Towards Statehood, 1946-1948


Independence Hall

Independence Hall

If the nineteenth century was a Jewish age of change, the twentieth century was an age of cataclysm. The world seemed to move ever faster as new problems arose daily, while former difficulties grew steadily to massive, overwhelming dimensions. People scarcely had time for ideological confrontation as history forced them to turn their attention to more immediate and pressing affairs.

Concerning the Land of Israel, numerical growth, new social problems, and international political developments abounded. In less than a century of Zionist settlement, the Jewish population in Israel grew one hundred fold, from 23 thousand in 1880 to over two million three hundred thousand by 1970. The kinds of settlement varied, from urban Tel Aviv to the new cooperative agricultural settlements, the kibbutzim. The growth, however, was not smooth, for it involved waves of immigration from various lands and various backgrounds, creating adjustment problems of huge proportions.

To a large degree, at the beginning of the century, hope for Israel was still centered abroad. The Balfour Declaration of 1917, wherein Great Britain declared that it viewed with favor, “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” convinced many that the British Mandate, which was replacing Turkish control, would lead to the creation of a Jewish state. However, growing tensions with the Arabs, as witnessed by the riots of the late twenties and thirties, and the unmistakable later inclination of England to support Arab resistance to Jewish statehood, gave clear notice that the path would not be easy in any respect.

As so often occurred in Israel’s history, developments far from the Jewish scene eventually proved more important than anything happening within the Jewish world. In the early part of the century, the unrest in Russia, the revolution, and World War I all brought about massive Jewish movement, primarily from Eastern Europe toward the West, to America. In Germany, in the wake of World War I, Nazism began its slow rise to power on its way to the depths of depravity, World War II became the Jewish Holocaust, bringing physical and cultural decimation on the Jewish people. Six million Jews—one of every three—were slaughtered. Even the questions raised were beyond comprehension, some perhaps not even articulated to this day. Among them, however, was one question that was immediate and clear- Had the devil succeeded in his task? Was the Holocaust the End?

On May 14, 1948, the day the British departed from Palestine, the Jews proclaimed the independence of the State of Israel. Major achievements abounded, each to be followed by new and difficult problems. From the earlier United Nations approval of the Partition Plan, Israel turned to the War for Independence. Massive waves of immigration led to subsequent struggles for cultural adjustment and adaptation. Realized independence was followed by the realization that much was dependent on what happened abroad. Paradise had problems hidden behind every tree- poverty, relations between Arabs and Jews, competing economic and political systems, the relation between religion and state, etc. Worst of all, the wars continued, seemingly forever. Throughout all these developments, the focus of world Jewry was drawn more and more to Zion as a center—if not of culture, then certainly of concern.

In the shadow of these challenges, the love of Zion in general—and Zionism in particular—had to confront itself. The picture in the mirror “was not always reassuring, as the march of time relentlessly demanded review, reevaluation, and change, for several reasons. First, while developments reinforced certain Zionist beliefs, they also belied some contentions and raised serious doubts about basic convictions. Second, a growing crisis of identity demanded a review of older, more traditional attachments to Israel. Echoes of older relationships surfaced from the depths of centuries, simultaneously challenging and enriching Zionist thought. Finally, the overwhelming events of the Holocaust and statehood forced confrontation once again with the connection to the Land- first in the darkness of pain, and then in the cowing light of fulfilled promise.

Lest the observer fall victim to his proximity to events, he must view even this, the twentieth century, from a standpoint of distance. This stance not only grants a degree of objectivity, but it also avoids the trap of too strict a chronological sequence, which would only be misleading in a history of ideas and ideals. Viewed from afar, the twentieth century appears as an age of synthesis, wherein the processes of returning, reevaluation, renewal and regeneration intertwined.

Toward Statehood, and Beyond —A Chronology

1920 Haganah, first broad-based Jewish self defense force, founded.

1925 Hebrew University in Jerusalem opened.

1929 Arab riots in Jerusalem. Massacres of Jews in Hebron and Safed.

1933-1939 Wave of immigration from Germany.

1933 Germany—Hitler chancellor. First concentration camps.

1936 Arab riots in Jerusalem.

1939 British White Paper, severely restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine.

1939 -1947 Continuing attempts at organized illegal immigration to Palestine.

1941 First death camp established in Poland.

1942 -1943 Death camps in Poland and Russia functioning at full capacity.

1943 Jewish uprising in Warsaw ghetto. Most ghettos annihilated.

1945 Germany surrenders.

1947 United Nations’ General Assembly adopts Partition Plan for Palestine. Fighting begins.

1948 Proclamation of Independence of State of Israel. Seven Arab states attack.

1949 Cease fire agreements with neighboring Arab states.

1948 -1951 Immigration of nearly 700,000 Jews from European and Arab countries.

1950 Law of Return declares that every Jew has the right to come to Israel as a citizen.

1951 Zionist Congress adopts new central goals- consolidation of the State of Israel, ingathering of exiles, and fostering the unity of the Jewish people.

1956 Sinai Campaign, war with Egypt.

1961 Trial in Israel of Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann.

1967 Six Day War. Jerusalem reunited.

1973 Yom Kippur War.

1978 Peace treaty signed between Israel and Egypt.

Excerpted from Toward Statehood and Beyond, Returning, the Land of Israel as a Focus in Jewish History, Benjamin J. Segal, World Zionist Organization, Jerusalem 1987.





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