The Israeli Declaration of Independence (Hebrew: הכרזת העצמאות, Hakhrazat HaAtzma’ut orHebrew: מגילת העצמאות Megilat HaAtzma’ut), was made on 14 May 1948 (5 Iyar 5708), the British Mandate terminating soon afterwards at midnight Palestine time. David Ben-Gurion, the Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization and the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, declared the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as theState of Israel.
The event is celebrated annually in Israel with a national holiday Yom Ha’atzmaut (Hebrew: יום העצמאות, lit. Independence Day) on 5 Iyar of every year according to the Hebrew calendar.
The possibility of a Jewish homeland in Palestine had been a goal of Zionist organizations since the late 19th century. The British Foreign Secretary stated in the Balfour Declaration of 1917:
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.
After World War I, the United Kingdom was given a mandate over the area known as Palestine, which it had conquered from the Ottomans during the war. In 1937 the Peel Commissionsuggested partitioning Mandate Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state, though it was rejected as unworkable by the government and was at least partially to blame for the renewal of the 1936–39 Arab revolt.
In the face of increasing violence after World War II, the British handed the issue over to the recently established United Nations. The result was Resolution 181(II), a plan to partition Palestine into Independent Arab and Jewish States and the Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem. The Jewish state was to receive around 56% of the land area of Mandate Palestine, encompassing 82% of the Jewish population, though it would be separated from Jerusalem. The plan was accepted by most of the Jewish population, but rejected by much of the Arab populace. On 29 November 1947, the resolution to recommend to the United Kingdom, as the mandatory Power for Palestine, and to all other Members of the United Nations the adoption and implementation, with regard to the future government of Palestine, of the Plan of Partition with Economic Union was put to a vote in the United Nations General Assembly. The result was 33 to 13 in favour of the resolution, with 10 abstentions. The Arab countries (all of which had opposed the plan) proposed to query the International Court of Justice on the competence of the General Assembly to partition a country against the wishes of the majority of its inhabitants, but were again defeated. Resolution 181(II): PART I: Future constitution and government of Palestine: A. TERMINATION OF MANDATE, PARTITION AND INDEPENDENCE: Clause 3. provides:- Independent Arab and Jewish States and the Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem, …, shall come into existence in Palestine two months after the evacuation of the armed forces of the mandatory Power has been completed but in any case not later than 1 October 1948.
Drafting the text
The first draft of the declaration was made by Zvi Berenson, the Histadrut trade union’s legal advisor and later a justice of the Supreme Court, at the request of Pinchas Rosen. A revised second draft was made by three lawyers, A. Beham, A. Hintzheimer and Z.E. Baker, and was framed by a committee including David Remez, Pinchas Rosen, Haim-Moshe Shapira, Moshe Sharett and Aharon Zisling. A second committee meeting, which included David Ben-Gurion,Yehuda Leib Maimon, Sharett and Zisling produced the final text.
Minhelet HaAm Vote
On 12 May 1948, the Minhelet HaAm (Hebrew: מנהלת העם, lit. People’s Administration) was convened to vote on declaring independence. Three of the members were missing; Yehuda Leib Maimon and Yitzhak Gruenbaum were detained in besieged Jerusalem, while Yitzhak-Meir Levinwas in the United States.
The meeting started at 1:45 and ended after midnight. The decision was between accepting the American proposal for a truce, or declaring independence. The latter option was put to a vote, with six of the ten members present supporting it:
Chaim Weizmann, chairman of the World Zionist Organization and soon to be the firstPresident of Israel, endorsed the decision, after reportedly asking “What are they waiting for, the idiots?”
The draft text was submitted for approval to a meeting of Moetzet HaAm (Hebrew: מועצת העם, lit. People’s Council) at the JNF building in Tel Aviv on 14 May. The meeting started at 13:50 and ended at 15:00, an hour before the declaration was due to be made, and despite ongoing disagreements, with a unanimous vote in favour of the final text.
During the process, there were two major debates, centering around the issues of borders and religion. On the border issue, the original draft had declared that the borders would be that decided by the UN partition plan. While this was supported by Rosen and Bechor-Shalom Sheetrit, it was opposed by Ben-Gurion and Zisling, with Ben-Gurion stating, “We accepted the UN Resolution, but the Arabs did not. They are preparing to make war on us. If we defeat them and capture western Galilee or territory on both sides of the road to Jerusalem, these areas will become part of the state. Why should we obligate ourselves to accept boundaries that in any case the Arabs don’t accept?” The inclusion of the designation of borders in the text was dropped after the provisional government of Israel, theMinhelet HaAm, voted 5–4 against it. The Revisionists, committed to a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan River (that is, including Transjordan), wanted the phrase “within its historic borders” included but were unsuccessful.
The second major issue was over the inclusion of God in the last section of the document, with the draft using the phrase “and placing our trust in the Almighty”. The two rabbis, Shapira and Yehuda Leib Maimon, argued for its inclusion, saying that it could not be omitted, with Shapira supporting the wording “God of Israel” or “the Almighty and Redeemer of Israel”. It was strongly opposed by Zisling, a member of the secularist Mapam. In the end the phrase “Rock of Israel” was used, which could be interpreted as either referring to God, or the land of Eretz Israel, Ben-Gurion saying “Each of us, in his own way, believes in the ‘Rock of Israel’ as he conceives it. I should like to make one request: Don’t let me put this phrase to a vote.” Although its use was still opposed by Zisling, the phrase was accepted without a vote.
At the meeting on 14 May, several other members of Moetzet HaAm suggested additions to the document. Meir Vilner wanted it to denounce the British Mandate and military but Sharett said it was out of place. Meir Argov pushed to mention the Displaced Persons camps in Europe and to guarantee freedom of language. Ben-Gurion agreed with the latter but noted that Hebrew should be the main language of the state.
The writers also had to decide on the name for the new state. Eretz Israel, Ever (from the name Eber), Judea, and Zion were all suggested, as were Ziona, Ivriya and Herzliya. Judea and Zion were rejected because, according to the partition plan, Jerusalem (Zion) and most of Judean mountains would be outside the new state. Ben-Gurion put forward “Israel” and it passed by a vote of 6–3.
The debate over wording did not end completely even after the Declaration had been made. Declaration signer Meir David Loewensteinlater claimed, “It ignored our sole right to Eretz Israel, which is based on the covenant of the Lord with Abraham, our father, and repeated promises in the Tanach. It ignored the aliya of the Ramban and the students of the Vilna Gaon and the Ba’al Shem Tov, and the [rights of] Jews who lived in the ‘Old Yishuv’.”
The invitation to the ceremony, dated 13 May 1948.
The ceremony was held in the Tel Aviv Museum(today known as Independence Hall) but was not widely publicised as it was feared that the British Authorities might attempt to prevent it or that the Arab armies might invade earlier than expected. An invitation was sent out by messenger on the morning of 14 May telling recipients to arrive at 15:30 and to keep the event a secret. The event started at 16:00 (a time chosen so as not to breach the sabbath) and was broadcast live as the first transmission of the new radio station Kol Yisrael.
The final draft of the declaration was typed at theJewish National Fund building following its approval earlier in the day. Ze’ev Sherf, who stayed at the building in order to deliver the text, had forgotten to arrange transport for himself. Ultimately, he had to flag down a passing car and ask the driver (who was driving a borrowed car without a license) to take him to the ceremony. Sherf’s request was initially refused but he managed to persuade the driver to take him. The car was stopped by a policeman for speeding while driving across the city though a ticket was not issued after it was explained that he was delaying the declaration of independence. Sherf arrived at the museum at 15:59.
At 16:00, Ben-Gurion opened the ceremony by banging his gavel on the table, prompting a spontaneous rendition of Hatikvah, soon to be Israel’s national anthem, from the 250 guests. On the wall behind the podium hung a picture of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, and two flags, later to become the official flag of Israel.
After telling the audience “I shall now read to you the scroll of the Establishment of the State, which has passed its first reading by theNational Council“, Ben-Gurion proceeded to read out the declaration, taking 16 minutes, ending with the words “Let us accept the Foundation Scroll of the Jewish State by rising” and calling on Rabbi Fishman to recite the Shehecheyanu blessing.
The entire declaration ceremony was recorded and broadcast live on Kol Yisrael (Voice of Israel) radio station.
As leader of the Yishuv, David Ben-Gurion was the first person to sign. The declaration was due to be signed by all 37 members of Moetzet HaAm. However, twelve members could not attend, eleven of them trapped in besieged Jerusalem and one abroad. The remaining 25 signatories present were called up in alphabetical order to sign, leaving spaces for those absent. Although a space was left for him between the signatures of Eliyahu Dobkin and Meir Vilner, Zerach Warhaftig signed at the top of the next column, leading to speculation that Vilner’s name had been left alone to isolate him, or to stress that even a communist agreed with the declaration.
When Herzl Rosenblum, a journalist, was called up to sign, Ben-Gurion instructed him to sign under the name Herzl Vardi, his pen name, as he wanted more Hebrew names on the document. Although Rosenblum acquiesced to Ben-Gurion’s request and legally changed his name to Vardi, he later admitted to regretting not signing as Rosenblum. Several other signatories later Hebraised their names, including Meir Argov (Grabovsky), Peretz Bernstein (then Fritz Bernstein), Avraham Granot(Granovsky), Avraham Nissan (Katznelson), Moshe Kol (Kolodny), Yehuda Leib Maimon (Fishman),Golda Meir (Myerson), Pinchas Rosen (Felix Rosenblueth) and Moshe Sharett (Shertok). Other signatories added their own touches, including Saadia Kobashi who added the phrase “HaLevy”, referring to the tribe of Levi.
After Sharett, the last of the signatories, had put his name to paper, the audience again stood and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestraplayed “Hatikvah”. Ben-Gurion concluded the event with the words “The State of Israel is established! This meeting is adjourned!”
Context and aftermath
Ben Gurion (Left) Signing the Declaration of Independence held by Moshe Sharet
The declaration was signed in a context of civil war between the Arab and Jewish populations of the Mandate that had started the day after the partition vote at the UN six months earlier. Neighbouring Arab states and the Arab League were opposed to the vote and had declared they would intervene to prevent its implementation. In acablegram on 15 May 1948 to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States claimed that “the Arab states find themselves compelled to intervene in order to restore law and order and to check further bloodshed”.
Over the next few days after the declaration, armies of Egypt, Trans-Jordan, Iraq, andSyria engaged Israeli troops inside the area of what had just ceased to be Mandatory Palestine, threatening officially and militarily to occupy the whole of the former Mandate territorycitation required: 14 December 2013, thereby starting the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. A truce began on 11 June, but fighting resumed on 8 July and stopped again on 18 July, before restarting in mid-October and finally ending on 24 July 1949 with the signing of the armistice agreement with Syria. By then Israel had retained its independence and increased its land area by almost 50% compared to the 1947 UN Partition Plan.
Following the declaration, Moetzet HaAm became the Provisional State Council, which acted as the legislative body for the new state until the first elections in January 1949.
Many of the signatories would play a prominent role in Israeli politics following independence; Moshe Sharett and Golda Meir both served as Prime Minister, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi became the country’s second president in 1952, and several others served as ministers.David Remez was the first signatory to pass away, dying in May 1951, while Meir Vilner, the youngest signatory at just 29, was the longest living, serving in the Knesset until 1990 and dying in June 2003. Eliyahu Berligne, the oldest signatory at 82, died in 1959.
Eleven minutes after midnight, the United States de facto recognised the State of Israel, followed by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi‘s Iran (which had voted against the UN partition plan), Guatemala, Iceland, Nicaragua, Romania, and Uruguay. The Soviet Unionwas the first nation to fully recognize Israel de jure on 17 May 1948, followed by Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Ireland, and South Africa. The United States extended official recognition after the first Israeli election, as Truman had promised, on 31 January 1949. Israel became a member of the United Nations on 11 May 1949.
In the three years following the 1948 Palestine war, about 700,000 Jews immigrated to Israel, residing mainly along the borders and in former Arab lands. Around 136,000 were some of the 250,000 displaced Jews of World War II. And from the 1948 Arab–Israeli War until the early 1970s, 800,000–1,000,000 Jews left, fled, or were expelled from their homes in Arab countries; 260,000 of them reached Israel between 1948 and 1951; and 600,000 by 1972.
At the same time, a large number of Arabs left, fled or were expelled from, what became Israel. In the Report of the Technical Committee on Refugees (Submitted to the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine in Lausanne on 7 September 1949)- (A/1367/Rev.1), in paragraph 15, the estimate of the statistical expert, which the Committee believed to be as accurate as circumstances permitted, indicated that the refugees from Israel- controlled territory amounted to approximately 711,000.
Status in Israeli law
The declaration stated that the State of Israel would ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex, and guaranteed freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture. However, the Knessetmaintains that the declaration is neither a law nor an ordinary legal document. TheSupreme Court has ruled that the guarantees were merely guiding principles, and that the declaration is not a constitutional law making a practical ruling on the upholding or nullification of various ordinances and statutes. Whenever an explicit statutory measure of the Knesset leaves no room for doubt, it is honored even if inconsistent with the principles in the Declaration of Independence.
In 1994 the Knesset amended two basic laws, Human Dignity and Liberty and Freedom of Occupation, introducing (among other changes) a statement saying “the fundamental human rights in Israel will be honored (…) in the spirit of the principles included in the declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel.”
Although Ben-Gurion had told the audience that he was reading from the scroll of independence, he was actually reading from handwritten notes because only the bottom part of the scroll had been finished by artist and calligrapher Otte Wallish by the time of the declaration (he did not complete the entire document until June). The scroll, which is bound together in three parts, is generally kept in the country’s National Archives, though it is currently on display at the Israel Museum.
- Jump up^ Zionists Proclaim New State of Israel; Truman Recognizes it and Hopes for Peace New York Times, 15 May 1948
- Jump up^ Communication dated 11 May 1948 from J. Fletcher-Cooke of the United Kingdom delegation to the United Nations Commission on Palestine to Dr. Ralph J. Bunche, Principal Secretary to the Commission: Retrieved 7 December 2013
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- ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f g One Day that Shook the world The Jerusalem Post, 30 April 1998, by Elli Wohlgelernter
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- Jump up^ Displaced Persons Retrieved 29 October 2007 from the US Holocaust Museum.
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- Jump up^ Malka Hillel Shulewitz, The Forgotten Millions: The Modern Jewish Exodus from Arab Lands, Continuum 2001, pp. 139 and 155.
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- Jump up^  Report of the Technical Committee on Refugees (Submitted to the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine in Lausanne on 7 September 1949)- (A/1367/Rev.1)]
- Jump up^ The Proclamation of IndependenceKnesset website
- Jump up^ The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs