Israel Is Created as a Homeland for Jews Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The independence of Israel—among the first countries to gain national liberation from colonialism after World War II—created a Jewish homeland for the first time in modern history, but it did so by displacing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, creating a long-term dispute over the proper dispensation of the land.

Summary of Event

From a human rights perspective, the founding of the state of Israel has a fourfold significance: It marked the return of a scattered people to its homeland after two thousand years of exile, it signaled the success of one of the earliest nationalist movements of postcolonial liberation in the Middle East, it offered an asylum for the survivors of the Holocaust, and it instituted a state sanctuary for all Jews threatened by anti-Semitic persecution. Jews;Israel as homeland Zionism Nationalism;Israel Postcolonialism;Israel Israel;as Jewish homeland[Jewish] [kw]Israel Is Created as a Homeland for Jews (May 14, 1948) [kw]Homeland for Jews, Israel Is Created as a (May 14, 1948) [kw]Jews, Israel Is Created as a Homeland for (May 14, 1948) Jews;Israel as homeland Zionism Nationalism;Israel Postcolonialism;Israel Israel;as Jewish homeland[Jewish] [g]Middle East;May 14, 1948: Israel Is Created as a Homeland for Jews[02500] [g]Palestine;May 14, 1948: Israel Is Created as a Homeland for Jews[02500] [g]Israel;May 14, 1948: Israel Is Created as a Homeland for Jews[02500] [c]Expansion and land acquisition;May 14, 1948: Israel Is Created as a Homeland for Jews[02500] [c]Colonialism and occupation;May 14, 1948: Israel Is Created as a Homeland for Jews[02500] [c]Independence movements;May 14, 1948: Israel Is Created as a Homeland for Jews[02500] Ben-Gurion, David Weizmann, Chaim Balfour, Arthur Herzl, Theodor

In the late 1950’s, thousands of Israelis take to the streets of Tel Aviv to celebrate the anniversary of their nation’s independence.

(National Archives)

After their forcible expulsion by the Romans from their native land, the Jews became the prototype of a diasporic people, one dispersed as a minority in other nations and lacking the territorial contiguity of a land of their own. Such people, exemplified also by the Armenians and Gypsies, are perpetually vulnerable and are liable to suffer legal, economic, and cultural disadvantages. The additional factor of religious animosity exacerbated the persecution of Jews in Europe from earliest times. Examples include the Crusader massacres; the expulsions from England in the thirteenth century, from France in the fourteenth century, and from Spain in the fifteenth century; and the Cossack pogroms of the seventeenth century.

This diasporic experience may explain the yearning for spiritual redemption in the land of Israel that became a central theme of Jewish religious identity throughout the ages, as summarized in the famous lines of the medieval poet Judah ha-Levi, “I am in the West but my heart is in the East,” or in the traditional conclusion of the Passover Seder, “Next year in Jerusalem.” Actually, there was always a Jewish presence in Palestine, amplified by devout individuals and groups who came throughout the centuries to settle. By the mid-nineteenth century, they formed an absolute majority in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, not until the late nineteenth century did the move toward the “in-gathering of the exiles” and the formation of a Jewish state take practical form.

Zionism, as that movement came to be known, offered answers to two problems raised by the historical processes by which the modern state system of Europe was taking shape. The granting of legal citizenship in many states, coupled with cultural and political boundary-setting processes, forced upon the Jews the necessity to reset their own boundaries and to define their identity in relation to their environments. At the same time, the rise of national and racial Racial and ethnic discrimination;European Jews , as distinct from religious, anti-Semitism placed the new issues firmly in the context of the accumulated history of persecution.

The two problems reinforced each other to prompt the formulation by a secular Jewish intelligentsia of a doctrine that was related to other European nationalisms and yet radically different from them. Whereas European nationalists based their demands on existing national territories and cultures, Zionism proposed cultural rebirth in a territory still to be resettled, followed by renewed sovereignty. Zionist activity took the form of encouraging, financing, and settling immigrants. Immigrants came primarily from Central and Eastern Europe, where anti-Semitism was rife, but also from Western and Middle Eastern countries. Immigration increased the Jewish population from about 50,000 in 1900 to about 650,000 by 1948, more than 250,000 of whom left Germany in the early years of the Nazi regime.

In effect, the Yishuv Yishuv , as the Palestine Jewish community was called, became a state in the making, with its own political institutions and a large degree of authority despite the lack of the sanctions available to a sovereign state. It set up such crucial services as education, health, employment, and welfare; established its own trade unions, banking, and marketing systems; and created the machinery for the rapid demographic and economic development of a society distinct from that of the Arabs. Concurrently, Zionism pursued official recognition of the Jewish right to return to Palestine. Its greatest early victory was the November, 1917, declaration Balfour Declaration (1917) submitted by British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour on behalf of the British cabinet: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object.”

This commitment was formally confirmed in 1922 by the League of Nations League of Nations as a condition of the granting of a mandate over Palestine Palestinian mandate Mandates, territorial to Britain. Nevertheless, in the same year the British government issued, under Arab pressure, an interpretation of the declaration limiting immigration because it could otherwise overtax the economy. The British also defined the national home not as Palestine itself but as an entity within it. The next two decades saw the steady increase of hostility between Arabs and Jews, each of whom accused the British authorities of siding with their opponents. Hostilities culminated in 1936 in the outbreak of virtual civil war.

In 1937, a royal commission headed by Lord Peel Peel, Lord issued a report proposing, as the only viable solution, the partition of Palestine into a small Jewish state and a large Arab one. This proposal was denounced by the Palestinian leadership, as well as by radical Zionist elements. The mainstream leadership, including Chaim Weizmann of the World Jewish Agency World Jewish Agency and David Ben-Gurion of the Yishuv itself (later the first president and the first prime minister of Israel, respectively), endorsed the plan in principle as a recognition of the Jewish right to sovereignty. After the failure of the partition scheme, and constrained by the ongoing violence, the British government issued a new policy in May, 1939, limiting Jewish immigration Immigration;Palestine to seventy-five thousand immigrants over five years, after which such immigration would be forbidden altogether.





The Arab leadership refused even this concession, demanding the cessation of all immigration and the declaration of Palestine as an Arab state. The Jews too rejected the new policy as denying the “right to rebuild their national home . . . and a surrender to Arab terrorism.” Toward the end of World War II and even more so after the peace, the sense of betrayal was deepened by the revelation of the extent of the Holocaust and the huge numbers of death-camp survivors denied immigration elsewhere. This sense of betrayal exploded in the form of massive attempts to smuggle immigrants into the territory and in underground activities conducted against the military and police, which were trying to prevent such illegal immigration.

Meanwhile, the internecine warfare between Arabs and Jews intensified. Faced with a country steadily becoming ungovernable, the British decided to refer the problem to the United Nations, which nominated a special committee to study the crisis and to recommend solutions. The outcome was a new partition plan which was again rejected by the Arabs and accepted as the “indispensable minimum” by the Jews. This time, however, the proposal was not dropped but was brought before the General Assembly, which endorsed it by a majority of more than two-thirds, including the Soviet Union and the United States.

The resolution terminated the British mandate as of August, 1948, at the latest and authorized the establishment, two months after the evacuation of the British armed forces, of independent Arab and Jewish states and a special international regime for Jerusalem. The proclamation of Israeli independence was issued in Tel Aviv on May 14, 1948, on the night preceding the date fixed by the British as the termination of the mandate. In that proclamation, the Provisional State Council, forerunner of the Knesset (Israeli parliament), announced that “the recent Holocaust, which engulfed millions of Jews in Europe, proved anew the need to solve the problem of the homelessness and lack of independence of the Jewish people . . . the state of Israel will be open to the immigration of Jews from all countries of their dispersion.” It was thus one of the founding principles of modern Israel that any Jew could immigrate to the new nation at any time, and no such Jewish immigrant would be denied Israeli citizenship.


The creation of Israel was taken as at best an affront and at worst an act of war by the Arab nations of the Middle East. It led to several Arab-Israeli wars, beginning in the year of Israel’s founding, and to a great deal of violence perpetrated by both sides between the wars themselves. In large part, the Israeli position in relation to Palestinian and other Arabs stems from a central goal of Zionism: the desire to form a majority Jewish state in which a completely democratic government would be just as completely dominated by Jews.

Indeed, much of the history of Israel since 1948 has been a function of its efforts to realize its original goals, those of serving as a sanctuary for persecuted Jews and of providing a national center for the gathering of a dispersed people. The initial deluge of refugees that poured in with the opening of the gates was made up of Holocaust survivors, including those who were caught trying to enter illegally into Palestine and were kept by the British in concentration camps in Kenya and Cyprus. They were followed by Jewish refugees from the Arab countries at war with Israel. By the third year of the state’s existence, its Jewish population had more than doubled.

The central commitments of the May 14, 1948, Proclamation of Independence were put into effect by the Law of Return Law of Return, Israeli (1950) of 1950 and its amendments. These guarantee the right of every Jew to settle in Israel as a full-fledged citizen from the moment of landing and in effect obligates the state to provide immigrants with the full range of services required for their absorption. The coin, however, has a reverse face. Following the invasion of Israel by five Arab armies on the very first day of its independence, approximately 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that was established to assist them. The vast majority of them became refugees in the neighboring Arab states for many decades to come. The outcome was the creation of a new diaspora people, a further complication of the Arab-Israeli dispute, and a civil rights problem still awaiting its own solution. Jews;Israel as homeland Zionism Nationalism;Israel Postcolonialism;Israel Israel;as Jewish homeland[Jewish]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ben-Gurion, David. Rebirth and Destiny of Israel. New York: Philosophical Library, 1954. Offers an insight into the formation and birth of Israel, the problems attending them, and the ideals of Israel’s founders. Significant as coming from the prominent leader of the Jewish community in Palestine and the first prime minister of the new state.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bethell, Nicholas. The Palestine Triangle: The Struggle for the Holy Land. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1979. A detailed analysis and interpretation of the struggle between Jews, Arabs, and the British from 1935 to the independence of Israel.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cohen, Mitchell. Zion and State: Nation, Class, and the Shaping of Modern Israel. New York: Basil Blackwell, 1987. Analysis of the relationship between nation, state, religion, and class in the emergence of Israel, and of the struggles to shape the new state.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Elazar, Daniel. Israel: Building a New Society. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986. An examination of the historical development of the Israeli polity from the pre-Zionist era to the founding of the state. Explores the basic cleavages Israel inherited when a “new society” was formed.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hertzberg, Arthur, ed. The Zionist Idea. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1959. An anthology of writings of the fathers of Zionism. Especially noteworthy is the lengthy philosophical examination by the editor of the central concepts of Zionism and its development and significance in Jewish history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Horowitz, Dan, and Lissak Moshe. Origins of the Israeli Polity: Palestine Under the Mandate. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978. A brilliant, in-depth sociopolitical study of the Jewish Yishuv, the centrifugal and centripetal forces that activated it, and its function as a state in the making.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Karsh, Efraim, ed. Israel’s Transition from Community to State. Vol. 1 in Israel: The First Hundred Years. Portland, Oreg.: Frank Cass, 2000. A study of Zionism, Arab nationalism, and the struggle to transform the Jewish community in Israel into an Israeli state. Bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Laqueur, Walter, ed. The Israel-Arab Reader. Rev. ed. New York: Viking Penguin, 1984. A comprehensive collection of documents relating to the formation of Israel and to the Israeli-Arab conflict. The first three sections are of particular relevance to students of the formation of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Marshall, Edgar S., ed. Israel: Current Issues and Historical Background. Hauppauge, N.Y.: Nova Science, 2002. Details the history of modern Israel’s formation from the point of view of the early twenty-first century conflicts to which it forms the background. Bibliographic references and index.

Arab-Israeli War Creates Refugee Crisis

United Nations Creates an Agency to Aid Palestinian Refugees

Syria and Egypt Form the United Arab Republic

Palestinian Refugees Form the Palestine Liberation Organization

Fatah Launches Its First Terrorist Strike on Israel

Israel Defeats Arab States in the Six-Day War

United Nations Security Council Adopts Resolution 242

Habash Founds the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine

Categories: History