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A country is born: Israel, May 15,1948

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Introduction

This letter by Zipporah Porath, from her book, Letters from Jerusalem, 1947-1948, was written from Jerusalem in the Israel War of Independence. On May 14, 1948, the state of Israel was declared in the Tel Aviv Museum. The moving ceremony was broadcast from a makeshift radio booth.

Israel partition stamp - 1948 - Jewish State

Zipporah ("Zippy") Porath had joined the Haganah and received training in first aid. Besieged Jerusalem was a totally different world from Tel Aviv. There were constant electricity cuts: no batteries were available that evening to hear the broadcast of the ceremony. The new state-in-the-making had no name until May 15.

 The Jerusalem government issued stamps showing the territory mandated to the Jewish state under the UN Partition Plan, and bearing the inscription "State of the Jews" - Medinat Hayehudim.

As no grandiose ceremonies marked the creation of the new state for many soldiers in Jerusalem, for those fighting the Egyptian invaders in the south, and for those fighting the Arab Liberation Army and the Syrian Army in the North, this is how many young persons in Israel experienced the fulfillment of the 2,000 year old dream of restoration of the Jewish people in those historic days.

Zippy wrote of her comrades:

Our soldiers are like no others I'VE ever seen. They don't have much to fight with besides guts and determination. No swagger, spit or polish. No drinking, no shirking. Doing the dirtiest jobs, they sing and joke -- even in the fiercest moments, and never with a "here today and gone tomorrow" attitude. Tomorrow is what it’s all about.

Zippy  arrived in Mandatory Palestine in Oct. 1947, as an American student, for what was intended to be a year of study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  But, caught up in Israel's War of Independence, she served first as a medic in the underground Haganah defense forces, and then in the nascent IDF and the fledgling Israel Air Force. These volunteers from abroad were later recognized as part of the MACHAL volunteer corps.

The letters Zippy wrote to her parents and sister capture the historic events as they occurred. They are compiled in the book, Letters from Jerusalem 1947-1948. You can order it from zip(at)netvision.net.il (Israel) or click here for review and order information


Jerusalem,

May 15, 1948

Dearest Family,

It's the most incongruous and inexplicable feeling. I'm sitting  with our soldiers, listening all hearts and ears to the proceedings at the UN Security Council over a broken down battery radio -- trying to find out who will recognize our new State. The room is lit only by a small kerosene lamp which throws eerie shadows on the wall and plays havoc with the imagination.

The voices fade in and out, the static is maddening and it is hard to hear who is speaking. At the moment, the "Representative from Canada" is saying something stupid -- it's difficult to catch more than a word here or there -- so I'll use his time to write a few words ....which may never reach you.

Awareness of the full impact of the significance of this day has been somewhat lost to me in the immensity of rapidly developing events that have gripped Jerusalem. The British are actually leaving. We are fighting desperately to take over their strongholds before the Arabs do. For the last three days we have been on full alert and this is ZERO HOUR.

We are waiting impatiently for the return of the contingents of boys dispatched for today's engagements. Many dear friends are among them. Somehow, that seems more important to me than what the "Gentleman from Canada" is jabbering about -- or is it the Egyptian now?

Egypt. Oh, yes. They are invading rapidly to assure "peace and order."

The faces around me relaxed a bit after hearing that America had recognized OUR STATE. I feel a bit redeemed. Everyone in the room pivoted around to look at me as if I had had something to do with the decision.

What am I doing here? I'm in charge of the first-aid post which has been whitened and brightened for the gruesome business it anticipates. The stretcher bearers are squatting nearby. One of them, a boy with dark curly hair, is resting his head against my knees and looking past the ceiling to the future. Everything we have is ready -- blankets, bandages, a bit of cognac, ready for... we don't know what. This afternoon, it was heavy mortar fire, 25 pounders or more. Tonight, it may be air bombardment.

When I first donned these overalls and learned to sleep with my boots on and one ear open, I felt like a character out of a Hemingway novel; a partisan -- one girl for every hundred men. Now, I'm into the role completely.

We are completely cut off. No mail service out of Jerusalem, but writing eases the anxiety of waiting and worrying. How many of our boys will make it back tonight?

I wish we could know what is going on. So close and so far from the overall picture....


Jerusalem

May 16, 1948

Hello Again,

Day two in the THE STATE OF ISRAEL. Had to abandon writing temporarily for more pressing business. It's a beautiful day, plenty of sunshine, flies and shooting.

My only American compatriot here, Herbert, dug up a pair of shorts for me to wear. He says the boys need it for their morale and never mind if Florence Nightingale never wore shorts. What an outfit for duty.

Everyone gets such a kick out of the fact that there are " Americans" in their midst. I'm actually the first American GIRL most of these men have ever seen. In fact, I'm becoming a legend here. They call me "Tzippy HaAmericait" (Zippy, the American).

There are about three hundred men at this base from all over the world but only two of us from the U.S. Anyhow, what we lack in numbers, we both make up for in other ways. For one thing, we are doing a fine job of public relations, having constantly to improvise with practically nothing at hand. Herbert set up a first class cafeteria in the mess and is demonstrating what American efficiency is all about. And I'm doing my best in the two fields at my disposal, woman and nurse. The sweetheart of the camp and all that. I also set up a very cozy infirmary, thanks to super resourcefulness.

Later...

Pardon the inconsistencies, but I'm constantly being interrupted by minor emergencies -- a scorpion bite, an attack of appendicitis, infections, a misdirected bullet, all in a day's work. In between, I serve sulfa and good cheer -- the best part of the job. Our soldiers are like no others I'VE ever seen. They don't have much to fight with besides guts and determination. No swagger, spit or polish. No drinking, no shirking. Doing the dirtiest jobs, they sing and joke -- even in the fiercest moments, and never with a "here today and gone tomorrow" attitude. TOMORROW is what it's all about.

Israel partition stamp - 1948 - Jewish State

I am grateful to be here with them. I have become one of them more than ever now. All my love -- thank God for the present -- and pray for the future....

PS

Don't part with this envelope if you ever receive it. The stamps were issued for 5 days only  prior to the declaration of the State and were available only in Jerusalem. They'll probably be valuable to stamp collectors in a couple of years.

 


From  Zipporah Porath, Letters from Jerusalem, 1947-1948. Order it from zip(at)netvision.net.il (Israel) or click here for review and order information

Other letters from the book: Israel: This is my home - 1948; Palestine Partition - November 29, 1947 Palestine: Ben Yehuda Street Bombing


Notice

Letter copyright 1987 by Zipporah Porath. Introduction copyright 2008 by Zipporah Porath and Zionism-Israel.com. All rights reserved. This document may not be reproduced without express permission of the author and the publisher.


See also:Palestine Partition - November 29, 1947 Memoirs of a Palmach volunteer, 1948 , Was there Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine in 1948?
Israel - Birth of a Nation - The struggle for Israel's independence 
1948 Israel War of Independence (First Arab-Israeli war) Timeline (Chronology) MACHAL In Israel's Wars MACHAL in Israel's War of Independence MACHAL - in illegal immigration to Palestine and Israel War of Independence

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