Palestinians during the surrender of the town of Ramle, in May 1948
The State of Israel was proclaimed on 14 May 1948, the culmination of nearly 2,000 years of hopes by Jewish people that they would one day return to the land from which the Romans expelled them. The Holocaust of European Jewry in the Second World War strengthened their determination.
The Balfour Declaration by the British government in 1917, enshrined in a League of Nations mandate in 1920, had said that a "national home for the Jewish people" would be founded in Palestine, while preserving the "civil and religious" rights of non-Jewish communities there. The British could not reconcile the conflicting principles.
On 29 November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly voted (resolution 181) to partition Palestine between a Jewish and an Arab state, with Jerusalem under an international regime. The Jews agreed but the Arabs did not. They called the declaration of the State of Israel "al-Nakba", the catastrophe.
Inter-communal fighting had preceded the declaration and after it, five Arab armies invaded. By the time of an armistice in 1949, the Israelis had extended their territory, leaving Jordan with the West Bank, Egypt with Gaza and Jerusalem divided. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had fled or had been driven out.