Ben-Gurion's passion for Zionism
, which began early in life, led him to become a major Zionist leader and Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization
in 1946. As head of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, and later president of the Jewish Agency Executive, he became the de facto leader of the Jewish community in Palestine, and largely led the struggle for an independent Jewish state in Palestine.
Everybody sees a difficulty in the question of relations between Arabs and Jews. But not everybody sees that there is no solution to this question. No solution! There is a gulf, and nothing can bridge it… We, as a nation, want this country to be ours; the Arabs, as a nation, want this country to be theirs.
Under no circumstances must we touch land belonging to fellah|fellahs or worked by them. Only if a fellah leaves his place of settlement, should we offer to buy his land, at an appropriate price.
The acceptance of partition does not commit us to renounce Transjordan: one does not demand from anybody to give up his vision. We shall accept a state in the boundaries fixed today, but the boundaries of Zionist aspirations are the concern of the Jewish people and no external factor will be able to limit them.
Terrorism benefits the Arabs, it may lay waste the Yishuv and shake Zionism. But to follow in the Arabs' footsteps and ape their deeds is to be blind to the gulf between us. Our aims and theirs run counter: methods calculated to further theirs, are ruinous to us.
From Jewish terrorism against Arabs it is a short step to Jewish terrorism against Jews.
We extend the hand of peace and good-neighborliness to all the States around us and to their people, and we call upon them to cooperate in mutual helpfulness with the independent Jewish nation in its Land. The State of Israel is prepared to make its contribution in a concerted effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.
Even amidst the violent attacks launched against us for months past, we call upon the sons of the Arab people dwelling in Israel to keep the peace and to play their part in building the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its institutions, provisional and permanent.
Ben-Gurion's passion for Zionism
, which began early in life, led him to become a major Zionist leader and Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization
in 1946. As head of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, and later president of the Jewish Agency Executive, he became the de facto leader of the Jewish community in Palestine, and largely led the struggle for an independent Jewish state in Palestine. On 14 May 1948, he formally proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel
, and was the first to sign the Israeli Declaration of Independence. Ben-Gurion led the provisional government of Israel during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War
, and united the various Jewish militias into the Israel Defense Forces
Following the war, Ben-Gurion served as Israel's first Prime Minister. As Prime Minister, he helped build the state institutions, presiding over various national projects aimed at the development of the country. He also oversaw the absorption of vast numbers of Jews from all over the world
. A centerpiece of his foreign policy was improving relationships with the West Germans. He worked very well with Konrad Adenauer
's government in Bonn and West Germany provided large sums in compensation for Germany's mistreatment of Jews in the Reparations Agreement between Israel and West Germany
In 1954, he resigned and served as Defense Minister, before returning to office in 1955. Under his leadership, Israel responded aggressively to Arab guerilla attacks, and in 1956, invaded Egypt
along with British and French forces after Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal
He stepped down from office in 1963, and retired from political life in 1970. He then moved to Sde Boker
, a kibbutz
in the Negev
desert, where he lived until his death. Posthumously, Ben-Gurion was named one of Time magazine's 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century
Early lifeDavid Ben Gurion was born in Płońsk, Congress Poland
which was then part of the Russian Empire
. His father, Avigdor Grüen, was a lawyer and a leader in the Hovevei Zion
movement. His mother, Scheindel, died when he was 11 years old. Aged 14 he and two friends formed a youth club, Ezra, promoting Hebrew studies and emigration to the holy land.
In 1905, as a student at the University of Warsaw
, he joined the Social-Democratic Jewish Workers' Party - Poalei Zion. He was arrested twice during the Russian Revolution of 1905. In 1906 emigrated
to Ottoman Palestine
. A month after his arrival he was elected to the central committee of the newly formed branch of Poali Zion in Jaffa
, becoming chairman of the party's platform committee. He advocated a more nationalist program than other more leftist/Marxist members of the committee. The following year he complained about the Russian domination of the group. At the time the Jewish population in Palestine was around 55,000 - of whom 40,000 held Russian citizenship.
In 1907, having been working picking oranges at Petah Tikvah
, Ben Gurion moved to the settlements in Galilee
were he worked as an agricultural labourer and withdrew from politics. In 1908 he joined an armed group acting as watchmen at Sejera.
On 12 April 1909, following an attempted robbery in which an Arab from Kfar Kanna was killed, Ben Gurion was involved in fighting in which one of the watchmen and a farmer from Sejera were killed.
In 1909 he volunteered with HaShomer
, a force of volunteers who helped guard isolated Jewish agricultural communities. On 7 November 1911, Ben Gurion arrived in Thessaloniki
in order to learn Turkish for his law studies. The city, which had a large Jewish community, impressed Ben Gurion who called it "a Jewish city that has no equal in the world." He also realized there that "the Jews were capable of all types of work," from rich businessmen and professors, to merchants, craftsmen and porters.
In 1912, he moved to Istanbul
, the Ottoman
capital, to study law at Istanbul University
together with Yitzhak Ben-Zvi
, and adopted
name Ben-Gurion, after the medieval historian Yosef ben Gurion. He also worked as a journalist. Ben Gurion saw the future as dependent on the Ottoman regime. With the outbreak of the First World War he and Ben Zvi managed to recruit forty Jews into a Jewish militia to assist the Ottoman Army. Despite this he was deported to Egypt in March 1915. From there he made his way to the United States where he remained for three years. On his arrival he and Ben Zvi went on a tour of 35 cities in an attempt to raise a pioneer army, Hehzlutz, of 10,000 men to fight on Turkey's side.Settling in New York City in 1915, he met Russian-born Paula Munweis
. They were married in 1917, and had three children. He joined the British Army
in 1918 as part of the 38th Battalion of the Jewish Legion
(following the Balfour Declaration in November 1917). He and his family returned to Palestine after World War I following its capture by the British from the Ottoman Empire
Zionist leadershipAfter the death of theorist Ber Borochov
, the left-wing and right-wing of Poale Zion split in 1919 with Ben-Gurion and his friend Berl Katznelson
leading the right faction of the Labor Zionist
movement. The Right Poale Zion formed Ahdut HaAvoda
with Ben-Gurion as leader in 1919. In 1920 he assisted in the formation and subsequently became general secretary of the Histadrut
, the Zionist Labor Federation in Palestine. At Ahdut HaAvoda's 3rd Congress, held in 1924 at Ein Harod
, Shlomo Kaplansky
, a veteran leader from Poalei Zion, proposed that the party should support British Mandatory authorites plans for setting up an elected legislative council in Palestine. He argued that a Parliament
, even with an Arab majority, was the way forward. Ben Gurion, already emerging as the leader of the Yishuv
, succeeded in getting Kaplansky's ideas rejected.
In 1930, Hapoel Hatzair
(founded by A. D. Gordon
in 1905) and Ahdut HaAvoda
joined forces to create Mapai
, the more right-wing Zionist labor party (it was still a left-wing organization, but not as far left as other factions) under Ben-Gurion's leadership. In the 1940s the left-wing of Mapai broke away to form Mapam
. Labor Zionism became the dominant tendency in the World Zionist Organization
and in 1935 Ben-Gurion became chairman of the executive committee of the Jewish Agency for Palestine
, a role he kept until the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
During the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine, Ben-Gurion instigated a policy of restraint ("Havlagah
") in which the Haganah
and other Jewish groups did not retaliate for Arab attacks against Jewish civilians, concentrating only on self-defense. In 1937, the Peel Commission
recommended partitioning Palestine into Jewish and Arab areas and Ben-Gurion supported this policy. This led to conflict with Ze'ev Jabotinsky who opposed partition and as a result Jabotinsky's supporters split with the Haganah and abandoned Havlagah.
The Ben Gurion House
, where he lived from 1931 on, and for part of each year after 1953, is now a museum in Tel Aviv.
Relations with ArabsBen-Gurion believed in the equal rights of Arabs who remained in and would become citizens of Israel. He was quoted as saying, "We must start working in Jaffa. Jaffa must employ Arab workers. And there is a question of their wages. I believe that they should receive the same wage as a Jewish worker. An Arab has also the right to be elected president of the state, should he be elected by all."
Ben-Gurion recognized the strong attachment of Palestinian Arabs to the land but hoped that this would be overcome in time. In an address to the United Nations and the British Mandate, he also doubted the likelihood of peace with the future Arab nations:
This is our native land; it is not as birds of passage that we return to it. But it is situated in an area engulfed by Arabic-speaking people, mainly followers of Islam. Now, if ever, we must do more than make peace with them; we must achieve collaboration and alliance on equal terms. Remember what Arab delegations from Palestine and its neighbors say in the General Assembly and in other places, talk of Arab-Jewish amity sound fantastic, for the Arabs do not wish it, they will not sit at the same table with us, they want to treat us as they do the Jews of Bagdad, Cairo, and Damascus.
Goldmann criticized Ben-Gurion for what he viewed as Ben-Gurion's confrontational approach to the Arab world. Goldmann wrote that "Ben-Gurion is the man principally responsible for the anti-Arab policy, because it was he who moulded the thinking of generations of Israelis."
The view that Ben-Gurion's assessment of Arab feelings led him to emphasize the need to build up Jewish military strength is supported by Simha Flapan
, who quoted Ben-Gurion as stating in 1938: "I believe in our power, in our power which will grow, and if it will grow agreement will come..."
In 1909 Ben Gurion attempted to learn Arabic but gave up. Later he did become fluent in Turkish. The only other languages he was able to use when in discussions with Arab leaders were English and to a lesser extent French.
BritishThe British 1939 White paper
stipulated that Jewish immigration to Palestine was to be limited to 15,000 a year for the first five years, and would subsequently be contingent on Arab consent. Restrictions were also placed on the rights of Jews to buy land from Arabs.
After this Ben-Gurion changed his policy towards the British, stating: "Peace in Palestine is not the best situation for thwarting the policy of the White Paper". Ben-Gurion believed a peaceful solution with the Arabs had no chance and soon began preparing the Yishuv
for war. According to Teveth 'through his campaign to mobilize the Yishuv in support of the British war effort, he strove to build the nucleus of a "Hebrew army", and his success in this endeavor later brought victory to Zionism in the struggle to establish a Jewish state.'
During the Second World War, Ben-Gurion encouraged the Jews of Palestine to volunteer for the British army
. He famously told Jews to "support the British as if there is no White Paper and oppose the White Paper as if there is no war". About 10% of the Jewish population of Palestine volunteered for the British army, including many women. At the same time Ben-Gurion helped the illegal immigration of thousands of European Jewish refugees to Palestine during a period when the British placed heavy restrictions on Jewish immigration.
In 1946 Ben-Gurion agreed that the Haganah
could cooperate with Menachem Begin
in fighting the British. Ben-Gurion initially agreed to Begin's plan to carry out the 1946 King David Hotel bombing
, with the intent of embarrassing (rather than killing) the British military stationed there. However, when the risks of mass killing became apparent, Ben-Gurion told Begin to call the operation off; Begin refused.
Illegal Jewish migration led to pressure on the British to either allow Jewish migration (as required by the League of Nations Mandate
) or quit – they did the latter in 1948, not changing their restrictions, on the heels of a United Nations resolution partitioning the territory between the Jews and Arabs.
Comments regarding flight of ArabsBen-Gurion had stated to the Mapai Council on 8 February 1948 that "From your entry into Jerusalem, through Lifta, Romema [East Jerusalem]. . . there are no Arabs. One hundred percent Jews. Since Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, it has not been Jewish as it is now. In many Arab neighborhoods in the west one sees not a single Arab. I do not assume that this will change. . . . What had happened in Jerusalem. . . . is likely to happen in many parts of the country. . . in the six, eight, or ten months of the campaign there will certainly be great changes in the composition of the population in the country." (Benny Morris, Expulsion of the Palestinians,p. 180–181)
He had also stated in a speech addressing the Zionist Action Committee regarding the 'Arab Demographic Problem' that "We will not be able to win the war if we do not, during the war, populate upper and lower, eastern and western Galilee, the Negev and Jerusalem area, even if only in an artificial way, in a military way. . . . I believe that war will also bring in its wake a great change in the distribution of Arab population." (Benny Morris, p. 181 & Expulsion Of The Palestinians, p. 181)
Religious parties and the status quoIn September 1947 Ben-Gurion reached a status quo
agreement with the Orthodox Agudat Yisrael party. He sent a letter to Agudat Yisrael stating that while he is committed to establishing a non-theocratic state with freedom of religion he is promising that Shabbat
would be Israel's official day of rest, that in State provided kitchens there will be access to Kosher food, that every effort will be made to provide a single jurisdiction
for Jewish family affairs, and that each sector would be granted autonomy in the sphere of education, provided minimum standards regarding the curriculum are observed.
To a large extent this letter (or agreement) provided a framework for religious affairs in Israel (e.g. no civil marriage
s, just as in Mandate times) and is often a benchmark to which the status is compared.
Military leadership during the 1948 Arab-Israeli WarDuring the 1948 Arab-Israeli War
Ben-Gurion oversaw the nascent state's military operations. During the first weeks of Israel's independence, he ordered all militias to be replaced by one national army, the Israel Defense Forces
(IDF). To that end, Ben-Gurion used a firm hand during the Altalena Affair
, a ship carrying arms purchased by the Irgun
. He insisted that all weapons be handed over to the IDF. When fighting broke out on the Tel Aviv beach he ordered it be taken by force and to shell the ship. Sixteen Irgun fighters and three IDF soldiers were killed in this battle. Following the policy of a unified military force, he also ordered that the Palmach
headquarters be disbanded and its units be integrated with the rest of the IDF, to the chagrin of many of its members. His attempts to reduce the number of Mapam
members in the senior ranks led to the "General's Revolt"
in June 1948.
As head of the Jewish Agency, Ben-Gurion was de-facto leader of Palestine's Jews even before the state was declared. In this position, Ben-Gurion played a major role in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War
and the resulting Palestinian exodus
. When the IDF archives and others were opened in the late 1980s, scholars started to reconsider the events and the role of Ben Gurion.
Founding of Israel
. In the Israeli declaration of independence, he stated that the new nation would "uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of religion, race."
In his War Diaries in February of 1948, Ben-Gurion wrote: "The war shall give us the land. The concepts of 'ours' and 'not ours' are peace concepts only, and they lose their meaning during war." Also later he confirmed this by stating that, "In the Negev we shall not buy the land. We shall conquer it. You forget that we are at war."
Prime Minister of IsraelAfter leading Israel during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War
, Ben-Gurion was elected Prime Minister of Israel
when his Mapai (Labour) party won the largest number of seats in the first national election, held on 14 February 1949. He would remain in that post until 1963, except for a period of nearly two years between 1954 and 1955. As Premier, he oversaw the establishment of the state's institutions. He presided over various national projects aimed at the rapid development of the country and its population: Operation Magic Carpet
, the airlift of Jews from Arab countries, the construction of the National Water Carrier, rural development projects and the establishment of new towns and cities. In particular, he called for pioneering settlement in outlying areas, especially in the Negev
Ben-Gurion had a major role in the military operations that led to the Qibya massacre
in October, 1953. Later in 1953 he announced his intention to withdraw from government and was replaced by Moshe Sharett
, who was elected the second Prime Minister of Israel in January, 1954.
Ben-Gurion returned to office in 1955 assuming the post of Defense Minister and was soon re-elected prime minister. When Ben-Gurion returned to government, Israeli forces responded more aggressively to Palestinian guerilla attacks from Gaza—still under Egyptian rule. The growing cycle of violence led Egypt's President Gamal Abdel Nasser
to build up his arms with the help of the Soviet Union. The Israelis responded by arming themselves with help from France. Nasser blocked the passage of Israeli ships through the Red Sea
and Suez Canal. In July 1956, America and Britain withdrew their offer to fund the Aswan High Dam project on the Nile and a week later Nasser ordered the nationalization of the French and British controlled Suez Canal
. Ben-Gurion collaborated with the British and French to plan the 1956 Sinai War
in which Israel stormed the Sinai Peninsula
thus giving British and French forces a pretext to intervene in order to secure the Suez Canal
. Intervention by the United States and the United Nations forced the British and French to back down and Israel to withdraw from Sinai in return for promises of free navigation through the Red Sea and Suez Canal. A UN force was stationed between Egypt and Israel.
as his successor. A year later a rivalry developed between the two on the issue of the Lavon Affair
. Ben-Gurion broke with the party in June 1965 over Eshkol's handling of the Lavon affair and formed a new party, Rafi which won ten seats in the Knesset
. After the Six-Day War, Ben-Gurion was in favour of returning all the occupied territories apart from Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and Mount Hebron
In 1968, when Rafi merged with Mapai to form the Alignment
, Ben-Gurion refused to reconcile with his old party. He favoured electoral reforms in which a constituency-based system would replace what he saw as a chaotic proportional representation method. He formed another new party, the National List
, which won four seats in the 1969 election
. Ben-Gurion retired from politics in 1970 and spent his last years living in a modest home on the kibbutz.
Ben-Gurion and the Negev
desert offered a great opportunity for the Jews to settle in Palestine with minimal obstruction of the Arab population. He set a personal example by choosing to settle in kibbutz Sde Boker
at the centre of the Negev and established the National Water Carrier to bring water to the area. He saw the struggle to make the desert bloom as an area where the Jewish people could make a major contribution to humanity as a whole.
Ben-Gurion died on 1 December 1973, and is buried alongside his wife Paula at a site in Midreshet Ben-Gurion
in the Negev desert.
- In both 1951 and 1971, Ben-Gurion was awarded the Bialik PrizeBialik PrizeThe Bialik Prize is an annual literary award given by the municipality of Tel Aviv, Israel for significant accomplishments in Hebrew literature. The prize is named in memory of Hayyim Nahman Bialik. There are two separate prizes, one specifically for "Literature", which is in the field of fiction,...
for Jewish thought.
In 2005, he was voted the 2nd-greatest Israeli of all time, in a poll by the Israeli news website Ynet
to determine whom the general public considered the 200 Greatest Israelis.
- Israel's largest airport, Ben-Gurion International Airport is named in his honor.
- One of Israel's major universities, Ben-Gurion University of the NegevBen-Gurion University of the NegevBen-Gurion University of the Negev is a university in Beersheba, Israel, established in 1969. Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has a current enrollment of 17,400 students, and is one of Israel's fastest growing universities....
, located in Beersheva, is named after him.
- Numerous streets, as well as schools, throughout Israel have been named after him.
- An Israeli modification of the British Centurion TankCenturion tankThe Centurion, introduced in 1945, was the primary British main battle tank of the post-World War II period. It was a successful tank design, with upgrades, for many decades...
was named after Ben-Gurion
- A desert research center, Midreshet Ben-GurionMidreshet Ben-GurionMidreshet Ben-Gurion , also known as Midreshet Sde Boker, is a communal settlement in southern Israel. Located near Sde Boker in the Negev desert, it falls under the jurisdiction of Ramat HaNegev Regional Council. In 2010 it had a population of 1,200....
, near his "hut" in Kibbutz Sde BokerSde BokerSde Boker is a kibbutz in the Negev desert of southern Israel. Best known as the retirement home of Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, it falls under the jurisdiction of Ramat HaNegev Regional Council.-History:...
has been named in his honor. Ben-Gurion's grave is in the research center.
- An English heritage blue plaqueBlue plaqueA blue plaque is a permanent sign installed in a public place to commemorate a link between that location and a famous person or event, serving as a historical marker....
marks where Ben-Gurion lived in London at 75 Warrington Crescent, Maida ValeMaida ValeMaida Vale is a residential district in West London between St John's Wood and Kilburn. It is part of the City of Westminster. The area is mostly residential, and mainly affluent, consisting of many large late Victorian and Edwardian blocks of mansion flats...
, Westminster, W9.
- Is also a chapter in the Pacific Coast Region of The B'nai Brith Youth Organization in Pomona, CaliforniaPomona, California-2010:The 2010 United States Census reported that Pomona had a population of 149,058, a slight decline from the 2000 census population. The population density was 6,491.2 people per square mile...
- Part of a river-side promendae of the SeineSeineThe Seine is a -long river and an important commercial waterway within the Paris Basin in the north of France. It rises at Saint-Seine near Dijon in northeastern France in the Langres plateau, flowing through Paris and into the English Channel at Le Havre . It is navigable by ocean-going vessels...
is named after Ben-Gurion.
- List of Bialik Prize recipientsBialik PrizeThe Bialik Prize is an annual literary award given by the municipality of Tel Aviv, Israel for significant accomplishments in Hebrew literature. The prize is named in memory of Hayyim Nahman Bialik. There are two separate prizes, one specifically for "Literature", which is in the field of fiction,...
- Reparations Agreement between Israel and West GermanyReparations Agreement between Israel and West GermanyThe Reparations Agreement between Israel and West Germany was signed on September 10, 1952, and entered in force on March 27, 1953...