Declaration of Independence (Israel)

Declaration of Independence (Israel)

Infobox document
document_name=Declaration of Independence|location_of_document= Tel Aviv

writer=First Draft:
Zvi Berenson
Second Draft:
Moshe Shertok
David Remez
Felix Rosenblueth
Moshe Shapira
Aharon Zisling
Third Draft:
David Ben-Gurion
Yehuda Leib Fishman
Aharon Zisling
Moshe Shertok

signers=David Ben-Gurion
Daniel Auster
Yitzhak Ben-Zvi
Mordechai Bentov
Eliyahu Berligne
Fritz Bernstein
Rachel Cohen-Kagan
Eliyahu Dobkin
Yehuda Leib Fishman
Wolf Gold
Meir Grabovsky
Avraham Granovsky
Yitzhak Gruenbaum
Kalman Kahana
Eliezer Kaplan
Avraham Katznelson
Saadia Kobashi
Moshe Kolodny
Yitzhak-Meir Levin
Meir David Loewenstein
Zvi Luria
Golda Meyerson
Nahum Nir
David-Zvi Pinkas
Felix Rosenblueth
David Remez
Berl Repetur
Zvi Segal
Mordechai Shatner
Ben-Zion Sternberg
Bechor-Shalom Sheetrit
Haim-Moshe Shapira
Moshe Shertok
Herzl Vardi
Meir Vilner
Zerach Warhaftig
Aharon Zisling

purpose=Declare a Jewish state in parts of the British Mandate for Palestine after its expiration.
The Israeli Declaration of Independence ( _he. הכרזת העצמאות, "Hakhrazat HaAtzma'ut" or _he. מגילת העצמאות "Megilat HaAtzma'ut"), made on 14 May 1948 (5 Iyar, 5708), the day the British Mandate expired, was the official announcement that the new Jewish state named the State of Israel had been formally established in parts of what was known as the British Mandate for Palestine and on land where, in antiquity, the Kingdoms of Israel, Judah and Judea had once been.

It has been called the start of the "Third Jewish Commonwealth" by some observers. The "First Jewish Commonwealth" ended with the destruction of Solomon's Temple in 586 BCE, the second with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, and the crushing of Bar Kokhba's revolt by the Roman Empire in the year 135.

In Israel the event is celebrated annually with the national holiday Yom Ha'atzmaut ( _he. יום העצמאות, lit. "Independence Day"), the timing of which is based on the Hebrew calendar date of the declaration (5, Iyar, 5708). Palestinians commemorate the event as Nakba Day ( _ar. يوم النكبة, "Yawm al-nakba", lit. "Catastrophe Day") on 15 May every year. [ [ 58th anniversary of the Palestinian Catastrophe] Al Bawaba, 3 May 2006]


Whilst the possibility of a Jewish homeland in Palestine had been a goal of Zionist organisations since the late 19th century, it was not until 1917 and the Balfour declaration that the idea gained the official backing of a major power. The declaration stated that the British government supported the creation of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. In 1936 the Peel Commission suggested partitioning Mandate Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state, though it was rejected as unworkable by the government and was at least partially to blame for the 1936-39 Arab revolt.

In the face of increasing violence, the British handed the issue over to the United Nations. The result was Resolution 181, a partition plan to divide Palestine between Jews and Arabs. 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, designated as an area to be administered by the UN. The plan was accepted by most of the Jewish population, but rejected by much of the Arab populace. On 29 November 1947, the plan was put to a vote in the United Nations General Assembly. The result was 33 to 13 in favour of the plan, 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. The division was to take effect on the date of British withdrawal from the territory (15 May 1948), though the UK refused to implement the plan, arguing it was unacceptable to both sides.

Drafting the text

The declaration was first drafted 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 Ben-Gurion, Yehuda Leib Maimon, Sharett and Zisling produced the final text,Harris, J. (1998) [ The Israeli Declaration of Independence] The Journal of the Society for Textual Reasoning, Vol. 7] which was approved in a meeting of Moetzet HaAm at the JNF building in Tel Aviv on 14 May, starting at 1:50. It 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, centring 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. Whilst 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 State of Israel Declares Independence] Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs] Its inclusion in the text was dropped after Minhelet HaAm voted 5-4 against it. The Revisionists, committed to a Jewish state on both sides of the River Jordan (i.e. 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, it 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, though Sharett said it was out of place. Meir Argov pushed for it to mention the displaced persons camps in Europe and for it 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. Judea and Zion were rejected because, according to the partition plan, Jerusalem (Zion) and most of Judean mountains would be outside the new state. [ [ Why not Judea? Zion? State of the Hebrews?] Haaretz, 7 May 2008] Ben-Gurion put forward "Israel", which was passed by a vote of 6-3.

Nevertheless, the debate over wording did not end even after the declaration had been made, with Meir David Loewenstein later claiming that "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'." [ Wallish and the Declaration of Independence] Jerusalem Post, 1998 (republished on Eretz Israel Forever)]


On 12 May the Minhelet HaAm was convened to vote on declaring independence. Three of the members were missing; Yehuda Leib Maimon and Yitzhak Gruenbaum were stuck in besieged Jerusalem, whilst Yitzhak-Meir Levin was 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:
*For: David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Sharett (Mapai), Peretz Bernstein (General Zionists), Haim-Moshe Shapira (Hapoel HaMizrachi), Mordechai Bentov, Aharon Zisling (Mapam).
*Against: Eliezer Kaplan, David Remez (Mapai), Pinchas Rosen (New Aliyah), Bechor-Shalom Sheetrit (Sephardim and Oriental Communities).

Chaim Weizmann, chairman of the World Zionist Organization and soon to be the first President of Israel, endorsed the decision, after reportedly asking "What are they waiting for, the idiots?"

Proclamation ceremony

The ceremony to proclaim independence was to be 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 planned. 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 was to start at 16:00 (a time chosen so as not to breach the sabbath), and was to be broadcast live as the first transmission of the new radio station Kol Yisrael.

Following its approval earlier in the day, the final draft of the declaration was typed at the JNF building. However, Ze'ev Sharef, who had remained at the building in order to deliver the text, had forgotten to arrange transport for himself. In the end, 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. Although Sharef's request was initially refused, he managed to persuade the driver to take him. However, whilst driving across the city, the car was stopped by a policemen for speeding, though a ticket was not issued after it was explained to him that he was delaying the declaration of independence. Sharef 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. [ One Day that Shook the world] The Jerusalem Post, 30 April 1998] 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 the National 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.


A celebratory crowd outside the Tel Aviv Museum to hear the Declaration.
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 24 signatories present were called up in alphabetical order to sign, leaving spaces for those not present. 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. [ [ For this reason we congregated] Iton Tel Aviv, 23 April 2004]

After Moshe Shertok, the last of the signatories, had put his name to paper, the audience again stood and sung Hatikvah, accompanied by the Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra. Ben-Gurion concluded the event with the words "The State of Israel is established. This meeting is adjourned."


Eleven minutes after the Declaration of Independence was signed, President Truman de facto recognized the State of Israel, followed by Iran (which had voted against the UN partition plan), Guatemala, Iceland, Nicaragua, Romania and Uruguay. The Soviet Union was the first nation to recognize Israel de jure on 17 May 1948, followed by Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Ireland and South Africa. [ [ What countries recognized the State of Israel?] Palestine Facts] The United States extended official recognition on 31 January 1949. [ [ The Recognition of the State of Israel: Introduction] Truman Library]

The declaration was followed by an invasion of the new state by troops from Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, starting the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, known in Israel as the War of Independence ( _he. מלחמת העצמאות, "Milhamat HaAtzma'ut"). Although a truce began on 11 June, 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 partition plan.

Following independence, Moetzet HaAm was transformed into 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 went on to 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, whilst 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.

The scroll

Although Ben-Gurion had told the audience that he was reading from the scroll of independence, he was actually reading from handwritten notes; by the time of the declaration, only the bottom part of the scroll had been finished by artist and calligrapher Otte Wallish (he did not complete the entire document until June). The scroll, which is in three parts bound together, is now kept in the country's National Archives.

Context and content

The document commences by drawing a direct line from Biblical times to the present:

It acknowledges the Jewish exile over the millennia, mentioning both ancient "faith" and new "politics":

It speaks of the urge of Jews to return to their ancient homeland:

It describes Jewish immigrants to Israel in the following terms:


Pioneers… and defenders, they made deserts bloom, revived the Hebrew language, built villages and towns, and created a thriving community controlling its own economy and culture, loving peace but knowing how to defend itself, bringing the blessings of progress to all the country's inhabitants, and aspiring towards independent nationhood.

In 1897, at the summons of the spiritual father of the Jewish State, Theodore Herzl, the First Zionist Congress convened and proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in what it claimed to be its own country. This right was supported by the British government in the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917 and re-affirmed in the Mandate of the League of Nations which, in particular, gave international sanction to the historic connection between the Jewish people and Palestine and to the right of the Jewish people to rebuild its National Home.

The European Holocaust of 1939–45 is part of the imperative for the re-settlement of the homeland:


The catastrophe which recently befell the Jewish people—the massacre of millions of Jews in Europe—was another clear demonstration of the urgency of solving the problem of its homelessness by re-establishing in Israel the Jewish State, which would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew and confer upon the Jewish people the status of a fully privileged member of the community of nations.

Survivors of the Nazi Holocaust in Europe, as well as Jews from other parts of the world, continued to migrate to Israel, undaunted by difficulties, restrictions and dangers, and never ceased to assert their right to a life of dignity, freedom and honest toil in their national homeland.

On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish State in Israel, requiring the inhabitants of Israel to take such steps as were necessary on their part for the implementation of that resolution. This recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable.

On the issues of sovereignty and self-determination:


This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State.

Thus members and representatives of the Jews of Palestine and of the Zionist movement upon the end of the British Mandate, by virtue of "natural and historic right" and based on the United Nations resolution… Hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in the land of Israel to be known as the State of Israel.

…Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the "Ingathering of the Exiles"; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

The new state pledged that it will take steps to bring about the economic union of the whole of Eretz Israel and appealed:


in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months — to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions. We extend our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.

A final appeal is made to the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora to rally round the "Free Hebrew people in its land" in the tasks of immigration and upbuilding and to stand by them in the struggle for the realization of their age-old dream, the redemption of Israel. The Declaration is making a distinction between the "Hebrew" people in "the Land of Israel", and "the Jewish people" in the rest of the world.

It concludes with the phrase "MiToch Bitachon B'Tzur Yisrael" which roughly translates to "With faith in the God of Israel," or alternatively "From the strength of Israel." This double meaning ended the document in a manner satisfactory to both the religious and secularist factions of the Yishuv.


External links

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* [ Original Recording]
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