Treasure Trove: How the State of Israel prepared for the announcement of its independence

The ceremony at which the State of Israel was proclaimed started at 4 p.m. on Friday, May 14, 1948—the British Mandate was ending at midnight between Friday and Saturday, a final shot to the Jewish community, necessitating that the new state be declared before sundown. The ceremony took 32 minutes.

It was only on the prior day that Otte Wallisch, an advertising agent and graphic designer from Tel Aviv, was summoned to the offices of the Jewish Agency and told: “You have 24 hours to prepare the main hall of Tel Aviv Museum for holding the meeting for the declaration of state. This is top secret!”. This is a pencil sketch by Wallisch of the ceremony he designed, signed by him on the lower right.

With 100 pounds (about $400) in hand, Wallisch began to work. He purchased wood to build the platform for the head table, and fabric to drape the walls. He borrowed a large portrait of Theodor Herzl from the Keren Hayesod, which also loaned two large flags that badly needed cleaning and were sent for quick laundering.  

Several lamps were purchased and installed to increase the illumination in the hall, the windows in the hall were blacked out for security reasons, a carpet was borrowed from the Shtampf store nearby and a naked statue at the building’s entrance was covered up.  

Wallisch was next instructed to find parchment on which the Declaration of Independence was to be written. The parchment was sourced but the text of the Declaration was completed only shortly before the ceremony began, so the signatories signed a blank piece of parchment with the text added later.

At 4 p.m., after the singing of “Hatikvah,” David Ben Gurion rose, and said “I shall read out to you the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel.” It was only at that moment that the name of the new country was revealed, to thunderous applause.

After 2,000 years of longing, the State of Israel was born. Israel’s 76th birthday starts at sundown on May 13. The celebration will likely be muted this year, but the privilege of living at a time when a Jewish state exists must never be taken for granted.