Our final stop of the day was at the Independence Hall, where Israel was declared as a state late in the afternoon of Friday the 14th of May 1948.
First, we went into a little room where a girl called Channah, who spoke with a really thick accent, tried to teach us the early history of Tel Aviv. It was founded in 1901, primarily by a man called Dizengoff (later the mayor), who arrived in Joffa from Russia sometime prior to that with his wife Sarah and six children.
There were 66 Jewish families from Joffa who founded the then-suburb of Tel Aviv in 1901-1902. Land on the sand dunes was divided into 66 blocks and allocated by means of seashell lots. The Independence Hall was originally number 33.
Tel Aviv was declared a city in its own right during the British Mandate period in the 20s, and Winston Churchill and Albert Einstein both visited in the 30s. Dizengoff donated the hall as a museum in 1932, and in 1936, the first (for a long while) Hebrew port was opened in Tel Aviv.
Then we went into the hall itself, where we met another guide, Moody (Muvin? I didn’t quite get it. Let’s just call him Mosheh).
He explained to us how an international vote in 1939 recognised the right to a Jewish state (Australia, New Zealand, France, the USSR, and the US voted in favour; the Muslim states and India voted against; and the UK abstained. Thailand, Mosheh said, didn’t wake up for the vote), which caused Arab armies to invade the next day, which started the Independence War.
The plan was to break the British Mandate and form two states (an Arab state and a Jewish state) with Jerusalem and Bethlehem as independent. Mosheh described this as a Bad Plan.
Mostly the war was considered a civil war, because it all happened inside the British Mandate, Palestine. Joffa, then an Arab city, was at war with Tel Aviv (which is close enough distance that it can be walked in ten minutes).
On the 15th of May 1948, the British were scheduled to withdraw, so the elders held an emergency meeting to decide whether to declare a state or not. They had been advised by George Washington not to, because five neighbouring Muslim countries were probably going to declare war, and he thought it would be better to call for a cease-fire.
They argued over all sorts of things, such as the name for the new state (Zion and Judaea were other options), and whether to put God in the constitution (since there were a number of atheist Jews among the elders – the compromise was to use the phrase “Rock of Israel”).
They argued until just one hour before the declaration, when they hurriedly borrowed chairs and microphones and washed the flag. The constitution itself didn’t have time to be written on nice paper, which is why pictures of it being signed have the scroll folded over, because it was blank! The ceremony itself lasted just 32 minutes, partially because the Sabbath was about to begin and partially because they were afraid of war. The hall itself can actually double as a bomb shelter, set into the ground, with high, narrow windows.
After a mad dash to where Tzion had stopped the bus by the side of the median strip, we returned to the hotel to recuperate and scrub the black dust out of our pores.