Immediately following Israel’s somber Memorial Day (Yom HaZkraron), Israel celebrates its Independence day, Yom HaAtzmaut. It is a day of rejoicing commemorating Israel’s rebirth as an independent nation.
The country celebrates with parades, flags, free public shows, and a torch lighting ceremony. Families gather for picnics and outdoor recreation, the president delivers a speech, and the prestigious “The Israel Prize” is awarded. This award recognizes individual Israelis who have uniquely contributed to the country’s culture, science, arts, and humanities.
You often hear that Israel became a nation “overnight.” It’s true. However, there was much going on in the decades before May 14, 1948 that prepared the soil for the instant appearance of the budded state. For instance:
1897 – The First Zionist Congress met in Basel, Switzerland, organized by Theodore Herzl. The new Congress served to unify a previously fragmented movement to establish a Jewish homeland. After the assembly, Herzl wrote in his diary, “At Basle [sic], I founded the Jewish state… If not in five years then certainly in fifty, everyone will realize it” (Jewish Virtual Library).
1917 – The Balfour Declaration (Nov 1917) was a British statement of support for establishing in the Palestinian region a national homeland for Jewish people. Arthur Balfour, the British foreign secretary, made the declaration in a letter to Lionel Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community.
1937 – The Peel Commission sought to resolve the opposing aims of Jewish people and Arabs in the area. Neither side was happy about the proposed plans, the Jews because the allotted area was less than 20% of the region under consideration, and the Arabs because they feared it would require some Arabs to “live under Jewish domination” (Jewish Virtual Library). “Nevertheless, the Zionists decided to negotiate with the British, while the Arabs refused to consider any compromises” (Jewish Virtual Library).
1947 – The British, who had been charged with governing the region since 1922 and with helping establish a Jewish homeland there, could not find an agreement suitable to both Jews and Arabs. So, in February 1947, they turned the matter over to the United Nations. A delegation to the region discovered that the conflicting goals of each party could not be reconciled, and voted to recommend two separate states, Jewish and Arab. In November, the UN announced the approval of its Partition Plan giving land to the Jews for a new state. Arab protestors almost immediately initiated violence and riots.
May 14, 1948 – On the date that the British mandate (governance of the Palestinian region) expired, Israel proclaimed its independence as a sovereign nation-state. David Ben-Gurion wrote the Israeli Declaration of Independence and read it aloud that Friday afternoon during a short ceremony “held at 4 pm before the British left to avoid making the declaration on Shabbat” (Jewish Virtual Library).
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.
¾ From Israel’s Declaration of Independence (PBS.org)
People danced in the streets because it “was one of the most remarkable, 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).
Israel as a nation is a miracle. By God’s design and in fulfillment of Bible prophecy, He brought His people back into the Land He gave them so long ago. We celebrate with Israel the joyous occasion of her return to the Land and independence as a free nation. Happy Yom Atzmaut, Israel! Happy Independence Day!
The miraculous story of Israel’s restoration has been captured in an inspiring documentary and companion book. Click here for “The Miracle of Israel.”