The Knesset

The Knesset - the parliament of the State of Israel - symbolizes Israel's democratic system.

Following the proclamation of the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, the People's Council, established April 12, 1948 and headed by David Ben Gurion, became the Temporary State Council. The Council functioned as a legislature until it was possible to hold elections. On January 25, 1949, before the official ending of the War of Independence, elections were held in Israel for the Constituent Assembly - a body, which according to the Proclamation of Independence, was supposed to prepare a constitution for the state.

The first sitting of the Constituent Assembly was held in the Jewish Agency building in Jerusalem on February 14, 1949. Two days later the Constituent Assembly decided to change its name to "Knesset". The name is taken from Ha'Knesset Ha'gdolah, the Great Assembly established in Jerusalem when the Jewish people returned from the Babylonian exile during the time of Ezra and Nehemia in the 5th century BC. The number of members in the Knesset today is the same as was in the Great Assembly, that is, 120.

Due to the uncertainty regarding the legal status of Jerusalem, the Knesset moved to Tel Aviv and there it held its meetings in various places: the Tel Aviv Museum, the Kessem Cinema and the San Remo Hotel. However on December 13, 1949, following the famous statement by Prime Minister David Ben Gurion to the effect that Jerusalem was an integral and inseparable part of the State of Israel, it moved back to the Jewish Agency building in Jerusalem.

In March 1950, the Knesset moved to Frumin House at 24 King George Street in Jerusalem. With the move to Frumin House, it was decided that a permanent home should be built to house the Knesset. James de Rothschild, the son of Baron Edmond de Rothschild, bequeathed 1.25 million pounds sterling - the primary source of funds for the purpose of constructing the building.

A controversial design by the architect Joseph Klarwein was eventually accepted, following a heated public debate. Critics maintained that the planned building was not modern, that it was not Israeli, that the uniformity of its form was boring, that it was neo-classical, and that it did not blend into its surroundings. The final verdict in favor of Klarwein’s design stated: "The concept of the winner of the prize, Mr. Klarwein, who proposed a building that excels in its simplicity and unity of image, which stands on an elevated site that expresses movement, and is located within a scenery of existing buildings with different silhouettes - is very worthy of being accepted. It can lead to an excellent strongly expressed solution, by emphasizing the contrast with the background, and to have a sublime position, that contains the possibility of being the outstanding point within the area."

The building was inaugurated on August 30, 1966 and the next day the Knesset moved to its new home, located on Givat Ram in Jerusalem, where it continues to function to this day. The inauguration took place before the Six-Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem. The main entrance to the building was originally planned facing south. However, at the request of the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) it was transferred to the northern side so that it would neither be situated on a steep slope nor open to sniper-fire. During the period when Jordan occupied part of Jerusalem, scores of trees were planted around the Knesset to conceal the building from the Jordanian army's artillery units positioned on the Gilo hills from which the area could be viewed with ease.

The Knesset building is a five-storey structure made of rose-colored Jerusalem stone quarried on site. The building is square, with the plenary hall, where Knesset sessions are held, at its centre. Around the hall are several floors of offices used by the members of the Knesset and their staff. There is a public ceremonial plaza at the front of the building where an eternal light burns in memory of those who fell in Israel's wars.

Amongst the famous works of art built into the Knesset building are the stone wall at the front of the Knesset plenum, which represents the heavenly and earthly Jerusalem, constructed by Danny Karavan; the iron gates and eternal flame in memory of the fallen soldiers in the wars of Israel, created by the Jerusalem sculptor David Palombo; and the tapestries by Marc Chagall in the state hall, which describe the history of the people of Israel.

The stamp was issued in 1966. Another stamp dedicated to the Knesset, "The Knesset - 50 Years", was issued in 1999. Designer: R. Errell.