Establishment of the State of Israel eText - Primary Source

Primary Source

David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, reads the Declaration of the Establishment of Israel to the newly formed Israeli government in May 1948. ( Bettmann/Corbis.) David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, reads the Declaration of the Establishment of Israel to the newly formed Israeli government in May 1948. Published by Gale Cengage (© Bettmann/Corbis.)
Even before Israel was created, Jewish people in Palestine celebrated Partition Day when the United Nations said that Israel had the right to exist as a separate country. ( David Rubinger/Corbis.) Even before Israel was created, Jewish people in Palestine celebrated Partition Day when the United Nations said that Israel had the right to exist as a separate country. Published by Gale Cengage (© David Rubinger/Corbis.)

Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel
(May 14, 1948)

Issued by Israel's Provisional Council of State at Tel Aviv
Reprinted in
Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict
Edited by Charles D. Smith
Published in 2001

"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 declaration of Israel's statehood on May 14, 1948, served as the culmination of many decades of work on the part of Zionists, those who wanted to create a Jewish state in Palestine, around the world. Before and during World War I (1914–18; war in which Great Britain, France, the United States, and their allies defeated Germany, Austria-Hungary, and their allies), Zionists promoted Jewish settlement in Palestine and coordinated several fund-raising drives in Britain and the United States. Jews realized that to continue their efforts to create a Jewish state in Palestine, they needed to be organized and efficient. To this end, they established the Jewish Agency. The agency started as an effort to link Zionist fund-raising efforts with the governing bodies distributing those funds to Jews in Palestine. After 1929 the agency was redesigned to serve the economic and social needs of Jewish settlement in Palestine, and within a decade the agency had evolved into a fully functioning governing body of the Jewry in Palestine. With its first offices in Jerusalem, the Jewish Agency soon had branch offices in London, Geneva, and New York City. On behalf of the Jewry in Palestine, the agency negotiated with Palestinian leadership, foreign governments, and the United Nations. By World War II (1939–45; war in which Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, the United States, and their allies defeated Germany, Italy, and Japan), it also coordinated the efforts of Jewish militias, or amateur military groups.

Throughout the years under the British mandate (1922–47; a form of government where Britain ruled over Palestine), the Jewish Agency spent a great deal of effort developing and maintaining influential contacts in foreign governments, and detailed the impact on Jews of every policy made under the mandate. When the Jewish Agency heard of the British decision to evacuate Palestine and end its mandate, it firmly established itself as the Jewish governing body and quickly seized the opportunity to steer its people's own fate. When the United Nations (an international organization founded in 1945 to promote peace and cooperation between countries around the world) investigated the question of which group should rule in Palestine in 1947, members of the Jewish Agency presented their pleas for an independent state in Palestine, which they would call Israel. Confident that the international community of Europe and the United States would quickly recognize the legitimacy of its claim to independence, the Jews' only concern was how the Arabs would react.

Things to remember while reading the "Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel"

  • The Declaration of Israel's Independence mentions the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly of November 29, 1947. This resolution called for the partition or dividing of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states.
  • In February of 1948 the Jewish Agency mobilized its defense forces to seize control over all the territory granted to the Jewish state by the United Nations resolution. The operation sparked a mass evacuation of Arab Palestinians, and nearly 300,000 had fled from these areas by May.
  • Note how carefully the document explains why Israel should be an independent state.
  • Notice that the declaration of Israel's independence extends an offer of invitation to all Jews wishing to immigrant to the land.

Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel (May 14, 1948)

Eretz-Israel 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.

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.

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. Pioneers, Ma'apilim 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 the year 5657, at the summons of the spiritual father of the Jewish State, Theodor Herzl, the First Zionist Congress convened and proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in its own country. This right was recognized in the Balfour Declaration of 2 November, 1917, and reaffirmed in the mandate of the League of Nations which, in particular, gave international sanction to the historic connection between the Jewish people and Eretz-Israel and to the right of the Jewish people to rebuild its national home.

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 Eretz-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 comity of nations.

Survivors of the Nazi holocaust in Europe, as well as Jews from other parts of the world, continued to migrate to Eretz-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.

In the second world war, the Jewish community of this country contributed its full share to the struggle of the freedom—and peace-loving nations against the forces of Nazi wickedness and, by the blood of its soldiers and its war effort, gained the right to be reckoned among the peoples who founded the United Nations.

On 29 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.

Accordingly we, members of the People's Council, representatives of the Jewish community of Eretz-Israel and of the Zionist movement, are here assembled on the day of the termination of the British mandate over Eretz-Israel and, by virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.

We declare that, with effect from the moment of the termination of the mandate being tonight, the eve of Sabbath, the 6th Iyar, 5708 (15 May 1948), until the establishment of the elected, regular authorities of the state in accordance with the constitution which shall be adopted by the elected Constituent Assembly not later than 1 October 1948, the People's Council shall act as a provisional Council of State, and its executive organ, the People's Administration, shall be the Provisional Government of the Jewish state, to be called "Israel".

The State of 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 State of Israel is prepared to cooperate with the agencies and representatives of the United Nations in implementing the resolution of the General Assembly of 29 November 1947, and will take steps to bring about the economic union of the whole of Eretz-Israel.

We appeal to the United Nations to assist the Jewish people in the building-up of its state and to receive the State of Israel into the comity of nations.

We appeal—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 neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, 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.

We appeal to the Jewish people throughout the diaspora to rally round the Jews of Eretz-Israel in the tasks of immigration and upbuilding and to stand by them in the great struggle for the realization of the ageold dream—the redemption of Israel.

Placing our trust in the Almighty, we affix our signatures to this proclamation at this session of the Provisional Council of State, on the soil of the homeland, in the city of Tel-Aviv, on this Sabbath eve, the 5th day of Iyar, 5708 (14th May 1948).

What happened next ...

Israel did secure the international recognition it had hoped for: the United States and the Soviet Union were the first to recognize Israel's independence, and all the other Western states quickly followed. But just as feared, the Arab states did not. The Arab Palestinians did not have an organized government in place at the time, so the League of Arab States (an organization of several Middle Eastern countries that wanted to unify the Middle East under Arab rule) served as the governing body speaking for the population of Arabs in Palestine. The day after Israel declared its independence, the Arab League mobilized forces against the new country.

The Arab military forces from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria advanced on Israel in uncoordinated efforts. Although the Arabs had superior weaponry at the beginning of the war, the efficient organization and greater manpower of the Israeli forces prevailed. The Arab-Israeli War of 1948, known as the War of Independence in Israel, ended in 1949 with the defeat of the Arabs. By the end of the war, Israel occupied all the territory the United Nations had assigned to it under the partition plan of 1947, as well as land the United Nations had allotted for the Arab state in Palestine, and parts of Lebanon and Egypt. The Arab Palestinians who had been living in the areas now claimed by Israel found themselves without any land of their own. Half of the population had become refugees in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the other half had fled into neighboring Arab states.

Did you know ...

  • The Arab-Israeli War of 1948 resulted in the division of Jerusalem into Jewish and Arab sectors.
  • After the war, Israel immediately began to build itself as a nation, and within twenty years it had become the most technologically advanced country in the Middle East.
  • After the Arab-Israeli War the Arab Palestinian government was destroyed, and many Arab Palestinians lost their rights, including the right to own land that had been taken over by Israel. This caused many Arab Palestinians to become refugees without a country or a government.

Consider the following ...

  • The Declaration of Israel's Independence notes that the land was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Why would this fact give the Jewish people a claim to the land? Are there peoples in other countries who might use this same claim for their own purposes?
  • The Declaration of Israel's Independence offers a hand of peace to Arabs, but the Jewish Agency had been working for nearly a year to organize military takeovers of several Arab Palestinian areas. How might Arab Palestinians who had been forced from their homes by the Jews feel about the Declaration of Israel's Independence?
  • The Declaration of Israel's Independence states that United Nations' recognition of the right of the Jewish people to establish their state is "irrevocable." Explain why the authors of the Declaration of Israel's Independence made this claim. (Hint to consider: If the United Nations had resolved that the Jewish people did not have the right to establish a self-ruled state, would that particular decision have been "irrevocable" as well?)

For More Information

Books

Louis, W. Roger. The British Empire in the Middle East, 1945-1951: Arab Nationalism, the United States and Postwar Imperialism. New York and London: Oxford, 1984.

Miller, Debra A. The Arab-Israeli Conflict. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, 2005.

Smith, Charles D., ed. Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History with Documents. 4th ed. Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001.

Wagner, Heather Lehr. Israel and the Arab World. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2002.

Web Sites

"Zionism and the Creation of Israel." MidEast Web. http://www.mideastweb.org/zionism.htm (accessed June 24, 2005).