Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, Paula Ben Gurion, |
and the Chief of Staff arrive at the Tu-Bishvat
tree-planting ceremony at Shaar Hagai, 1949.
On January 25th 1949, the first elections were held for the Knesset, which was then called the Constituent Assembly.
On February 14th 1949 (the 15th of Shvat), the New Year of the Trees
, the first sitting of the Constituent
Assembly took place at the Jewish Agency building in Jerusalem. In honor of the event, the poet Nathan
Alterman wrote his poem "With the First Knesset." Most representatives arrived to Jerusalem from the coastal
area, stopping on their way for a tree-planting ceremony. The ritual of planting trees in Jerusalem and its
surroundings have since become an integral part of the Knesset's birthday celebrations.
The President of the Provisional State Council, Professor Chaim Weizmann, had said at the opening sitting of the
Constituent Assembly: "It is with a sense of honor and awe that I rise to open the Constituent Assembly of the
State of Israel, the first Jewish assembly of our day, in Jerusalem, the eternal city. At this great moment in
the history of our people, we give thanks and praise to the God of Israel, by whose grace we have been privileged
to see redemption, after generations of suffering and misery... Knesset Members, I congratulate you on your
first meeting. Remember that the eyes of the whole Jewish world are upon you, and that the yearning and prayers
of past generations accompany you..."
Following this opening remarks, Joseph Shprinzak was elected as Speaker of the Constituent Assembly.
Two days following the opening sitting, the Constituent Assembly decided that the State of Israel's house of
representatives will be named the "Knesset." The origin of the name is in the name of the "Men of the Great
Assembly" ("Anshei Haknesset Hagedolah"), the supreme authority of the sages of Israel that convened in
Jerusalem after the return of the Jewish people from their exile in Babylon, during the 5th century BC.
The number of members in the Knesset was also determined by the 120 members of the "Great Assembly."
MK Mordechai Nurock at the cornerstone-laying ceremony |
for the Knesset; behind him are the President,
Speaker, and Dorothy de Rothschild, October 14, 1958.
The work procedures and traditions of the Knesset were derived from the Assembly of Representatives, which was the
elected body of the Jewish community during the British Mandate in Eretz Yisrael. It was also the origin of the
electoral system for the Knesset. The Knesset also adopted several procedures from the British Parliament, the
"Mother of Parliaments."
Following the first sitting at the Jewish Agency's building in Jerusalem, the Knesset moved its location to Tel
Aviv and held its sittings for nine months at the Kesem Cinema and the San Remo Hotel.
On December 13th 1949, the
first Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion, stated that "Jewish Jerusalem is an organic and inseparable
part of the State of Israel, just as it is inseparable from Israeli history, from the faith of Israel and from
the soul of our people," and the Knesset decided to move its seat back to Jerusalem. The first sittings were held
once again in the Jewish Agency's building, and on March 13th 1950, it moved to the Froumine House on King George
Street in Jerusalem. Knesset sittings were held there for more than 16 years.
On July 25th 1956, the Knesset Presidium, in cooperation with the Israeli Architects and Engineers Association,
declared a public competition for the building plans of the permanent Knesset building in the Government Complex
at Givat Ram. While the competition took place, it was made public that Baron James de Rothschild left a sum
of six million Israeli liras in his will for the construction of the building. The cornerstone for the new Knesset
building was laid on October 14th 1958, in the presence of the baron's widow. The building was inaugurated in a
national ceremony on August 30th 1966.