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Seal of State of Israel

Harry Levin reflected on the British Departure from Palestine and the creation of the State of Israel

May 14: It is Dawn of Friday. Today the British leave Palestine. One can still barely comprehend it. It was ominously still during the night, and I slept fitfully. Straining my ears, I heard the grinding creak of tanks from the Zone, and, in the distance, a dull, indistinct, receding noise, like the rumour of a river. The British Army stealing through the night, as though in complicity with the darkness. . .

Through glasses I have just watched the High Commissioner's Residence on its grey hilltop. Its massive white austerity was lit up by the sunlight. From its tower waved a Union Jack. A few minutes past 8 I saw the sleek, black Rolls Royce drive out of the gates. The little procession of cars is on its way now to Kallandia airport with three Spitfires zooming before them. In half an hour Sir Alan and the last of the 6,208 British civilian personnel will board planes for Haifa. At that moment the Union Jack will be hauled from the Residence and a Red Cross flag hoisted.

So ends the adventure that started bravely 30 years ago. They came humbly then, Allenby on foot, but proudly, too. Thanksgiving and prayers from millions of Jewish hearts accompanied them. They shuffle out now in darkness and chaos, almost unnoticed. The more tragic because it need never have been a tragedy, had Britain only remained true to her trust and to her own traditions and wisdom. Those who know the real England, who have thrilled to the turbulent story of English liberty from the days of its rough and obstinate growth, for them, too, her record here and the manner of her going is a sad thing. . .

At 4 o'clock in the Museum Hall in Tel-Aviv, Ben-Gurion proclaimed the establishment of the independent State of Israel. . . Hatikvah rolled out, a hymn of thanksgiving. Rabbi Fishman, his voice choked with tears, pronounced the Sheheheyanu. A deep Amen from the throats of the assembly like a congregation at worship. A minute's silence; among us, too. You could feel the taut self-restraint in each one gathered around the wireless. Then Ben-Gurion read the first Ordinance: "All the laws enacted under the Palestine White Paper, 1939, of the British Government, and all laws deriving from it, are here declared null and void."

So the lamp snuffed out nearly 2,000 years ago was relighted today. A miracle as great as any that ever happened in this land. The whole world must sense its drama, though many hate it.

May 15: No morning news bulletin; the wireless "dead." Lack of current at the broadcasting station, or something worse?

First day of Israel. A radiant day. Short lull this morning after a night of incessant fire. I slept through most of it, the din a kind of nightmare backdrop to a confusion of dreams. . . What are people thinking, feeling? Are they saying to themselves that now everything is going to be different, like starting all over again? The romantic, I suppose, believe that all will be more beautiful. And the pessimistic that we're in for a new kind of Arab-made hell. . .

What will that new life, independence, freedom, mean for me as a person? I don't know except that it will be my own. For the moment, I feel poised between the pressure of a past wherein one was seldom allowed to forget the Problem of the Jew, and an unknown future that also may be grim, but largely of my own making. That was always the difference between the Jew here and in the Diaspora. There he is a compound of theory and dream. Here he became an instrument of action. But henceforth action on another plane...

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(Excerpted with permission from Jerusalem Embattled: A Diary of the City Under Siege, March 25, 1948 to July 18, 1948, 1977, Wellington House)

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