An eyewitness account of the 1948 declaration of independence

By Arieh Handler, April 18, 2008

1948: The declaration of independence


To tell the truth, I didn’t think I would still be here to see Israel at 60 years old. But I am still very active, and active people live longer. I was one of the witnesses in that room where David Ben-Gurion signed the declaration. That was the night the Egyptians bombed Tel Aviv and the time when Glub Pasha led the Arab armies against us. He was stopped at a place where today stands Tel Aviv University, where my son is a professor. On that night, we were dancing in the streets we were so happy. You cannot imagine what the declaration of the state meant to us. Many people in America particularly, President Truman among them, told Ben-Gurion to wait a bit. But he ignored them and made the declaration. If he had waited, I am sure the state would never have been established. The only nation that wanted him to go ahead, strangely enough, was Russia. The Russians were hoping that with so many Labour people in power, it would be good for the Soviets. The atmosphere in the small room was full of anticipation, exciting, electric. Many people from Jerusalem who were supposed to sign couldn’t get there because the Arabs had it surrounded, so they signed later. We were invited at 3pm and the signing started at 4pm. Ben-Gurion and one or two other people spoke, but the speeches were short. Amazingly, for a Jewish event, it finished on time at 5.30, because it was Friday and Shabbat. The whole thing was run by Ben-Gurion. He wanted all the political parties to sign the declaration and then we had a very big l’chaim. I was a young man then, only 32, but we knew that we were witnessing history, particularly after everything that the Jewish people had been through during the war. It was undoubtedly the greatest day of my life.

Last updated: 1:28pm, September 16 2008