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David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973)

The first Prime Minister of Israel

David Ben-Gurion

On the anniversary of the death of Israels first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, IsraCast brings you Ben-Gurion's biography, two audio interviews from Canadian radio stations in the year 1961, and a transcript of highlights from the Decleration of Independence - read by him on May 14th, 1948.

David Ben-Gurion was born in Plonsk, Poland in 1886 and educated in a Hebrew school established by his father, an ardent Zionist. By his mid-teens, Ben-Gurion led a Zionist youth group, "Ezra," whose members spoke only Hebrew among themselves.

At the age of 18 he became a teacher in a Warsaw Jewish school and joined the Socialist-Zionist group "Poalei Zion" (Workers of Zion).

David and Paula Ben-Gurion 1915

Arriving in the Land of Israel in 1906, he became involved in the creation of the first agricultural workers' commune (which evolved into the Kvutzah and finally the Kibbutz), and helped establish the Jewish self-defense group, Hashomer (The Watchman).

Following the outbreak of World War I he was deported by the Ottoman authorities with Yitzhak Ben-Zvi (later, Israel's second President). Ben-Gurion traveled on behalf of the Socialist-Zionist cause to New York, where he met and married Paula Monbesz, a fellow Poalei Zion activist. He returned to Israel in the uniform of the Jewish Legion, created as a unit in the British Army by Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky.

Ben-Gurion family: wife Pola and daughter Geula (back), nephew Benyamin Green, David and his son Amos, sister Tzipora and her son Aryeh
(Photo: Bitmuna Lab)

Ben-Gurion was a founder of the trade unions, and, in particular, the national federation, the Histadrut, which he dominated from the early 1920's. He also served as the Histadrut's representative in the World Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency, and was elected chairman of both organizations in 1935.

Having led the struggle to establish the State of Israel in May 1948, Ben-Gurion became Prime Minister and Defense Minister. 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.

David and Pola Ben-Gurion with their children Amos and Renana, outside their home in Tel-Aviv
(Photo: Bitmuna Lab)

In late 1953, Ben-Gurion left the government and retired to Kibbutz Sde Boker in the Negev. He returned to political life, after the Knesset elections in 1955, assuming the post of Defense Minister and later the premiership.

Israel's "Aggression", the Nebelspalter, Switzerland, 1956

Continuing as Prime Minister, Ben-Gurion supported the establishment of relations with West Germany, despite bitter opposition. He also led the country during the 1956 Sinai campaign, in which Israeli forces temporarily secured the Sinai peninsula.

In June 1963 Ben-Gurion resigned as Prime Minister, citing personal reasons. Levi Eshkol took over the posts of Prime Minister and Defense Minister. But Ben-Gurion remained active politically, with a rivalry developing between him and Eshkol. In June 1965, the Mapai Party split, with Ben-Gurion establishing Rafi (List of Israeli Workers), which won ten Knesset seats in the following election. In 1968, Rafi rejoined Mapai and Ahdut Ha'avoda, to form the Israel Labor Party, while Ben-Gurion formed a new party, Hareshima Hamamlachtit (The State List), which won four Knesset seats in the 1969 elections.

In June 1970, Ben-Gurion retired from political life and returned to Sde Boker where he passed away in 1973.

(from Jewish virtual library)

 

Declaration of Independence

David Ben-Gurion reading the Declaration of Independence - 14 May 1948, Tel Aviv

During the years preceding the establishment of the State of Israel, Ben-Gurion worked hard to set up the military apparatus that was to assure the defense of the yishuv, hastening, in particular, the purchase of arms in the prospect of a war against the Arabs. And on May 14th, 1948 he insisted on proclaiming the independence of the State of Israel in spite of the wavering of his colleagues, the leaders of the yishuv, and of numerous sources of international pressure. During a solemn ceremony, Ben-Gurion read the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel with a quavering voice pierced by an emotion nourished by two thousand years of exile and hope. This declaration will form the constitutional charter of Israel:

The Land of Israel is the birthplace of the Jewish People. Here their spiritual, religious and national character was formed. Here they achieved independence and created a culture of both national and universal significance. Here they wrote and gave the Bible to the world.

Exiled from Palestine, the Jewish People remained faithful to it in all the countries of their dispersion, never ceasing to pray and hope for their return and the restoration of their national freedom

Impelled by this historic association, Jews strove throughout the centuries to go back to the land of their fathers and regain their Statehood. In recent decades, they returned in their masses. They reclaimed the wilderness, revived their language, built cities and villages, and established a vigorous and ever-growing community its own economic and cultural life. They sought peace yet were prepared to defend themselves. They brought the blessings to all the inhabitants of the country.

In the year 1897, the First Zionist Congress, inspired by Theodore Herzl's vision of the Jewish State, proclaimed the right of the Jewish People to national revival in their own country.

This right was acknowledged by the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917 and reaffirmed by the Mandate of the League of Nations, which gave explicit international recognition to the historic connection of the Jewish People with Palestine and their right to reconstruct their national home.

[...]

The survivors of the Shoah [perpetrated by the Nazis in Europe], as well as like the Jews from other lands, proclaiming their right to a life of dignity, freedom and labor, and undeterred by hazards, hardships and obstacles, have tried increasingly to enter Palestine.

[...]

It is, moreover, the most natural, self-evident right of the Jewish People to be a nation like other nations in its own sovereign state.

Accordingly, we, the members of the National Council, representing the Jewish People in Palestine and the Zionist movement of the world met together in solemn assembly today, the day of the termination of the British Mandate for Palestine, and by virtue of the natural and historic right of the Jewish People and of the resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations, hereby proclaim the establishment of the Jewish State in Palestine, to be called the "State of Israel".

[...]

The State of Israel will be open to the immigration of Jews from all countries of their dispersion and will promote the development of the country for the benefit its inhabitants. It will be founded on the principles of liberty, justice and peace taught by the prophets of Israel. It will guarantee the fullest equality to all its citizens without discrimination on the basis of religion, race or gender. It will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture. It will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and holy places of all religions and will respect the principles of the United Nations' Charter.

[...]

We extend our hand in friendship, peace and good neighborliness to all the neighboring states and to their peoples. We invite them to cooperate with the sovereign Jewish nation for the common good of all. The State of Israel is prepared to contribute to the peaceful progress and development of the entire Middle East.

We call out to the Jewish People throughout the world to rally to our side in the endeavor of immigration and the development of the country and to assist us in the great struggle in which we are engaged to realize the dream cherished from generation to generation: The Redemption of Israel.

With faith in the Eternal, the Omni-Potent, we sign this declaration on the ground of our homeland, in the city of Tel Aviv, during this session of the Provisional Assembly of the State, held on the eve of Shabbath, the 5th of Iyar 5708, the 14th of May, 1948.

 

Ben-Gurion House - A detailed biography and photo album

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