Examining Israel’s Declaration of Independence

What was the first message a reborn, sovereign Jewish state wanted to send to the world and the Middle East?

By Jason Silverman |
Israel's Declaration of Independence
Photo: Miriam Alster/Flash90

On May 14, 1948, a nearly 2,000-year dream came to pass as David Ben-Gurion announced the termination of the British Mandate and declared the establishment of the State of Israel. The ingathering of the exiles was no longer just a prayer uttered three times a day in synagogues. The gates of Zion had become permanently open and any Jewish person who so wishes could now make their home in their ancestral homeland.

The Declaration of Independence was signed and read aloud in a special ceremony that was held at 4pm in the Tel Aviv Museum (known today as Independence Hall) in the presence of the provisional government and another 200 or so guests. The event was not broadly publicized beforehand due to fear that the British authorities would attempt to interfere, and to prevent an early invasion of the Arab armies. At the start of the event, the declaration was broadcasted live as the first transmission of Kol Yisrael, the national radio broadcaster. Jewish families across the country gathered around their radios and tuned in to hear the historic declaration.

So, what does Israel’s Declaration of Independence say?

The first section establishes the Jewish link to the Land of Israel and describes the process of Jewish people returning to their ancestral homeland. It states that this land is the birthplace of the Jewish people, where their spiritual, religious and political identity was formed, and where they gave the world the “eternal Book of Books,” the Bible.

The Bible is what tells us about all of these developments. It illustrates the governmental self-rule of the Jewish people through its various kings, such David and Solomon. It describes the spiritual process of becoming the people of God first through the covenant made with Abraham, then through Moses after receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai, and later after entering the Land of Israel through the leadership of Joshua.

The declaration emphasizes the persistent efforts of successive Jewish generations to return to the Land through continuous prayer and immigration. It praises the early pioneers who came to develop the Land and cultivate the renewal of Jewish culture and the Hebrew language.

The next section emphasizes the right of the Jewish people to establish a nation-state of their own in the Land of Israel. It describes Theodore Herzl’s initiation of organized political activity in the form of the First Zionist Congress (1897), which paved the path for promoting the Zionist cause on the international stage.

It goes on to highlight recognition of this right by international institutions such as the League of Nations, which sanctioned the Balfour Declaration in November 1917, affirming the right of the Jewish people to establish a national homeland in the Land of Israel, as well as the resolution passed by the United Nations General Assembly on November 29, 1947, calling for the creation of a Jewish independent state in the Holy Land.

The declaration is keen not to attribute the nation’s rights merely to the decisions of international institutions. It also mentions the catastrophe of the Holocaust, which ended just three years prior to Israel’s independence. It states how the Holocaust demonstrated the urgent need to solve the problem of Jewish “homelessness” by re-establishing a Jewish State in the Land of Israel.

Following the sections on establishing the Jewish link to the Land and illustrating its irrevocable right, both historically and in accordance with international law, to establish an independent Jewish state, independence is officially declared.

The declaration proceeds to announce what the newly established Jewish state will do.

First, the State of Israel will be a country that is open to all Jews worldwide who seek to make their home here, thereby fulfilling the Ingathering of the Exiles. However, it makes clear that Israel will not be a state merely promoting the interest of its Jewish citizens. It will ensure the complete equality of social, religious and political rights of all its inhabitants irrespective of their religion, race or sex. Israel’s commitment to both Jewish and democratic values is inscribed in its Declaration of Independence.

Finally, Israel shows that it is a state that will promote peace in the world. From the outset, Israel declared that it offers its hand in peace to all of its neighboring states and peoples. The declaration appeals to the entire region and seeks to establish “bonds of cooperation” and “to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.”

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