehuda took it upon himself to revive the Hebrew language, and along with
Nissim Bechar started a school for teaching Hebrew, later on founding the first Hebrew newspaper.
During the Second Aliyah, between 1903 and 1914, there were 35,000 new immigrants, primarily from Russia.
During World War I, the conditions for the Jews in the Ottoman Empire worsened. All those Jews who were of an enemy nationality were exiled and others were drafted into the Ottoman army. Many of those exiled fled to Egypt and the United States. Those who remained in the Ottoman ruled Palestine faced hard economic times. There was disagreement whether to support the British or the Turks. A clandestine group, Nili, was established to pass information to the British in the hope of defeating the Ottomans and ending their rule over Palestine. The purpose and members of the Nili were discovered. All involved were executed by the Ottomans except its founder, Aaron Aaronsohn, who escaped to Egypt. During World War I, the Jewish population in Palestine diminished by a third due to deportations, immigration, economic trouble and disease. During World War I, there were two British battalions of Jews, called the Zion Mule Corps, who were to fight on the front of Palestine. They helped in the British capture of Ottoman Syria (including Palestine), leading to the Turkish surrender. The members of the Zion Mule Corps later made up the Yishuv's defence groups that would fight against the British.