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The Ben Gurion Years
Ben Gurion Centenary 1886-1986

The Making of the State - Five Historical Decisions

To Declare or Not to Declare?

I. Background

A diplomatic, military and political crisis was to pave the way towards the declaration of the state of Israel's independence.

For the Yishuv, 1948 was a year fraught with all kinds of dangers -that Palestine would be sacrificed on the altar of the cold war;

The way that the Haganah and Palmach generals stood together against Ben Gurion's plans to create a unified army;

And finally, that the threat of Arab attacks would cause many lukewarm friends of Zionism to abandon the projects of a Jewish state one byone.

Ben Gurion was obsessed by these dangers because they threatened the embryonic state.

The enormous pressures on Ben Gurion to abandon the declaration of independence - from the USA, Zionist sympathizers, Arab assaults and the extreme left groups at the top of the Hagana - had in fact had the opposite effect. Spurred on by all these problems, he made the Hagana toe the line and forced his beliefs on his party leaders to declare independence and fight the Arabs.

This motion was passed by a majority of two votes.

Pressure from the UNO:

On 29th November, 1947, the UN voted in favor of the partition plan for Palestine, which was accepted by the Jews and rejected by the Arabs.

A few months later, however, American President Harry Truman put pressure on the UN to reject the partition plan. This was linked to the Cold War. The Soviet Union was at this time particularly in favor of the creation of the State of Israel. They had just occupied Czechoslovakia, the last liberal country behind the Iron Curtain, and so relations between the two blocs had been extremely tense and a single spark could have flared up into another world war. The Americans were worried that the creation of the State of Israel might provide this spark, and were therefore looking for the means to postpone it by presenting an Armistice plan for Palestine to the UNO on 30th March 1948.

On the other hand, the violent Arab reaction to the partition plan caused some members of the Yishuv, as well as American Jewry, to begin to doubt the justification for the Jewish state. They also pressured Ben Gurion to abandon his plan.

The Military Situation:

Up to March, 1948, the Jews had not suffered any strategic losses, but it was clear that the Arabs were setting the pace of the war, and many lives had been lost.

On March 26th, the Arabs cut off the road to the desert and Jerusalem. Jerusalem was surrounded, besieged; her inhabitants in danger of starvation.

On April 1st, 1948, Ben Gurion launched the counter-attack against the Arab bands who had paralyzed the country, blocking the roads to Gush Etzion and Jerusalem. This was known as Operation Nachshon and it crushed the troops of Abd el-Kadr. The road to the Holy City was opened; Abd el-Kadr fell in the Castel hills. The war was not yet over and there was still the chance the Arabs would re launch their offensive with the Declaration of Independence.

The Haganah and the Palmach: The Haganah was a voluntary resistance force and its strategy was largely defensive. The Palmach was its elite unit and was, in everyone's eyes, the symbol of military perfection.

The Haganah lacked the experience of a regular army; its training was poor, its administration more or less non-existent and its command was threatened by anarchy. Because of its structure, the Haganah could not accept regular strict military discipline. The High Command was to be replaced by a general staff which was directly responsible to the Ministry of Armed Forces.

The Palmach force numbered only 300. They had almost no equipment, and no uniforms. Only half the men in each unit had guns.

Ben Gurion considered the Haganah's strategy to be out of date. As for the Palmach, it would not take orders from anyone. The "Old Man" wanted the two groups to merge into a unified army, but the Palmach had been conceived as an elite corps of the Mapam party, which did not support the creation of a sovereign state.

The Situation in Ben Gurion's Party:

At the beginning of 1948, many people in the Yishuv were pressing for an armistice with the Arabs.

On 11th May, 1948, there was only one issue on the agenda of the Mapai Central Committee, namely, the creation of the State. No one was certain what the outcome of the debate would be. At this time most of the Mapai leadership was unconvinced about independence. Moshe Shertok's (Sharett) opinions, for example, were very finely shaded.

But it was the unexpected arrival of someone else that day which disturbed the discussion and left Ben Gurion in a highly charged state of mind: Golda Meyerson (who later changed her name to Meir) had set out, disguised as an Arab woman on May 10, 1948, to meet with King Abdullah of Transjordan. As distinct from their previous meeting the year before, this time Abdullah remained intransigent: there would be no temporary autonomy for the Jews within the framework of a Jewish -Arab Palestine.

"Either you accept my proposal," he said to Golda, "or there will be war."

"Well, then," she replied, "we'll meet after the war."


Ben Gurion's Attitude:

On March 20th 1948, when the Americans announced their project to revoke the partition plan for Palestine, Ben Gurion's reaction was:" The UN proposal does not change the actual situation. It cannot prevent the creation of a Jewish state."

On March 30th, 1948, Ben Gurion threw out a challenge by announcing the formation of a Provisional Government, the "Council of Thirteen". The state would be born 45 days later.

The beginning of April 1948 saw a spectacular turning point in the war together with the start of Ben Gurion's personal offensive against the Hagana. With the formation of a Provisional Government, Ben Gurion transferred responsibility for defense to a newly established executive. On April 21st he announced that he was abolishing the post of Israel Galili, who was vehemently opposed to removal from office and was supported by Mapam.

On May 6th, the Hagana leadership threatened that if Galili was not reinstated they claimed no responsibility in the overall attack following the declaration of the State. The situation resembled a "putsch" and Ben Gurion had to make concessions. He convened the generals and announced that he was reinstating Galili without specifying his duties and a coup was averted.

Golda's news brought Ben Gurion's test of willpower to crisis point.

Did he have the right to insist on declaring a Jewish state? It was a decision he had to make alone. On May 12, 1948, the invasion had already begun and the "Council of Thirteen" faced a momentous day, to decide whether finally to accept or reject the plan for a Jewish state.

The British mandate was due to expire on the night of the 14th of May. Alarming information had arrived from America that there was a threat to stop funds and fundraising for the Jewish state. The military situation was serious. Ben Gurion analyzed the circumstances, reaching the following conclusions:


"Our troops are capable of victory, thanks to mobilization and immigration. The decision will be made once we have wiped out most of the Arab legion."


They went to vote. With a majority of two, the Jewish state was born.

II. Activity


Recreate the pressure felt by the leaders of the Yishuv - and Ben Gurion, in particular, to postpone declaration of independence of the State of Israel.


Preparation of a radio broadcast [video interview / TV slot].


Prepare a programme combining live interviews, discussions, reports, advertisements. Use the special effects for radio provided in the kit.

The Radio Programme

It is May 14, 1948, the day before the Provisional Government has its fateful meeting to decide whether or not to declare independence. The radio broadcast brings together the main protagonists of this period in Zionist history: David Ben Gurion, Golda Meyerson, Moshe Shertok, Chaim Weizmann, Israel Galili, Harry Truman, etc.


This scenario recreates an important moment in Zionist history. The activity could be used in a youth movement as the climax of a seminar or camp on the theme of Ben Gurion. It could also be performed for the public (community, Talmud Torah) as part of Ben Gurion week programme.

Organizing this activity

This activity is in essence a simulation game. It is therefore important to stress the theatrical nature booth of the game and of the action. The participants have to identify with the part they are playing and should feel that they really are preparing for a radio programme. The best way to do this is through your local Jewish radio station if you have one. Suggest to them that you record your broadcast at their studio and transmit it. This is also an excellent way of publicizing your youth movement/group, and will motivate the participants.

Preparing the broadcast

Using the documentation provided, the madrichim prepare sheets summarizing the opinions on all the main personalities. The participants receive these sheets before the activity, and should learn their roles well.

Technical details - ideally you need two tape recorders and a turntable. You should prepare a list of your recordings and interviews in the order you want to broadcast them. Both the technician and the compeer in the studio should have a copy.

The Interviews The members of the group take on the roles of these personalities and express their opinions (the introduction summarizes these opinions).

Examples of interviews:

    Ben Gurion:

    Q. The UN has just put forward an armistice plan for Palestine. How do you feel about this?

    A. Whatever the UN decides and suggests, it doesn't change our actual situation. The vote on the partition plan on 29th November 1948 was an important moral and political act, but the Jewish state will come into existence through our concerted struggle against our enemies. It is unrealistic to sign an armistice while the fighting is still going on. However, a true response to the UN proposal is a strong and united Jewish army to crush the Arab legions.

    Q. What's your opinion of the Hagana?

    A. Like the Palmach, the Hagana is a well-meaning and courageous defense organization, but it belongs to the past. We are moving towards the future and the State we are in the process of creating needs a strong and united army which will also be the backbone of the new Jewish society. Obviously, a government has to be able to rely on its army at all times. Anarchy and lack of discipline are rife in the ranks of the Palmach and the Hagana, as it is in all clandestine defense organizations; they must be remolded together. The Jewish army will soon cease to be clandestine, the same as any other armies world over. Are there two British armies?

    Q. What do you see as your goals?

    A. Security, Jewish sovereignty, social justice and Jewish/Arab rapprochement.

    Golda Meyerson Q. Golda Meyerson, we hear that you are leaving on a special diplomatic mission. Can you be more specific?

    A. Many things have been reported in the press; journalists have a fertile imagination. It was even said that I had met with King Abdullah of Transjordan, which I found really entertaining in these difficult times. Seriously, how could I have got to Transjordan? Maybe disguised as an Arab woman? How could you possibly expect an oriental monarch to meet with a woman who comes to talk to him as an equal and to ask him, on behalf of her government, not to go to war against us? The whole idea is absurd! I am not going on a mission. I am going to meet with some Arab civil servants from the British Mandate administration, as we do regularly, to clear up some outstanding issues.

    Moshe Shertok Q. People refer to you as the moderate member of the provisional government with the most divided opinions. You have just come from a visit to the USA, where you met with Marshall. What did you discuss?

    A. I don't believe that I'm indecisive in spite of my reputation. I am one hundred percent in favor of Jewish self-determination in their own land. I simply ask questions, whereas some members of this government only give answers that seem to have been designed to sound good in history books. I can assure you that I have no desire to go down in history. However, I am trying to find the safest solution, the least dangerous, one which will cause as little Jewish blood to be shed as possible. And I do have a serious question - could it still be too early? Shouldn't we wait until the guns have stopped before we declare independence? From what will we be independent? If we declare independence now, we'll be tied up in war for years. Those who pride themselves on wanting to build a nation like all other nations should think twice as to whether we will ever be truly like other nations if our society is born out of war and bloodshed.

The role of the participants:

The group is subdivided into units working on different sections of the programme, as follows:

The guests - the group members producing the radio broadcast play the roles of the personalities and deal with the technicalities of the show. They should all learn their parts, using the introduction and documentation provided.

The technicians - they deal with sound, music and links.

The radio reporters - their task is to carry out a survey among the public, the audience or the community. Two reporters can be sent to Jewish neighborhoods to produce a report on Ben Gurion and return to include this in during the broadcast.

One journalist - S/he should make up the front page of a paper based on what is going on in the broadcast, predicting what will happen at the general meeting of the provisional government the following day. Someone who can draw, could "snap" one broadcast as it happens.

The Agency journalists - don't forget that this is a momentous event, hot news., and it is vitally important to keep the reports up to date. News is coming in all the time from the USA, from the front, and from the political arena. The Agency journalists need to produce dispatches to be read during the broadcast. These dispatches reflect the constant pressure exerted on the Yishuv at this time.

Sample dispatch:

According to an official Jewish diplomatic source, Iraqi tanks have been sighted moving along the border with Transjordan. Some observers have hinted that this news came from Golda Meyerson herself on her return from Transjordan several days ago. According to those observers, there is no doubt that a clash will break out with Transjordan.

or - use comedy and satire:

Paula Ben Gurion, the "Old Man's" wife, became famous for her advice to her husband in all sorts of situations. It was not unknown for her to come forward during one of her husband's political meetings or speeches and tell him to put on his hat, or remind him to drink some water. You could turn this into a comic role, have her regularly interrupting discussions by coming into the studio or phoning up.

If you have the facilities, this programme could also be done as a TV broadcast, using a video camera and accessory equipment.


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