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Preserving Israel's Declaration of Independence

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Israel’s Declaration of Independence, considered one of Israel’s most vital cultural assets, is usually kept in a secure humidity- and temperature-controlled room at the State Archives in Jerusalem. But after flaws were recently discovered on the document, it made a rare trip to the Israel Antiquities Authority offices recently toundergo a high-tech preservation process.  

The document, which was hastily drafted and signed on May 14, 1948, is ordinarily stored at the Israel State Archives in Jerusalem, but was brought to the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library to be digitized and photographed by the IAA’s custom-designed hi-tech multispectral imaging technology.

Digitizing the Declaration of Independence is part of an ongoing project by the State Archives to document, monitor and preserve one of the Jewish people’s most significant single documents; appropriately, the government turned to the home of the most important manuscripts in Jewish history, the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Israel’s Declaration of Independence not only serves as a historical document, but also acts as a keystone in the country’s legal system in lieu of a formal constitution, together with a series of so-called Basic Laws.

It was written on three pages, two of paper and the third of animal parchment, which were sewn together and bound with a white and blue cord. Historians are still uncertain what animal skin was used for the bottom section.

But the final draft wasn’t completed in time for the ceremony on Friday, May 14, 1948, so prime minister David Ben-Gurion read from a typed-up version of the document, and the dignitaries signed the lowermost register, which was later affixed to the rest of the text, Dr. Mordechai Naor, a historian of the state of Israel, said.

Among its many eccentricities, the Declaration of Independence wasn’t written on a uniform medium, which makes its preservation a more complex affair. Not only was it written on both plant and animal surfaces, but the 37 signatories used multiple pens with different inks, and the drafter, Tel Aviv graphic designer Otte Walische, used another ink entirely.

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