Israel Studies 3.1 (1998) 170-194
[Access article in PDF]
Five Days in May from Ben-Gurion's Diary 1
Tuvia Friling and S. Ilan Troen
At exactly 4:00 P.M. on Friday, 14 May 1948, Ben-Gurion stood up in the auditorium of the Tel-Aviv Museum, rapped the gavel, and the assembled rose. The plan called for the Philharmonic, which was unseen on the upper floor, to play the Jewish national anthem. Anticipating the significance of the moment, the crowd spontaneously broke out with Hatikvah before the orchestra began to play. At the conclusion of the singing, Ben-Gurion announced: "I shall now read to you the Scroll of the Independence which has passed its first reading by the National Council." He thereupon began: "The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people . . ." His reading was interrupted by loud and prolonged applause when he concluded the dramatic passage midway through the Scroll: "We hereby proclaim the establishment of the Jewish State in Palestine, to be called the State of Israel." 2
On concluding the reading, he called on the assembly to stand as the sign of their agreement to the adoption of the Scroll of the Independence. When the audience was again seated, he announced that those members of the National Council who were in Jerusalem and could not come to Tel-Aviv had also ratified the document. Ben-Gurion then proceeded to read out the first proclamations of the new state including the abrogation of the British White Paper prohibiting Jewish immigration. All were immediately approved. The signing of the Scroll was undertaken by those members present on a portion of parchment that was to be appended to the "official" parchment that had yet to be inscribed. The meeting ended with the assembly on its feet as the orchestra played Hatikvah and Ben-Gurion declared: "The State of Israel is established! This meeting is ended." The proceedings took but thirty-two minutes. [End Page 170]
The details of this dramatic and historic event are not found in the document presented here. Instead, there is a laconic description in two short paragraphs. One closes the simple notebook that had served as his diary for a preriod ending at that point with the terse announcement: "At four o'clock in the afternoon, we declared independence." Notations after 4:00P.M. were made in a fresh diary, which begins with an equally dramatic announcement: "At four o'clock in the afternoon, the State was established. Our fate is in the hands of the defence forces." These texts in their separate notebooks are often taken to symbolize that proclaiming independence at once closed a chapter in the history of the Jews and inaugurated a new one.
Ben-Gurion records succinctly and without comment that, at a meeting on Wednesday, May 12, there was a debate about whether to declare independence and whether such a declaration should also indicate specific borders. The brevity of this notation bears no relation to the significance or duration of deliberations. Ten of the thirteen individuals who composed the highest executive body of the Yishuv [the Jewish settlement in Palestine] spent about 12 hours in continuous discussion. Two were in Jerusalem and one was abroad. Creating an independent Jewish state was the clearly the objective of the entire group. It was for that purpose that years of practical settlement and diplomatic activity had been carried out. The immediate catalyst for this discussion was the return from the United States on May 11 of Moshe Shertok (Sharett), the Head of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency, with the message that the US State Department wanted independence postponed. The vote was divided, with six for declaring independence on May 14 and four for supporting postponement. The division crossed party lines and customary alliances. Within the Labor party (Mapai), Ben-Gurion and Moshe Sharett voted for the Declaration and Eliezer Kaplan and David Remez supported delay. Ben-Gurion had to apply the full force of...