Present at the Creation
Jonathan Freedland recalls the extraordinary day in 1948 when Israel declared its independence.
On May 14 1948, a few hundred people crammed into the Tel Aviv Museum of Art to hear a proclamation that would change the course of history - and alter the fate of two peoples competing over a single, much-promised land. That document was the declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel.
The consequences of that act would be fateful, starting with the 1948 war that followed within days, an event revered as the War of Independence by Israelis and lamented as the Nakba, or catastrophe, by Palestinians.
Jonathan meets the last two surviving eye-witnesses of the declaration ceremony and gets a rare glimpse of the original document itself as he tells the story of that day in May. It was a day of near-chaotic improvisation and rush as the founders of Israel scrambled to declare their new state - one official had to flag down a passing car to get the parchment scroll to the ceremony on time. Even the name of the new country was only decided in the final hours, the choice of Israel rather than Zion or Judea coming as a surprise to a waiting world.
Hearing from a range of voices - including Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Sha'ath and acclaimed Israeli novelist Amos Oz, both children on the day of the declaration - this is the riveting, unexpectedly human story of frantic taxi rides, smudged documents and last-minute decisions that lie behind one of the most momentous events of the last century.
Audio excerpts from of the recording of the ceremony of the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel courtesy of Baruch Salzman.
Written and presented by Jonathan Freedland
Producer: Sarah Peters
Researcher: Jonathan Cummings
Executive Producer: Iain Chambers
An Open Audio and Tuning Fork production for BBC Radio 4.