The Historama
Alex Ben-Arieh
P.O.Box 32128
Tel Aviv, Israel 61321
Phone: +972-547-680-086
Fax: +972-3-546-1971

Independence Day 1948
"The Most Crowded Hours in... History"
Based on the account by Dan Kurzman in "Genesis 1948" and interweaving details from other sources

Music: "The Pillar of Fire" by Shem-Tov Levy (3:26 min)

David Ben-Gurion reads the Israeli Declaration of Independence, 14 May 1948
Solemnity and open-collared shirts:
David Ben-Gurion reads the Israeli Declaration of Independence, 4pm on 14th May 1948

Israeli President, Shimon Peres, gave a speech now on the occasion of Israel's 60th anniversary in which he praised the Israeli trait of "chutzpah" - insolent audacity - as the creative spirit behind the country's progress and advancement in all fields of life.

The Israeli character is one of creativeness mixed with impatience; professionalism matched by a gross lack of formality, which sometimes cuts to the chase and yields rewards - and sometimes gets bogged down in morass and misunderstanding.

The story of Israel's day of independence in 1948 is a picture perfect moment of the Israeli character, capturing the apex of one of our times most important historical events, brought about by the Israeli, yet set against a chaotic backdrop of preparation and strife in which this character must struggle and advance forth.

On the eve of the day of the declaration of independence, pre-State Israel was 6 months into an unofficial war of independence: when the United Nations Assembly voted to partition Palestine, on 29 November 1947, into one Jewish state and one Arab state, the war for independence rumbled into the open. Palestinian Arab irregulars fought for control of transportation arteries and peripheral areas of Jewish or mixed populations.

As of the eve of Independence Day, the British Mandate in Palestine had 24 more hours left to function. In the weeks leading to it's termination on midnight, between Friday and Saturday, 14-15th May, the Mandate had begun wrapping up its civilian functions; post and air services ceased gradually. The blockade on Jewish immigration into Palestine (set in motion in 1939) continued; boats ladened with refugees were being sent to detention camps in Cyprus or Palestine. An arms embargo on Jewish armed forces was imposed and the Mandatory authorities still tried to keep peace between the Jews and Arabs by seizing weapons or preventing the sides from advancing too far onto one another.

The Jewish leadership in Palestine was waging an armed struggle short of weapons and overseeing 4 different - if disparate - armed forces (the Hagana, the Palmach, the Etzel and the Lechi). Jerusalem was under siege, and the day before the declaration, a key foothold of territory south of Jerusalem, the Etzion bloc, had fallen to the Jordanians - the first major Arab victory of the war. Jewish control of any part of Jerusalem was now in peril.

Map of the 1947 United Nations partition plan

The hourglass was running: with the Mandate due to expire in 24 hours, the Jewish leadership had to decide how to fill the oncoming vacuum in authority - to declare independence over the allotted Jewish territory or not, but if so, then what to declare at all?

Against this backdrop, on the eve of Thursday the 13th of May, Otto Wallisch, the Czech-born artist was approached by Ze'ev Sharif, in charge of the Independence Day arrangements, to have a place prepared for the event. It would take place at the Tel Aviv Museum on 16 Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv:

"You must have the auditorium ready within twenty-four hours. The state will be declared there. And remember, this is top secret!"

The Jewish people had struggled for close to 2000 years to return to the Land of Israel and re-establish their home. And now the Zionist leadership wanted to have a declaration of independence ceremony ready in less than 24 hours.

And Sharef imposed a further toll on Wallisch: "Not more than a hundred and fifty Pounds [$450] in expenses, eh?"

Such was the state of affairs that the State-to-be did not yet have an agreed upon name. Wallisch, who had poster designs to his name and created Israel's first banknotes and stamps, had just completed the designs of her first stamp series - only that in the absence of an approved name for the State-to-be, future Israel's first stamps bore the name "Hebrew Post" ('Doar Ivri') as the name "Israel" for the new state was not yet a guaranteed certainty.

= = =

And in the meantime, the founding fathers of the state were still hammering out their positions on the actual declaration itself. Only a day before (the 12th) the leading figure of the Zionist movement and Jewish community in Palestine, David Ben-Gurion, had succeeded in convincing the ruling council (the People's Administration - "Minhelet Ha'am") to agree to a declaration of independence at all - and that on a majority of one vote.

Now he and the other 12 members of the Administration had to address ultimate issues of Synagogue and State in less than 24 hours, with each trying to insert his own view or personality into the historical document. An argument broke out over whether to define the new State's frontiers: Ben-Gurion apposed the idea. Citing the American Declaration of Independence, he said "It contains no mention of territorial limits… The Arabs are making war on us. If we beat them, the western part of the Galilee and the territory on both sides of the road to Jerusalem will become part of the State. Why tie ourselves down?"

His view prevailed. But then arose the question of G-d's role in the State's establishment. Mercifully - almost miraculously - the argument lasted only two hours, with Ben-Gurion mediating a debate on the issue of whether to refer to G-d as the "G-d of Israel", "the Almighty and Redeemer of Israel" or whether to ignore Him altogether. Ben-Gurion, an atheist socialist, proposed the phrase "Rock of Israel" - and succeeded, making one faction believe it referred to G-d while convincing the other that it didn't.

And then came the argument over the name of the State-to-be. One member requested the name "Judea", but others pointed out that this Biblical name only referred to one region within the prospective state. Others proposed the name "Zion", citing the benefit of the Jews in having the last word at the United Nations and other international forums since they would be voting at the end of the alphabetical list. But others argued that "Zion" was also the name of a hill, and that this might be confusing. Ben-Gurion suggested the name "Israel", and at the last moment this name was approved.

The Declaration was then penned by the future foreign minister, Moshe Sharett, whose version was then re-edited that night by Ben-Gurion, who replaced the formal flowery language with a stronger more assertive tone, and deleting the word "Whereas" from the beginning of each paragraph. Sharett never quite lived down the editorial changes to "his" historic document.

Meanwhile, Wallisch was in a panic: he had to organize the event before sundown - for 4pm - the following day, Friday, for if the ceremony ran late into the start of the Sabbath, no Jewish leader would sign the Declaration (as this would be against religious custom on a Sabbath).

Grandeur and informality: event guests waiting for the start of the Declaration session in the Museum hall. One reads that morning's Yediot Achronot newpaper edition about that day's upcoming "secret" session.
All the while the Jews also had to be wary of a British crackdown during the final hours of the Mandate. So for this reason as well as for security, the Tel Aviv Museum was chosen as the site. It could barely hold 200 people, and the smaller the venue, it was felt, the less chance there was of the taking place of the event leaking out to the general public. The site could well be attacked and then the entire Jewish leadership would be wiped out.

Wallisch scoured about for a portrait of Theodore Herzl, the visionary of Zionism, and finally located one, covered in dust in the cellar of a Jewish institute. He also found two large Zionist flags with which to flank the portrait, but these were so dirty that he had to take them to a launderette for cleaning.

He then went in search of a parchment scroll on which to inscribe the Declaration. Having found one with much difficulty, he went in search of a scientist who could test its quality with a chemical analysis, to be sure of its worth for this noble purpose. He reached an engineering institute only to be greeted by the only engineer on staff, who snapped at him that it's late.

"Why do you want [the test]?"
Wallisch couldn't reveal the secret: "I can't tell you."
"Then I can't do it!" retorted the engineer, and Wallisch stayed up all night testing the parchment himself.

= = =

For all his efforts, Wallisch discovered that the council would only approve the final draft two hours before the ceremony, leaving him no time to inscribe the parchment with the text. He informed Sharef's secretary of this highly irregular situation, and she in turn went out to buy a blue cardboard binding for the typed copy of the Declaration. She then invited the director of a local bank to the ceremony so he would keep his bank open until the ceremony was over, in order to deposit the signed Declaration in a vault. Were bombs to hit the signers, their signatures would not be destroyed: after all the centuries of waiting, some people might not believe there was a Jewish state without written proof.

On the noon of the 14th, a shiny American car rented specially for the occasion, pulled up to the Museum and Ben-Gurion climbed out. He was the last official to arrive, and much to everyone's surprise, excited crowds had already gathered around the building. The event was supposed to be a secret but everyone already knew about it. In the event, the pre-State army's ("Haganah") radio had inadvertently announced that it would broadcast the ceremony - and in so doing revealed all the details.

Correspondents had been told to gather at the press headquarters on Ben Yehuda Street at 3:30pm. There they boarded special cars without being told their destination, and on their way towards Rothschild Boulevard, they passed street vendors selling blue and white Jewish flags on the street corners and throngs of excited people who had gathered to read news bulletins posted on shop windows. A lone deHavilland airplane circled overhead dropping leaflets containing the Declaration of Independence. The cars reached Rothschild Street, which was roped off, and approached the Museum building, where a single Jewish flag flew from the roof staffed full of armed guards. At the building entrance, stood a guard of honor.

Expectant crowds in Tel Aviv on the eve of the Declaration

Guards protecting the Tel Aviv Museum during the session prior to the Declaration

An exhibition of paintings by Jewish artists adorned the building, and Ben-Gurion appeared, unusually, in a dark blue suit and - in Dan Kurzman's words - "as a concession to history" also with a tie and clip, which stubbornly hung crookedly and so was enshrined that way in subsequent photos of the event. Steep Zionist culture expressed itself in fashion as simple open-collared shirts, and so even on this occasion, albeit one of supreme Zionist import, several members of the council and the audience did not wear ties but rather simple open collared shirts.

The Tel Aviv Museum on Rothschild Street on the day of the Declaration, 1948

The Tel Aviv Museum as it appears today, 2008

Commemorate plaque at the Museum entrance

= = =

The American photographer, Robert Capa, called to Ben-Gurion as he was about to take his seat: "Hey B.G., please - a little smile", and held up the opening of the ceremony for a few moments as he snapped pictures.

In attendance were the 13 members of the People's Administration, some members of the larger 37-man People's Council (many stranded in besieged Jerusalem, and unable to attend), and some 200 specially invited guests.

With Capa's nod, Ben-Gurion began the session, rapping a walnut gavel on the table. He announced the intention to read the declaration agreed upon by the council.

David Ben-Gurion with gavel opens the session; the word "Tone" is written in Hebrew on the microphone

The invitation to the Declaration of Independence Ceremony. Text:

The Peoples' Administration [Minhelet Ha'Am]

Tel Aviv, 4th of Eiyar 5708

D.S., [abbreviation for 'Dear Sir' - "Adon Nichbad"]

We are honored to hereby send to you an invitiation

To the Session of
The Declaration of Independence

Which will take place on Friday, 5th of Eiyar 5708 (14.5.1948) at 4 o'clock in the afternoon in the hall of the Museum (16 Rothschild Boulevard).

We ask that you keep confidential the contents of the invitation and the location and time of the assembly of the Council.

Invitees are asked to arrive at the hall at 3:30.

Most sincerely,
The Secretariat

This invitation is personal - Dress: dark holiday clothes

Across Palestine, Jews and Arabs tuned into the secret station broadcasting the proclamation, although in Jerusalem only the first portion was heard: the Arab Legion halted its bombardment of the Jewish sector for afternoon tea, but then renewed the firing such that no one managed to hear the rest of the broadcast.

The event consisted of three parts: the reading of the Declaration itself and the signing of the Council members' names to it; the first decrees of the new government; and the playing of the national anthem. Hidden on an upper story was the Palestine [momentarily to be "Israel"] Philharmonic Orchestra, under Leonard Bernstein's conductorship. When the declaration ceremony was over the Orchestra played the Jewish national anthem "Ha'Tikva" ("The Hope"), which became the Israeli national anthem and probably the first time it was played following the Declaration of Independence.

Ben-Gurion declared the session officially over at 4:38pm, and when the the participants were leaving the building, Ben-Gurion surging with pride turned to a British reporter and exclaimed, "You see, we did it!"

A little earlier that same day, across the ocean in the United States, the President, Harry Truman, decided to prepare to recognize the Jewish State for when it would be declared, and requested that his government receive a formal request by the Jews for recognition of statehood.

The representative of the Jewish people in Palestine, the representative of the "Jewish Agency for Palestine", in the United States found himself in the awkward position of being asked if his people would still declare their independence, and if so, to please submit a request to be recognized.

The representative had to ask a US State Department colleague coyly what to do about requesting recognition for a country whose name had not yet been determined. The State Department official suggestion using the United Nations designation for the territory - "Jewish State", and so the official request by the Jews of the United States for recognition read as thus:

My Dear Mr. President,
      I have the honor to notify you that the Jewish State has been proclaimed as an independent republic within frontiers approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations in its resolution of November 29, 1947, and that a provisional government has been charged to assume the rights and duties of government for preserving law and order within the boundaries of the Jewish State, for defending the state against external aggression, and for discharging the obligations of the Jewish State to the other nations of the world in accordance with international law. The Act of Independence will become effective at one minute after six o'clock on the evening of May 14, 1948, Washington time [i.e. at one minute past midnight Saturday morning in Palestine, when the Mandate will have terminated].
      With full knowledge of the deep bond of sympathy which has existed and has been strengthened over the past thirty years [i.e. since the British conquest of Palestine in 1917 from the Ottoman Turks and the Balfour declaration] between the government of the United States and the Jewish people of Palestine, I have been authorized to by the provisional government of the new state to tender this message and to express the hope that your government will recognize and will welcome the Jewish State into the community of nations.

Very respectfully yours,
Eliahu Epstein
Provisional Government of the Jewish State

The American Government's letter of recognition of Israel's independence

= = =

History caught up with minute details of procedure: just a few moments after this letter was dispatched to the White House, news of the actual declaration of Independence - and the official name of the new state - reached the ears of the Jewish Agency's representatives. In a hurry, one of them dashed to the White House and met up with the dispatcher in time to have the real name of the State penned out and replaced by the name "State of Israel" (see photo above).

A short while later, 11 minutes after Israel declared her independence, the Agency representatives were informed by the White House, "Thanks for the letter. We'll recognize you, but keep it strictly confidential." The excited representative then realized that he couldn't even inform his own government by phone, as it as yet lacked a code system.

When the session for the Declaration ended, news arrived that the Western Galilee had been conquered by Jewish forces. At dawn the following day, the 15th, the armies of six Arab nations invaded Israel and the War of Independence entered its second phase. With Tel Aviv under aerial bombardment, Ben-Gurion addressed American radio listeners ("They want me to speak to America? Tell them it's okay. I'll do it.") in New York on a live 5am address to them.

History was also postponed by procedure too: being the Sabbath now, by Jewish tradition no form of labor could be performed; as such, the Hebrew press could only official splutter the good news in the few hours left before sundown, and so the full announcement of the establishment of the State really took place two days later, on Sunday the 16th, when the Jewish working week officially began.

The Hebrew-language Yediot Achronot newspaper: the evening edition headline announces that Independence will be declared at 4pm "At 4 in the Afternoon the State of Israel will be Established". The headlines below read that "Jewish forces have entered Jaffa"; "the Haganah is on alert for the danger of invasion"; "the last British soldier has left Jaffa"; "Acco under attack"; "members of Kfar Etzion have managed to escape with their wounded".

A joint publication of the Hebrew dailies Ha'aretz and Yediot Achronot: entitled "Day of the State", the special 4pm edition with masthead comment "Last Day of Foreign Rule" declares "The Nation has Declared the State of Israel", accompanied by a picture of Theodore Herzl. The article reiterates the Declaration of Independence and the additional first resolutions of the new Government - "All Laws of the White Book [of 1939] are Null and Void; all other laws of the land are still in effect"

A "new" Israeli citizen reads the "Day of the State" 4pm edition of the Yediot/Ha'aretz Independence Day paper.

The English-language Palestine Post 16 May 1948 edition: announcing the declaration of independence, with a summary of weekend's historical events packed so densely on the front page they culminate profoundly as the "most crowded hours in Palestine's History".

In Words and Sound

The Declaration scroll: the Declaration counts 650 words written caligraphically in 19 paragraphs by Otto Wallisch on 3 sections of parchment threaded together on the left hand side in 8 loops by a blue and white interwoven thread, and sealed at the base in red wax.

The document is commonly referred to as the "Declaration Scroll" but in the official government publication of laws and legislation of 14 May 1948, it is actually called the "Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel".

At the time of the Declaration the text read by David Ben-Gurion had only just been edited and voted upon so that at the time of the signing, at the end of the Declaration session, the signatories were actually signing their names on the bottom portion of a blank section of the parchment. It took until the end of July 1948 for Wallisch to complete the calligraphy of the Scroll. It is now kept in the National Treasury, flat, in a sealed storage (although there exists a silver tube decoratively created to house the document).

The Declaration scroll and container

Contents of the Declaration: the declaration is a short document comprising five main elements - a historical summary, the Declaration of Independence, legal decrees of authority in the newly established State, statements of purpose for the newly established State, and calls to the various external bodies for assistance and cooperation.

The document begins with a summary of Jewish history from Biblical times to the present day then (1948). In outlining this Jewish history the document also ties the origins and development of the Jews to the Land of Israel ("Eretz Israel" in Zionist/Hebrew parlance), and interweaves moral, historical and legal justifications to the Jewish claim to Israel - specifically the Balfour Declaration (1927) and the United Nations Resolution of 1947 to partition Palestine. The Declaration also documents the deeds and accomplishments of the Jewish people for themselves (in the rebuilding of Eretz Israel in the last century) and for the world around around them (the gift of the Bible) in order to position the demand for Independence as a matter of course for an established nation.

In this area the document is unique for in spite of its prophetic importance it unflinchingly mentions names, dates and events without the vagueness and flowery grandeur that may be expected from a document of this stature (compare this to the United States Declaration of Independence for an albeit much older example) - "Eternal Book of Books" and "Rock of Israel" are the rare instances of formal language used in the Declaration. The document mentions the "Nazi" evil twice; personally invokes the name of Theodore Herzl (by his original first name and not by "Benjamin Zeev", his Hebraicized name); mentions the "Zionist Movement" and "Zionist Congress"; the "Second World War" and the "Holocaust"; the "United Nations"; the "bloody attacks" by the Arabs in the then present struggle. It is both a timeless and a contemporary document in its choice of words and nouns.

The historical and legal synopsis of the document culminates in to the actual Declaration itself, the 11th paragraph squarely positioned at the center of the document, in larger, bolder letters. In this paragraph the new State is declared as the "State of Israel".

The following paragraph is a remarkable deliniation of the immediate arragements for governance in the new State of Israel, statements akin to the contents of the American Constitution. A very dry and technical section, dates are established for when and how the national authorities will be established: until 1 October 1948 the existing People's Council will become a temporary "National Council", and het executive arm, the People's Administration will function as the temporary Government; by 1 October the existing Legislating Assembly will establish the laws by which to create elected and permanent authorities in the State. Remarkably too, this paragraph reiterates a little differently the name of the State as "Israel" and not "State of Israel"

In the next two paragraphs the Declaration opens the gates of the new State to Jewish immigration in a concrete statement of intention but also presents its altruistic aims to be a nation of equality and freedom. It separately declares the intention to cooperate with the United Nations in fulfillment of its 1947 partition resolution.

The final paragraphs of the Declaration are a series of calls to intergovernmental bodies, the neighboring Arab states, Israel's own Arab residents, and the Jewish diaspora to cooperate with the new State and help bring about peace in the region. Ironically, though not Arab, Iran (Persia) did recognize Israel just hours hereafter.

Of note, in its closing paragraph, where the assembled leaders commit to sign their names to the Declaration, only here is G-d's name mentioned (once) and then only in the phrase "Rock of Israel" (for more about the then and ongoining disagreements about the Declaration's content, see this article). The names on the Declaration are those of the 38 members of the People's Council ("Moetzet Ha'Am"), now referred to in the text as the "temporary National Council", as designated in the 12th 'legalistic' paragraph. The names were signed in alphabetical order though with Ben-Gurion's nevertheless being the first. And of the 38 members, only 26 were actually present to sign their names on May 14th, as the others were abroad or stranded in beseiged Jerusalem: space was made for their names on the parchment sheet and they signed their names afterwards.

Presentation of the Declaration: there is also something to be said about the manner in which the Declaration was read by Ben-Gurion - it is a "declaration" in every sense: his tone is declarative and assertive if 'angry' in certain portions of the document. Listening to him read the Declaration one senses a striking lack of gushing emotion; he is not caught up in the headiness of the moment and remains firmly in control of his voice. In places he ennunciates words syllable by syllable as if to not miss stressing the words. Ben-Gurion's tone is cold, flat and harsh - unapologetic - as if closing an account with history itself. At the moment of the actual statement of the Declaration of Independence there is a full half minute of unmitigated applause - 2000 years of exile and struggle sealed and closed in those 30 seconds of rapture.

The document sweepingly summarizes the events which led up to the decision to declare independence and then set forth as a new State: 12 short minutes, with just 6 to reach the climactic moment of the statement of the Declaration itself. A remarkable document in its breadth, depth - and brevity.

David Ben-Gurion presents the Founding Charter; Council Members sign the document (17:09 min)

Click to play the simultaneous recording

David Ben-Gurion: "I will read before you the Founding Charter of the State of Israel, which has been approved in its first reading by the People's Council:"

IN ERETZ ISRAEL [the Land of Israel] arose the Jewish people, in which was formed its spiritual, religious and national image, in which it lived official sovereign life, in which it created national and universal cultural treasures and bequeathed to the world entire the eternal Book of Books.

After the nation was exiled from its land by armed strength it remained loyal to her in all the lands to which it was spread and did not cease to pray and hope to return to its land and to renew in her its national freedom.

From this historical and traditional connection strove the Jews in every generation to return and to grasp their ancient homeland, and in the last generations they returned in their masses, and pioneers, illegal immigrants, and defenders made spirits blossom, revived their Hebrew language, built villages and cities, and established a large and burgeoning community which controls its economy and culture, promotes peace and protects itself, brings forth the blessing of progress to all inhabitants of the Land and bears its spirit towards sovereign independence.

In the year 5557 (1897), convened the Zionist Congress at the cry of the voice of the proponent of the vision of the Jewish state, Theodore Herzl, and declared the right of the Jewish people to a national revival in its land.

This right was recognized by the Balfour Declaration of 2 November 1917 and approved by the Mandate of the League of Nations, which gave especial international force to the historical connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel and to the right of the Jewish people to establish anew its national home.

The Holocaust which befell the Tribe of Israel in recent times, in which were led to slaughter millions of Jews in Europe, proved anew succinctly the necessity of a solution to the problem of the Jewish people lacking homeland and independence through the renewal of the Jewish state in the Land of Israel, which will open wide the gates of the homeland to every Jew and will grant the Jewish people the stature of a nation of equal standing within the family of nations.

The remainder of the refugees which was saved from the terrible Nazi slaughter in Europe and the Jews of other lands did not waver from immigrating illegally to the Land of Israel in spite of every difficulty, obstacle and danger, and did not cease to demand their right to live in dignity, freedom and honest labor in the homeland of their people.

In the Second World War the Hebrew community in the Land contributed its full share to the struggle of the nations promoting freedom and peace against the forces of the Nazi evil, and with the blood of its soldiers and its war effort it obtained the right to be counted among the nations who founded the alliance of the United Nations.

On the 29th of November 1947 the Assembly of the United Nations received a decision obligating the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel; the Assembly demanded from the inhabitants of the Land of Israel to undertake on their own all steps necessary from their own side to carry out the decision. This recognition of the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish its state is not given to expropriation.

It is the natural right of the Jewish people to be like every other nation which stands for itself in its sovereign state.

Therefore we have convened, we members of the People's Council, representatives of the Hebrew community and the Zionist movement, on the day of the termination of the British Mandate over Eretz Israel, and from the power of our natural and historical right and on the basis of the resolution of the Assembly of the United Nations we hereby declare the establishment of the Jewish State in the Land of Israel, she is the State of Israel. [prolonged applause]

WE DECLARE that starting from the moment of the end of the Mandate, tonight, at dawn of day Saturday, Vav [6th] in Eiyar 5608, 15th of May 1948, and until the establishment of the elected and regular authorities of the State in conformity with the law which will be decided by the elected Legislating Assembly ["Asifa Ha'Mekhokeket"] not later than the 1st of October 1948, the People's Council ["Moetzet Ha'Am"] will function as a temporary National Council ["Moetzet Medina"], and her executive institution, the People's Administration ["Minhelet Ha'Am"], will constitute the temporary government of the Jewish State, which will hereby be called by the name ISRAEL.

THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open to Jewish immigration and the ingathering of exiles; will strive to develop the land for the benefit of all her inhabitants; will be founded on the principles of freedom, justice and peace in the spirit of the visions of the Prophets of Israel; will implement equality of complete social and national rights for all her citizens without distinction between religion, race and gender; will promise freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; will protect the religious places of all the religions; and will be loyal to the principles of the declation of the United Nations.

THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be prepared to cooperate with the institutions and representatives of the United Nations in fulfilling the resolution of the Assembly of the 29th of November 1947 [Ben-Gurion mistakenly says "1927"], and will act to establish the economic unity of the Land of Israel it its fullest.

WE CALL upon the United Nations to lend a hand to the Jewish people in the building of its state and to receive the State of Israel into the family of nations.

WE CALL - even during the bloody attacks which have been carried out against us for months - to the members of the Arab nation residents of the State of Israel to keep the peace and partake in their share in the building of the State upon the principle of full and equal citizenship and upon the principle of appropriate representation in all institutions, temporary and permanent.

WE EXTEND a hand of peace and good neighborliness to all the neighboring nations and their peoples and call upon them to partake in cooperation and mutual assistance with the independent Hebrew nation in its land. The State of Israel is prepared to contribute her share in the joint effort to advance the Middle East entire.

WE CALL upon the Jewish people throughout the diaspora to unite around the community through immigration and through construction and to stand by it in the great battle for the realization of the aspiration of generations for the redemption of Israel.

Out of faith in the Rock of Israel we hereby sign by our hands our signatures as testament to this Declaration, in the session of the temporary State Council, on the soil of the homeland, in the city of Tel Aviv, on this day, Sabbath eve, Hey [5th] in Eiyar 5608, 14th of May 1948.

Ben-Gurion: "We will stand to receive the Founding Charter of the State of Israel" [attendees rise]

Rabbi Yehuda Leib HaCohen Fishman Maimon, leader of the religious Zionist movement and Minister of Religious Affairs in the new government, recites the "She'heckiyanu" blessing. The blessing thanks G-d for sustaining the lives of the utterers so they could experience that moment in their lives. For the religious the blessing is a reminder that that life is a gift from G-d, a reminder to experience the joy of the moment and to cherish blessings. The blessing is recited to express appreciation for new or special experiences in the utterer's life.

"Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has kept us alive, and sustained us, and enabled us to reach this moment. [Amen]"

Ben-Gurion: "All members of the People's Council who are in Jerusalem, which to my regret were not able to gather here for reasons known, convened at the offices of the Jewish Agency and notified us that they join us as a single voice in their support of this Declaration. Now, members of the People's Council are asked, according to the [alphabetical] order, to come forth as they are called. The secretary of the People's Council will call out the names and everyone will sign his name on the Founding Charter. The names of the members in Jerusalem will be read out according to the order."

The Secretary: "Mr. David Ben-Gurion..."
Ben-Gurion: "Here? Here?"
The Secretary: "Yes, yes"

"Writing" History: One of the signatories, Dr. Rosenblum, in time the chief editor of the daily newspaper "Yediot Achronot", recounted years later that Ben-Gurion and Moshe Shertok, the future first Foreign Minister, each stood on either side of the Scroll during the signings, and that Ben-Gurion had convinced Rosenblum to sign his name on the Charter using his pen name: "When I rose to the dais, Ben-Gurion turned to me and in a firm voice said, "sign as 'Vardi' and not as 'Rosenblum'". I didn't know why I had to sign by the name Vardi, which was my pen name at the newspaper, but I signed as asked. And that's how my name remained in the Independence Scroll, and many don't know until today who that is. In one of my opportunities I asked Ben-Gurion what was his motive and the answer I received was that he wanted as many Hebrew names as possible in the Scroll."

Another person who Ben-Gurion tried to Hebraicize was Zerach Warhaftig, in time the Religious Affairs Minister. Warhaftig refused the request to sign under the name "Amitai" ('Warhaftig' derives from the German word for 'Truth') under the objection that nobody would know who that is. Another signatory, who muddled up his name a bit on his own initiative in the Scroll was Saadia Kobashi, the representative of the Yemenite community, who signed his name as "S. Kobashi" and added the word "Ha'Levy", in order to denote that he was from the Levite tribe, something which later caused everyone to search out who this seemingly anonymous signatory was.

The rest of the names are read out as "Mister" or "The Right Honorable..." ("Ha'Adon" or "Ha'Giveret"); absent members, stuck in besieged Jerusalem or abroad in New York, are mentioned so

THE SIGNATORIES as they appear signed on the Charter (absent signatories are marked by me with an "*"):

David Ben-Gurion
Daniel Auster *
Mordekhai Bentov
Yitzchak Ben Zvi *
Eliyahu Berligne *
Fritz Bernstein
Rabbi Wolf Gold *
Meir Grabovsky
Yitzchak Gruenbaum *
Dr. Abraham Granovsky *
Eliyahu Dobkin *
Meir Wilner-Kovner
Zerach Wahrhaftig *
Herzl Vardi
Rachel Cohen
Rabbi Kalman Kahana
Saadia Kobashi *
Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Levin *
Meir David Loewenstein
Zvi Luria
Golda Myerson
Nachum Nir
Zvi Segal
Rabbi Yehuda Leib Hacohen Fishman
David Zvi Pinkas
Aharon Zisling
Moshe Kolodny *
Eliezer Kaplan
Abraham Katznelson *
Felix Rosenblit
David Remez
Berl Repetur
Mordekhai Shatner
Ben Zion Sternberg
Bekhor Shitreet
Moshe Shapira
Moshe Shertok

David Ben-Gurion announces new legal decrees and revocation of the 1939 White Book (2:50 min)

Click to play the simultaneous recording

"By authority of this Declaration of Independence which was published today, 5th of Eiyar 5708, according to which were established the temporary National Council ["Moetzet Ha'Medina"] and the temporary Government of the State of Israel, does the temporary Nation Council hereby declare the following:

A. The temporary National Council is the legislating authority. The temporary National Council is authorized to extend this right to the temporary Government for the purpose of creating legislation and law.

B. The provisions of the law which derive from the White Book of the year 1939 are hereby null and void [applause]. The sections 13 to 15 of the Immigration Order of 1941, and the regulations 102 to 107G of the Defence Regulations (for Emergency Period) of 1945 are hereby repudiated [applause]. Regulations for the Transfer of Land of 1940 are hereby repudiated retroactively as of the day 29th Iyar 5699, 18 May 1939 [applause].

C. As long as new laws are not issued by the temporary National Council or according to her wishes, there will remain in effect in the State of Israel the law which existed in Eretz Israel on day 5th Iyar 5708, 14th of May 1948.

In as much as possible that the matter stands in conformity with the contents of this proclamation, with the laws of the future and those transformed as a result of the establishment of the State and her Authorities, is this proclamation handed down today, 5th Iyar 5708, 14th of May 1948, by the temporary National Council."

The Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra plays the national anthem at the close of the ceremony (1:45 min)

Click to play the simultaneous recording

The assembly sings the national anthem at the end of the Session

More materials will be added shortly: on the different versions of the Scroll which exist and on the recorded interviews made with signatories, in 1960.


Erez, Yaakov and Ilan Kfir; "Tzahal in its Success: Encyclopedia of the Army and Security, Vol. 1"; Revivim Publishers, 1982
Haber, Eitan: "The First Immigrant" op-ed in Yediot Achronot, 4.11.2007, p. 29
Kurzman, Dan; "Genesis 1948"; Sefer ve Sefel Publishing, Jerusalem, 2005
"Meet: The First Independence Scroll" by Goel Beno in Yediot Achronot, 31.10.2007, p. 14
Music Disk: "Music From Films", Shem-Tov Levy; Hed Arzi Music; 1995
Original Declaration Recordings from the disk: "We Hereby Declare..." edited by Eran Litvin; Hed Arzi Music; 2007
Stone, I. F.; "This is Israel"; Boni and Gaer Publishers, New York, 1948
"The Battle over the Independence Scroll" by Goel beno in Yediot Achronot, 25.10.2007, p. 15
"The Tzahal Album", Gershon Rivlin ed.; Maarachot Publishers, Tel Aviv, 1958
"We Hereby Sign" (Heinenu Khotmim Be'Zot), Eti Abramov, "Saturday Supplement" of Yediot Achronot, 2.05.2008, p. 24-25