Here in this hall, the members of the National Council, representatives of the Jewish settlements and the Zionist movement, gathered on Friday, 5th of Iyar 5708, 14th of May 1948 in the afternoon, to sign the Scroll of Independence. Behind the table, David Ben Gurion, the Chairman of the Zionist Movement, proclaimed the establishment of the Jewish State, Israel.
Independence Hall is located in the Rothschild Blvd. 16 in Tel Aviv, formerly the house of Zinna and Meir Dizengoff, Tel Aviv's founding father and first mayor, who bequeathed his home to the city as an Art Exhibition.
With the declaration of the Jewish State, 52 years after publication of Theodor Herzl's"Der Judenstat" (The Jewish State), the Jewish dream of about two thousand years became a reality. However, the people in Israel still had to fight for their independence, defending themselves against Arab irregulars and the regular armies of the Arab league that launched attacks on the young state from all sides within the next few days.
Israel's Declaration of Independence was not a foregone conclusion.
Two days before the declaration, the situation for the National Council was very complex: the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Road was blockaded by Arab bands, and two members of the National Council were unable to arrive in Tel Aviv for the historical decision. Golda Meirson (Meir) reported the results of a secret night time meeting on 11th of May 1948 with Abdullah; King of Jordan, the King had decided to withdraw from former agreements for political arrangements to recognize the Jewish state, joining the Arabic league preparations to invade Palestine directly after termination of the British Mandate. Somber strategic estimates were provided by Israel Galili, the head of the Haganah; Yigal Sukenik (Yadin), head of the Haganah's Operations Department, depicted the dangerous situation, such as weapon shortage and the very critical circumstances in Gush Ezion, which finally fell into the hands of Arab bands between 12-14 of May 1948. Moshe Shertok (Sharett), the future Minister for Foreign Affairs, gave a detailed report about American State Department policy, on the one hand, pressuring the Zionist Organization to postpone a declaration of independence, in order to prevent an Arab invasion, and on the pro Arab position of Great Britain. On the other hand, he reported the warm sympathy he found from Andre Gromyko,the Russian representative at the United Nation, who took a contrary position and opposed American policy, after the Russian frustration in negotiations for oil concessions in Moslem states, to such an extent, that USA officials were afraid that the Jewish state would be become a bridgehead for Russian influence in the Middle East.
After serious appraisal of the dangers in days of lengthy meetings before the Declaration, on the 12th of May the Jewish National Council finally decided to take advantage from the maybe unique opportunity provided by the termination of the English Mandate to establish the State of Israel. From now on, the State of Israel could set its own foreign policy and import weapons to defend its independence as a sovereign state.
No borders of the state were mentioned in the declaration. When queried on this point, Ben Gurion asked, "When the United States declared independence, did it define its borders?".
In the US, President Truman did not agree with the policy proposed by the State Department officials and his Secretary of State Marshall, who did not support independence. He sent his adviser, Clark Clifford secretly to Eliyahu Eilat, the Jewish Agency representative in the USA, to prepare a request for recognition of the Jewish State when declared, and Clifford even gave him the text requested by President Truman. A interesting fact is, that when Eliyahu Eilat presented the request for approval, he did not yet know name of the future Jewish State.
On the 15th of May USA recognized Israel, Guatemala followed, and on the 17th of May Russia gave its official recognition.
Today, Dizengoff House serves as a Biblical Museum with rare editions, printings and illustration, where another section of the building serves as Museum of Zionism.
Independence Hall, where the State of Israel was declared, is preserved as it was on that day.
Text and picture by: Pinhas Baraq z"l.
Jehoshua Ben Aryeh, The History of Eretz Israel, the War of Independence, Jerusalem 1983, (Hebrew).
Ben Zion Dinur (chief editor), History of The Haganah, Tel Aviv 1972 (Hebrew).
Zev Vilnay, The Guide to Israel, Jerusalem 1978.
Dave Winter, Fotoprint Israel Handbook, Bath 1999.