In 2016, the veteran Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery was called upon to take part in a ceremonial reading of the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel. Having read through the document he said: “I was not impressed. It is not written in the edifying style of an historical document, but as a document with a mission: to convince the nations of the world to recognize our state. The introduction is a reiteration of Zionist slogans. It purports to set out the historical facts, and very dubious facts they are…”
I decided to read the document myself to catalogue the ‘dubious’ facts, and found a few more than Uri mentioned. Below, I list the dubious clauses: my comments follow.
1. ERETZ-ISRAEL [(Hebrew) – the Land of Israel, Palestine] was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.
Palestine was not the birthplace of the Jewish people. The Hebrew tribe had its origin in Mesopotamia. Its religious identity was shaped in the Sinai desert. Its settlement in the area later called Palestine was enabled by a vicious war of conquest in which the existing Canaanite population was wiped out.
2. After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.
The Jewish people did not hope for restoration of political freedom in Palestine. Their theology regarded the return to Palestine as an end-times event which would be led by the Messiah. The idea of European Jews ‘returning’ to Palestine to establish a Jewish state (Zionism) arose only in the latter half of the 19th century, and was supported only by a minority of Jews.
3. Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland. In recent decades they returned in their masses. Pioneers, ma’pilim [(Hebrew) – immigrants coming to Eretz-Israel in defiance of restrictive legislation] and defenders, they made deserts bloom, revived the Hebrew language, built villages and towns, and created a thriving community controlling its own economy and culture, loving peace but knowing how to defend itself, bringing the blessings of progress to all the country’s inhabitants, and aspiring towards independent nationhood.
Jews were not continuously striving to establish themselves in Palestine. Those who migrated to the middle east and other places before the first Zionist aliyah (1890s), for example the Spanish Jews (1492), did so to escape persecution, and few settled in Palestine. The “recent decades” refers to the British Mandate under which the British authorities had full powers of administration. It was they that “brought the blessings of progress to all the country’s inhabitants”, through developments in agriculture and infra-structure. Although Jewish capital and enterprise did contribute to these developments, the Jewish Agency had no interest in helping the Arab population. Zionists who bought agricultural land from Arab land owners replaced the Arab workers with Jews; those Zionists who established new industries employed only Jews.
4. In the year 5657 (1897), at the summons of the spiritual father of the Jewish State, Theodore Herzl, the First Zionist Congress convened and proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in its own country.
The Basel Declaration of the First Congress said “Zionism aims at establishing for the Jewish people a publicly and legally assured home in Palestine.” No mention of a ‘right’ to do so: no mention of the concept of a Jewish ‘nation’.
5. This right was recognized in the Balfour Declaration of the 2nd November, 1917, and re-affirmed in the Mandate of the League of Nations which, in particular, gave international sanction to the historic connection between the Jewish people and Eretz-Israel and to the right of the Jewish people to rebuild its National Home
The Balfour Declaration said that the British Government “looked with favor” on the idea of a Jewish national home in Palestine: there was no mention of any ‘right’ for the Jews to have such a home.
Nor is such a ‘right’ acknowledged in the Palestine Mandate. It uses the term ‘right’ in connection with Jews only once, referring to Jews outside Palestine. It uses the term ‘right’ four times in connection with the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine.
6. The catastrophe which recently befell the Jewish people – the massacre of millions of Jews in Europe – was another clear demonstration of the urgency of solving the problem of its homelessness by re-establishing in Eretz-Israel the Jewish State, which would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew and confer upon the Jewish people the status of a fully privileged member of the comity of nations.
The refugees from Europe were homeless, but the Jewish people as a whole were not homeless. Jews had been living for generations within many of the world’s nations, and regarded their country of residence as their homeland.
7. Survivors of the Nazi holocaust in Europe, as well as Jews from other parts of the world, continued to migrate to Eretz-Israel, undaunted by difficulties, restrictions and dangers, and never ceased to assert their right to a life of dignity, freedom and honest toil in their national homeland.
Not all of the refugees and survivors wanted a life of honest toil in Palestine. Many would have preferred to go to the United States, but were prevented from doing so by very severe restrictions in immigration which continued until 1948.
8. In the Second World War, the Jewish community of this country contributed its full share to the struggle of the freedom- and peace-loving nations against the forces of Nazi wickedness and, by the blood of its soldiers and its war effort, gained the right to be reckoned among the peoples who founded the United Nations.
The United Nations was founded in 1945. Its Members were States, not peoples. In 1945 Palestine was a Mandated State, but unlike the Colony of India it was not a founding Member of the United Nations.
9. On the 29th November, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel; the General Assembly required the inhabitants of Eretz-Israel to take such steps as were necessary on their part for the implementation of that resolution. This recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable. This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State.
The Resolution did not call for a Jewish State in Palestine: it recommended a plan in which Palestine would be divided into three components: a Jewish state, an Arab state, and the Holy City of Jerusalem, with the three of them forming an Economic Union, controlled by an Economic Board whose decisions were binding on the three entities, and on which foreign members appointed by the UN had the casting vote. The Resolution did not ‘require’ the inhabitants to take steps to implement it, it ‘called upon’ them to do so.The Resolution did not recognize a ‘right’ for the Jewish people to establish a Jewish State in Palestine.
10. ACCORDINGLY WE, MEMBERS OF THE PEOPLE’S COUNCIL, REPRESENTATIVES OF THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF ERETZ-ISRAEL AND OF THE ZIONIST MOVEMENT, ARE HERE ASSEMBLED ON THE DAY OF THE TERMINATION OF THE BRITISH MANDATE OVER ERETZ-ISRAEL AND, BY VIRTUE OF OUR NATURAL AND HISTORIC RIGHT AND ON THE STRENGTH OF THE RESOLUTION OF THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY, HEREBY DECLARE THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A JEWISH STATE IN ERETZ-ISRAEL, TO BE KNOWN AS THE STATE OF ISRAEL.
The Declaration was not made on the ‘strength’ of the UN Resolution. The Plan of Partition with Economic Union specified a process in which power was transferred gradually from the Mandatory to a Commission set up by the UN and then from the Commission to the two states. The states were not to be independent sovereign states in the usual sense, because they were under the control of the Economic Board. There was no place within this process for a unilateral declaration of independence by either of the states. Israel’s Declaration pre-empted the process specified in the Plan and was made in defiance of Resolution 46 of the UN Security Council.
11..WE DECLARE that, with effect from the moment of the termination of the Mandate being tonight, the eve of Sabbath, the 6th Iyar, 5708 (15th May, 1948), until the establishment of the elected, regular authorities of the State in accordance with the Constitution which shall be adopted by the Elected Constituent Assembly not later than the 1st October 1948, the People’s Council shall act as a Provisional Council of State, and its executive organ, the People’s Administration, shall be the Provisional Government of the Jewish State, to be called “Israel”.
THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
These final two paragraphs express many noble intentions. I leave it to readers to count how many of these have been fulfilled.