Reprinted from Gush Shalom
WHEN DAVID BEN-GURION read out Israel's declaration of independence (officially: "Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel") on May 14, 1948, I was in Kibbutz Hulda.
My company of the (still unnamed) Israeli army was ordered to make a night attack on the Arab village of al-Kubab, near the town of Ramleh. It was expected to be a hard fight, and I was busy checking my equipment and cleaning my (Czech) rifle, when somebody said that Ben-Gurion was making a speech which was being broadcast on the Kibbutz dining-room radio.
I was not really interested. We were all convinced that what some politicians in Tel Aviv might be babbling was quite immaterial to our future. Whether our state would survive or not would be decided on the battlefield. The regular armies of the neighboring Arab states were about to enter the war, there would be bloody battles, and the outcome would decide our lives. Literally.
However, there was one detail which aroused our curiosity: What would our new state be called? There were some rumors in the air. We wanted to know.
So I betook myself to the kibbutz dining room -- which we soldiers were not allowed to enter on ordinary days -- and sure enough, I could hear the very peculiar high-pitched voice of Ben-Gurion reading the document. When he came to the passage "(we) hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel, to be known as the State of Israel," I left.
I remember that outside the hall I met the brother of a girl-friend, who was scheduled to attack another village that very night. We exchanged a few words. I never saw him again. He was killed.
ALL THIS crossed my mind when I was called upon three days ago, on the eve of "Independence Day," to take part in a ceremony in the very hall where the original text had been read out by Ben-Gurion. I was one of the persons chosen to read it out again on the 68th anniversary.
For this occasion I read the entire text of the declaration for the first time. I was not impressed.
The original version was first drafted by some officials, then re-written by Moshe Sharett (who became Foreign Minister on that day). He was a stickler for the Hebrew language, so the text is linguistically impeccable. Ben-Gurion was not satisfied with the text, so he took it and rewrote it completely. It bears all the hallmarks of his unmistakable style. Also, he had the Chutzpah to put his signature above all the others, which appear in alphabetical order.
The writers of the declaration had obviously read the American Declaration of Independence before drafting their own. They copied the general outline. It is not written in the edifying style of an historical document, but as a document with a mission: to convince the nations of the world to recognize our state.
THE INTRODUCTION is a reiteration of Zionist slogans. It purports to set out the historical facts, and very dubious facts they are.
For example, it starts with the words "Eretz Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious, and political identity was shaped."
Well, not quite. I was taught at school that God promised Abraham the land while still in Mesopotamia. The 10 Commandments were given to us by God personally on Mount Sinai, which is in Egypt. The more important of the two Talmuds was written in Babylon. True, the Hebrew Bible was composed in the country, but most of the religious texts of Judaism were written in "exile."
"Jews strove in every successive generation to reestablish themselves in their ancient homeland..." Nonsense. They most certainly did not. For example, when the Jews were expelled from Catholic Spain in 1492, the vast majority of them went to the countries of the Muslim world, with none but a handful settling in Palestine.
Zionism, the movement to establish a Jewish nation in Palestine, was founded only at the end of the 19th century, when anti-Semitism became a powerful political force all over Europe, and the founders foresaw the calamities to come.