David Ben-Gurion

Israel Moshe Sharett Yitzhak Rabin

David Ben-Gurion
דָּוִד בֶּן-גּוּרִיּוֹן
David Ben-Gurion (D597-087).jpg
Ben-Gurion in 1960
1st Prime Minister of Israel
In office
3 November 1955 – 26 June 1963
PresidentYitzhak Ben-Zvi
Zalman Shazar
Preceded byMoshe Sharett
Succeeded byLevi Eshkol
In office
17 May 1948 – 26 January 1954
PresidentChaim Weizmann
Yitzhak Ben-Zvi
Preceded byNew office
Succeeded byMoshe Sharett
Chairman of the Provisional State Council of Israel
In office
14 May 1948 – 16 May 1948
Preceded byNew office
Succeeded byChaim Weizmann
Minister of Defense
In office
21 February 1955 – 26 June 1963
Prime MinisterMoshe Sharett
Preceded byPinhas Lavon
Succeeded byLevi Eshkol
In office
14 May 1948 – 26 January 1954
Prime MinisterHimself
Preceded byNew office
Succeeded byPinhas Lavon
Personal details
David Grün

(1886-10-16)16 October 1886
Płońsk, Congress Poland, Russian Empire
Died1 December 1973(1973-12-01) (aged 87)
Ramat Gan, Israel
Nationality Congress Poland
 Ottoman Empire
 Mandatory Palestine
Political partyMapai, Rafi, National List
Spouse(s)Paula Ben-Gurion
Alma materUniversity of Warsaw
Istanbul University

David Ben-Gurion (/bɛn ˈɡʊəriən/ ben GOOR-ee-ən; Hebrew: דָּוִד בֶּן-גּוּרִיּוֹן[daˈvid ben ɡuʁˈjon] (About this soundlisten); born David Grün; 16 October 1886 – 1 December 1973) was the primary national founder of the State of Israel and the first Prime Minister of Israel. He was the preeminent leader of the Jewish community in British Mandate Palestine from 1935 until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, which he led until 1963 with a short break in 1954-55.

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.[1] As head of the Jewish Agency from 1935, and later president of the Jewish Agency Executive, he was the de facto leader of the Jewish community in Palestine, and largely led its struggle for an independent Jewish state in Mandatory 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, which he had helped to write. Ben-Gurion led Israel during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, and united the various Jewish militias into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Subsequently, he became known as "Israel's founding father".[2]

Following the war, Ben-Gurion served as Israel's first prime minister and minister of defense. As prime minister, he helped build the state institutions, presiding over 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 with Konrad Adenauer's government in Bonn, and West Germany provided large sums (in the Reparations Agreement between Israel and West Germany) in compensation for Nazi Germany's confiscation of Jewish property during the Holocaust.[3]

In 1954 he resigned as prime minister and minister of defense but remained a member of the Knesset. He returned as minister of defense in 1955 after the Lavon Affair and the resignation of Pinhas Lavon. Later that year he became prime minister again, following the 1955 elections. Under his leadership, Israel responded aggressively to Arab guerrilla attacks, and in 1956, invaded Egypt along with British and French forces after Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal during what became known as the Suez Crisis.

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 life

David Ben-Gurion Square—site of the house where Ben-Gurion was born, Płońsk, Wspólna Street.
House at town square in Płońsk, Poland, where David Ben-Gurion grew up
Poalei Zion's "Ezra" group in Plonsk, 1905. David Grün (David Ben-Gurion) in the first row, third on the right.
David and Paula Ben-Gurion, 1 June 1918.

Childhood and education

David Ben-Gurion was born in Płońsk in Congress Poland – then part of the Russian Empire. His father, Avigdor Grün, was a lawyer and a leader of the Hovevei Zion movement. His mother, Scheindel (Broitman),[4] died when he was 11 years old. Ben-Gurion's birth certificate, found in Poland in 2003, indicated that he had a twin brother who died shortly after birth.[5] At the age of 14 he and two friends formed a youth club, Ezra, promoting Hebrew studies and emigration to the Holy Land.

From left: David Ben-Gurion and Paula with youngest daughter Renana on BG's lap, daughter Geula, father Avigdor Grün and son Amos, 1929

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. Ben-Gurion discussed his hometown in his memoirs, saying:

"For many of us, anti-Semitic feeling had little to do with our dedication [to Zionism]. I personally never suffered anti-Semitic persecution. Płońsk was remarkably free of it ... Nevertheless, and I think this very significant, it was Płońsk that sent the highest proportion of Jews to Eretz Israel from any town in Poland of comparable size. We emigrated not for negative reasons of escape but for the positive purpose of rebuilding a homeland ... Life in Płońsk was peaceful enough. There were three main communities: Russians, Jews and Poles. ... The number of Jews and Poles in the city were roughly equal, about five thousand each. The Jews, however, formed a compact, centralized group occupying the innermost districts whilst the Poles were more scattered, living in outlying areas and shading off into the peasantry. Consequently, when a gang of Jewish boys met a Polish gang the latter would almost inevitably represent a single suburb and thus be poorer in fighting potential than the Jews who even if their numbers were initially fewer could quickly call on reinforcements from the entire quarter. Far from being afraid of them, they were rather afraid of us. In general, however, relations were amicable, though distant."[6]

Ottoman Empire and Constantinople

In 1906 he immigrated to Ottoman Mutassarifate of Jerusalem. A month later, he was elected to the central committee of the newly formed branch of Poalei Zion in Jaffa, becoming chairman of the platform committee. He found a job picking oranges in Petah Tikva, and moved to a kibbutz in Galilee in 1907, where he worked as an agricultural laborer. The following year, he joined an armed watchmen's group. On 12 April 1909, following an attempted robbery in which an Arab from Kafr Kanna was killed, Ben-Gurion was involved in fighting during which one guard and a farmer from Sejera were killed.[7]

Ben Gurion working at Rishon Lezion winery 1908 (front row 6th from right)

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." Some of the city's Jews were rich businessmen and professors, while others were merchants, craftsmen and porters.[8] In 1912, he moved to Constantinople to study law at Istanbul University together with Yitzhak Ben-Zvi. He adopted the Hebrew name Ben-Gurion, after the Jewish leading figure Yosef ben Gurion from the Great Jewish Revolt against the Romans. He also worked as a journalist. Ben-Gurion saw the future as dependent on the Ottoman regime.

World War I

Ben-Gurion was living in Jerusalem at the start of the First World War, where he and Ben Zvi recruited 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, Hechalutz, of 10,000 men to fight on Turkey's side.[9]

After the Balfour Declaration of November 1917, the situation changed dramatically and in 1918 Ben-Gurion, with the interest of Zionism in mind, switched sides and joined the newly formed Jewish Legion of the British Army. He volunteered for the 38th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, one of the four which constituted the Jewish Legion. His unit fought against the Turks as part of Chaytor's Force during the Palestine Campaign, though he remained in a Cairo hospital with dysentery.

Ben-Gurion and his family returned permanently to Palestine after World War I following its conquest by the British from the Ottoman Empire.

Ben-Gurion in his Jewish Legion uniform, 1918

Marriage and family

Settling in New York City in 1915, he met Russian-born Paula Munweis and they married in 1917. The couple had three children: a son, Amos, and two daughters, Geula Ben-Eliezer and Renana Leshem. Already pregnant with their first child, Amos married Mary Callow, an Irish gentile, and although Reform rabbi Joachim Prinz converted her to Judaism soon after, neither the Palestine rabbinate nor her mother-in-law Paula Ben-Gurion considered her a real Jew until she underwent an Orthodox conversion many years later.[10][11][12][11] Amos became Deputy Inspector-General of the Israel Police, and also the director-general of a textile factory. He and Mary had six granddaughters from their two daughters and a son, Alon, who married a Greek gentile.[13] Geula had two sons and a daughter, and Renana, who worked as a microbiologist at the Israel Institute for Biological Research, had a son.[14]

Zionist leadership between 1919–1948

After the death of theorist Ber Borochov, the left-wing and centrist of Poalei Zion split in February 1919 with Ben-Gurion and his friend Berl Katznelson leading the centrist faction of the Labor Zionist movement. The moderate Poalei Zion formed Ahdut HaAvoda with Ben-Gurion as leader in March 1919.

Histadrut committee 1920. Ben Gurion 2nd row, 4th from right

In 1920 he assisted in the formation of the Histadrut, the Zionist Labor Federation in Palestine, and served as its General Secretary from 1921 until 1935. 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 the British Mandatory authorities' 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.[15]

In 1930, Hapoel Hatzair (founded by A. D. Gordon in 1905) and Ahdut HaAvoda joined forces to create Mapai, the more moderate 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, 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.[16] 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 house where he lived from 1931 on, and for part of each year after 1953, is now a historic house museum in Tel Aviv, the "Ben-Gurion House". In 1946, Ben-Gurion and North Vietnam's Politburo chairman Ho Chi Minh became very friendly when they stayed at the same hotel in Paris. Ho Chi Minh offered Ben-Gurion a Jewish home-in-exile in Vietnam. Ben-Gurion declined, telling Ho Chi Minh: "I am certain we shall be able to establish a Jewish Government in Palestine."[17][18]

Views and opinions

Decisiveness and pragmatism

In Ben-Gurion: A Political Life by Shimon Peres and David Landau, Peres recalls his first meeting with Ben-Gurion as a young activist in the No'ar Ha'Oved youth movement. Ben-Gurion gave him a lift, and out of the blue told him why he preferred Lenin to Trotsky: "Lenin was Trotsky’s inferior in terms of intellect", but Lenin, unlike Trotsky, "was decisive". When confronted with a dilemma, Trotsky would do what Ben-Gurion despised about the old-style diaspora Jews: he manoeuvred; as opposed to Lenin, who would cut the Gordian knot, accepting losses while focusing on the essentials. In Peres' opinion, the essence of Ben-Gurion's life work were "the decisions he made at critical junctures in Israel’s history", and none was as important as the acceptance of the 1947 partition plan, a painful compromise which gave the emerging Jewish state little more than a fighting chance, but which, according to Peres, enabled the establishment of the State of Israel.[19]

Attitude towards Arabs

Ben-Gurion published two volumes setting out his views on relations between Zionists and the Arab world: We and Our Neighbors, published in 1931, and My Talks with Arab Leaders published in 1967. Ben-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."[20]

Ben-Gurion recognized the strong attachment of Palestinian Arabs to the land and in an address to the United Nations on 2 October 1947, he doubted the likelihood of peace:

Esplanade Ben Gourion, Paris, near the Seine, in front of the Musée du Quai Branly

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.[21]

Nahum Goldmann criticized Ben-Gurion for what he viewed as a confrontational approach to the Arab world. Goldmann wrote, "Ben-Gurion is the man principally responsible for the anti-Arab policy, because it was he who molded the thinking of generations of Israelis."[22] Simha Flapan 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..."[23]

In 1909, Ben-Gurion attempted to learn Arabic but gave up. He later became 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.[24]

Attitude towards the British

The 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".[25] 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.'[26]

During the Second World War, Ben-Gurion encouraged the Jewish population 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".[27] About 10% of the Jewish population of Palestine volunteered for the British Armed Forces, including many women. At the same time Ben-Gurion assisted the illegal immigration of thousands of European Jewish refugees to Palestine during a period when the British placed heavy restrictions on Jewish immigration.

In 1944, the Irgun and Lehi, two Jewish right-wing armed groups, declared a rebellion against British rule and began attacking British administrative and police targets. Ben-Gurion and other mainstream Zionist leaders opposed armed action against the British, and after Lehi assassinated Lord Moyne, the British Minister of State in the Middle East, decided to stop it by force. While Lehi was convinced to suspend operations, the Irgun refused and as a result, the Haganah began supplying intelligence to the British enabling them to arrest Irgun members, and abducting and often torturing Irgun members, handing some over to the British while keeping others detained in secret Haganah prisons. This campaign, which was called the Saison or "Hunting Season", left the Irgun unable to continue operations as the Irgun struggled to survive. Irgun leader Menachem Begin ordered his fighters not to retaliate so as to prevent a civil war. The Saison became increasingly controversial in the Yishuv, including within the ranks of the Haganah, and it was aborted at the end of March 1945.[28][29]

At the end of World War II, the Zionist leadership in Palestine had anticipated a British decision to establish a Jewish state. However, it became clear that the British had no intention of immediately establishing a Jewish state and that limits on Jewish immigration would remain for the time being. As a result, with Ben-Gurion's approval the Haganah entered into a secret alliance with the Irgun and Lehi called the Jewish Resistance Movement in October 1945 and participated in attacks against the British. In June 1946, the British launched Operation Agatha, a large police and military operation throughout Palestine, searching for arms and arresting Jewish leaders and Haganah members in order to stop the attacks and find documentary evidence of the alliance the British suspected existed between the Haganah, Irgun, and Lehi. The British had intended to detain Ben-Gurion during the operation but he was visiting Paris at the time. The British stored the documents they had captured from the Jewish Agency headquarters in the King David Hotel, which was being used as a military and administrative headquarters. Ben-Gurion agreed to the Irgun's plan to bomb the King David Hotel in order to destroy incriminating documents that Ben-Gurion feared would prove that the Haganah had been participating in the violent insurrection against the British in cooperation with the Irgun and Lehi the approval of himself and other Jewish Agency officials. However, Ben-Gurion asked that the operation be delayed, but the Irgun refused. The Irgun carried out the King David Hotel bombing in July 1946, killing 91 people. Ben-Gurion publicly condemned the bombing. In the aftermath of the bombing, Ben-Gurion ordered that the Jewish Resistance Movement be dissolved. From then on, the Irgun and Lehi continued to regularly attack the British, but the Haganah rarely did so, and while Ben-Gurion along with other mainstream Zionist leaders publicly condemned the Irgun and Lehi attacks, in practice the Haganah under their direction rarely cooperated with the British in attempting to suppress the insurgency.[28][29][30]

Due to the Jewish insurgency, bad publicity over the restriction of Jewish immigrants to Palestine, non-acceptance of a partitioned state (as suggested by the United Nations) amongst Arab leaders, and the cost of keeping 100,000 troops in Palestine the British Government referred the matter to the United Nations. In September 1947, the British decided to terminate the Mandate. In November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution approving the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine. While the Jewish Agency under Ben-Gurion accepted, the Arabs rejected the plan and the 1947–1948 civil war in Mandatory Palestine broke out. Ben-Gurion's strategy was for the Haganah hold on to every position with no retreat or surrender and then launch an offensive when British forces had evacuated to such an extent that there would be no more danger of British intervention. This strategy was successful, and by May 1948 Jewish forces were winning the civil war. On 14 May 1948, a few hours before the British Mandate officially terminated, Ben-Gurion declared Israeli independence in a ceremony in Tel Aviv. A few hours later, the State of Israel officially came into being when the British Mandate terminated on 15 May. The 1948 Arab-Israeli War began immediately afterwards as numerous Arab nations then invaded Israel.[29]

Attitude towards conquering West Bank

After the ten-day campaign during the 1948 war, the Israelis were militarily superior to their enemies and the Cabinet subsequently considered where and when to attack next.[31] On 24 September, an incursion made by the Palestinian irregulars in the Latrun sector (killing 23 Israeli soldiers) precipitated the debate. On 26 September, Ben-Gurion put his argument to the Cabinet to attack Latrun again and conquer the whole or a large part of West Bank.[32][33][34][35] The motion was rejected by a vote of seven to five after discussions.[35] Ben-Gurion qualified the cabinet's decision as bechiya ledorot ("a source of lament for generations") considering Israel may have lost forever the Old City of Jerusalem.[36][37][38]

There is a controversy around these events. According to Uri Bar-Joseph, Ben-Gurion placed a plan that called for a limited action aimed at the conquest of Latrun, and not for an all-out offensive. According to David Tal, in the cabinet meeting, Ben-Gurion reacted to what he had been just told by a delegation from Jerusalem. He points out that this view he would have planned to conquest West Bank is unsubstantiated in both Ben-Gurion's diary and in the Cabinet protocol.[39][40][41][42]

The topic came back at the end of the 1948 war, when General Yigal Allon also proposed the conquest of the West Bank up to the Jordan River as the natural, defensible border of the state. This time, Ben-Gurion refused although he was aware that the IDF was militarily strong enough to carry out the conquest. He feared the reaction of Western powers and wanted to maintain good relations with the United States and not to provoke the British. Moreover, in his opinion the results of the war were already satisfactory and Israeli leaders had to focus on the building of a nation.[43][44][45]

According to Benny Morris, "Ben-Gurion got cold feet during the war. (...). If [he] had carried out a large expulsion and cleansed the whole country -the whole Land of Israel, as far as the Jordan River. It may yet turn out that this was his fatal mistake. If he had carried out a full expulsion rather than a partial one- he would have stabilized the State of Israel for generations."[46]

Religious parties and status quo

In order to prevent the coalescence of the religious right, the Hisdadrut agreed to a vague "status quo" agreement with Mizrahi in 1935.

Ben-Gurion was aware that world Jewry could and would only feel comfortable to throw their support behind the nascent state, if it was shrouded with religious mystique. That would include an orthodox tacit acquiescence to the entity. Therefore, in September 1947 Ben-Gurion decided to reach a formal status quo agreement with the Orthodox Agudat Yisrael party. He sent a letter to Agudat Yisrael stating that while being committed to establishing a non-theocratic state with freedom of religion, he promised that the Shabbat would be Israel's official day of rest, that in state-provided kitchens there would be access to kosher food, that every effort would 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 be observed.[47] To a large extent this agreement provided the framework for religious affairs in Israel till the present day, and is often used as a benchmark regarding the arrangement of religious affairs in Israel.

Religious belief

Ben-Gurion described himself as an irreligious person who developed atheism in his youth and who demonstrated no great sympathy for the elements of traditional Judaism, though he quoted the Bible extensively in his speeches and writings.[48] Modern Orthodox philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz considered Ben-Gurion "to have hated Judaism more than any other man he had met".[49] He was proud of the fact that he had only set foot in a synagogue once in Israel,[50] worked on Yom Kippur and ate pork.[10] In later time, Ben-Gurion refused to define himself as "secular", and he regarded himself a believer in God. In a 1970 interview, he described himself as a pantheist, and stated that "I don't know if there's an afterlife. I think there is."[51] During an interview with the leftist weekly Hotam two years before his death, he revealed, "I too have a deep faith in the Almighty. I believe in one God, the omnipotent Creator. My consciousness is aware of the existence of material and spirit ... [But] I cannot understand how order reigns in nature, in the world and universe – unless there exists a superior force. This supreme Creator is beyond my comprehension . . . but it directs everything."[52]

In a letter to the writer Eliezer Steinman, he wrote "Today, more than ever, the 'religious' tend to relegate Judaism to observing dietary laws and preserving the Sabbath. This is considered religious reform. I prefer the Fifteenth Psalm, lovely are the psalms of Israel. The Shulchan Aruch is a product of our nation's life in the Exile. It was produced in the Exile, in conditions of Exile. A nation in the process of fulfilling its every task, physically and spiritually ... must compose a 'New Shulchan'--and our nation's intellectuals are required, in my opinion, to fulfill their responsibility in this."[52]

Military leadership

During 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 led by Menachem Begin. 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. By absorbing the Irgun force into Israel's IDF, the Israelis eliminated competition and the central government controlled all military forces within the country. His attempts to reduce the number of Mapam members in the senior ranks led to the "Generals' Revolt" in June 1948.

As head of the Jewish Agency from 1935, Ben-Gurion was de facto leader of the Jewish population even before the state was declared. In this position, Ben-Gurion played a major role in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War When the IDF archives and others were opened in the late 1980s, scholars started to reconsider the events and the role of Ben-Gurion.[53][clarification needed]

Founding of Israel

David Ben-Gurion with Yigal Allon and Yitzhak Rabin in the Negev, during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War.
David Ben-Gurion proclaiming independence beneath a large portrait of Theodor Herzl, founder of modern Zionism

On 14 May 1948, on the last day of the British Mandate, Ben-Gurion declared the independence of the state 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 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."[54] 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."[54] The Arabs, meanwhile, also vied with Israel over the control of territory by means of war, while the Jordanian Arab Legion had decided to concentrate its forces in Bethlehem and in Hebron in order to save that district for its Arab inhabitants, and to prevent territorial gains for Israel.[55] Israeli historian Benny Morris has written of the massacres of Palestinian Arabs in 1948, and has stated that Ben-Gurion "covered up for the officers who did the massacres."[56]

Ben-Gurion on the cover of Time (August 16, 1948)

After 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 Knesset seats in the first national election, held on 14 February 1949. He remained in that post until 1963, except for a period of nearly two years between 1954 and 1955. As prime minister, 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 saw the struggle to make the Negev desert bloom as an area where the Jewish people could make a major contribution to humanity as a whole.[57] He believed that the sparsely populated and barren Negev desert offered a great opportunity for the Jews to settle in Palestine with minimal obstruction of the Arab population,[dubious ] and set a personal example by settling in kibbutz Sde Boker at the centre of the Negev.[57]

During this period, Palestinian fedayeen repeatedly infiltrated into Israel from Arab territory. In 1953, after a handful of unsuccessful retaliatory actions, Ben-Gurion charged Ariel Sharon, then security chief of the northern region, with setting up a new commando unit designed to respond to fedayeen infiltrations. Ben-Gurion told Sharon, "The Palestinians must learn that they will pay a high price for Israeli lives." Sharon formed Unit 101, a small commando unit answerable directly to the IDF General Staff tasked with retaliating for fedayeen raids. During its five months of existence, the unit launched repeated raids against military targets and villages used as bases by the fedayeen.[58] These attacks became known as the reprisal operations.

U.S. President Harry S. Truman in the Oval Office, receiving a Menorah as a gift from the Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion (center). To the right is Abba Eban, the Ambassador of Israel to the United States.

In 1953, Ben-Gurion 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. However, Ben-Gurion temporarily served as acting prime minister when Sharett visited the United States in 1955. During Ben-Gurion's tenure as acting prime minister, the IDF carried out Operation Olive Leaves, a successful attack on fortified Syrian emplacements near the northeastern shores of the Sea of Galilee. The operation was a response to Syrian attacks on Israeli fishermen. Ben-Gurion had ordered the operation without consulting the Israeli cabinet and seeking a vote on the matter, and Sharett would later bitterly complain that Ben-Gurion had exceeded his authority.[59]

Ben-Gurion returned to government in 1955. He assumed the post of defense minister and was soon re-elected prime minister. When he returned to government, Israeli forces began responding more aggressively to Egyptian-sponsored Palestinian guerrilla attacks from Gaza, which was under Egyptian rule. Egypt's President Gamal Abdel Nasser signed the Egyptian-Czech arms deal and purchased a large amount of modern arms. The Israelis responded by arming themselves with help from France. Nasser blocked the passage of Israeli ships through the Straits of Tiran and the Suez Canal. In July 1956, the United States 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. In late 1956, the bellicosity of statements Arab prompted Israel to remove the threat of the concentrated Egyptian forces in the Sinai, and Israel invaded the Egyptian Sinai peninsula. Other Israeli aims were elimination of the fedayeen incursions into Israel that made life unbearable for its southern population, and opening the blockaded Straits of Tiran for Israeli ships.[60][61][62][63][64][65] Israel occupied much of the peninsula within a few days. As agreed beforehand, within a couple of days, Britain and France invaded too, aiming at regaining Western control of the Suez Canal and removing the Egyptian president Nasser. The United States pressure forced the British and French to back down and Israel to withdraw from Sinai in return for free Israeli navigation through the Red Sea. The United Nations responded by establishing its first peacekeeping force, (UNEF). It was stationed between Egypt and Israel and for the next decade it maintained peace and stopped the fedayeen incursions into Israel.

Kennedy and Ben-Gurion in 1961.
David Ben-Gurion speaking at the Knesset, 1957

In 1959, Ben-Gurion learned from West German officials of reports that the notorious Nazi war criminal, Adolf Eichmann, was likely living in hiding in Argentina. In response, Ben-Gurion ordered the Israel foreign intelligence service, the Mossad, to capture the international fugitive alive for trial in Israel. In 1960, the mission was accomplished and Eichmann was tried and convicted in an internationally publicized trial for various offenses including crimes against humanity, and was subsequently executed in 1962.

Ben-Gurion is said to have been "nearly obsessed" with Israel obtaining nuclear weapons, feeling that a nuclear arsenal was the only way to counter the Arabs' superiority in numbers, space, and financial resources, and that it was the only sure guarantee of Israel's survival and the prevention of another Holocaust.[66] During his final months as premier Ben-Gurion was engaged in a, now declassified diplomatic standoff with the United States.[67][68]

Ben-Gurion stepped down as prime minister for personal reasons in 1963, and chose Levi Eshkol as his successor. A year later a rivalry developed between the two on the issue of the Lavon Affair, a failed 1954 Israeli covert operation in Egypt. Ben-Gurion had insisted that the operation be properly investigated, while Eshkol refused. Ben-Gurion subsequently broke with Mapai in June 1965 and formed a new party, Rafi, while Mapai merged with Ahdut HaAvoda to form Alignment, with Eshkol as its head. Alignment defeated Rafi in the November 1965 election, establishing Eshkol as the country's leader.

Later political career

In May 1967, Egypt began massing forces in the Sinai Peninsula after expelling UN peacekeepers and closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. This, together with the actions of other Arab states, caused Israel to begin preparing for war. The situation lasted until the outbreak of the Six-Day War on 5 June. In Jerusalem, there were calls for a national unity government or an emergency government. During this period, Ben-Gurion met with his old rival Menachem Begin in Sde Boker. Begin asked Ben-Gurion to join Eshkol's national unity government. Although Eshkol's Mapai party initially opposed the widening of its government, it eventually changed its mind.[69] On 23 May, IDF Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin met with Ben-Gurion to ask for reassurance. Ben-Gurion, however, accused Rabin of putting Israel in mortal danger by mobilizing the reserves and openly preparing for war with an Arab coalition. Ben-Gurion told Rabin that at the very least, he should have obtained the support of a foreign power, as he had done during the Suez Crisis. Rabin was shaken by the meeting and took to bed for 36 hours.[citation needed]

After the Israeli government decided to go to war, planning a preemptive strike to destroy the Egyptian Air Force followed by a ground offensive, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan told Ben-Gurion of the impending attack on the night of 4–5 June. Ben-Gurion subsequently wrote in his diary that he was troubled by Israel's impending offensive. On 5 June, the Six-Day War began with Operation Focus, an Israeli air attack that decimated the Egyptian air force. Israel then captured the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria in a series of campaigns. Following the war, Ben-Gurion was in favour of returning all the captured territories apart from East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and Mount Hebron as part of a peace agreement.[70]

On 11 June, Ben-Gurion met with a small group of supporters in his home. During the meeting, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan proposed autonomy for the West Bank, the transfer of Gazan refugees to Jordan, and a united Jerusalem serving as Israel's capital. Ben-Gurion agreed with him, but foresaw problems in transferring Palestinian refugees from Gaza to Jordan, and recommended that Israel insist on direct talks with Egypt, favoring withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula in exchange for peace and free navigation through the Straits of Tiran. The following day, he met with Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek in his Knesset office. Despite occupying a lower executive position, Ben-Gurion treated Kollek like a subordinate.[71]

Following the Six-Day War, Ben-Gurion criticized what he saw as the government's apathy towards the construction and development of the city. To ensure that a united Jerusalem remained in Israeli hands, he advocated a massive Jewish settlement program for the Old City and the hills surrounding the city, as well as the establishment of large industries in the Jerusalem area to attract Jewish migrants. He argued that no Arabs would have to be evicted in the process.[71] Ben-Gurion also urged extensive Jewish settlement in 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.

Final years and death

Graves of Paula and David Ben-Gurion, Midreshet Ben-Gurion

Ben-Gurion retired from politics in 1970 and spent his last years living in a modest home on the kibbutz, working on an 11-volume history of Israel's early years. In 1971, he visited Israeli positions along the Suez Canal during the War of Attrition.

On 18 November 1973, shortly after the Yom Kippur War, Ben-Gurion suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, and was taken to Sheba Medical Center in Tel HaShomer, Ramat Gan. His condition began deteriorating on 23 November and died few weeks later. His grandson Alon, who fought as a paratrooper in the war, was hospitalized for shrapnel wounds sustained in combat.[72] His body lay in state in the Knesset compound before being flown by helicopter to Sde Boker. Sirens sounded across the country to mark his death. He was buried alongside his wife Paula at Midreshet Ben-Gurion.



Sculpture of David Ben-Gurion at Ben Gurion Airport, named in his honor

See also


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  2. ^ "1973: Israel's founding father dies". 1 December 1973. Retrieved 31 August 2018 – via news.bbc.co.uk.
  3. ^ George Lavy, Germany and Israel: moral debt and national interest (1996) p. 45
  4. ^ "Avotaynu: The International Review of Jewish Genealogy". G. Mokotoff. 31 August 2018. Retrieved 31 August 2018 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ "Ben-Gurion may have been a twin". Haaretz.
  6. ^ Memoirs: David Ben-Gurion (1970), p. 36.
  7. ^ Teveth, Shabtai (1985) Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs. From Peace to War. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-503562-3. Ezra – pp. 3, 4; Paolei Zion – p. 6; central committee – p. 9; populations—pp. 10, 21; Galilee pp. 12, 14–15.
  8. ^ Oswego.edu, Gila Hadar, "Space and Time in Salonika on the Eve of World War II and the Expulsion and Extermination of Salonika Jewry", Yalkut Moseshet 4, Winter 2006
  9. ^ Teveth, Shabtai (1985) Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs. From Peace to War. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-503562-3. pp. 25, 26.
  10. ^ a b Tom Segev (24 September 2019). A State at Any Cost: The Life of David Ben-Gurion. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 466. ISBN 978-1-4299-5184-5.
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  13. ^ Pradeep Thakur. The Most Important People of the 20th Century (Part-I): Leaders & Revolutionaries. Lulu.com. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-557-77886-7.
  14. ^ Beckerman, Gal (29 May 2006). "The apples sometimes fall far from the tree". The Jerusalem Post.
  15. ^ Teveth, Shabtai (1985) Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs. From Peace to War. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-503562-3. pp. 66–70
  16. ^ Morris, Benny (3 October 2002). "Two years of the intifada – A new exodus for the Middle East?". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 August 2010.
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  20. ^ Efraim Karsh, "Fabricating Israeli history: the 'new historians'", Edition 2, Routledge, 2000, ISBN 978-0-7146-5011-1, p. 213.
  21. ^ David Ben-Gurion, statement to the Assembly of Palestine Jewry, 2 October 1947
  22. ^ Nahum Goldmann, The Jewish Paradox A Personal Memoir, translated by Steve Cox, 1978, ISBN 0-448-15166-9, pp. 98, 99, 100
  23. ^ Simha Flapan, Zionism and the Palestinians, 1979, ISBN 0-85664-499-4, pp. 142–144
  24. ^ Teveth, Shabtai (1985) Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs. From Peace to War. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-503562-3. p. 118.
  25. ^ Shabtai Teveth, 1985, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs, p. 199
  26. ^ S. Teveth, 1985, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs, p. 200
  27. ^ "Ben-Gurion's road to the State" (in Hebrew). Ben-Gurion Archives. Archived from the original on 15 February 2006.
  28. ^ a b Hoffman, Bruce: Anonymous Soldiers (2015)
  29. ^ a b c Bell, Bowyer J.: Terror out of Zion (1976)
  30. ^ Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews, p. 523.
  31. ^ Benny Morris (2008), pp. 315–316.
  32. ^ Benny Morris (2008), pp. 317.
  33. ^ Uri Ben-Eliezer, The Making of Israeli Militarism, Indiana University Press, 1998, p. 185 writes: "Ben-Gurion describes to the Minister his plans to conquer the entire West Bank, involving warfare against entire Jordan's Arab Legion, but to his surprise the ministers rejected his proposal."
  34. ^ "Ben Gurion proposal to conquer Latrun, the cabinet meeting, 26 sept 1948 (hebrew)". Israel state archive blog. israelidocuments.blogspot.co.il/2015/02/1948.html (Hebrew).
  35. ^ a b Benny Morris (2008), p. 318.
  36. ^ Mordechai Bar-On, Never-Ending Conflict: Israeli Military History, Stackpole Books, 2006, p. 60 writes : "Originally, this was an idiom that Ben-Gurion used after the government rejected his demand to attack the Legion and occupy Samaria in the wake of a Mujuhidin's attack near Latrun in September 1948.
  37. ^ Yoav Gelber, Israeli-Jordanian Dialogue, 1948–1953, Sussex Academic Press, 2004, p. 2.
  38. ^ Benny Morris (2008), pp. 315.
  39. ^ Zaki Shalom (2002). David Ben-Gurion, the State of Israel and the Arab World, 1949–1956. Sussex Academic Press. p. 155. ISBN 978-1-902210-21-6. A great satisfaction with the armistice borders…(Concerning the) area intended to pass into Israeli…(Ben Gurions') statements reveal the ambiguity over this subject
  40. ^ Zaki Shalom (2002). David Ben-Gurion, the State of Israel and the Arab World, 1949–1956. Sussex Academic Press. p. 160. ISBN 978-1-902210-21-6. If BG had been fully convinced that the IDF should have fought more aggressively for Jerusalem and the surrounding area, then Sharet's opposition would not have stood in the way of government consent
  41. ^ David Tal (24 June 2004). War in Palestine, 1948: Israeli and Arab Strategy and Diplomacy. Routledge. pp. 406–407. ISBN 978-1-135-77513-1. Nothing of this sort appears in the diary he kept at the time or in the minutes of the Cabinet meeting from which he is ostensibly quoting... Ben Gurion once more raised the idea of conquering Latrun in the cabinet. Ben Gurion was in fact reacting to what he had been told by a delegation from Jerusalem... The "everlasting shame" view is unsubstantiated in both Ben Gurion's diary and in the Cabinet protocol.
  42. ^ Uri Bar-Joseph (19 December 2013). The Best of Enemies: Israel and Transjordan in the War of 1948. Routledge. p. 115. ISBN 978-1-135-17010-3. the plan place by BG before the government call not for an all-out offensive, but rather for a limited action aimed at the conquest of Latrun…more than 13 years later ..(he) claim that his proposal had been far more comprehensive
  43. ^ Anita Shapira (25 November 2014). Ben-Gurion: Father of Modern Israel. Yale University Press. pp. 173–. ISBN 978-0-300-18273-6. "(Ben Gurion) He also did not flinch from provoking the United Nations by breaking the truce agreement. But the limit of his fearlessness was a clash with a Western power. Vainly, the right and Mapam accused him of defeatism. He did not flinch from confronting them but chose to maintain good relations with the United States, which he perceived as a potential ally of the new state, and also not to provoke the British lion, even though its fangs had been drawn. At the end of the war, when Yigal Allon, who represented the younger generation of commanders that had grown up in the war, demanded the conquest of the West Bank up to the Jordan River as the natural, defensible border of the state, Ben-Gurion refused. He recognized that the IDF was militarily strong enough to carry out the conquest, but he believed that the young state should not bite off more than it had already chewed. There was a limit to what the world was prepared to accept. Furthermore, the armistice borders—which later became known as the Green Line—were better than those he had dreamed of at the beginning of the war. In Ben-Gurion's opinion, in terms of territory Israel was satisfied. It was time to send the troops home and start work on building the new nation.
  44. ^ Benny Morris (2009). One state, two states: resolving the Israel/Palestine conflict. Yale University Press. p. 79. ISBN 9780300122817. in March 1949, just before the signing of the Israel-Jordan armistice agreement, when IDF general Yigal Allon proposed conquering the West Bank, Ben-Gurion turned him down flat. Like most Israelis, Ben-Gurion had given up the dream
  45. ^ Zaki Shalom (2002). David Ben-Gurion, the State of Israel and the Arab World, 1949–1956. Sussex Academic Press. pp. 174–. ISBN 978-1-902210-21-6. The clearest expression of this 'activist' approach is found in a "personal, top secret" letter sent by Yigal Allon to BG shortly after ... We cannot imagine a border more stable than the Jordan River, which runs the entire length of the country
  46. ^ Ari Shavit, Survival of the fittest : An Interview with Benny Morris, Ha'aretz Friday Magazine, 9 January 2004.
  47. ^ The Status Quo Letter Archived 16 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine, in Hebrew
  48. ^ "Biography: David Ben-Gurion: For the Love of Zion". www.vision.org. Retrieved 31 August 2018.
  49. ^ Michael Prior (12 November 2012). Zionism and the State of Israel: A Moral Inquiry. Routledge. pp. 293–. ISBN 978-1-134-62877-3. Retrieved 20 May 2013.
  50. ^ Zvi Zameret; Moshe Tlamim (1999). "Judaism in Israel: Ben-Gurion's Private Beliefs and Public Policy". Israel Studies. Indiana University Press. Vol. 4. Fall, 1999 (2): 64–89. JSTOR 30245511. He prided himself on not having set foot inside a synagogue in Eretz Israel, except on one occasion: "Only once did I go inside, when independence was declared, at the request of Rabbi Bar-Ilan of the Mizrachi Party. However, he added, when abroad he enjoyed attending synagogue on Sabbath. Away from Israel his tastes changed: he viewed the synagogue as a natural meeting place for Jewish brethren, a kind of community center.
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  53. ^ See e.g. Benny Morris, the Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem and The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited
  54. ^ a b Mêrôn Benveniśtî, Sacred landscape: the buried history of the Holy Land since 1948, p. 120
  55. ^ Sir John Bagot Glubb, A Soldier with the Arabs, London 1957, p. 200
  56. ^ Ari Shavit'Survival of the fittest,' Haaretz 8 January 2004:"The worst cases were Saliha (70–80 killed), Deir Yassin (100–110), Lod (250), Dawayima (hundreds) and perhaps Abu Shusha (70). There is no unequivocal proof of a large-scale massacre at Tantura, but war crimes were perpetrated there. At Jaffa there was a massacre about which nothing had been known until now. The same at Arab al Muwassi, in the north. About half of the acts of massacre were part of Operation Hiram [in the north, in October 1948]: at Safsaf, Saliha, Jish, Eilaboun, Arab al Muwasi, Deir al Asad, Majdal Krum, Sasa. In Operation Hiram there was a unusually high concentration of executions of people against a wall or next to a well in an orderly fashion.That can't be chance. It's a pattern. Apparently, various officers who took part in the operation understood that the expulsion order they received permitted them to do these deeds in order to encourage the population to take to the roads. The fact is that no one was punished for these acts of murder. Ben-Gurion silenced the matter. He covered up for the officers who did the massacres."
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  61. ^ Isaac Alteras (1993). Eisenhower and Israel: U.S.-Israeli Relations, 1953–1960. University Press of Florida. pp. 192–. ISBN 978-0-8130-1205-6. the removal of the Egyptian blockade of the Straits of Tiran at the entrance of the Gulf of Aqaba. The blockade closed Israel’s sea lane to East Africa and the Far East, hindering the development of Israel’s southern port of Eilat and its hinterland, the Nege. Another important objective of the Israeli war plan was the elimination of the terrorist bases in the Gaza Strip, from which daily fedayeen incursions into Israel made life unbearable for its southern population. And last but not least, the concentration of the Egyptian forces in the Sinai Peninsula, armed with the newly acquired weapons from the Soviet bloc, prepared for an attack on Israel. Here, Ben-Gurion believed, was a time bomb that had to be defused before it was too late. Reaching the Suez Canal did not figure at all in Israel’s war objectives.
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