Israeli Independence Day
Independence Day Greeting Card, the Folklore Research Center

Israeli Independence Day

Yom Ha'Atzmaut, the State of Israel’s Independence Day, is a national holiday celebrated on the 5th of Iyar to mark the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel at the end of the British Mandate. Since 1949, Independence Day has been enshrined in law as a “state holiday” as well as a sabbatical day of rest. Independence Day is celebrated from the evening of the 4th of Iyar, with the conclusion of Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of the Wars of Israel and Victims of Actions of Terrorism, until the following evening of the 5th of Iyar. In the case of the date falling on the Sabbath, the holiday is celebrated on an adjacent day.

Declaration of Independence

The British Mandate ended at midnight between Friday and Saturday, May 14th–15th, 1948, in accordance with the partition plan approved by the United Nations on November 29th, 1947. The War of Independence was already being fought, with battles underway between the local Jewish and Arab populations. The People’s Council headed by David Ben-Gurion decided to declare the establishment of the state on Friday, May 5th, at 4:00 pm, before the Sabbath, eight hours prior to the end of the Mandate.

Discussions on the declaration’s wording continued until the very last minute, and at the appointed time, the members of the People’s Council met for a short, festive ceremony in Tel Aviv while thousands gathered outside the building. Ben-Gurion read the declaration, and the members of the People’s Council signed the document, which became known as the Declaration of Independence. The next day, the armies of several Arab nations invaded the new State of Israel.

Yom Ha'Atzmaut Celebrations

The first Independence Day was celebrated in 1949 with a military parade in Tel Aviv and ceremonies, events and prayers held throughout the country and in Jewish communities around the world. These celebrations shaped the day’s traditional character. For the first 20 years, the main event was a large military parade. Later, the practice was limited to air force and naval displays.

Independence Day is celebrated with state, local and private events. A torch-lighting ceremony at Mount Herzl marks the close of the Memorial Day events and the beginning of the Independence Day celebrations. Among the holiday’s official events are a reception for outstanding soldiers hosted by the President of Israel, the International Bible Contest for middle school and high school students and the Israel Prize ceremony. Cities across the country hold mass celebrations with live performances and fireworks.

The Declaration of Independence, the events that preceded it and various Independence Day celebrations over the years are documented in an abundance of items preserved at the National Library of Israel. Among the special materials are the original manuscript of Israel’s national anthem “HaTikvah,” historical documents, photographs and posters, the Independence Haggadah, press clippings, books and articles, song recordings and lesson plans for teachers. The Library blog also features interesting stories and anecdotes related to Independence Day.