Israel celebrates its 70th birthday

David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973) PAP/CTK

Seventy years ago today the State of Israel was born.

On Friday, May 14, 1948, a few hours before the British flag was removed from British government buildings in Palestine, Polish-born Jewish leader David Ben-Gurion announced in Tel Aviv the establishment of a ‘Jewish state in the Land of Israel.’ 

The announcement was made after a 1947 UN vote decided by 33-11 to end British rule in Palestine and to create two states in the area – a Jewish state and an Arab state. 

It was further determined that the city of Jerusalem would become international territory, and that the two countries would have an economic union.

Ben-Gurion’s declaration came after days of serious deliberation about the inherent risks, and indeed, the day after the declaration, the armies of five Arab countries invaded Palestine sparking off the War of Independence.

The name of Israel for the new Jewish state was agreed shortly after its establishment, at the suggestion of David Ben-Gurion. 

The then chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive and chairman of the People's Administration, Ben-Gurion was elected prime minister and read out the text of the Declaration of Independence, which is the founding document of the State of Israel. 

The Charter outlined the nature of the newly formed state which would gather Jews from the Diaspora and treat all of its inhabitants equally without distinction of religion, race or sex.

Throughout its 70 years of existence, many leaders born in Poland have been at the head of the State of Israel. David Ben Gurion himself was born on 16 October 1886 in the city of Płońsk in Poland and in 1904 moved to Warsaw and joined Zionist organizations there. A year later, Ben-Gurion returned to Płońsk as a Zionist-Socialist activist, and in 1906 immigrated to the port of Jaffa. 

One of the most prominent and admired leaders in Israel’s history was Menachem Begin, who was born in Brest. The city now in Belarus was a Polish city between the World Wars with a large Jewish population. 

 Also Yitzhak Shamir, who served as prime minister between 1983-1984 and later in 1986-1992, was born in the predominantly Jewish village of Ruzhany, Grodno province, Russian empire which after the World War I became part of Poland.

Following the announcement by US President Donald Trump in December 2017 that he would transfer the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 14, Israel fears a wave of violence from the Palestinians who are furious at his announcement and even cut off cooperation with the Americans. 

Trump suggested he might attend the embassy's transfer ceremony, but later the White House announced that the president would not do so. The Czech president, Milosz Zeman, also said that he would work to transfer the Czech Republic's embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Poland operates an honorary consulate in Jerusalem and does not intend to transfer the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem at this stage.