PALESTINE OFFICE, the name of a Zionist institution whose meaning and function was entirely different before World War I and after it. (1) In 1908 a Palestine office (Palaestinaamt) was established in Ereẓ Israel, with its seat in Jaffa, by the executive of the World Zionist Organization. Headed by Arthur *Ruppin, it served under the Ottoman regime as the central agency for Zionist settlement activities, including land purchase and aiding immigration. (2) After World War I the name Palestine Offices was applied to Zionist "consulates" in the Diaspora countries charged with the organization, regulation, and implementation of Jewish immigration to Palestine. The first Palestine Office of this kind was set up in Vienna in 1918. Subordinated from 1921 to the Immigration Department of the Zionist Executive, which functioned under the provisions of the Mandate as the *Jewish Agency for Palestine, the Palestine offices were run in every country by a commission (Palaestinaamtskommission) composed of representatives of various Zionist parties, on the basis of parity or according to their strength at the last Zionist Congress, frequently with a preponderance of Labor Zionists and always with a strong representation of pioneering youth movements. The composition and functions of the Palestine offices were governed by the resolutions of Zionist Congresses, particularly the 12th, 13th, and 14th (1921–25).
In the 1920s and 1930s the Palestine Office distributed the immigration "certificates" issued by the Mandatory government to the Jewish Agency; dealt with hakhsharah (i.e., agricultural training of ḥalutzim); provided information to prospective immigrants; prepared and provided the necessary travel documents; and served as a link to the British consulates and the authorities of the country concerned. In those years Palestine offices existed in most European capitals (the largest being in Warsaw) as well as in exit ports to Palestine (like Trieste) and large provincial towns of some countries with a dense Jewish population (like Poland). After the outbreak of World War II, the Geneva Palestine Office engaged in rescuing Jews from Axis-dominated territories and transferring them to Palestine. In later stages of the war, the offices in Istanbul and Teheran – and after its end, those in Vienna, Munich, Rome, and Marseilles – acquired particular importance in these rescue operations. After World War II the Palestine offices unofficially assisted the "illegal" *immigration to Palestine of refugees and survivors of the Holocaust.
With the establishment of the State of Israel (1948), the jurisdiction and activities of these offices underwent considerable change. They were named offices of the immigration Department of the Jewish Agency and, mostly administered by emissaries from Israel, were charged with nongovernmental functions complementary to those of the consulates of the Israel government, as, e.g., the promotion and organization of Jewish immigration to Israel and particularly the transport of immigrants needing the Jewish Agency's assistance.
World Zionist Organization Protocols of the Zionist Congresses, esp. of the 12th, 13th, and 14th; Zionist Organization, Executive Report… to the 22nd Zionist Congress (1946); JL, S.V. Palestina-Aemter.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.