When Dr. Theodor Herzl returned home after the First Zionist Congress, at the beginning of 1897, he wrote in his diary: "At Basle I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today I would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years perhaps, and certainly in fifty years, everyone will perceive it."
There was good reason for calling Herzl "the visionary of the Jewish State" for in the autumn of 1947, 50 years after having written this, the UN discussed the possibility of establishing a Jewish state in Eretz Israel; a few months later the Jewish state - Israel - rose. Herzl's Zionist plan, and that of the leaders that came after him, made the road to the establishment of Israel in May 1948 possible.
The three years between 1945 and 1948 were the most turbulent the World Zionist Organization and Jewish Yishuv had ever known in Eretz Israel. In these years an intense struggle on several levels was being conducted against the British, who ruled Palestine at that time: armed struggle, clandestine immigration, settlement in remote places, mostly without permission from the British, and political and diplomatic activity throughout the world. Even though the government in London changed in the summer of 1945 with the rise to power of the Labor party, which had previously expressed strong support for Zionist aspirations, things did not change for the better. On the contrary, the new government toughened its White Paper policy and revealed a clear anti-Zionist stand. The entire Yishuv went into battle against the British and the three underground movements established an umbrella organization, the Hebrew Resistance Movement, that operated for some nine months. This struggle remained front-page news in newspapers throughout the world for many long months.
The British responded with arrests, searches and even hangings of underground members, and made every effort to stop the growing clandestine immigration, which was provoking anger towards them throughout the world. Leaders, public figures and the media expressed their surprise that Great Britain, one of the main powers to have defeated Nazi Germany, was now fighting the refugees of the Holocaust; the survivors of the Nazi inferno who were trying desperately to reach Eretz Israel.
In the beginning of 1947, the British government decided to transfer the Palestine question to the United Nations (UN) - a young international organization. The UN sent a commission of inquiry to Palestine, which reached the conclusion that the British mandatory authority had nothing more to offer and that Palestine should be handed over to its inhabitants. The UN proposal spoke of the establishment of two states - Jewish and Arab - and of an international zone in Jerusalem and the surrounding area.
The Zionist leadership and Jewish Yishuv heads in Eretz Israel decided to support the proposal, even though the Jews would only be given 55% of the territory of Palestine, not including Jerusalem. The chance to obtain UN recognition for a Jewish state, even a small one, prevailed over the proposal's disadvantages. On November 29, 1947 the UN Assembly passed the resolution for the partition of Palestine and the establishment of a Jewish state and an Arab state within its borders. The Jews in Palestine and throughout the world rejoiced at the historic resolution. The Arabs, however, rejected it outright and declared that they would "drown it in blood."
The following day the Arabs attacked Jewish transportation and within a short time this hostile activity deteriorated into actual war in all parts of Palestine. In the beginning the Arabs got the upper hand, but as time passed the Jewish forces, led by the Hagana, gained in strength and took control of large parts of Palestine in the month prior to the completion of the British evacuation. The Arab forces were crushed and many Arabs fled from towns and villages that had been conquered by the Jews.
The British completed the evacuation of Palestine at midnight on May 14th-15th, 1948. Eight hours previously David Ben-Gurion, now prime minister, had declared the establishment of the State of Israel. A dream of generations had been realized. But the infant state was forced to defend itself a few short hours after being born when the Arab states, in an effort to "destroy Zionist aggression" as they called it, invaded Israel.
There seemed no hope of winning the war. How could the Jewish Yishuv, with a population of 650,000 and with no heavy weapons and planes, defeat five regular Arab armies, backed by countries with tens of millions of inhabitants? But within a few short weeks it became apparent that what mattered was not the quantity but the quality of the fighters, the organization of forces, leadership, settlement deployment - the fruit of seventy years of labor - and a feeling of simply having no choice. Everyone knew that defeat would mean a new Holocaust and this gave them added strength. In addition, organized Jewish-Zionists throughout the world put money, arms and manpower at the disposal of the young State.
The war ended in the summer of 1949 in an Israeli victory in most sectors. The Israel Defense Forces (lDF), that was established two and a half weeks after the founding of the State, soon became a large, strong army. The Arab states co-signed ceasefire agreements. Large numbers of Jewish immigrants began pouring into Israel while battles were still raging, and by the end of 1949 one million Jews were living in Israel - a figure that couldn't have been envisaged ten or fifteen years earlier.
Between 1945 and 1948, the Zionist dream had become a reality. The chronological proximity to the Holocaust intensified the feeling of redemption; the People of Israel, in one decade, had witnessed their greatest disaster - the destruction of European Jewry - and their greatest achievement - the establishment of an independent country after almost 1,900 years of exile.
The British Labor party, a part of the national coalition headed by Winston Churchill, adopts a pro-Zionist resolution at its annual conference and calls for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.
Etzel and Lehi renew their acts of sabotage against the British.
The British Labor party wins a decisive victory in the general elections. There is hope in the Jewish Yishuv and the Zionist movement that the new government in Britain will fulfill the previous promises of the Labor party, abolish the policy of the White Paper and aid in establishing a Jewish state in Palestine.
A large Zionist Conference, the first after the war, convenes in London and outlines WZO policy for the coming period. Among its participants: movement leaders, soldiers who fought the Nazis and Jewish partisan fighters.
The first signs of a chilly attitude by the new British government with regard to Zionist aspirations. This goes against the previous position of the Labor party heads - now important figures in the government.
The British permit the Jewish refugees who they had previously deported to Mauritius to return to Eretz Israel (see December 1940). Clandestine maritime immigration resumes. A small ship called "Dalin" breaks through the marine blockade and lands its 35 passengers on the beach at Caesarea. By the end of 1945, seven additional small "illegal" immigrant ships reach the shores of Palestine without being detected by the British.
The Hebrew Resistance Movement (Tnuat haMeri halvrit) is established, uniting the Hagana, Etzel and Lehi in the armed struggle against the British.
The first serious exploit of the Hebrew Resistance Movement takes place when a Palmach force breaks into the British detention camp at Atlit and releases more than 200 "illegal" immigrants detained by the British prior to their expulsion from Palestine.
Dozens of Palmach forces blow up trains belonging to the British mandatory government in more than 150 locations throughout Palestine. Other forces attack and destroy three British Coast Guard vessels engaged in the detection of immigrant ships. Etzel and Lehi attack the central train station in Lydda.
Ernest Bevin, the British foreign minister, comes out with a sharp statement against the Jews and the Zionist movement. He announces a reduction in Jewish aliyah and the establishment of an Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in order to find a solution to the problem of Palestine.
Angry demonstrations are held in Tel Aviv to protest Bevin's announcement. The police open fire on demonstrators, killing six and wounding dozens of others.
In the coming weeks, the anti-British struggle of the Hebrew Resistance Movement intensifies. The Hagana, as well as Etzel and Lehi, make repeated attacks on British installations. The British implement a curfew and begin searching for the perpetrators. In a series of especially grave incidents on November 26, near the settlements of Givat Hayim, Shefayim and Rishpon, the British shoot and kill nine Jews.
Throughout the first months of the year the mutinous activities of the Jewish Yishuv continue. In addition to the underground organizations' attacks on police stations, railway lines and military airports, "illegal" immigrant ships continue to arrive in Palestine, and demonstrations are held in the big cities against British policy.
An Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry arrives in Palestine, consisting of six British and six American members. During the Commiftee's stay in Palestine, the Hebrew Resistance Movement announces that it will cease all military activity.
The beginning of the Birya affair. The British discover a Palmach arms cache in Birya, north of Safed. They arrest those involved and take over the settlement. Thousands of Hagana members and youth establish Birya "B". Upon leaving, the British destroy the new settlement but it is re-established. The British give in and leave.
"Wingate Night" in Tel Aviv. A head-on clash between the British and thousands of Jewish demonstrators, who are about to welcome the "illegal" immigrant ship "Wingate" on a Tel Aviv beach.
The activities of the Hebrew Resistance Movement continue, and there is an upsurge in clandestine immigration. The British arrest more than 1,000 "illegal" immigrants in the port of La Spezia in Italy, before they set sail for Palestine. The "illegal" immigrants declare a hunger strike, and the Yishuv leaders join them. The affair has a serious impact around the world and the British decide to provide the olim with government permits (known as "certificates") to sail to Palestine.
The Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry publishes its conclusions: it recommends awarding 100,000 aliyah certificates to survivors of the Holocaust, and partially canceling the regulations of the White Paper.
An especially stormy month. Activities of the Hebrew Resistance Movement are fully resumed. The climax is reached when ten bridges connecting Palestine with neighboring countries are blown up during the night of June 16-17 in an extensive Palmach operation. Etzel and Lehi also step up their activities.
"Black Sabbath." The British send thousands of soldiers and policemen to carry out a nationwide raid against the Jewish Yishuv. Part of the Yishuv leadership is arrested, curfews are implemented in dozens of settlements, and the British go in search of Hagana arms. Weapons are discovered in one seftlement only - that of Kibbutz Yagur.
The British detain 2,700 members of the Yishuv. There is great anger against the British in the Jewish Yishuv, in the Zionist movement and throughout the world.
Etzel blows up the south wing of the King David hotel in Jerusalem, the main headquarters of the British mandatory government and British military command. Almost 100 people are killed and many are wounded - British, Jews and Arabs. The Jewish Yishuv is in shock and accusations are exchanged between Etzel and the Hagana regarding responsibility for the operation. The explosion causes the disbanding of the Hebrew Resistance Movement.
In London the British and American Morrison-Grady Plan for Palestine is published. Jews and Arabs are to receive partial autonomy - the Jews are allocated 16% of the land and the Arabs 40%; the rest is to remain in British hands. Both Jews and Arabs reject the plan.
July 30 - August 2
The "great curfew" in Tel Aviv. For four days the British undertake house-to-house searches in order to find "Jewish terrorists."
An emergency session of the Jewish Agency Executive is held in Paris. Some members of the Executive are unable to attend as they are being held by the British. Among the resolutions: a suspension of the armed struggle in Eretz Israel until the next Zionist Congress and concentration on clandestine immigration and settlement. There is a secret agreement for a plan to establish a Jewish state in part of Palestine, on condition that it is "viable."
In response to increased clandestine immigration, the British begin to send immigrants that are caught to detention camps in Cyprus. They continue to do so until the end of the mandate.
In the next few months, the Etzel and Lehi organizations increase their sabotage activities. The Hagana concentrates on putting the British deportation ships out of action, on supporting clandestine immigration, and on expanding settlement security.
US President, Harry S. Truman, issues a statement on the occasion of Yom Kippur expressing the support of his country in allowing 100,000 Jewish refugees to make aliyah to Palestine, and for the establishment of a Jewish state. The British government is enraged.
At the end of Yom Kippur, 11 new Jewish settlements are set up - the biggest settlement operation undertaken in one day.
The British release the detained "Black Sabbath" leaders as well as all other remaining detainees (2,700 were originally arrested).
The Twenty Second Zionist Congress convenes in Basle after a hiatus of more than seven years. It concentrates on the struggle for independence in Palestine. A discussion is held regarding clandestine aliyah. Weizmann, a moderate, is not elected as president of the WZO; Ben-Gurion's activist line is adopted. The Congress bestows upon him an additional position - head of the security portfolio.
In 1946, the settlers' institutes, headed by the Jewish Agency and Keren Hayesod, establish 25 new settlements; the largest number established in one year up until the founding of the State. Twenty-two "illegal" immigrant ships reach the shores of Palestine; most are caught by the British.
The laying of the Negev water line. During the next months, an additional 220 kilometers of pipeline are added, as well as seven new Jewish settlements in the northern Negev - an important advancement in light of the upcoming struggle for the Negev.
The British government announces its decision to transfer the Palestine problem to the United Nations. Ben-Gurion returns to Palestine after a long absence (partially because of his fear of being arrested by the British). He opens his own personal "seminar" in which he studies Yishuv security matters, until June 1947.
A stormy month: Etzel and Lehi strike at British targets. The Hagana continues to organize "illegal" immigrant ships. The British announce martial law in Tel Aviv and in the Jewish parts of Jerusalem, which continues for a period of two weeks.
The clashes with the British continue.
The British hang four captured Etzel fighters. On April 21, an Etzel and a Lehi member, who are sentenced to death, commit suicide in a Jerusalem prison.
A special session of the UN is held in New York to discuss the problem of Palestine. The general assumption is that the UN will ask the British to continue their rule in Palestine.
The largest ever Etzel operation - its members break into Acco (Acre) prison and release dozens of Etzel fighters.
The UN Assembly decides to send a commission of inquiry to Palestine consisting of representatives of 11 UN member-countries, not including the super powers. The USSR representative, Andrei Gromyko, gives a surprisingly sympathetic speech in favor of Zionist aspirations.
The members of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) tour Palestine and study the problem, speaking to Jews, Arabs and British. The Arabs usually shun the Committee, the Jews cooperate with it and the British are indifferent.
During the Committee's tour of the south and the Negev, its members are impressed by the Jewish-Zionist endeavor, especially in the field of agriculture and the development of water sources.
The Yishuv struggles against the British with all its might. Not a day goes by without an action.
The "illegal" immigrant ship "Exodus 1947" (Yitziat Europa 5707), reaches the shores of Israel with 4,500 souls on board. After a fierce struggle, during which unarmed immigrants use weapons such as tin cans and sticks to prevent the British from boarding, the ship is towed to Haifa port and the refugees sent back to Europe. This results in demonstrations and protests all over the Jewish world. The refugees refuse to disembark in France and demand to return to Palestine.
The tense situation deteriorates: the British hang three captured Etzel members and in response, Etzel members hang two captive British sergeants. Enraged British soldiers shoot indiscriminately in the streets of Tel Aviv, killing five and wounding dozens.
One of the most violent months in the history of the struggle in Eretz Israel: installations, military camps and trains are blown up and ships intended for deporting refugees are sabotaged. The struggle of the Exodus refugees continues, and anti-British demonstrations are held all over the world. The UNSCOP Committee meets in Switzerland after visiting the Jewish displaced persons camps in Germany and Austria, to review their conclusions.
The WZO Actions Committee convenes in Zurich, Switzerland to discuss the possibility of establishing a Jewish state in the near future.
The UNSCOP Committee publishes its conclusions: it recommends the ending of the British mandate and the establishment of two states in Palestine - Jewish and Arab. During the following month, the British declare their willingness to leave Palestine.
The end of the Exodus affair: the British forcefully remove the refugees from the ship at the port of Hamburg, Germany.
The UN Assembly convenes for its annual meeting. On the agenda - the question of Palestine and the recommendations of the UNSCOP Committee. In the next two months there is a tremendous Jewish and Zionist effort to have the Palestine partition plan approved, which will mean the establishment of a Jewish state.
The Arabs threaten war if there is a UN resolution to establish a Jewish state. The Yishuv and the Zionist movement prepare for such a scenario by establishing a kind of national recruitment office.
The UN Assembly approves the recommendations of the UNSCOP Committee by a majority of more than two-thirds (33 for, 13 against and 10 abstentions) - an end to the British mandate in Palestine, and the establishment of two states (Jewish and Arab) as well as an international zone in Jerusalem. The Jews in Eretz Israel and around the world rejoice; the Arabs threaten war.
Bloody riots throughout the country, initiated by Arabs, soon turn into war. By the end of the month, hundreds of Jews have been killed. The Hagana prepares a counter-attack and establishes its first divisions.
Clandestine immigration and settlement activity continue throughout 1947. Thirteen new settlements are set up and 20 "illegal" immigrant ships reach the shores of Palestine.
After the UN vote on the partition of Palestine, Keren Hayesod organizes an emergency campaign to fund recruitment costs, in light of the Arab nations' threats to destroy the nascent state.
The two largest "illegal" immigrant ships, "Pan York" (Atzmaut) and "Pan Crescent" (Kibbutz Galuyot), each carrying 7,500 Jews, are captured by the British and their passengers transferred to Cyprus.
The war between the Jews and the Arabs is at its peak. Settlements and transportation are attacked. Travel to many settlements, especially to Jerusalem, is undertaken in secured convoys.
During the winter months preparations are made for the establishment of the Jewish State; its institutes are founded by the National Institutions - the Jewish Agency and the National Council.
The US announces withdrawal of its support for the partition plan and the establishment of the Jewish State, basing its decision on the deteriorating military situation in Palestine. The Yishuv and the Jewish world are deeply disappointed.
The convoy system is no longer effective and the Arabs manage to block the convoys' path and even destroy some of them. Towards the end of the month, Jewish Jerusalem is under siege.
After four months of defensive action, the Jewish settlement goes on the attack. Within several weeks, the situation has been reversed: the Hagana forces win in most sectors, Arab towns fall and their inhabitants flee. The siege of Jerusalem has been broken.
The Actions Committee convenes in Tel Aviv, with representatives from Eretz Israel and from abroad coming despite the war. A resolution is passed to establish the institutions of the nascent state, which will come into being in mid-May when the British evacuate Palestine. Heading the State's institutions are the People's Council (Moetet haAm), a legislative body consisting of 37 members, and the People's Administration (Minhelet haAm), consisting of 13 members.
During the first half of the month, Jewish momentum continues and the British complete the evacuation.
May 14 (5 lyyar 5708)
David Ben-Gurion declares the establishment of the State of Israel and the Arab states threaten war. The US recognizes the new country.
The armies of five Arab countries - Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq - invade Israeli territory and there is fierce fighting throughout the country. This continues for four weeks, during which time the Jewish forces succeed in repelling the invaders in most sectors.
The Hagana constitutes the basis for the founding of the Israel Defense Forces (lDF). Etzel and Lehi declare their intention of joining with it.
Israel and the Arab nations agree to the UN proposal of a ceasefire lasting four weeks - the first truce.
The truce ends and fighting is renewed. The IDF achieves many of its objectives. Ten days later the UN declares a second truce, this time an unlimited one.
The Actions Committee meets in Jerusalem. Among it's important decisions: aliyah to Israel and the absorption of new immigrants are not just an Israeli undertaking but the responsibility of the entire Jewish people who should, therefore, assume the cost; the Jewish Agency shall continue to operate even after the establishment of the State in order to promote aliyah, handle absorption and continue to support Youth Aliyah and settlement. A confrontation is developing between the Israeli and American members of the Zionist Executive. The Americans demand that WZO headquarters be moved to New York now that the State has been established. Ben-Gurion and the Israeli leadership reject this demand. The government ministers resign from their jobs in the Jewish Agency Executive. Levi Eshkol begins to operate as the treasurer of the Jewish Agency and head of the Department of Agricultural Settlement.
Following the violation of the ceasefire, the IDF embarks on two significant operations during the month: in the south (including the Negev), the Egyptian army is repelled in Operation Yoav, and Beersheva is conquered. An entire Egyptian brigade is surrounded in the "Faluja Pocket." In the north, the Arabic "Hazala" army is defeated and the entire Galilee comes under IDF control.
The first census in Israel - the number of citizens stands at 782,000 - 713,000 Jews and 69,000 Arabs.
November 19 – December 10
The Settlement Committee (Va'adat haHityashvut), consisting of senior representatives of the Israel government, the Jewish Agency, the Jewish National Fund and the Histadrut haOvdim decide (during four sessions) on the imminent establishment of 100 new settlements.
December 25 - January 7, 1949
Operation "Horev" (or "Ayin") in the Negev. The IDF drives the Egyptians out of all the land they captured in Eretz Israel, except for the Gaza Strip. During the operation, the IDF infiltrates into Sinai. As a result of American pressure, the IDF evacuates the captured territory.
The Jewish Agency prepares for mass absorption. Since the middle of May and until the end of the year - despite the war - 102,000 immigrants have made aliyah to Israel, an addition of 15% to the Jewish population since the founding of the State of Israel. The Department of Agricultural Settlement of the Jewish Agency establishes 28 new settlements while the battles are in progress, most of which are border settlements close to the fighting areas.
Elections to the Constituent Assembly (Asefa haMekonenet), which after convening becomes the first Knesset.
Aliyah increases and thousands of new immigrants arrive every week. Among the arrivals are the last ten thousand detainees from the Cyprus camps, who were released by the British nine months after the establishment of the State of Israel.
February 14 (Tu b'Shevat 5709)
The Constitutent Assembly convenes for the first time in Jerusalem. After several meetings it moves to Tel Aviv. Since then Tu b'Shevat is celebrated as the birthday of the Knesset.
The first Knesset elects Dr. Chaim Weizmann as President of the State of Israel.
A ceasefire agreement between Israel and Egypt is signed on the island of Rhodes. During the months to come, additional agreements are signed with Lebanon, Jordan (then Transjordan) and Syria. Iraq refuses to sign such an agreement with Israel.
Aliyah reaches a climax with the arrival of more then 30,000 immigrants. This results in serious housing shortages.
The first permanent government, headed by David Ben-Gurion, receives the approval of the Knesset.
Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion announces a policy of economic austerity. A special government office for supply and rationing (Misrad haAspaka vehaKitzuv) is in charge of implementing the new policy, headed by Dr. Dov Yosef.
On Israel's first Independence Day it is reported that during the previous year, since the country was established, 200,000 new immigrants entered the country - equivalent to the number of olim arriving during the previous 13 years.
Aliyah is affected by emigration sanctions in some Eastern Europe countries. There are difficulties in absorbing immigrants due to housing shortages. Thousands of immigrants fill every available place, including Arab towns and Arab villages that had been deserted.
With the signing of the ceasefire agreement with Syria, the War of Independence is formally at an end. During the war Israel had many great successes: its territory grew from 55%, as agreed by the UN resolution, to 70%; the Arab countries that invaded the young State were defeated and driven out in most of the battles; and the State of Israel became a fait accomplis in the Middle East. But Israel paid a heavy price - 6,000 dead and thousands wounded.
The coffin of Theodor Herzl - the founder of the World Zionist Organization and visionary of the State - is brought to Israel and buried on a high mountain west of Jerusalem, which is named Mount Herzl in his honor.
The Knesset enacts two important laws: the Defense Service Law and the Compulsory Education Law.
Aliyah continues. At the beginning of the month, the first planes arrive from Aden bringing immigrants from Yemen in the framework of Operation Magic Carpet. During the year, over 40,000 immigrants arrive in more then 400 flights.
Rejoicing in Israel - "The million day." The number of Jews, which was 650,000 the day the State of Israel was founded (18 months before) now stands at one million, due mostly to the mass aliyah.
A stormy month in the international arena. The UN General Assembly decides once again to make Jerusalem an international city. Prime Minister Ben-Gurion announces that the UN decision cannot be implemented; that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and that all the government institutions - especially the Knesset and the government offices - will be moved there.
Aliyah and settlement reach a peak in 1949. Israel absorbs 259,000 immigrants (an all-time record) and 114 new settlements (also a record) are established.