The Signatories of the Declaration of the
Establishment of the State of Israel
May 14, 1948
The invitation to the ceremony declaring the establishment of the State of
(Central Zionist Archives)
The British Mandate over Palestine was due to end
on May 15, 1948, some six months after the United Nations had voted to partition
Palestine into two states: one for the Jews, the other for the Arabs. While
the Jews celebrated the United Nations resolution, feeling that a truncated
state was better than none, the Arab countries rejected the plan, and irregular
attacks of local Arabs on the Jewish population of the country began immediately
after the resolution. In the United Nations, the US and other countries tried
to prevent or postpone the establishment of a state, suggesting trusteeship,
among other proposals. But by the time the British Mandate was due to end, the
United Nations had not yet approved any alternate plan; officially, the partition
plan was still "on the books."
A dilemma faced the leaders of the yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine.
Should they declare the country's independence upon the withdrawal of the British
mandatory administration, despite the threat of an impending attack by Arab states? Or
should they wait, perhaps only a month or two, until conditions were more favorable?
Under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion, who was to become the first
Prime Minister of Israel, the Va'ad Leumi - the representative body of the yishuv
under the British mandate - decided to seize the opportunity. At 4:00 PM on Friday, May
14, the national council, which had directed the Jewish community's affairs under the British
Mandate, met in the Tel Aviv Museum on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv. As Jerusalem was
under siege, those members who resided in Jerusalem could not be present, although they
kept in constant contact by telephone. The proceedings were not widely publicized before
they took place, for fear that the Declaration would be stopped by the British; still,
those present included representatives of the Jewish Agency, the Zionist Organization, the
Va'ad Leumi, leaders of political parties, cultural personalities, the chief
rabbis, the chief of staff of the Haganah and his colleagues and more. Thousands
waited outside the hall to hear the Declaration on huge loudspeakers and thousands more
listened to the Kol Israel radio station to hear the news in the station's first
A crowd gathers outside the Tel Aviv Museum to hear the Declaration
(Government Press Office)
David Ben-Gurion read the Declaration of the Establishment of
the State to those assembled. As he concluded the reading, he said "Let us accept
the Foundation Scroll of the Jewish State by rising," and the entire audience arose.
Rabbi Fishman read the traditional blessing "Blessed art thou, O Lord, King of the
Universe, Who has kept us alive and preserved us and enabled us to reach this
season." The signers put their names to the Declaration. A 13-member Provisional
Government and a Provisional Council of 37 members were established; upon the departure of
the British Mandatory forces, they would become the provisional government and
legislature, respectively, of the state.
The historic occasion, marked by joy, took place under the long shadow of upcoming war
with the Arab states. The State of Israel was established, but at a terrible price: over
6,000 lives lost.
The Declaration is made up of four parts: one discusses the history of the Jewish
people, its struggle to renew its national life in its land and the international
recognition of its right to do so; the second proclaims independence; the third names the
principles of freedom, justice, peace and equality of social and political rights, which
are to guide the new state; and the last section calls upon the Arabs of Eretz Israel to
preserve peace, extends an offer of peace and good neighborliness to all neighboring
states and their peoples, and appeals to the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora to
rally round the Jews of Eretz Israel.
|The 37 signers of the Declaration were the members of the
Provisional Council of State. They were the leaders of the state-in-the-making,
representatives of the different communities that made up the new state. The oldest was
82; the youngest, not yet 30. Three signers went on to become prime ministers of Israel;
one became president; and fourteen became cabinet ministers. Two of the signatories are
still alive today.
David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973) - secretary-general of the Histadrut
(1921-35), chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive (1935-48) and first Prime Minister of
Israel (1948-63, with a short break). He headed the yishuv in the pre-state years; laid
the foundations for the workings of the government and the IDF; and led the country in its
Daniel Auster (1893-1962) - lawyer and mayor of Jerusalem, 1948-51. He
had been active in Jerusalem municipal affairs since 1934, under the British Mandatory
administration, and represented the Jewish case against the internationalization of
Jerusalem before the United Nations in 1947.
Mordekhai Bentov (1900-1985) - Hashomer Hatzair leader, Mapam leader, and
a member of the political committee representing the yishuv in the United Nations
(1947-48). He was Minister of Labor and Reconstruction in the provisional government
(1948), Knesset member (1949-65), Minister of Development (1955-61) and Minister of
Yitzhak Ben-Zvi (1884-1963) - yishuv leader, Knesset member (1949-52)
and second President of Israel (1952-63). He was a founder and leader of the Zionist
socialist movement, of the pioneering Zionist labor movement and of Jewish self-defense,
and made important contributions to the historiography of Eretz Israel and of ancient and
remote Jewish communities.
Eliyahu Meir Berligne (1866-1959) - yishuv leader, a member of the
General Zionists, and a founder of Tel Aviv, serving on its first administrative
committee. He was the treasurer of the Va'ad Leumi (1920-48).
Perez (Fritz) Bernstein (1890-1971) - General Zionist leader. He was
chairman of the Union of General Zionists, member of the Jewish Agency Executive
(1946-48), Minister of Commerce and Industry in the provisional government, member of
Knesset (1949-65), Minister of Commerce and Industry (1952-55) and president of the
Liberal Party (1961-1964).
Rachel Cohen (1888-1982) - WIZO activist and Knesset member (1949-51).
She was one of the founders of the Federation of Hebrew Women, head of the Va'ad Leumi's
Social Welfare Department, chairman of the Israel Federation of WIZO and vice chairman of
the World WIZO Executive.
Eliyahu Dobkin (1898-1976) - labor Zionist leader. He headed the
Jewish Agency's Immigration Department during World War II, dealing with the rescue of
Jews from Europe and illegal immigration, was a member of the Jewish Agency Executive
(1946-48), head of the Jewish Agency's Youth and Hehalutz Department (1951-68), and
chairman of Keren Hayesod (1951-62).
Rabbi Wolf Gold (1889-1956) - rabbi and religious Zionist leader. He
engaged in educational and communal activities in many Jewish communities in the US and,
in various positions of authority in the Jewish Agency, he did much for the establishment
of educational institutions in the Diaspora.
Meir Grabovsky (Argov) (1905-1963) - labor Zionist leader and Knesset
member (1949-63). He was secretary-general of the World Zionist Labor Movement and
chairman of the Tel Aviv Labor Exchange.
Abraham Granott (Granovsky) (1890-1962) - economist and co-founder and
chairman of the Progressive Party. He served as the managing director, chairman of the
board and president of the JNF, and a Knesset member (1949-51). His plan for a joint land
authority of the JNF and the State of Israel served as the basis for land legislation
passed by the Knesset in 1960.
Yitzhak Gruenbaum (1879-1970) - leader of a faction of General Zionism
and a member of the Polish parliament between the two world wars. He was Minister of the
Interior in the Provisional Government, and the first elections to the Knesset were
organized under his guidance.
Rabbi Kalman Kahana (1910-1991) - a leader of the Po'alei Agudat
Israel movement. He was a founding member of Kibbutz Hafetz Haim, a member of Knesset
(1949-81), and Deputy Minister of Education (1962-69).
Kaplan (1891-1952) - labor leader. He was a member of the Hapoel Hatzair and
Mapai central committees, a secretary of the Histadrut Executive, a member of the Jewish
Agency Executive and its treasurer. He directed the financial affairs of the Provisional
Government and was Israel's first Minister of Finance (1949-52). He laid the foundations
for Israel's economic policy and shaped its first budgets and its taxation structure.
Sa'adia Kobashi - member of the Provisional Council of State.
Moshe Kol (Kolodny) (1911-89) - Zionist leader. He was a member of the
Jewish Agency Executive, head of the Youth Aliya Department (1948-64), and, in 1948, a
founder and leader of the Progressive Party, which joined the Liberal Party. Later he
became leader of the Liberal Party. He was a Knesset member (1951-55, 59-73), Minister of
Tourism and Development (1966-69) and Minister of Tourism (1969-77).
Rabbi Yitzhak Meir Levin (1894-1971) - a leader of the Agudat Israel
movement. He was active in rescue operations from Europe during the war and led Agudat
Israel in Palestine from 1947. He was a member of Knesset (1949-71) and Minister of Social
Welfare (1949-52). Meir David Loewenstein (1904-1995) - rabbi and leader of the Agudat
Israel movement. He was a member of the Provisional Council of State and member of Knesset
Zvi Lurie (1906-1968) - Mapam labor leader. He was secretary of the
world leadership of Hashomer Hatzair (1935-37), member of the Va'ad Leumi (1941-48) and
member of the Va'ad Leumi Executive as Information Department Director. After the
establishment of the state, he filled various Jewish Agency positions.
Rabbi Yehudah Leib Maimon (Fishman) (1875-1962) - rabbi and leader of
religious Zionism. Together with Rabbi Kook, he established the chief rabbinate of
Palestine, and he formulated the rabbinate's constitution. He was a member of Knesset
(1949-51), Minister of Religious Affairs and Minister in charge of war casualties in the
Provisional Government and Minister of Religious Affairs (1949-51).
Golda Meir (Myerson) (1898-1978) - Prime Minister and labor leader.
She served as acting head and later head of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency.
She was a Knesset member (1949-74), ambassador to Moscow (1948-49), Minister of Labor
(1949-56), Minister of Foreign Affairs (1956-65), secretary-general of Mapai (instrumental
in uniting various labor parties to form the New Labor Party) and Prime Minister
Avraham Nissan (Katznelson) (1888-1956) - labor politician and
diplomat. He served as director of the Health Department of the Zionist Executive and a
member of the Va'ad Leumi (1931-48), as well as a member of the central committee of
Hashomer Hatzair and Mapai.
Nahum Nir-Rafalkes (1884-1968) - lawyer, labor leader and second
speaker of the Knesset. He led Poalei Zion Left and represented it in the Histadrut and
the Va'ad Leumi, and became a member of Mapam when the groups merged. He was deputy
chairman of the Provisional Council of State, member of Knesset (1949-1965), deputy
speaker and speaker (1959) of the Knesset.
David Zvi Pinkas (1895-1952) - Mizrahi leader and politician. He was
Mizrahi representative to the Asefat Hanivharim and the Va'ad Leumi, serving as treasurer
and director of its Department of Religious Communities and the Rabbinate, a member of
Knesset (1949-52) and Minister of Transport (1951-52).
Moshe David Remez (1886-1951) - labor leader. He was a leader in Ahdut
Ha'avoda and Mapai, headed the Public Works Office of the Histadrut (1921-27) and serving
as its secretary-general (1935-45), chairman of the Va'ad Leumi (1944-48), Minister of
Transport in the Provisional Government, member of Knesset (1949-51) and Minister of
Berl Repetur (1902-1989) - labor leader and member of Knesset
(1949-51). He was a member of the Histadrut Executive and the Mapam Central Committee and
secretary of the labor exchange of the General Federation of Jewish Labor.
Pinhas Rosen (Felix Rosenblueth) (1887-1978) - lawyer, Zionist leader.
He was a member of the Asefat Hanivharim and a cofounder of the Progressive Party in 1948,
a member of Knesset (1949-68) and Minister of Justice (1949-50, 1952-61). He was
instrumental in organizing the judicial and legal system of Israel.
Zvi Segal - Revisionist activist and industrialist. He was vice
president of the Revisionist movement in Palestine (1940-48) and a member of the finance
committee of the Provisional Council of State.
(Hayyim) Shapira (1902-1970) - politician and leader of the National Religious
Party. He was a member of the Jewish Agency Executive, as head of the Immigration
Department, and played an important role in preventing conflicts between the Haganah and
Etzel. He was a member of the provisional government, a member of Knesset (1949-1970),
Minister of Immigration (1949-50), Health (1949), the Interior (1949-52 and 1959-70),
Religious Affairs (1952-58) and Social Welfare (1952-55).
Mordechai Shattner - industrialist and member of the Provisional
Council of State.
Moshe Sharett (Shertok) (1894-1965) - statesman and Zionist leader. He
was head of the political department of the Jewish Agency (1933-48), member of the
provisional government, member of Knesset (1949-56), first Minister of Foreign Affairs
(1949-56) and Prime Minister (1954-55). He developed the methods and the machinery of
Israel's diplomacy, forming the nucleus of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' staff. He
built a worldwide system of international ties for Israel and was the first to foresee
that Israel could play a role among the developing nations.
Behor Shalom Shitrit (1895-1967) - Sephardi leader and Minister of
Police. He was commander of the police in lower Galilee and magistrate in various towns
under the British mandatory administration. He served as a member of Knesset (1949-67), as
Minister of Police and Minorities in the provisional government and Minister of Police
(1949-66), in this capacity organizing and developing the Israel Police.
Ben-Zion Sternberg (1894-1962) - member of the Provisional Council of
State and director of the Investment Center at the Ministry of Industry and Trade. Herzl
Vardi (Rosenblum) (1903-1991) - journalist and Revisionist activist. He was a delegate to
various Zionist congresses, a member of the board of Haboker and editor of the Yediot
Achronot daily newspaper (1949-86).
Meir Vilner-Kovner (1918- ) - Communist Party activist and member of
Knesset (1949-81). He was a member of the Provisional Council of State and secretary of
the Israel Communist Party.
Zerah Warhaftig (1906- ) - lawyer and leader of the National Religious
Party. He was a member of the Va'ad Leumi and a member of the Provisional Council of
State, a member of Knesset (1949-81) and Minister of Religious Affairs (1961-70).
Aharon Zisling (1901-1964) - labor leader. He was among the founders
of Youth Aliya and as a member of the Haganah command, participated in the founding of the
Palmach. He was a delegate to the Asefat Hanivharim, a co-founder of the Kofer Hayishuv,
Minister of Agriculture of the Provisional Government (1948-49) and member of the first
Interviews with Signatories of the Declaration
Meir Vilner by Dan Izenberg
Vilner, who represented the Communist Party on the fateful day of May 14, 1948, says that
"the word 'historic,' which I don't usually like to use, is appropriate to describe
the signing. I was moved by the event," he adds. "It fulfilled the aims of the
Communist Party by eliminating the British colony and establishing one of the two
independent states which were meant to replace it."
Not that he regarded the Declaration as sacrosanct, then or now. "No one agreed
with every sentence of the preamble," he maintains. "For example, most of us
didn't particularly want to include the term 'Rock of Israel.' Had I drafted the document,
it would have read differently. But the bottom line was the end of the Mandate, the
removal of the British army and the establishment of two independent states. That's what I
signed." Vilner saw the document for the first time a few days before the signing,
when it was presented to the Provisional Council of State at a secret meeting in Tel Aviv.
Vilner, at 29, was the youngest person to sign the Declaration. And even though he
represented the party of the proletariat, he wore a tie. Indeed, the only male signers who
did not wear ties were the three representatives of the kibbutz movement.
After Ben-Gurion had affixed his signature to the Declaration, the other signers were
summoned to the podium in alphabetical order. Six of them - including Zerah Warhaftig, the
other surviving signer - could not get to Tel Aviv from blockaded Jerusalem. "Between
the name of the person who signed the Declaration before me and mine, there is a
space," remarks Vilner. "There has been a lot of political speculation over the
years about the reason for that space. The truth is that it had been reserved for
Warhaftig. In the end, Warhaftig signed at the top of the next column."
Then, as today, Vilner did not share the Zionist view that the State of Israel was the
solution to the problem of anti-Semitism in the post-Enlightenment era. "We did not
see the gathering of the exiles in Palestine, the Land of Israel, as a solution. Had the
Nazis reached Palestine, they would have destroyed everything. We saw the only basic
solution in the establishment of Socialist regimes which would prevent anti-Semitism in
every country." As far as Vilner is concerned, there is no Jewish nation. "There
are Jewish national minorities in each country, and the struggle for equality must be
waged in each one of these countries," he says.
Vilner's opinions had undergone a drastic change before reaching this point. During his
early high school years, he was a Zionist. Vilner, whose original name was Ber Kovner, was
born in Vilna in October 1918. His father sent the boy to a Hebrew-speaking school only
because a neighbor's child had enrolled there and walked him to class. That twist of fate
determined his life.
Vilner became proficient in Hebrew. He also joined the left-wing Zionist Hashomer
Hatza'ir movement together with two classmates. During the mid-30s, the three classmates
led the Hashomer Hatza'ir movement in Vilna and the surrounding areas and were in charge
of about 600 members. But two events changed Vilner's political orientation. First was the
movement's decision not to fight for workers' rights in the Diaspora on the grounds that
every member of the movement would immigrate to Palestine within a few years. Second was
the movement's refusal to work to protect Jews together with the Communist movement, which
was banned in Poland.
"The decisions shocked me," recalls Vilner. "I couldn't understand how a
Socialist organization would not help its own working members or why the movement would
reject the help offered by a legitimate organization to fight anti-Semitism. After a few
weeks, I decided to leave Hashomer Hatza'ir and, at the same time, leave Zionism
altogether. For the next two years I read everything I could get my hands on. I wanted to
know what was right. I spent two years searching for the truth."
In 1938, when Vilner left Vilna after an anti-Semitic incident, he chose Palestine as
his destination, although he had a large family in the United States. "I wavered a
lot," explains Vilner. "What made up my mind was the fact that I knew Hebrew but
didn't know English." And then, in his only hint at an emotional connection, Vilner
adds, "furthermore, despite all that had happened, I wanted to see what life was like
in Palestine, after having heard so much about it."
Vilner arrived in 1938 and immediately enrolled at the Hebrew University. Two years
later, he joined the Communist Party and was elected to Israel's first Kneset as a member
of the Israel Communist Party. He headed the party for most of the period between 1965 and
1990, when he retired.
Over the years, the Israel Communist Party had its ups and downs. Its initiatives in
the Knesset plenum were often opposed on principle, although, Vilner reveals, many members
of Knesset, including some from the right, informally consulted with him and wanted to
hear his opinions. The party's influence expanded significantly between 1992 and 1996,
when the Democratic List for Peace and Equality - not a coalition member - contributed to
the Labor-led government's blocking majority in the Knesset.
Today, Vilner says that after being a "voice in the wilderness" for so many
years, he is pleased to know that Israel has accepted the Communist position by
recognizing the PLO. "I am certain," declares Vilner, "that just as the
people of Israel recognized the justness of that position, they will one day acknowledge
that there is only one solution which will lead to a true and just peace and an end to
bloodshed. At the heart of this solution is the establishment of an independent
Palestinian state... and peace with Syria and Lebanon..."
Dr. Zerach Warhaftig by Wendy Elliman
a muttered prayer of thanks, I struggled out of the ropes that had tied me into the small
open plane, and climbed down on to firm ground. A car was waiting for me on the airstrip.
We drove fast, directly from the plane into Tel Aviv, and then negotiated our way through
crowded streets to the Prime Minister's office. "Ben Gurion greeted me at the door. A
pen in one hand and the Scroll in the other, he wasted no time on greetings, not even
offering a 'shalom.' His first word to me was nothing more than a growl: 'Sign!'"
It was June 1948, almost three weeks since Israel had proclaimed itself an independent
state, and the new country was fighting for its life. Dr. Zerach Warhaftig, his stomach
still churning from the nerve-racking plane ride, took the pen from Ben Gurion. With
Israel's first Prime Minister standing over him, he added his signature to the others
scrawled under the text of the Scroll. "Despite the lack of ceremony, a flood of
feelings washed through me," recalls Dr. Warhaftig. "Even though I had helped
draw up the declaration of independence and knew its every word, even though I was signing
it weeks after the event, nothing could take away the sense of history that engulfed me,
the overwhelming knowledge that the Jewish people had returned to their homeland after
2,000 bitter years of exile."
Zerach Warhaftig was then 42 years old. Born in Poland, he had survived the Holocaust
and managed to reach the United States. Well-known in both North America and Europe as a
Zionist thinker and writer, he had been elected to the Zionist National Council (Va'ad
Leumi) early in 1947, even though he was then still living in the US. "We waited
until my wife gave birth to our second child, and then moved to Palestine," he says.
"That was in August 1947. I settled my family in Jerusalem, where we had relatives,
but my work was in Tel Aviv. I'd been appointed to the National Council's legal staff. Our
work was nothing less than designing the legislative and executive framework for a Jewish
State that we knew was no longer far off. We worked long days and sometimes nights,
preparing a constitution for the new State, deciding on the State's provisional
government, drawing up a declaration of independence. We worked, each one of us, with an
exhilarating sense of history that energized us through those long and pressured
The week of Pesach (Passover) 1948, however, Dr. Warhaftig decided to spend with his
family. "Jerusalem had been under siege for over a month by then," he remembers,
"and it was a hard and risky journey up to the city. I traveled in a long armored
convoy. We came under fierce attack as we neared the city, and, as I remember, about 20
vehicles were destroyed on that journey. I was lucky enough to make it safely to my wife
and children."And that was where he stayed. The stranglehold of siege tightened
around Jerusalem. Pesach came and went, but no one entered the city or left it. April gave
way to May. On that fateful May 14, 1948, when the British pulled out of Palestine, when
David Ben Gurion declared an independent State of Israel, and when the new State's leaders
solemnly signed their newborn nation's Declaration of Establishment - Dr. Warhaftig
remained trapped in Jerusalem, until Ben Gurion sent the small plane to get him out and
back to work.
"I'd helped draw up Israel's basic laws and helped design the relationship between
state and religion," recounts Dr. Warhaftig. "For the next 26 years I served my
country - first as a Member of Knesset for the National Religious Party, then as a deputy
minister and during the last decade as a full minister, for the most part of Religious
Affairs. I wouldn't say I shaped the State, but I influenced it in some ways. I was
instrumental in some of what happened, especially in the area of legislation. "More
and more, however, the State took on a life of its own. "Our country achieved things
I'd never anticipated," says Dr. Warhaftig. "Although I'd come out of the
European and North American Diasporas, I never predicted so vast an aliya to Israel. We
grew from 600,000 people to over 5,000,000 in just 50 years. Nor did I expect the small
embattled nation of 1948 to become the greatest military force in the Middle East. Another
thing I never dreamed was that we would become an industrial nation, producing billions of
dollars worth of exports every year. And I certainly never foresaw we would grow into an
agrotechnological superpower, with people coming from all over the world to learn from
But there were also hopes and dreams that 50 years of statehood have not - or not yet -
fulfilled, he continues. "I hoped so desperately for peace," he says. "And
I hoped, too, that we would be a moral and ethical people par excellence, truly a Chosen
People. If I had the power to change the past, I would make the greatest changes in the
educational system we built in Israel. Most of us who designed the way we taught and still
teach children in Israel came out of the Diaspora, where education was of different kind.
For our new State, for Israel, we needed something novel, something special."
And for the future? Ninety-one-year old Dr. Warhaftig is optimistic. "Optimism is
part of my nature," he says. "Any religious man, any believer, is surely an
optimist. People like us not only hope, we also believe that things will go on getting