February 05, 2011



14th MAY, 1948

Israel – the tiny state in West Asia is regarded as one of the most technically and militarily advanced nations in the world today. In spite of being located in a semi-arid region and being surrounded by hostile Arab states, Israel has managed to overcome all odds and emerged as a prominent player in all major platforms. While Israel’s policies and a history of human rights violations against the Palestinians have been regularly criticized, the world’s only majority Jewish state is admired for being tough on all threats to its security and integrity. A strong economy backed by a phenomenal industrial growth, a successful nuclear and space programme and innovations in the fields of science and technology have catapulted the Zionist state into a superpower which you can love or hate but just cannot ignore.
The foundation of the modern state of Israel can be traced back to the Austro-Hungarian journalist, Theodor Herzl. In his book, Der Judenstaat, or The Jewish State, he outlined the various reasons for the re-establishment of a homeland for the Jews in West Asia, away from Europe where they were alienated from the mainstream and looked upon as anti-nationals and opportunistic. Hailed by Israelis as the Father of modern political Zionism and Visionary of the State, he is credited for raising the Jewish Question to the international plane.
According to Jewish mythology, the land encompassing modern day Israel was promised to the Three Patriarchs of the Jewish people by God in the early 2nd millennium BC. Over the next two thousand years, several Jewish kingdoms were established in the region in quick succession. The strength of the Jewish populace dwindled after the Romans crushed the revolt of Bar Khokba in 132 AD. The Byzantine Empire which replaced the Romans continued the persecution of Jews and was briefly overthrown by the Persians in early seventh century after a successful Jewish revolution. The recapture of Jerusalem by the Byzantine emperor Heraclius witnessed the execution and displacement of countless Jews in the region. After the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem in 635 AD, the Holy Land became a bone of contention between the Christians and Muslims during the Crusades. Finally in 1516 AD, the Ottomans extended their dominion over this land and continued to rule it for the next four centuries. The political instability and religious persecution at the hands of the Christians and the Muslim led to the dispersion of Jews across Europe and some parts of Asia and Africa.

The first large wave of modern immigration to the Promised Land began in 1881 when Jews of Eastern Europe fled to escape the pogroms, an event known as the First Aliyah. The Second Aliyah which led to the settlement of another twenty thousand Jews was immediately followed by the Balfour Declaration issued by the then British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour in 1917 which favoured the creation of a separate Zionist state in the region. As World War I came to an end, the League of Nations granted Britain the mandate over Palestine, which it had captured from the Ottomans with the help of Jewish groups. The number of Jews grew with the Third and Fourth Aliyahs and then swelled with the influx of a quarter million refugees who fled Europe fearing Nazi persecution. The exponential rise of their populace and the recommendations of the Peel Commission to divide the region on religious lines led to the Arab revolt (1936-39). Owing to the cap on immigration to the region, the Jewish organizations launched Aliyah Bet - a clandestine movement to bring Holocaust refugees to Palestine. At the end of the Second World War, the Zionists comprised of nearly one third of the total population in Palestine.

With the end of the Second World War, the British government bore the brunt of Jewish anger as the Hagnah, Irgun and Lehi joined forces to form Jewish Resistance Movement in 1945 to drive the English out and to form a Jewish state in the region. Their strategy to achieve these objectives included organizing terror attacks on Arab and British targets and providing arrangements for the illegal entry of Jewish refugees from Europe into Palestine. Unable to get the situation under its control, Britain decided to withdraw from the Mandate of Palestine and to relinquish it to the United Nations in 1947.

The UNO, facing one of its earliest and most challenging tasks, came up with the Partition Plan for Palestine on 29th November, 1947 to resolve the Arab-Jew conflict. The former British mandate was to be partitioned into two separate states – an Arab and a Jewish with the bone of contention, Jerusalem to be administered by the UN as an international city. The proposal which was passed by the General Assembly was welcomed by the Jews but outright reject by the Arab population and other Muslim nations. The Arab countries 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 as part of a British withdrawal from the territory (to be no later than 1 August 1948); though the UK refused to implement the plan, arguing it was unacceptable to both sides.

In retaliation, the Arab Higher Committee declared a three day strike on 1st December, 1947 to express their displeasure against the UN proposed partition of Palestine. Organized Arab bands began attacking the Jews. In the civil war that followed, the Jews launched a counter offensive leading to the total collapse of Arab economy, thereby forcing nearly two and a 2,50,000 Palestinian Arabs to evacuate.

As the stalemate over the future of Palestine continued, prominent Jewish leaders met on 12th May, 1948 to deliberate on whether to agree to a US proposed truce in the region or to declare independence. The marathon meeting concluded with a majority of the dignitaries voting in the favour of immediate independence. Chaim Weizmann, chairman of the Zionist Organization and soon to be the first President of Israel, endorsed the decision, after reportedly asking "What are they waiting for, the idiots?"

The final text of the Declaration of Independence was ratified by voting on all contentious issue, taking the opinion of the majority into account, hours before the Declaration ceremony in Tel Aviv. During the meeting, there were two major debates, centred on borders and the religion of the new state. The issue of territorial extent of the new Jewish homeland was left open allowing scope for future expansion and also due to the fact that none of the Arab nations were ready to formally recognize the existence of Israel. On the topic of God, the last phrase mentions “Rock of Israel” instead of “God of Israel” or “the Almighty and Redeemer of Israel.” This was proposed by Ben-Gurion and was passed without a vote.

As far as the name of the new state was concerned, the proposed names included Eretz Israel, Ever, Judea and Zion. Judea and Zion, although popular were rejected as the Partition Plan of the UN excluded Jerusalem (Zion) and most of the Judean Mountains. Ben-Gurion put forward the name “Israel” which was passed by a vote of 6-3.

The ceremony to mark the Birth of Israel was held at the Tel Aviv Museum, rechristened later as the Independence Hall to commemorate the historic event that took place here. The event was kept a secret to prevent interference by British authorities who were to pull out of the region on the following day and to prevent military offensive by hostile Arab nations. The recipients were invited by a messenger and the whole event was broadcasted live on the radio station, Air Israel (Kol Yisrael). As the 250 odd guests rose to the Hatikvah, the national anthem of Israel, on wall behind the podium hung a photo of Theodor Herzl, the first modern day visionary of Israel. Ben-Gurion concluded the event with the words "The State of Israel is established! This meeting is adjourned!" Minutes after the Declaration of independence, President Harry Truman of the United States gave a de facto recognition to Israel, followed by Iran, Guatemala, Iceland, Nicaragua, Romania, and Uruguay. The Soviet Union was the first country to officially recognize Israel on 17th May, 1948.

Though the century’s old dream of the Jews to establish a state in the Promised Land became a reality, political analysts and observers dipped their pens in black ink and wrote the obituaries of the young nation. In fact most felt that the Zionist state wouldn’t last long admits the hostile environment and would be soon overrun by a well organized attack by Arab nations.

As expected, seven neighboring Arab states, namely, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Iraq, Sudan, Lebanon and Syria declared war on Israel on 15th May, 1948. The Jews, who had fought hard to carve out a nation for themselves weren’t prepared to give up their land without a fight. In the war that lasted for about two years, over six thousand Israeli nationals were killed whereas the casualties on the Arab side were significantly higher, ranging from 8,000 to 15,000. The war ended with Israel signing separate Armistice agreements with Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria in 1949. The new nation had passed the litmus test and come out stronger than ever, having increased its territorial extent by nearly 50 per cent. The war is referred to as Catastrophe by the Arab world as not only did Israel retain its independence and expanded its extent further, but it also led to the exodus of about seven lakh Palestinian Arabs from the region.

On 25th January, 1949 elections to the Constituent Assembly were held in which David Ben-Gurion led Mapai Party won 46 out of the total 120 seats. The first democratically elected government in Israeli history was formed under his leadership which included United Religious Front, Progressive Party etc as coalition partners. Israel became a member of the United Nations on 11 May, 1949.

The birth of Israel is the logical conclusion of the dream of a Zionist homeland which the Jewish people have nurtured since the Roman occupation of the region. The hardships faced by them across centuries have made them remarkably resilient and has transformed them into a race that will go to any extent to protect its interest even if it means defying popular opinion and pressure from super powers. From the decisive victory over Egypt, Jordan and Syria in the Six Day War to the commando style invasion of Uganda to free its nationals aboard a hijacked plane to the ‘The Wrath of God’ – a secret mission launched by Israeli intelligence agency, the Mossad to avenge the Berlin Massacre to Israeli athletes, Israel has paid little or no attention to the image that it has projected about itself around the world.

The events that unfolded on 14th May, 1948 were to change the world for ever. While the Jews got what they wanted, the creation of the Zionist state in a land dominated by Arab was viewed by Muslims around the world as an act of injustice and an attempt to undermine Islam. The fidayeen style attacks on Israeli targets by Palestinian terrorist, armed and funded by the Arab countries and the subsequent oppression of the Palestinian Arabs by Israeli authorities has made the region one of the most volatile region of the world. Though several attempts to establish peace in the Gaza Strip have been attempted in the last six decades, they have met with little or no success. It is in the best interest of both the Israelis and the Palestinians to come up with a permanent solution to the problem and co-exist peacefully.


(1) www.wikipedia.org