Declaring the State of Israel on May 14, 1948

5-14-15 Ben Gurion Israel
In Tel Aviv, Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, stands under a portrait of Theodore Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, as he reads Israel’s declaration of independence on May 14, 1948. Kluger Zoltan/GPO/Reuters

On May 14, 1948, just ahead of the official end to the British Mandate in Palestine at midnight, David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of a Jewish state, to be called Israel. The British army withdrew with the end of the mandate, and on the heels of Ben-Gurion’s announcement, the armies of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq invaded. Though Israel had just been declared a nation, its forces were able to gain the offensive during the fighting. When armistice lines were drawn, Israel was left with some of the territory that had originally been allotted to Palestinian Arabs under the 1947 United Nations resolution that partitioned Palestine between Arabs and Jews.

In our May 24, 1948, issue, Newsweek described the departure of the British high commissioner for Palestine from his post as well as Ben-Gurion’s announcement.

The thin lament of a single bagpipe mingled with the occasional pop of a distant rifle in the streets of Jerusalem on May 14. Out of Government House on Mount Zion stepped a man with a lean, precise face. To the tune of the piper, Lt. Gen. Sir Alan Cunningham was leaving for the last time his official residence as British High Commissioner for Palestine. Simultaneously, the Union Jack fluttered down from British headquarters in the King David Hotel, and the Red Cross emblem went up in its place.

On Dec. 11, 1917, Gen. Sir Edmund Allenby had thrilled the Christian world by leading a triumphant British army into Jerusalem and liberating the Holy City from the Turks. Now the British were departing, unhonored and unsung, leaving Jerusalem under the guardianship of the Red Cross and the Holy Land to a new war.

At the port of Haifa, Cunningham passed down the dock between the spit-and-polish lines of Grenadier Guards and Royal Marine commandos. He stepped into his launch. A band broke into the melancholy strains of “The Minstrel Boy.” Rockets lit up the night sky over the harbor, and searchlights picked out the cruiser Euryalus. At midnight the warship hoisted its anchor and headed out to sea with Cunningham aboard. The British mandate had ended.

Israel: Eight hours earlier, a small man with shaggy white hair stood in the main gallery of the modern, two-story Tel Aviv Museum of Art on Rothschild Boulevard. He spoke slowly: “We hereby proclaim the establishment of the Jewish State in Palestine, to be called Israel.” Thus David Ben-Gurion, chairman of the Palestine National Council and now Premier of Israel, brought to a climax the half-century struggle of the Jews to recreate their ancient homeland. Dr. Chaim Weizmann became president of the Council of Government of the new State.

In Tel Aviv, Jewish flags flashed on all buildings, automobiles appeared with Jewish license plates, and Haganah officers exchanged toasts in the cafes. That night Tel Aviv was blacked out, but behind the cafe doors the celebrations went on. Just before midnight, when Israel became officially established, doors were flung open and rejoicing crowds again poured into the streets. The news of the United States recognition had just reached Tel Aviv.