- Israeli Declaration of Independence
Declaration of Independence
Location Tel Aviv Authors First Draft:
Yehuda Leib Fishman
Signatories David Ben-Gurion
Yehuda Leib Fishman
Meir David Loewenstein
Purpose Declare a Jewish state in parts of the British Mandate for Palestine after its expiration.
The Israeli Declaration of Independence (Hebrew: הכרזת העצמאות, Hakhrazat HaAtzma'ut or Hebrew: מגילת העצמאות Megilat HaAtzma'ut), made on 14 May 1948 (5 Iyar 5708), the day before the British Mandate was due to expire, was the announcement by David Ben-Gurion, the Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization and chairman of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, that the new Jewish state named the State of Israel had been formally established in parts of what was known as the British Mandate of Palestine and on land where, in antiquity, the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah had once been.
While the possibility of a Jewish homeland in Palestine had been a goal of Zionist organizations since the late 19th century, it is not mentioned in the historical record of the region until the Balfour Declaration of 1917, in which the British Foreign Secretary stated:
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.
With the end of World War I, Britain was given a mandate over the area known as Palestine, which it had conquered from the Ottomans. 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 after World War II, 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 as part of a British withdrawal from the territory (to be no later than 1 August 1948), though the UK refused to implement the plan, arguing it was unacceptable to both sides.
United Nations stipulations
The UN resolution on "The Future Government of Palestine" contained both a plan of partition and a Minority Protection Plan. It placed minority, women's, and religious rights under the protection of the United Nations and the International Court of Justice. The plan provided specific guarantees of fundamental human rights. The new states had to acknowledge the stipulated rights in a Declaration, which according to precedent was tantamount to a treaty. The resolution stated that "the stipulations contained in the declarations are recognized as fundamental laws of State, and no law, regulation or official action shall conflict or interfere with these stipulations, nor shall any law, regulation or official action prevail over them." The resolution also proposed that the Constitution of each State embody the rights contained in the Declaration.
In the hearings before the Ad Hoc Political Committee that considered Israel's application for membership in the United Nations, Abba Eban said that the rights stipulated in section C. Declaration, chapters 1 and 2 of UN resolution 181(II) had been alluded to in the fundamental law of the state of Israel as proposed by the resolution. The instruments that he cited were the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, and various cables and letters of confirmation addressed to the Secretary General. Mr. Eban's explanations and Israel's undertakings were noted in the text of General Assembly Resolution 273 (III) Admission of Israel to membership in the United Nations, 11 May 1949.
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, 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 Party), Bechor-Shalom Sheetrit (Sephardim and Oriental Communities).
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 1:50 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, the Minhelet 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 Loewenstein later claimed 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'."
The ceremony to declare independence 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 broadcasted live as the first transmission of the new radio station Kol Yisrael.
The final draft of the declaration was typed at the Jewish 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 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.
The entire declaration ceremony was recorded and broadcasted 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 Moshe Shertok, the last of the signatories, had put his name to paper, the audience again stood and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra played the "Hatikvah". Ben-Gurion concluded the event with the words "The State of Israel is established! This meeting is adjourned!"
Over the next few days the armies of Egypt, Trans-Jordan, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Lebanon, and Syria invaded Israel, and officially and militarily threatened to occupy the whole of the former Mandate territory, thereby starting the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, known in Israel as the War of Independence (Hebrew: מלחמת העצמאות, Milhamat HaAtzma'ut). 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.
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, 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.
Eleven minutes after the declaration went into force, 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 Union was 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.
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 Knesset maintains that the declaration is neither a law nor an ordinary legal document. The Supreme 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 that "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.
Context and content
ERETZ-ISRAEL [(Hebrew) – the Land of Israel, Palestine] was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.
It acknowledges the Jewish exile over the millennia, mentioning both ancient "faith" and new "politics":
After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.
It speaks of the urge of Jews to return to their ancient homeland:
Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland. In recent decades they returned in their masses.
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 29 November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution recommending outlines for the 'Future Constitution and Government of Palestine'. It recommended the establishment of a provisional government for the Jewish State, which would be subject to certain constitutional requirements and guarantees. It recommended for the inhabitants of Israel to take such steps as were necessary on their part for the implementation of that constitutional form of government. On the issues of sovereignty and self-determination:
On the 29th November, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel; the General Assembly required the inhabitants of Eretz-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... 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 "MiToh Bitahon BeTzur Yisrael", roughly translated as "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 secular factions of the Yishuv.
- Nakba Day
- The Recording of the Israel Declaration of Independence
- ^ a b Then known as the Zionist Organization.
- ^ Brenner, Michael; Frisch, Shelley (April 2003). Zionism: A Brief History. Markus Wiener Publishers. pp. 184.
- ^ "Zionist Leaders: David Ben-Gurion 1886–1973". Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/History/Modern+History/Centenary+of+Zionism/Zionist+Leaders-+David+Ben-Gurion.htm. Retrieved 13 July 2011.
- ^ Yapp, M.E. (1987). The Making of the Modern Near East 1792–1923. Harlow, England: Longman. p. 290. ISBN 0-582-49380-3.
- ^ United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 (II) Future Government of Palestine offers a range of dates, with the mandate itself terminating by 1 August 1948, which is the date by which the British originally offered to evacuate. Part 1 section A also mandates creation of a British-free area for Jewish refugees no later than 1 February 1948, and proposes creation of Arab and Jewish states within two months of the mandate's end (but not later than 1 October 1948.) In the end, 1 B's provision of the British announcement of the plan's unworkability by 1 April 1948 superseded these dates, and the British forces unilaterally announced a withdrawal on 15 May 1948, although they actually pulled out one day early, on 14 May 1948. See further United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine.
- ^ For example:
- The UN Secretariat reported that the General Assembly established a formal minority rights protection system as an integral part of UN GAR 181(II) the 'Plan For The Future Government of Palestine'. It was cataloged during a review of Minority Rights Treaties conducted in 1950: see UN Document E/CN.4/367, 7 April 1950.
- UN GAR 181(II) is also listed in the Table of Treaties, on Page xxxviii, of Self-determination and National Minorities, Oxford Monographs in International Law, Thomas D. Musgrave, Oxford University Press, 1997, ISBN 0198298986.
- ^ See International Human Rights in Context, Henry J. Steiner, Philip Alston, Ryan Goodman, Oxford University Press US, 2008, ISBN 019927942X, page 100
- ^ http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/un/res181.htm United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181, 29 November 1947, C. Declarations
- ^ See The Palestine Question, Henry Cattan, page 86-87 and the verbatim record, FIFTY-FIRST MEETING, HELD AT LAKE SUCCESS, NEW YORK, ON MONDAY, 9 MAY 1949 : AD HOC POLITICAL COMMITTEE, GENERAL ASSEMBLY, 3RD SESSION, A/AC.24/SR.51, 1 January 1949.
- ^ General Assembly Resolution 273 (III) contains a footnote (5) regarding "the declarations and explanations made by the representative of the Government of Israel" which cites the minutes of the 45th–48th, 50th, and 51st meetings of the Ad Hoc Political Committee contained in documents A/AC.24/SR.45-48, 50 and 51
- ^ a b c d e f The State of Israel Declares Independence Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- ^ a b Harris, J. (1998) The Israeli Declaration of Independence The Journal of the Society for Textual Reasoning, Vol. 7
- ^ Gilbert, M. (1998) Israel: A History, London: Doubleday. p. 187. ISBN 0385404018
- ^ Why not Judea? Zion? State of the Hebrews? Haaretz, 7 May 2008
- ^ a b c d e f g One Day that Shook the world The Jerusalem Post, 30 April 1998
- ^ a b Wallish and the Declaration of Independence Jerusalem Post, 1998 (republished on Eretz Israel Forever)
- ^ For this reason we congregated Iton Tel Aviv, 23 April 2004
- ^ End of Palestine mandate, The Times, 15 May 1948
- ^ Press Release, 31 January 1949. Official File, Truman Papers Truman Library
- ^ The Recognition of the State of Israel: Introduction Truman Library
- ^ United Nations General Assembly Resolution 273.
- ^ The Proclamation of Independence Knesset website
- ^ The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- ^ United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181, Part I. – Future Constitution and Government of Palestine, C. DECLARATION
- Official text
- Original Recording
- Original Document: Press Release Announcing US Recognition of Israel
- "Signatorius", exhibition held at the Engel Gallery dealing with the independence declaration in Israeli art.
Key documents of Mandate Palestine 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s
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