Israel’s Declaration of Independence

Political, Economic, and Military Consolidation (1948–1967) Israel’s Declaration of Independence

The United Nations partition plan of November 1947 provided for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, and the date of the termination of the British mandate was set for May 15, 1948. The Zionist leadership decided that an independent Jewish state would issue a declaration of independence.

The British mandatory authority and its military forces withdrew from the mandate, as scheduled, on May 14, 1948 (corresponding to 5 Iyar 5708 in the Jewish calendar), and the new Jewish state declared its independence in Tel Aviv. David Ben-Gurion read the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel.

The declaration provided for a Jewish state in the Land of Israel and recalled the religious and spiritual connection of the Jewish people to Eretz Yisrael, but it did not mention boundaries. It specified that “it will guarantee freedom of religion and conscience, of language, education, and culture.” The document did not address the meaning of a Jewish state or the roles that would be played by religious factors in such an entity.

Israel’s declaration of independence was and remains something of a unique document. Israel’s founding elite expressed their views of the nature of the state, its historical connection to the Land of Israel, and the main components of its view of the principles that should guide the state. It set out the framework for governing concepts and spoke of the need for peace with its neighbors.

Israel’s declaration was greeted with jubilation among Jews in Palestine and Jewish communities worldwide. It was seen by some as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and by others as a logical outcome of history. It provided a haven for persecuted Jews and a refuge for those displaced by the Holocaust.

For the Zionist movement the creation of the state was the successful result of five decades of Zionist efforts. For the anti-Zionists, this result was unfortunate. Some ultra-orthodox Jews opposed the creation of a state as blasphemous, because the Messiah had not yet come, and refused to abide by its laws and regulations. Some still do.

In the Arab world, the United Nations’ decision and Israel’s declaration of independence were greeted with negative reactions ranging from dismay to outrage and with a general view that the presence of a Jewish state in Palestine displaced the Arabs of Palestine and that this was unacceptable.

The Arab League had expressed its dismay and disapproval of the Jewish state in the United Nations debates and in its reaction to the partition plan and vote. The secretary-general of the Arab League officially informed the secretary-general of the United Nations on May 15, 1948, that Arab armies would enter Palestine to restore the rights of the Palestinian Arabs in the territories of the Palestine mandate.