Which “we” declared Israel’s independence?

If you ask most Israelis, they’ll tell you without hesitation that it was David Ben-Gurion who declared the State of Israel. But the declaration itself says otherwise:

We, members of the People’s Council, representatives of the Jewish community of Eretz-Israel and of the Zionist movement, . . . hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.

Each bit of that sentence tells its own story. Ben-Gurion, after all, didn’t sign alone, and even the name “State of Israel” wasn’t a foregone conclusion. I unravel this key passage in the third installment of my Mosaic series on Israel’s declaration of independence. Go here, or download here.

And here’s an amusing and timely footnote. An Israeli auction house is selling a pen it claims was used by all those who signed the declaration on May 14, 1948. It belongs to a grandson of David-Zvi Pinkas, a signatory, who left a handwritten statement attesting that he used it. The auction house hopes to sell the pen for at least half a million dollars.

The problem? As this television report (in Hebrew, by Ita Gliksberg) shows, none of the experts interviewed thinks that this pen was used by all the signatories on that day, and some suspect only Pinkas used it. The evidence lies in the appearance of the signatures, and in still photographs of the signatories, which show them using a variety of pens. 

Among the doubters is the State Archivist, Ruthi Abramovich, who even pulls out the declaration to show it to the reporter. “We see that Ben-Gurion signs with one pen,” she says, “[Moshe] Sharett with another pen, [Peretz] Bernstein with another pen. The color is different, the fading is different. The thickness of the line is totally different. And to tell the truth, without even being an expert, you really see the differences.” (You can take a close look here, on the Israel States Archives website.)

The reporter points out that the signatures of Pinkas and Rabbi Yehuda Leib HaCohen Fishman (Maimon) look like they were executed by the same pen. “There may be some resemblances,” the archivist says, “but in still photographs, we see that the pens with which these two people signed are different.” The reporter interviews the owner of a prestige pen shop, who identifies the brands of the different pens from the still shots. The mavens consulted here think there were at least three pens used at the signing on the 14th, and perhaps as many as six. (It should be noted that this excludes about a third of the signatories. They weren’t present in Tel Aviv that day and so they signed the declaration later. Chaim Weizmann, by the way, wasn’t invited to sign, much to his chagrin. I explain why in the present installment.)

But while this pen may not be the one and only, no other pens have turned up. The sale is scheduled to take place this coming Saturday evening. When I distribute my next installment, I’ll follow up.