Seventy years ago, Israel declared independence, and the Manchester Guardian sent the leftwing intellectual to cover the nascent state. But was he an altogether accurate witness?
‘In the beginning was chaos and muddle,” reads the first line of the June 1948 dispatch from the coastal city of Tel Aviv. The state of Israel was less than a month old when the Manchester Guardian launched a series of articles by the journalist and novelist Arthur Koestler. The country had declared independence on 14 May.
In the midst of a conflict with Arab Palestinians, coupled with an invasion by surrounding states, Israel had no clearly accepted borders but was hastily forming a government. So young was the country that the Israeli visas stamped on Koestler’s and his partner’s passports in Paris were numbered five and six. On arrival, he found airport signs freshly painted in English and Hebrew, while immigration and customs officers had not yet received uniforms.