See biographies by W. Cutter (1847, repr. 1970) and I. N. Tarbox (1876, repr. 1970).
The 12 tribes of Israel were named for 10 sons of Jacob (Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, and Benjamin) and the two sons of Jacob's son Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh); the 13th tribe, Levi (the third of Jacob's sons), was set apart and had no one portion of land of its own. A break in the Hebrew kingdom was precipitated by Rehoboam, a son of Solomon. An independent southern kingdom, consisting of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin as well as a portion of the Levites, was called Judah; the northern kingdom, which consisted of the rest of what had been the larger Hebrew nation, was called Israel.
The country is a narrow, irregularly shaped strip of land with four principal regions: the plain along the Mediterranean coast; the mountains, which are east of this coastal plain; the Negev, which comprises the southern half of the country; and the portion of Israel that forms part of the Jordan Valley, in turn a part of the Great Rift Valley. North of the Negev, Israel enjoys a Mediterranean climate, with long, hot, dry summers and short, cool, rainy winters. This northern half of the country has a limited but adequate supply of water, except in times of drought. The Negev, however, is a semiarid desert region, having less than 10 in. (25 cm) of rainfall a year.
The most important river in Israel is the Jordan. Other smaller rivers are the Yarkon, the Kishon, and the Yarmuk, a tributary of the Jordan. Other bodies of water include the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea (part of which belongs to neighboring Jordan and the West Bank). Owing to interior drainage and a high rate of evaporation, the waters of the Dead Sea have about eight times as much salt as the ocean.
The highest point in Israel is Mt. Meron (3,692 ft/1,125 m) near Zefat. The lowest point is the shore of the Dead Sea, which is 1,345 ft (410 m) below sea level, the lowest point on the surface of the earth. In addition to Jerusalem, other important cities include Tel Aviv-Jaffa (see separate entries on Tel Aviv, Jaffa), Haifa, Beersheba, and Netanya).
Israel proper is made up of about 76% Jews, about 18% Arabs, and the rest Druze and others. While the Jewish population as of 1948 consisted mostly of those from central and E Europe (not including Russia), Jews from African and Asian countries came in increasing numbers after 1948. The majority of the current Jewish population was born in Israel. Around 500,000 Russian Jews have arrived in recent years, as have most of the small population of Ethiopian Jews (see Falashas). The Arab population is primarily Sunni Muslim; a smaller proportion are Christians. Hebrew is the official language, while Arabic is used officially for the Arab minority and English is widely spoken.
Agriculture in Israel largely depends on extensive irrigation to compensate for the shortage of rainfall. Agricultural exports include citrus and other fruits, vegetables, and cut flowers. Other sizable crops are cotton, wheat, barley, peanuts, sunflowers, grapes, and olives. Poultry and livestock also are raised.
Most of the land (apart from the land belonging to non-Jews) is held in trust for the people of Israel by the state and the Jewish National Fund. The latter was set up in 1901 to buy land in Palestine for Jews to cultivate, and now implements a wide range of forest and land development activities. The Israel Land Authority leases the land to kibbutzim, which are communal agricultural settlements; to moshavim, which are cooperative agricultural communities; and to other agricultural or rural villages.
High-technology industries are Israel's fastest-growing businesses, with emphasis on computers, software, aviation, telecommunications, biotechnology, medical electronics, and fiber optics. Diamond cutting and polishing is also important, and a number of light industries produce wood and paper products, processed foods, tobacco, precision instruments, metal and plastic goods, chemicals, textiles, and footwear. The Dead Sea has minerals of commercial value, such as potash, magnesium bromide, and salt. Tourism, which is one of Israel's largest sources of revenue, is also important.
Major exports include machinery and equipment, software, high-technology and military products, cut diamonds, agricultural products, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, and textiles and apparel. Leading imports are raw materials, military equipment, rough diamonds, fuels, grain, and consumer goods. Although Israel imports more than it exports, the balance of trade is far more favorable now than it was in the early years of the state. The United States is by far the country's largest trading partner, as well as its major source of economic and military aid. Other important trading partners are Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, and Hong Kong.
Israel has no constitution; it is governed under the 1948 Declaration of Establishment as well as parliamentary and citizenship laws. The president is head of state, a largely ceremonial role, and is elected by the legislature for a seven-year term with no term limits. The government is headed by the prime minister, generally the leader of the largest party following legislative elections. The unicameral legislature consists of the 120-seat Knesset, whose members are elected by popular vote for four-year terms. The prime minister appoints a cabinet that must be approved by the Knesset; both the prime minister and the president are responsible to the Knesset. Administratively, the country is divided into six districts.
Israel has an intricate party system with a large number of small parties. The two largest are left-of center Labor party, formed in 1968 by the merger of Mapai (founded 1930), Achdut Avoda (1944), and Rafi (1965), and the center-right Likud bloc, consisting of Gahal (the Herut Movement and the Israel Liberal party), the former Free Center party, and other factions. The centrist Kadima party was formed in 2005.
The state of Israel is the culmination of nearly a century of activity in Zionism. Following World War I, Great Britain received (1922) Palestine as a mandate from the League of Nations. The struggle by Jews for a Jewish state in Palestine had begun in the late 19th cent. and had become quite active by the 1930s and 40s. The militant opposition of the Arabs to such a state and the inability of the British to solve the problem eventually led to the establishment (1947) of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, which devised a plan to divide Palestine into a Jewish state, an Arab state, and a small internationally administered zone including Jerusalem. The General Assembly adopted the recommendations on Nov. 29, 1947. The Jews accepted the plan; the Arabs rejected it. As the British began to withdraw early in 1948, Arabs and Jews prepared for war.
On May 14, 1948, when the British high commissioner for Palestine departed, the state of Israel was proclaimed at Tel Aviv. Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq invaded Israel, as most Palestinian Arabs were driven from Jewish territory. By the time armistice agreements were reached (Jan., 1949), Israel had increased its holdings by about one-half. Jordan annexed the Arab-held area adjoining its territory, and Egypt occupied the coastal Gaza Strip in the southwest.The New Nation
A government was formed at Tel Aviv, with Chaim Weizmann as president and David Ben-Gurion as prime minister. The capital was moved (Dec., 1949) to Jerusalem to strengthen Israel's claim to that city. Following the Lausanne Conference of 1949, Israel allowed the return of 150,000 Arab refugees, mostly to reunite families. One major aim of the government was to gather in all Jews who wished to immigrate to Israel. This led to the 1950 Law of the Return, which provided for free and automatic citizenship for all immigrant Jews. Border incidents with Egypt, Syria, and Jordan continued.
Trouble in the Gaza area reached new heights in the mid-1950s despite UN intervention, and in 1956, Egyptian President Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. On Oct. 29, 1956, Israel made a preemptive attack on Egyptian territory and within a few days had conquered the Gaza Strip and the Sinai peninsula, while Britain and France invaded the area of the Suez Canal. Israel eventually yielded to strong pressure from the United States, the USSR, and the United Nations and removed its troops from Sinai in Nov., 1956, and from Gaza by Mar., 1957, as UN forces were sent to the Sinai and Gaza to keep peace between Egypt and Israel. Through this war, Israel succeeded in keeping open its shipping lanes via Elat and the Gulf of Aqaba to the Red Sea.
In 1962, Israel became the scene of the celebrated trial of Adolf Eichmann. In 1963, Ben-Gurion resigned as prime minister and was succeeded in that office by Levi Eshkol. Eshkol had to cope with increased guerrilla incursions into Israel from Syria and the shelling of Israeli villages by the Syrian army from the Golan Heights.Renewed Hostilities
In May, 1967, Nasser mobilized the Egyptian army in Sinai. The UN then acceded to his demand to withdraw from the Israeli-Egyptian border, where it had been stationed since 1956. Egypt next blockaded the Israeli port of Elat (on the Gulf of Aqaba) by closing the Strait of Tiran.
On June 5, 1967, Israel struck against Egypt and Syria; Jordan subsequently attacked Israel. In six days, Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and the Sinai peninsula of Egypt, the Golan Heights of Syria, and the West Bank and Arab sector of E Jerusalem (both under Jordanian rule), thereby giving the conflict the name of the Six-Day War. Israel unified the Arab and Israeli sectors of Jerusalem, and Arab guerrillas stepped up their incursions, operating largely from Jordan. After Eshkol's death in 1969, Golda Meir became prime minister. There followed an inconclusive period when there was neither peace nor war in the area.
On Oct. 6, 1973, on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, Egypt and Syria attacked Israeli positions in the Sinai and the Golan Heights. Other Arab states sent contingents of soldiers to aid in the attack on Israel. Egypt succeeded in sending troops in force across the Suez Canal to the east bank before being halted by Israeli troops. Toward the end of the fighting, the Israelis managed to send their own troops across the Suez Canal to the west bank, encircling Egypt's Third Army on the east bank and clearing a path to Cairo. They also drove the Syrians even further back toward Damascus. A cease-fire called for by the UN Security Council on Oct. 22 and 23 went into effect shortly thereafter.Attempts at Peace
In Dec., 1973, the first Arab-Israeli peace conference opened in Geneva, Switzerland, under UN auspices. An agreement to disengage Israeli and Egyptian forces was reached in Jan., 1974, largely through the "shuttle diplomacy" mediation of U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Israeli troops withdrew several miles into the Sinai, a UN buffer zone was established, and Egyptian forces reoccupied the east bank of the Suez Canal and a small, adjoining strip of land in the Sinai. A similar agreement between Israel and Syria was achieved in May, 1974, again through the efforts of Kissinger. Under its terms, Israeli forces evacuated the Syrian lands captured in the 1973 war (while continuing to hold most of the territory conquered in 1967, such as the Golan Heights) and a UN buffer zone was created.
Golda Meir resigned and was succeeded (1974) by Yitzhak Rabin, who formed a coalition government. In 1977, the Likud party under the leadership of Menachem Begin defeated the Labor party for the first time in Israeli elections. As prime minister, Begin strongly supported the development of Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied territories and opposed Palestinian sovereignty.
Egypt began peace initiatives with Israel in late 1977, when Egyptian President Sadat visited Jerusalem. A year later, with the help of U.S. President Jimmy Carter, terms of peace between Egypt and Israel were negotiated at Camp David, Md. (see Camp David accords). A formal treaty, signed on Mar. 26, 1979, in Washington, D.C., granted full recognition of Israel by Egypt, opened trade relations between the two countries, returned the Sinai to Egyptian control (completed in 1982), and limited Egyptian military buildup in the Sinai.The 1980s to the Present
Israeli troops briefly invaded (1979) Lebanon in an unsuccessful attempt to eliminate Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) bases and forces used in raids on N Israel. On June 6, 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon in a second attempt. Israeli troops advanced to Beirut and surrounded the western part of the city, which housed PLO headquarters, and a siege ensued. Israeli troops began a gradual move out of Lebanon (completed in 1985) after PLO forces withdrew from Beirut. A 6-mi (10-km) deep security zone within S Lebanon was established to protect N Israeli settlements.
Begin had been returned to office in 1981, but he resigned in 1983 and was replaced by Likud's Yitzhak Shamir. Undecisive majorities in the 1984 elections led to a sharing of the prime ministership by Shamir and Shimon Peres of the Labor party. Shamir, who regained sole prime ministership after the 1988 elections, strongly upheld the policy of increased Jewish settlement in the occupied territories. Large numbers of emigrants from Ethiopia and, primarily, the Soviet Union increased Israel's population by nearly 10% in three years (1989-92), leading to increased unemployment and a lack of housing.
In Dec., 1987, a popular Arab uprising (Intifada) began against Israeli rule in the occupied territories. During the Persian Gulf War in early 1991, Israel suffered Iraqi missile attacks, as Iraq unsuccessfully attempted to disrupt the allied coalition and widen the war. Peace talks between Israel, Syria, Lebanon, and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation began in Aug., 1991.
Rabin reentered the political scene in 1992, becoming prime minister after the defeat of the Likud party and the establishment of a Labor-led coalition. He pursued Arab-Israeli peace negotiations, in which significant progress was made. In 1993, Israel and the PLO signed an accord providing for joint recognition and for limited Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip and Jericho. In 1995, Israel and the PLO agreed on a transition to Palestinian self-rule in most of the West Bank, although acts of terrorism continued to darken Israeli-Palestinian relations. In 1994 a treaty with Jordan ended the 46-year-old state of war between the two nations.
In Nov., 1995, Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Israeli extremist who opposed the West Bank peace accord with the PLO; Peres, who was foreign minister, became prime minister. In early 1996, Israel was hit by a series of suicide bombs, and Shiite Muslims launched rocket attacks into Israel from Lebanon. Retaliating, Israel blockaded the port of Beirut and launched a series of attacks on targets in S Lebanon.
The 1996 elections, in which the prime minister was elected directly for the first time, resulted in a narrow victory for Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposed Labor's land-for-peace deals. In an attempt to allay fears about Israel's future policies, Netanyahu pledged to continue the peace process. After setbacks and delays, most of Hebron was handed over to Palestinian control in Jan., 1997, and, under an accord signed in 1998, Israel agreed to withdraw from additional West Bank territory, while the Palestinian Authority pledged to take stronger measures to fight terrorism. Further negotiations over territory, however, were essentially stalled.
In the May, 1999, elections, Labor returned to power under Ehud Barak, a former army chief of staff. He formed a broad-based coalition government, promising to ease tensions between secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel, as well as to move the peace process forward. In September, Barak and Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, signed an agreement to finalize their borders and determine the status of Jerusalem within a year; Israel also began implementation of a plan to hand over additional West Bank territory, which was completed in Mar., 2000.
Barak's coalition was weakened in May, 2000, when three right-of-center parties pulled out of the government. In the same month, Israeli forces withdrew from the buffer zone that had long been maintained in S Lebanon. In July, negotiations in the United States between Israel and the Palestinians ended without success, and Israeli-Palestinian relations turned extremely acrimonious when a September visit by Ariel Sharon to the Haram esh-Sherif (the Temple Mount to Jews) in Jerusalem sparked riots that escalated into a new, ongoing cycle of violence in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Israel itself. Barak resigned in Dec., 2000, in an attempt to reestablish a electoral mandate, but he was trounced in the Feb., 2001, election by Ariel Sharon, who formed a national unity government.
Despite Israeli military incursions into Palestinian territory and attacks on Palestinian authorities and forces, Palestinian attacks on Israelis in Israel and the occupied territories did not end, and in 2002 Sharon's government ordered the reoccupation of West Bank towns in a new attempt to stop those attacks. In Oct., 2002, Labor members of the government accused Sharon of favoring Israeli settlers in the occupied territories over the poor, and withdrew their support. Left with a minority government, Sharon called for parliamentary elections in early 2003, and in January Likud won a substantial victory at the polls. The following month Sharon formed a four-party, mainly right-wing coalition government.
In May, 2003, Sharon's government accepted the internationally supported "road map for peace" with some limitations; the plan envisioned the establishment of a Palestinian state in three years. Talks resumed with Palestinian authorities, who also negotiated a three-month cease-fire with Palestinian militants, and Israel made some conciliatory moves in Gaza and the West Bank. Suicide bombings and Israeli revenge attacks resumed, however, in August, and in October Israel attacked Syria for the first time in 20 years, bombing what it termed a terrorist training camp in retaliation for suicide bombings.
Israel's ongoing construction of a 400-mi (640-km) fence and wall security barrier in the West Bank, potentially enclosing some 15% of that territory, brought widespread international condemnation in late 2003, and a July, 2004, advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice (requested by Palestinians and the UN General Assembly) termed its construction illegal under international law because it was being constructed on Palestinian lands. Meanwhile, an Israeli court ruling (June) ordered the wall to be rerouted in certain areas because of the hardship it would cause Palestinians.
In March the killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin heightened tensions in the occupied territories, especially the Gaza Strip. Sharon's plan to withdraw from the latter, while supported by most Israelis, was rejected in a nonbinding vote (May, 2004) by Likud party members. The plan then resulted in defections from his coalition, but Sharon vowed to complete the withdrawal, which was being undertaken for security reasons, by the end of 2005. In Oct., 2004, he secured parliamentary approval for the plan. The plan also called for abandoning a few settlements in the West Bank while expanding others there. Sharon formed a new coalition that included the Labor party, which supported the Gaza withdrawal, in Jan., 2005. He subsequently agreed to a truce with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, and in Mar., 2005, Israeli forces began withdrawing from Jericho and other West Bank towns. The planned Gaza withdrawal sparked protests by settlers and their allies beginning in June, but in August the evacuation of the settlements proceeded relatively straightforwardly. Israeli troops withdrew from Gaza the following month.
In Nov., 2005, Shimon Peres lost his Labor party leadership post to Amir Peretz, a trade union leader. Peretz pulled Labor from the government, prompting new elections, and Sharon withdrew from Likud to form the centrist Kadima [Forward] party, in an attempt to force a realignment of Israeli politics and retain the prime ministership. In Jan., 2006, however, Sharon suffered an incapacitating stroke and was hospitalized. Ehud Olmert, the deputy prime minister, became acting prime minister and leader of the new party.
The Kadima party won a plurality in the Mar., 2006, elections, with Labor placing second. In April, Sharon was declared permanently incapacitated; Olmert became prime minister, and in May formed a new coalition government. Escalating rocket attacks from Gaza and the capture by Hamas guerrillas of an Israeli soldier led to an Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip in June, 2006, as well as other actions against Hamas and the Palestinians. Israel continue to mount attacks into Gaza in the succeeding months.
In July, Lebanese Hezbollah forces captured two Israeli soldiers, and Israel launched air attacks against targets throughout Lebanon and sent troops as far as 18.5 mi (30 km) into S Lebanon; Hezbollah responded mainly with rocket attacks against N Israel, including Haifa and Tiberias, but also offered resistance on the ground against Israeli forces. A UN-mediated cease-fire took effect in mid-August, and by early October Israel had essentially withdrawn from Lebanon. The invasion's aim of disarming Hezbollah and winning the release of the captured Israeli soldiers was in the main unattained, and Hezbollah's sustained resistance to Israeli forces enhanced the group's prestige in the Arab world. Amnesty International accused both sides of war crimes in the fighting, mainly because of their attacks on civilians.
As a result of the fighting in Gaza and Lebanon and the rise of Hamas in the Palestinian Authority, Olmert suspended his planned unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank, and brought (Oct,. 2006) a far-right party into his government to strengthen the coalition in the Knesset. Also in October, Israeli police accused Israeli President Moshe Katsav of sexual assault and other crimes, prompting an investigation and leading to calls for Katsav to resign (which he refused to do). The Israeli group Peace Now asserted in November that, according to government documents, nearly 40% (and perhaps more) of the land on which Israel's West Bank settlements were built was privately owned Palestinian land, in violation of Israeli law. More current information given by the government to the group in Mar., 2007, indicated that private land made up more than 30% of the settlements but did not indicate how much was Palestinian-owned (the vast bulk of the private land in the first set of documents was Palestinian).
In Jan., 2007, the head of the Israeli armed forces resigned, taking responsibility for the unsuccessful anti-Hezbollah campaign of 2006; his resignation led the opposition to call for the prime minister and defense minister to resign as well. (An independent report, released in Apr., 2007, was critical of the prime minister's and defense minister's handling of the invasion.) Late in Jan., 2007, Katsav secured a suspension of his duties as president after Israel's attorney general said he was considering charging Katsav with rape and other crimes; a plea deal in June allowed him to plead guilty to lesser charges and avoid prison but forced him to resign. (In Apr., 2008, however, Katsav withdrew from the plea bargain and decided to contest any charges.) and Shimon Peres was elected president earlier the same month.
The takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas forces (also in June, 2007) led to increased talks with the Palestinian Authority and other moves designed to strengthen President Abbas, as well as Israeli restrictions on cross-border trade into the Gaza Strip. In September, Israeli jets attacked a military site in N Syria that some reports suggested was part of nuclear program. Under U.S.-sponsorship, an international Mideast peace conference was held in Annapolis, Md., in Nov., 2007, in an attempt to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. In early 2008, in response to Hamas rocket attacks, Israel tightened its blockade of goods into the Gaza Strip, but that move and Israeli retaliatory attacks failed to stop the rocket attacks. In June, 2008, however, Egypt brokered a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza's Palestinian factions that included an easing of border restrictions, and the cease-fire largely held until November.
Also in June, Olmert, facing the loss of Labor party support because of an investigation into his alleged receipt of bribes, agreed to face a vote for the leadership of Kadima in Sept., 2008, in order to preserve the governing coalition; he later decided not to run for party leader. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was elected Kadima party leader, but she was unable to form a new governing coalition. In Nov., 2008, significant fighting between Palestinian and Israeli forces began in Gaza, with rocket attacks against neighboring portions of Israel and Israeli retaliatory strikes against the Gaza Strip. In Jan., 2009, Israeli forces invaded the territory in what Israel said was an attempt to stop rocket attacks against Israel (during the fighting one rocket attack reached Ashdod, 20 mi (32 km) from Gaza). The extent of the destruction and number of non-Hamas deaths resulting from the fighting led to criticism of Israel, and both Israel and Hamas were accused by human rights groups of committing war crimes.
Parliamentary elections in Feb., 2009, resulted in a narrow plurality for Kadima and significant gains for Likud and other right-wing parties. Likud leader and former prime minister Netanyahu forged a largely right-wing coalition (the Labor party also joined the government), and became prime minister in April. Israel's continuing approval of new construction in the West Bank led to U.S. criticism in Nov., 2009, that Israel was frustrating peace negotiations. The government subsequently suspended new construction for 10 months, but the exclusion of East Jerusalem from the moratorium was denounced by the Palestinians.
See J. García-Granados, The Birth of Israel (1948); D. Ben-Gurion, Israel: Years of Challenge (1965); S. N. Eisenstadt, Israeli Society (1971); A. Perlmutter, The Military and Politics in Israel (2d ed. 1977); H. M. Sachar, A History of Israel (1979); E. Orni and E. Efrat, The Geography of Israel (4th rev. ed. 1980); C. Herzog, The Arab-Israeli Wars (1982); S. McBride, ed., Israel in Lebanon (1983); A. Arian, Politics in Israel (1985); Y. Ben-Porath, ed., The Israeli Economy (1986); S. Segev, 1949: The First Israelis (1986); B. Kimmerling, ed., The Israeli State and Society (1988); M. Mandelbaum, Israel and the Occupied Territories (1988); T. Parker, The Road to Camp David (1989); T. Segev, Crossing the Jordan: Israel's Hard Road to Peace (1998); B. Morris, Righteous Victims (rev. ed. 2001) and The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949 (rev. ed. 2004); G. Gorenberg, The Accidental Empire (2006); L. Stein, The Making of Modern Israel, 1948-1967 (2009).
See biography by J. Leftwich (1957).
The Israeli Declaration of Independence (הכרזת העצמאות, Hakhrazat HaAtzma'ut or מגילת העצמאות Megilat HaAtzma'ut), made on 14 May 1948 (5 Iyar, 5708), the day the British Mandate expired, was the official announcement that the new Jewish state named the State of Israel had been formally established in parts of what was known as the British Mandate for Palestine and on land where, in antiquity, the Kingdoms of Israel, Judah and Judea had once been.
It has been called the start of the "Third Jewish Commonwealth" by some observers. The "First Jewish Commonwealth" ended with the destruction of Solomon's Temple in 586 BCE, the second with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, and the crushing of Bar Kokhba's revolt by the Roman Empire in the year 135.
In Israel the event is celebrated annually with the national holiday Yom Ha'atzmaut (יום העצמאות, lit. Independence Day), the timing of which is based on the Hebrew calendar date of the declaration (5, Iyar, 5708). Palestinians commemorate the event as Nakba Day (يوم النكبة, Yawm al-nakba, lit. Catastrophe Day) on 15 May every year.
In the face of increasing violence, the British handed the issue over to the United Nations. The result was Resolution 181, a partition plan to divide Palestine between Jews and Arabs. The Jewish state was to receive around 56% of the land area of Mandate Palestine, encompassing 82% of the Jewish population, though it would be separated from Jerusalem, designated as an area to be administered by the UN. The plan was accepted by most of the Jewish population, but rejected by much of the Arab populace. On 29 November 1947, the plan was put to a vote in the United Nations General Assembly. The result was 33 to 13 in favour of the plan, with 10 abstentions. The Arab countries (all of which had opposed the plan) proposed to query the International Court of Justice on the competence of the General Assembly to partition a country against the wishes of the majority of its inhabitants, but were again defeated. The division was to take effect on the date of British withdrawal from the territory (15 May 1948), though the UK refused to implement the plan, arguing it was unacceptable to both sides.
During the process, there were two major debates, centring around the issues of borders and religion. On the border issue, the original draft had declared that the borders would be that decided by the UN partition plan. Whilst this was supported by Rosen and Bechor-Shalom Sheetrit, it was opposed by Ben-Gurion and Zisling, with Ben-Gurion stating, "We accepted the UN Resolution, but the Arabs did not. They are preparing to make war on us. If we defeat them and capture western Galilee or territory on both sides of the road to Jerusalem, these areas will become part of the state. Why should we obligate ourselves to accept boundaries that in any case the Arabs don't accept?" Its inclusion in the text was dropped after Minhelet HaAm voted 5-4 against it. The Revisionists, committed to a Jewish state on both sides of the River Jordan (i.e. including Transjordan), wanted the phrase "within its historic borders" included, but were unsuccessful.
The second major issue was over the inclusion of God in the last section of the document, with the draft using the phrase "and placing our trust in the Almighty". The two rabbis, Shapira and Yehuda Leib Maimon, argued for its inclusion, saying that it could not be omitted, with Shapira supporting the wording "God of Israel" or "the Almighty and Redeemer of Israel." It was strongly opposed by Zisling, a member of the secularist Mapam. In the end the phrase "Rock of Israel" was used, which could be interpreted as either referring to God, or the land of Eretz Israel, Ben-Gurion saying "Each of us, in his own way, believes in the 'Rock of Israel' as he conceives it. I should like to make one request: Don't let me put this phrase to a vote." Although its use was still opposed by Zisling, it was accepted without a vote.
At the meeting on 14 May, several other members of Moetzet HaAm suggested additions to the document; Meir Vilner wanted it to denounce the British mandate and military, though Sharett said it was out of place. Meir Argov pushed for it to mention the displaced persons camps in Europe and for it to guarantee freedom of language; Ben-Gurion agreed with the latter, but noted that Hebrew should be the main language of the state.
The writers also had to decide on the name for the new state. Eretz Israel, Ever (from the name Eber), Judea, and Zion were all suggested. Judea and Zion were rejected because, according to the partition plan, Jerusalem (Zion) and most of Judean mountains would be outside the new state. Ben-Gurion put forward "Israel", which was passed by a vote of 6-3.
Nevertheless, the debate over wording did not end even after the declaration had been made, with Meir David Loewenstein later claiming that "It ignored our sole right to Eretz Israel, which is based on the covenant of the Lord with Abraham, our father, and repeated promises in the Tanach. It ignored the aliya of the Ramban and the students of the Vilna Gaon and the Ba'al Shem Tov, and the [rights of] Jews who lived in the 'Old Yishuv'."
The meeting started at 1:45 and ended after midnight. The decision was between accepting the American proposal for a truce, or declaring independence. The latter option was put to a vote, with six of the ten members present supporting it:
The ceremony to proclaim independence was to be held in the Tel Aviv Museum (today known as Independence Hall), but was not widely publicised as it was feared that the British Authorities might attempt to prevent it or that the Arab armies might invade earlier than planned. An invitation was sent out by messenger on the morning of 14 May, telling recipients to arrive at 15:30 and to keep the event a secret. The event was to start at 16:00 (a time chosen so as not to breach the sabbath), and was to be broadcast live as the first transmission of the new radio station Kol Yisrael.
Following its approval earlier in the day, the final draft of the declaration was typed at the JNF building. However, Ze'ev Sharef, who had remained at the building in order to deliver the text, had forgotten to arrange transport for himself. In the end, he had to flag down a passing car and ask the driver (who was driving a borrowed car without a license) to take him to the ceremony. Although Sharef's request was initially refused, he managed to persuade the driver to take him. However, whilst driving across the city, the car was stopped by a policemen for speeding, though a ticket was not issued after it was explained to him that he was delaying the declaration of independence. Sharef arrived at the Museum at 15:59.
At 16:00, Ben-Gurion opened the ceremony by banging his gavel on the table, prompting a spontaneous rendition of Hatikvah, soon to be Israel's national anthem, from the 250 guests. On the wall behind the podium hung a picture of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, and two flags, later to become the official flag of Israel.
After telling the audience "I shall now read to you the scroll of the Establishment of the State, which has passed its first reading by the National Council", Ben-Gurion proceeded to read out the declaration, taking 16 minutes, ending with the words "Let us accept the Foundation Scroll of the Jewish State by rising" and calling on Rabbi Fishman to recite the Shehecheyanu blessing.
As leader of the Yishuv, David Ben-Gurion was the first person to sign. The declaration was due to be signed by all 37 members of Moetzet HaAm. However, twelve members could not attend, eleven of them trapped in besieged Jerusalem and one abroad. The remaining 24 signatories present were called up in alphabetical order to sign, leaving spaces for those not present. Although a space was left for him between the signatures of Eliyahu Dobkin and Meir Vilner, Zerach Warhaftig signed at the top of the next column, leading to speculation that Vilner's name had been left alone to isolate him, or to stress that even a communist agreed with the declaration.
When Herzl Rosenblum, a journalist, was called up to sign, Ben-Gurion instructed him to sign under the name Herzl Vardi, his pen name, as he wanted more Hebrew names on the document. Although Rosenblum acquiesced to Ben-Gurion's request and legally changed his name to Vardi, he later admitted to regretting not signing as Rosenblum. Several other signatories later Hebraised their names, including Meir Argov (Grabovsky), Peretz Bernstein (then Fritz Bernstein), Avraham Granot (Granovsky), Avraham Nissan (Katznelson), Moshe Kol (Kolodny), Yehuda Leib Maimon (Fishman), Golda Meir (Myerson), Pinchas Rosen (Felix Rosenblueth) and Moshe Sharett (Shertok). Other signatories added their own touches, including Saadia Kobashi who added the phrase "HaLevy", referring to the tribe of Levi.
After Moshe Shertok, the last of the signatories, had put his name to paper, the audience again stood and sung Hatikvah, accompanied by the Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra. Ben-Gurion concluded the event with the words "The State of Israel is established. This meeting is adjourned."
Eleven minutes after the Declaration of Independence was signed, President Truman de facto recognized the State of Israel, followed by Iran (which had voted against the UN partition plan), Guatemala, Iceland, Nicaragua, Romania and Uruguay. The Soviet Union was the first nation to recognize Israel de jure on 17 May 1948, followed by Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Ireland and South Africa. The United States extended official recognition on 31 January 1949.
The declaration was followed by an invasion of the new state by troops from Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, starting the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, known in Israel as the War of Independence (מלחמת העצמאות, Milhamat HaAtzma'ut). Although a truce began on 11 June, fighting resumed on 8 July and stopped again on 18 July, before restarting in mid-October and finally ending on 24 July 1949 with the signing of the armistice agreement with Syria. By then Israel had retained its independence and increased its land area by almost 50% compared to the partition plan.
Many of the signatories went on to play a prominent role in Israeli politics following independence; Moshe Sharett and Golda Meir both served as Prime Minister, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi became the country's second president in 1952, and several others served as ministers. David Remez was the first signatory to pass away, dying in May 1951, whilst Meir Vilner, the youngest signatory at just 29, was the longest living, serving in the Knesset until 1990 and dying in June 2003. Eliyahu Berligne, the oldest signatory at 82, died in 1959.
It acknowledges the Jewish exile over the millennia, mentioning both ancient "faith" and new "politics":
It speaks of the urge of Jews to return to their ancient homeland:
It describes Jewish immigrants to Israel in the following terms:
The European Holocaust of 1939–45 is part of the imperative for the re-settlement of the homeland:
On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish State in Israel, requiring the inhabitants of 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.
The new state pledged that it will take steps to bring about the economic union of the whole of Eretz Israel and appealed:
A final appeal is made to the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora to rally round the "Free Hebrew people in its land" in the tasks of immigration and upbuilding and to stand by them in the struggle for the realization of their age-old dream, the redemption of Israel. The Declaration is making a distinction between the "Hebrew" people in "the Land of Israel", and "the Jewish people" in the rest of the world.
It concludes with the phrase "MiToch Bitachon B'Tzur Yisrael" which roughly translates to "With faith in the God of Israel," or alternatively "From the strength of Israel." This double meaning ended the document in a manner satisfactory to both the religious and secularist factions of the Yishuv.