Learn More About Israel's History
The land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and national identity was formed. Here they achieved independence and created a culture of national and universal significance. Here they wrote and gave the Bible to the world….
We…HEREBY PROCLAIM the establishment of the Jewish State in Palestine, to be called ISRAEL. We offer peace and unity to all the neighboring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all.
Our call goes out the Jewish people all over the world to rally to our side in the task of immigration and development and to stand by us in the great struggle for the fulfillment of the dream of generations -- the redemption of Israel.
With trust in Almighty God, we set our hand to this Declaration, at this Session of the Provisional State Council, in the city of Tel Aviv, on this Sabbath eve, the fifth of Iyar, 5708, the fourteenth day of May, 1948.
-- From Israel’s Declaration of Independence (PBS.org)
The quest for an independent Jewish state began well before World War II left hundreds of thousands of Jewish People with no place to call home. The Peel Commission of 1937, The British White Paper of 1939, and the United Nation’s Partition Plan were all rejected by Arabs in the region. When the UN forged ahead and officially announced its Partition Plan, Arab rioting erupted. From the end of November 1947 through March 1948, 1,427 Arabs and 1,035 Jews died in confrontations as well as at least 46 British (Jewish Virtual Library). Hundreds more were injured.
On the eve of the British departure from the region, David Ben-Gurion – Israel’s primary founder – read the Declaration of Independence of the newly formed State of Israel.
“That day, Ben-Gurion sat in his living room and watched while outside in the street, the Jews of were dancing. They were dancing because they were about to realize what was one of the most remarkable and inspiring achievements in human history: A people which had been exiled from its homeland two thousand years before… but which had refused to relinquish its identity… was returning home as sovereign citizens in their own independent state” (New Essays on Zionism, “Ben-Gurion and the Return to Jewish Power,” Michael B. Oren)
The day was May 14, 1948, or Iyar 5 on the Hebrew calendar. The 5th of Iyar stands today as Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day.
Israel's Memorial Day
What you may not know is that Israel’s Independence Day is preceded by Yom HaZikaron, the nation’s Memorial Day. On Iyar 4, all Israel remembers those who have lost their lives defending the nation – fallen soldiers as well as others who have given their lives protecting Israel from terrorist attacks.
At first glance, it may seem odd to place these two holidays right next to each other on the calendar. But, in truth, it’s a beautiful pairing. They are irrevocably intertwined with each other. If not for the soldiers who gave their lives for the cause of a Jewish State, Israel would not have been reborn. If not for the soldiers who sacrificed all to defend their country, Israel would not remain today.
You see, on May 15, 1948, the day after Israel declared their independence as a sovereign state, surrounding nations declared war on them. The Israeli Independence War, also known as the Arab-Israeli War, lasted over a year. By mid-1949, when separate armistice agreements were made with each invading nation, 6,373 Israelis had given their lives for Israel’s freedom. Many have fallen protecting their country in the decades since.
First, Israel honors the fallen. Then Israel celebrates the achievements made possible and maintained through their sacrifice.
A Somber Day
Israel’s 2016 Memorial Day begins at sunset on May 10. May 11 will be a somber day of remembrance and honor. For 24 hours, a television channel will show the names of soldiers and terrorist victims who have died since Israel’s original Independence Day. Hanan Cidor’s family will leave the TV tuned to this station all day. “I know many other families in Israel do the same,” says Cidor, “and I think there's something very Jewish about that act. In a sense, it's our way of reminding ourselves that every person matters, that everyone had a name and an entire life to go with it – a whole universe that was lost in a tragic way” (An Israeli Perspective, ReformJudaism.org).
It is “a full day of grief and remembrance, something that is very much relevant from a personal standpoint to literally every Israeli,” says Cidor (An Israeli Perspective, ReformJudaism.org).
Yom HaZikaron ends with a special ceremony at Jerusalem’s Military Cemetery, and then the flag that has flown at half-mast all day is raised high once again. Thus begins the celebration of Independence Day.
Yom HaAtzmaut - Israel’s Independence Day
On the heels of a sobering Memorial Day, Israel’s Independence Day is a joyous celebration of Israel’s freedom and its many achievements as a nation.
“Those achievements are indeed very impressive. In less than a century of existence, Israel has managed to become a regional power, a modern, flourishing democracy in a region that has very little. In almost every possible measurement of world countries and societies, the Jewish state – especially when taking into consideration its small size – is at the top of the ladder alongside countries that have been around for centuries. When you think about the fact that all of this was done while facing constant security threats, some of them even starting literally from day one, the amazement and sense of awe is even greater” (An Israeli Perspective, ReformJudaism.org).
A Joyous Day
The day is filled with parades, flags, and free public shows in the major cities. Families often take advantage of the national holiday by going hiking or enjoying picnics. Army bases open for tours, and Israel’s president delivers a speech. Festivities end with an evening torch lighting ceremony and the awarding of the “Israel Prize” in recognition of individual Israelis who have uniquely contributed to the country’s culture, science, arts, and humanities.
The fact that Israel exists as a nation today is a miracle. It is God’s design and proof of His hand in the preservation of His chosen People. We rejoice alongside them and say, “Happy Independence Day, Israel!”
Find out more about the miraculous story of Israel’s restoration with “The Miracle of Israel,” an inspiring documentary and companion booklet.
To learn more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “Is Peace Possible?” will help you gain a historical and biblical understanding of the ongoing Middle East crisis.