As Pre-1948 Press Proves, Israeliness Was Born Before State of Israel

An examination of old newspapers suggests Israel won 1948 war because it was already a nation.

On Friday, May 14, 1948, Haaretz declared in its front page headline: "The State of Israel will be declared today." The archaeologist who finds a copy of this paper, in 1,000 or 10,000 years, will be able to learn from it at least as much as we learn from the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Bar Kochba Letters, and probably more.

Before anything else, the future archaeologist will have to comment on the fact that the lead headline only stretched over five columns, not the entire page width. A shoulder headline, as it was called then, covering two of the remaining columns, spoke of the invasion promised by Egypt at one minute past midnight. It would appear that the editors of the newspaper were trying to explain to their readers why they did not give even more prominence to this article, and for that reason the words "Last-Minute" appeared above it. A single column was reserved for an advertisement: The Gav Yam company offered apartments for sale in Kiryat Yam.

It appears that from a journalistic point of view it was the right decision: The declaration of the State of Israel had been expected. Nonetheless, there is something odd about the self-restraint demonstrated by the editors of Haaretz. Perhaps it was it because they knew that following the declaration of independence ceremony an even bigger headline would be necessary. Indeed, on Sunday the headline there was a banner headline, spanning the entire width of the front page. It did not offer any information the readers did not know and appears to have been written for posterity: "The vision of generations is being manifested: The State of Israel was established."

At the top of the page, above the headline, is a sentence from the Book of Jeremiah were printed: "And they shall fight against thee but they shall not prevail against thee." The debated between those supporting the declaration of independence and those preferring to delay it was once again irrelevant, but as David Ben-Gurion who noted in his diary that he is "grieving among the joyous," Haaretz did not hide from its readers that the declaration of independence was leading to a military escalation and to war.

The British reporter John Kimche wrote in an analysis that appeared in the front page that an invasion of the Arab armies is "near certain"; the headline was "5 minutes to 12." The front page also carried death notices for those who had fallen in the first battles.

One of the main front-page headlines reported the surrender of Jaffa. The story offers few details on the fate of the city's Arab residents except for a rather ambiguous statement that a representative of the Haganah "will attempt to restore the city to normalcy."

An article under the headline, "Three Arab villages have been evacuated" reported that the villages, located between Tabor and Tzemah were "left" by their inhabitants. A report on the capture of the village of Brir, in the Negev, said that the residents "fled."

But if the future archaeologist finds it difficult to learn from the edition about the tragic blow to the lives of Palestinians, he will learn that Israel was not born with the declaration of independence. Haaretz had already transmitted a whole generation's worth of Israeli continuity and a fairly well formed identity. From this point of view there is something distorted about the 60th Independence Day.

On May 14, 1948 Haaretz readers received the weekly dose of culture that the newspaper had been offering them for nearly 30 years. They could read, among others, an article by Natan Rotenstreich that commenced with the following words: "All agree that the wave of irrationalism in thought and literature is the ground on which grew public ideologies, or that a portion of the ideas of irrationalism fueled public tendencies, first and foremost, Nazism." There was also an article on Tolstoy and some poetry, with full vocalization.

If their cultural appetite was not fully slaked by Saturday afternoon, newspaper readers could travel to Magdiel for a friendly chat with Mrs. Zimmerman from the Women's International Zionist Organization. After Shabbat they could attend the opera in Tel Aviv, conducted by Mordechai Golinkin and starring Adis de Filip. If there were no tickets to be had, they could go to the opening of the new rooftop garden, Hermon Ice Cream, at Beit Moghrabi in Tel Aviv.

On Sunday there was an escalation in the war, but the routine in Tel Aviv continued with dozens of notices offering services or apartments for rent. The Shalva Gymnasium high school announced enrollment for new students, and anyone who thought big could purchase a factory that was up for sale "due to conscription."

An examination of the newspaper suggests something that the 60th anniversary celebrations tend to blur and that many Israelis tend to drown in the outpouring of nostalgia swirling around them: that 1948 was not Zero Hour. Israeli identity was born many years before Israel. Among other things, this explains the ability to deal with the early challenges, including the victory in the war. Contrary to the thesis that the "few were victorious against many," "miraculously" prevailing - it seemed that only those who purchased the "regenerator," advertised on that day by Tabachnick the pharmacist, were in need of miracles: It was a chemical remedy for baldness.

Haaretz's 60th Independence Day supplement, "Days of Our Lives," is published in Wednesday's newspaper.