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Israel declares statehood

This Day in World History

May 14, 1948

Israel declares statehood


Late in the afternoon of May 14, 1948, a group of Jewish settlers fulfilled a long-cherished dream and declared, as of midnight that night, the existence of the state of Israel. The announcement created the first Jewish state in nearly two millennia — and outraged the Palestinian people and their Arab allies.

Theodor Herzl
The push to create a Jewish state began in the late 1800s, when Theodore Herzl formed the Zionist movement. In 1897, at a Zionist conference, Herzl and his followers formally adopted the goal.

The Zionists’ dream received a boost in 1917, when Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour of Great Britain endorsed the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine. The Balfour Declaration also held that any Jewish state would not “prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” Five years later, the idea of a Jewish state was incorporated into the League of Nations agreement creating a British mandate in Palestine.

The Holocaust intensified the move for a Jewish state; six million European Jews were lost during World War II. Meanwhile, a weakened Britain was ready to end its role in Palestine. In 1947, it announced that the mandate would terminate on May 15 of the following year. That November, the United Nations General Assembly voted to create separate Jewish and Palestinian states in the area.

Early in 1948, fighting between Jews and Palestinians broke out. In the midst of this conflict, on the eve of the British departure, a group called the Jewish People’s Council declared Israeli statehood.

Hours later, President Harry Truman issued a statement recognizing the Jewish state. On May 15, as Israel came into existence, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria issued a formal declaration in opposition and launched an attack, beginning the first of several Arab-Israeli wars in the region.

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