On This Day

israel independence, Israeli Declaration of Independence, david ben gurion
Associated Press
David Ben-Gurion, Israel's New Premier, standing with an Israeli official who holds the signed document proclaiming the Establishment of the Jewish State of Israel.

On This Day: Israel Becomes a Nation

May 14, 2011 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On May 14, 1948, the Jewish People’s Council met at the Tel Aviv Museum and announced the creation of the state of Israel.

New State Immediately Challenged

Britain seized control Palestine in 1917 and was granted mandate over the area by the League of Nations in 1922. In a 1917 letter by Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour and in the League of Nations mandate, the British expressed their desire to create a Jewish state in Palestine.

In 1947, Britain announced that it would end its Palestine mandate no later than Aug. 1, 1948. In November 1947, the United Nations approved a proposal to partition Palestine into separate Jewish and Palestinian states. However, in response to intense opposition to the plan from Arab states, Britain did not implement the partition.

Britain later announced that it would terminate its mandate on May 15, 1948. On May 14, British forces pulled out of Palestine a day early. That afternoon, Jewish leaders assembled at the Tel Aviv Museum to sign the Israeli Declaration of Independence and announce the creation of the first modern Jewish state.

The declaration read: “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.”

The next day, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan attacked the fledgling country. Over 15 months of fighting, Israel expanded the territory apportioned to it by the United Nations. Non-Jewish residents fled from both within the original borders of Israel and from the land that had been taken, becoming the first of the Palestinian refugees. Hundreds of thousands of Arabs fled to neighboring Arab countries in what they would call the “Nakba” (disaster).

Historical Context: Before 1948

The drive for a Jewish state began in the 19th century. A small Jewish population had lived in Palestine for centuries, some having fled the Roman Empire’s ban on Jews. In 1897, Theodor Herzl organized the Zionist movement, uniting forces seeking creation of a Jewish homeland.

The BBC provides a historical overview of the creation of Israel beginning in 1897. A lengthier history of Arab–Jewish relations provided by Zionist Ami Isseroff is prefaced by a pertinent quote from Harry S. Truman: “No two historians ever agree on what happened, and the damn thing is they both think they’re telling the truth.”

Israel Since Independence

Four major wars have been fought between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the first being in 1948. Accounts of each, plus other related confrontations, are detailed by the Northfield Mount Hermon School's History of the Middle East Database.

In 1995, a landmark agreement between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, Palestine's leader, was signed. The agreement gave Palestinians control of part of the West Bank, a hotly contested strip of land between Israel and Jordan.

In 2008, when Israel celebrated its 60th birthday, Time magazine examined the country's continuing identity struggle. As for the 20 percent of the population that is Arab, many “complain that they are treated as second-class citizens or potential suicide bombers,” Time reported.

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