84. The 14th of May 1948

David Ben-Gurion’s anxiety grew as the 15th of May 1948 came closer. Actually speaking,in the on-going Arab-Jew Civil War, the Jews appeared to win across the land of Palestine while the Palestinian Arabs, fearing for their life, continued to flee with their families and whatever belongings they could carry.

However, the upper hand, the Jews, enjoyed was in the conflicts with the local Arab militias. But all along, the leaders of the neighbouring Arab countries kept warning the Jewish state about attacking and annihilating it the day the British Mandate for Palestine ended. Till the time the British held sway over Palestine, these Arab nations at least, had not dared to openly send their forces though they secretly sent war supplies and other military aid to the Palestinian Arabs. However, the end of the British Mandate and no one in control of Palestine easily gave a free hand to the Arabs to run their writ.

If the existing situation of the Jewish homeland continued, securing global help would be difficult for the Jews in case of war with the Arabs because the creation of a Jewish homeland in the land of Palestine had international approval with a resolution passed by the United Nations, the nation per se was yet to be officially established. For the world, the Jews were still just a community and not a recognized nation, and a request from a country was considered official that by a community. As a result, many legal hurdles stood in the way.

And this very fact worried Ben-Gurion. He made up his mind to officially declare the independence and the establishment of the Jewish state at the earliest.

At the same time, Ben-Gurion also became active on the diplomatic front. He had good relations with King Abdullah, who ruled Transjordan – an Arab nation that could be a possible ‘enemy’. Golda Meir, who in the past met King Abdullah as a representative of Ben-Gurion, had had a good meeting with the king.

As a result, this time too, Ben-Gurion once again deputed Golda Meir to meet King Abdullah and work out a secret pact with him so as to reduce the strength of the enemy. Disguised as an Arab woman, Meir went for the meeting along with the other Jewish representatives. However, a lot of water had flown under the bridge since they had last met, and many equations had changed. Thus, this time, King Abdullah neither promised any help to the Jews nor did he commit to stay neutral.

Golda Meir and King Abdullah

On the contrary, in an attempt to lure the Jewish delegation, Abdullah said –‘Why do you add to the complexities by hurrying to declare the Jewish statehood? Instead, you merge with us, with Transjordan. I assure you that you will get equal rights, like our people and also representation in our national assembly’.

However, Golda Meir, in her humble yet self-respecting words, rejected Abdullah’s proposal. She asked King Abdullah ‘We have been waiting for 2,000 years (for the Jewish homeland). Is that hurrying?’ She further went on to dismiss his remark by reminding the king and asking him not forget the fact that in the then geopolitical situation, Transjordan had only the Jews as its friends, rest all enemies, in the region of the Middle East.

Having failed to reach any consensus, the Jewish delegation returned empty-handed. On the one hand, as all the efforts continued, on the other, Ben-Gurion worked to finalize the draft of the declaration of independence along with the legal experts.

About the boundaries of the Jewish state, the original draft of declaration envisaged them to be the same as boundaries of the land allotted under the ‘Palestine Partition Plan’ of the United Nations but Ben-Gurion objected to it. He said that the ‘Palestine Partition Plan’ has received international recognition for the creation of Jewish homeland in the land of Palestine and called the step (the declaration of independence) to be in line with it. However, he pointed out that the Arabs had not approved the plan. Moreover, to deny the Jews their right, the Arabs were trying to force a war on them. He questioned as to why the Jews should take it upon them to obey the boundaries that the Arabs refused to recognize. Ben-Gurion clearly stated that if any piece of land other than the one allotted to the Jews came under their control during the impending war, it be considered a part of the Jewish homeland. The draft of the declaration underwent a change after Ben-Gurion’sdemand. In another addition to the draft, ‘Hebrew’ got recognized as the national language, though the freedom for the use of any other language was maintained.

Besides, though the majority of the Jews believed that ‘the Jew-nation belonged to God’, the official inclusion of these words in the declaration, led to some debate and disagreements. Conservative Jews insisted on its inclusion while the Jews identifying themselves with the secular and socialist ideologies objected to it. In the midst of this dispute, David Ben-Gurion found a middle path and rather than a direct mention ‘God’, got the words, the ‘Rock of Israel’ from the Bible, included.

The question remained: the one concerning the name of the Jew-nation.

The Independence Hall

Though many names like ‘Eretz Israel’, ‘Judea’, ‘Ever’, ‘Zion’ – came up as suggestions, each of them faced some or the other objection.

Finally, Ben-Gurion suggested a simple and straightforward name ‘Israel’ was approved.

The museum at Tel Aviv was to be the venue of the ceremony. It later came to be known as the ‘Independence Hall’. Of course, due to security reasons, a high level of secrecy was maintained. Invitations for the event even to the attendees were kept under wraps and personally handed-over.

Finally, the day arrived – the 14th of May 1948!

It was to be the last day of the British Mandate. Most of the British troops had already left Palestine. Only a few of the soldiers and the senior officials kept were to officially exit Palestine the next day that is on the 15thof May 1948.

4 o’clock in the afternoon, amid solemn atmosphere, David Ben-Gurion struck a soft blow of his decoratively decorative, ceremonial gavel to mark the start the event…. (To be continued…)

– Shulamith Penkar-Nigrekar

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.