Even though the Israeli celebration of Independence Day, based on the Hebrew calendar (Iyyar 5) was celebrated this year on April 15th, there is something profound about May 14 on the Gregorian Calendar that really acts as a marker of great events of the last century.
Just to think, on this very date, in 1948 these great and momentous things happened. One very interesting fact is that if you follow an “observed” Jewish calendar for 1948 and don’t add the 13th month that year, it moves everything one month back–that is “Adar II becomes Nisan, Nisan becomes Iyyar, and Iyyar becomes SIVAN–which makes the establishment of the State of Israel fall on Sivan the 5th, the evening of Shavuot or Pentecost. That would mean the establishment of the State of Israel in some way echoes the Standing At Sinai in the days of Moses, and the giving of the Torah, also celebrated in Jewish tradition as falling at Sivan 5/6th. It is certainly uncanny that both the former and latter “national” founding of Israel would correspond to this festival of “Weeks.”
One can not help but think of Isaiah’s ancient query:
Is. 66:8 Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? shall a nation be brought forth at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.
There is a nice set of articles on the Aish HaTorah Web site dealing with the history of Israel and Zionism more generally:
In this day and time when “Zionism” is used by so many as some kind of ugly word, it is refreshing to capture some of the Spirit that the true “returnees to Zion” really had 60 years ago. The founder of United Israel World Union, David Horowitz, was one of those “pioneers,” who moved to what was then called “old Palestine,” in July, 1924. You can read more about his experiences and life with photos of those times in a previous Blog post here: Remembering David Horowitz.
An very nicely done illustrated “Timeline” can be found here:
For those a bit “rusty” on the history, here is a crash course Crash_Course_in_Jewish_History:
Crash Course in Jewish History Part 65 – The State of Israel
by Rabbi Ken Spiro
After the British brutally turned away Holocaust survivors from Israel, the UN voted to partition the land.
The British broke promise after promise to the Jews while they created new Arab countries out of the land of the former Ottoman Empire. In addition, because of Arab revolts and pressure, the British even barred entry to the land of Israel to Jews fleeing the Holocaust. (See Part 64.)
Even when the full scope of the Holocaust was known, and thousands of Holocaust survivors were stranded in refugee camps (DP camps), the British refused to relent.
One of the most egregious of the British actions involved the refugee ship, Exodus, which the Royal Navy intercepted in 1947 in the Mediterranean Sea with 4,500 Jews aboard. The ship was brought into Haifa port under British escort; there the Holocaust survivors were forcibly transferred to another ship and returned back to Germany via France.
Abba Eban, who was then the Jewish liason to a special UN committee — called Special Commmitte On Palestine or UNSCOP — persuaded four UN representatives to go to Haifa to witness the brutality of the British against the Jews.
Historian Martin Gilbert includes Eban’s account of what happened there in Israel: A History (p. 145):
“[In Haifa] the four members watched a ‘gruesome operation.’ The Jewish refugees had decided ‘not to accept banishment with docility. If anyone had wanted to know what Churchill meant by a “squalid war,” he would have found out by watching British soldier using rifle butts, hose pipes and tear gas against the survivors of the death camps. Men, women and children were forcibly taken off to prison ships, locked in cages below decks and set out of Palestine waters.’
“When the four members of UNSCOP came back to Jerusalem, Eban recalled, ‘they were pale with shock. I could see that they were pre-occupied with one point alone: if this was the only way that the British Mandate could continue, it would be better not to continue it at all.’”
UN PARTITION OF PALESTINE
The British also wanted out of the problem. They had 100,000 soldiers/police trying to maintain control with a total population of about 600,000 Jews and 1.2 million Arabs. (Interestingly, they had the same size force controlling India with a population of over 350 million!)
And so it came to pass that the British turned the matter over to the UN which decided to end the British Mandate over what was left of “Palestine” (after the creation of the country of Jordan) and to divide the remaining land among the Arabs and Jews. The proposal called for the Jews to get:
a narrow strip of land along the Mediterranean coast, including Tel Aviv and Haifa
a piece of land surrounding the Kineret (Sea of Galilee), including the Golan Heights
a large piece in the south, which was the uninhabitable Negev Desert
The Arabs were to get:
the Gaza Strip
a chunk of the north, including the city of Tzfat (Safed) and western Galilee
the entire West Bank of the River Jordan and the hills of Judea and Samaria
Jerusalem was to be under international control.
On November 29, 1947, the United Nations voted for this partition plan. Of those voting, 33 nations voted yes, including USA and USSR; 13 mostly-Arab nations voted no; 11 nations abstained.
Hard-hearted to the end, the British did not vote yes; they abstained.
As disappointed as the Jews were with the portion allotted for the Jewish state, they felt that something was better than nothing after all the waiting and the pain.
However, the Arabs, always maximalist in their demands, rejected the UN resolution. The next day Arab rioting began, and two weeks later soldiers from surrounding Arab countries began arriving into Palestine.
The British, happy to be out of the situation, were packing up to go and turned their backs on what was going on. Writes David Ben Gurion in his Israel: A Personal History (p. 65):
“The British did not lift a finger to stop this military invasion. They also refused to cooperate with the UN committee charged with supervising implementation of the General Assembly resolution. At the same time, the Arabs living in the district destined to become part of the Jewish state began evacuating their homes and moving to the Arab states neighboring Palestine at the orders of the Arab High Committee.”
In the midst of confusion, the rioting continued with almost 1,000 Jews murdered by Arabs in the ensuing four months.
One of the worst incidents occurred on April 13, 1948. A convoy of 70 doctors and nurses making their way to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus was ambushed by Arabs. This happened 200 yards of a British police station. After a seven-hour shoot-out, during which the British did nothing, all the doctors and nurses were killed. Afterwards, the Arabs mutilated their bodies.
JERUSALEM UNDER SIEGE
In all of this, the British encouraged the King of Jordan, Abdullah, to invade and annex the Arab sections to his kingdom. To Abdullah this was not enough. He wanted Jerusalem too.
As a result Jerusalem came under siege.
The focus of the struggle during April and May 1948 was the road to Jerusalem which passes through the mountains. The vehicles on that road are completely exposed to gunmen up above. It was on this road that all supplies to the Jews of the city had to come. But they could not get through.
Hunger reigned. The residents of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City were completely cut off.
And then an amazing incident happened. A young Yemenite Jew, who was not known for his shooting skills, almost accidentally killed three Arab men in the hills. One of these men was the Arab leader, Abdul Khader el Husseini. Demoralized, the Arab forces abandoned their positions to attend his funeral.
As a result a huge convoy of 250 trucks of food was able to re-supply the city. Writes Berel Wein in Triumph of Survival (p. 397):
“[On Shabbat, April 17, 1948] Jews left their synagogues and, with their prayer shawls still draping their shoulders, helped unload the convoy. The siege of Jerusalem was broken for the moment. The Arabs, however, mounted a strong counter-attack, and by the end of April once again cut the Jerusalem road… for the next seven weeks Jewish Jerusalem was isolated.”
A NEW STATE IS BORN
The official date given by the United Nations in their partition vote for the creation of the two new entities was May 15th, 1948.
Thus, May 14th was to be the last day of the British Mandate. At 4 p.m., the British lowered their flag and immediately the Jews raised their own.
It was a flag designed in 1897 by the First Zionist Congress. It was white (the color of newness and purity), and it had two blue stripes (the color of heaven) like the stripes of a tallit, the prayer shawl, which symbolized the transmission of Jewish tradition. In its center was the Star of David.
Thus on May 14, 1948 at 4:00 p.m., Hay Iyar, the 5th of Iyar, Israel declared itself a state.
After 2,000 years, the land of Israel was once more in the hands of the Jews.
David Ben Gurion read the Declaration of Independence over the radio:
“The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here the spiritual, religious and national identity was formed. Here they achieved independence and created a culture of national and universal significance. Here they wrote and gave the Bible to the world…
“Exiled from Palestine, the Jewish people remained faithful to it in all the countries of the dispersion, never ceasing to pray and hope for their return and restoration of their national freedom.
“Accordingly we, the members of the National Council met together in solemn assembly today and by virtue of the natural and historic right of the Jewish people and with the support of the resolution of the General of the United Nations, hereby proclaim the establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine to be called Israel…
“We offer peace and amity to all neighboring states and their peoples and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all…
“With trust in the Rock of Israel, we set our hands to this declaration at this session of the Provisional State Council in the city of Tel Aviv on Sabbath Eve, 5th Iyar 5708, 14th day of May 1948.”
(Note that the Declaration of Independence of Israel — unlike the American Declaration of Independence — does not mention God. This is because the hard-line secularists that dominated the Jewish Agency opposed any such thing. “Rock of Israel” became a compromise.)
Everyone was dancing in the streets. But not for long.
Almost immediately five Arab countries declared war and Egypt bombed Tel Aviv.