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Atlit Immigration Detention Center Heritage Site

The Atlit Immigration Detention Center is a museum dedicated to telling the story of how illegal immigrants were detained by the British in this large detention center between 1940 and the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, and about clandestine immigration to Palestine during this period (the ha’apala).


Jews, especially, may find this a very meaningful site to visit. It is very easy nowadays to take visiting and living in Israel for granted. However, just over 70 years ago this was not the case. More than 120,000 Jews attempted to enter Palestine despite the British restrictions. About 3,000 illegal immigrants died in the attempt. Once they reached the shores of Israel and were captured, the immigrants were immediately sent to a detention center where they may have stayed for over a year, and then sent out of the country, to Cypress, to another detention center.

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Directions: TEnter “Atlit” into Waze and click on “Atlit Detention Center.”

Admission: The center is open from Sunday to Thursday from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m., with the last admission at 4.00 p.m. On Friday and holidays eves the center is open from 9.00 a.m. to 1.00 p.m., with the last admission at 12.00 p.m. Without a guide you will be unable to see any of the movies, which are an important focus of the site. Therefore, call in advance to book a tour. Outside the ticket office are picnic benches, some of them under shade. Admission is 33 NIS for an adult, 28 NIS for a child 6 to 18 years and 28 NIS for a senior and student. This is their email: Their telephone number is 04 984-1980. This is their website:

Public transport: Enter “Atlit Detention Center” into Moovit. The museum is a 500-meter/6-minute walk from the Atlit Interchange.


The Galina immigrant boat

The Balfour Declaration


To fully appreciate this site, some knowledge of the Balfour Declaration is helpful.


The Balfour Declaration was issued by the British government of Lloyd George in the form of a letter to Lord Rothschild, considered the leader of the Jewish community, on November 2, 1917, just before the end of World War I. The First World War was fought between the British and its allies, France, Italy and Russia, against Germany and the Turkish Empire.


The letter read as follows:


His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.


A very pertinent question is why the British government issued this declaration. Many reasons have been proposed. There was intense lobbying by the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann, who worked as director of the British Admiralty laboratories and who was very well connected with influential figures in the British government. He was assisted in his Zionist advocacy by Lord Herbert Samuels, an influential politician who was a member of the British cabinet. The British government felt they owed Weizmann a favor for his discovery of a means of producing acetone by bacterial fermentation for the manufacture of cordite, a smokeless propellant used in munitions, and which was crucial for the British war effort. The Nili spy organization had lobbied the British that they attack the Turks through Palestine, which they eventually did, and their spy activities were important to the British in successfully accomplishing their invasion. The British wanted a loyal power in Palestine that would guarantee their access to the Suez Canal, a critical route to colonial possessions in India, and that would maintain their interests in the area, particularly to counteract the French. The Jewish Mule Corp, a unit of Jewish soldiers from Palestine, had been active in fighting for the British against the Turks. The British sought the support of Jews worldwide, particularly from the US and Russia, in order to strengthen their war effort. The British appreciated that the establishment of a Jewish home was a minute part of the territorial gains the Arabs achieved from the allied victory. And finally, and most important, many of the politicians involved in this declaration were evangelical Christians and believed in the role of the Jewish people in establishing a Jewish state in order to facilitate the final reincarnation of Jesus.


The British Mandate for Palestine, which included their plan for a Jewish homeland, was accepted by the Allies, and also by the League of Nations, the precursor of the United Nations, on July 24, 1922. 


Some years later, as Secretary of State for the Colonies, Winston Churchill clarified the British government’s interpretation of the Balfour Declaration. Although strongly supportive of this declaration, he attempted to balance the conflicting interests of the Arabs in Palestine. The Cairo Conference of 1921 limited the Jewish homeland to west of the Jordan River, rather than the entire area of the mandate, and he installed Emir Abdullah (later King Abdullah I) as the ruler of Transjordan to fulfill wartime promises made to the Hashemite family because of their support of the British against the Ottomans. It was envisaged that his kingdom would become a home for Arabs who objected to the concept of a Jewish homeland. This would not be enough, however, to prevent future Arab disturbances.


By the 1920’s, primarily under the influence of the Mufti of Jerusalem Amin al-Husseini, the Arabs began objecting to Jewish immigration and al-Husseini instituted the first of several Arab riots, leading to the death of Jews and Arabs.


As a consequence of Arab opposition, the British gradually backtracked on full implementation of the Balfour Declaration. Especially as World War II approached, the British needed to secure stability in the Middle East and to maintain favorable relations with the Arab world. The Peel Commission, appointed to investigate unrest in Palestine, recommended in 1937 the partition of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states. The British acceptance of this report indicated a recognition that the original vision of the Balfour Declaration might be unworkable. The 1939 White Paper issued by the Labor government constituted a definite backtracking. It limited Jewish migration to 75,000 over the next five years and restricted land sales to Jews.


By the end of World War II, Jews who had survived the horrors of the Holocaust were desperate to come to a Jewish homeland, particularly as the gates of other countries were closed. This is the background to the illegal immigration, called the ha’apala. The movie “Exodus” is based on a true story that took place during this time.


The British intercepted many of the rickety boats that the Zionist managed to acquire to bring Jews to Palestine and placed the immigrants in detention camps, first in Palestine and then in Cypress. It was only after the British left Palestine in May 1948 and the State of Israel was declared that all the people in these camps were able to enter Israel legally under the Law of Return. These people would constitute 1/5th of the population of the future State of Israel.


Also interred in this camp were detainees during the Black Shabbat and resistance fighters arrested by the British. The camp was enclosed and abandoned in the 1970s.

The tour:

The tour starts at the disinfectant hut where all detainees and their clothes were disinfected. This also happens to be the only original building in the complex. The others are reconstructions. You are then taken to the dormitories. There were separate sections of the camp for men and women separated by a fence. Husbands and wives could meet each other once a day over the fence.


There is then a movie describing the daring and successful prison breakout organized by the Palmach during the night of October 9, 1945. A transport plane of the type used to rescue Jews from Iraq is visited and within the plane you watch a movie about the rescue. Finally, visitors go to the Galina Ship, containing impressive exhibits primarily in the form of movies that simulate the perilous journey by sea and hardships endured on the way to Israel.  


The disinfectant hut

Inside plane.jpeg

Watching a movie in the transport plane.


A dormitory.

Inside boat.jpeg

An exhibit in the ship.

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