|David Ben-Gurion (formerly David Green) was Israel's first Prime Minister (from 1948-1954 and 1955-1963) and is considered the architect behind the modern State of Israel. He was born in Plonsk, Poland in 1886 and received his Jewish education in a Hebrew school established by his father, Avigdor Green, one of the founders of the Zionist movement, "Hovevei Tzion" in Poland. As a young teenager, David Green established the "Ezra" youth group for Zionist education and for the renewal of the spoken Hebrew language. When he was 18 years old, he moved to Warsaw and earned his living as a teacher in a Jewish school. He was preparing to enter a program in higher education, but at the same time, a strong desire to immigrate to the Land of Israel awoke within him.|
|"No matter what the future holds, I will not despair of achieving higher education in philosophy and in the natural sciences." (From a letter to a friend)|
|In 1906, David Green arrived on the Jaffa shore. In pre-state Israel, he was active in the Zionist-socialist party called "Poalei-Tzion," and stood at the head of the stream within the party which held that realizing the Zionist dream takes priority over Marxist ideology. He was largely influential in separating "Poalei-Tzion" from the ideology it was still carrying over from the Russian labor party and developing the zionist ideology within the party.|
|"The party strives for political independence for the Jewish People in this land." (From the "Poalei-Tzion" party platform, 1907)|
For several years, David Green worked in agriculture in Petach-Tikva, Kfar Saba, Rishon Letzion,
Rechovot, and Sejera. In Sejera, he organized the first Jewish defense.
In 1910, at the 6th Conference of "Poalei-Tzion," David Green became a member of the editorial board of "Ha-achdut," the Jerusalem newspaper of the party. He signed his first article with his new name, Ben-Gurion, taken from one of the Jewish generals who fought against the Roman legions in the time of Bar Kochba.
Ben-Gurion traveled to Saloniki where he learned Turkish and forged ties with the Jewish community there. In the summer of 1912, he went to Constantinople where he began to study law. During the Young Turk Revolution, Ben-Gurion, together with Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, preached to the Jewish community the importance of integrating with the renewed Ottoman community. He planned to run for the Turkish Parliament in order to become a cabinet minister to help allow the Jews the freedom to immigrate to Israel. In 1913, Ben-Gurion participated as a delegate to the Eleventh Zionist Congress, and was elected a member of the Third World Conference of "Poalei Tzion" and as a member of the "Poalei Tzion" World Alliance.
When he was on his way to Israel for vacation, World War I broke out. At first, Ben-Gurion actively supported the Ottoman Empire, and even worked to put together a Jewish-Israeli battalion for the empire. Despite that, Ben-Gurion was deported together with Yitzhak Ben-Zvi to Egypt on the suspicion of being involved in Zionist activity.
In 1915, Ben-Gurion and Ben-Zvi traveled to New York and established the "HeChalutz" movement to recruit and train the first "work-army" for the Land of Israel. Ben-Gurion and Ben-Zvi participated in forming the Jewish Congress. During his travels in the United States, Ben-Gurion discovered the lack of knowledge among American Jewry of the Zionist activities that were taking place in the Land of Israel. He and Ben-Zvi therefore published two books on the Zionist enterprise and the heroism of the early pioneers in Israel: Yizkor and The Land of Israel.
In 1917, Ben-Gurion married Paula Monbesz (1896-1968), who was born in Minsk, Russia and immigrated to the United States as a young girl.
In November 1917 with the publication of the Balfour Declaration, Ben-Gurion wrote:
|"England has not returned the Land to us... A land is not acquired without tribulations of work and creativity, without the effort of building and settlement. The Hebrew nation itself must change this right to a living and existing fact." (Memoirs)|
After several months, with the United States' entry into World War I, Ben-Gurion, Ben-Zvi, and others
began to recruit a Jewish battalion. However, when they returned with their
Jewish Regiments, the Land of Israel was already conquered by the British.
In the year 1919, Ben-Gurion participated in the founding of the "Achdut Avoda" party, and was elected as its leader. The Labor Union ("Histadrut") was established in 1920, and Ben-Gurion was appointed its first secretary general. He retained that position from 1921 until 1935, during which he was involved in the settlement of the land and in the formation of professional labor unions. As a member of the Temporary Committee of the Jews of the Land of Israel ("Vaad Zmani") and as a member of the National Council, Ben-Gurion was among the architects of the organization of the Jewish Yishuv (Hebrew term referring to the body of Jewish residents in pre-state Israel).
Ben-Gurion strived toward the unification of the various labor movements in the Land of Israel. In 1930 In 1930, the "Achdut Avoda" party merged with "HaPoel Hatza-ir" and formed the "Labor Party of the Land of Israel" (called "Mapai" by its Hebrew acronym). In the elections to the Zionist Congress in 1933, Mapai won about 50% of the votes, and in 1935, Ben-Gurion was elected Chairman of the Zionist Steering Committee and of the Jewish Agency. In this capacity, he invested much effort in developing cooperation between the Labor movement and other parts of the Yishuv and Zionist movements.
From the days of the World Zionist Conference in 1920 in London, until the founding of the State of Israel, Ben-Gurion participated in all of the important decisions of the Zionist movement: As a delegate at the Zionist congresses, as a member of various committees, and as the Chairman of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem. He defined the purpose of Zionism at the 14th Zionist Congress in 1925:
|"Zionism is defined as the building of a state. As soon as one removes this internal foundation from Zionism, it becomes castrated and emptied of all content."|
However, in the 17th Zionist Congress (1931), Ben-Gurion opposed the demand of the
Revisionists to declare publicly the final goal of Zionism. On the way toward the
building of the state, Ben-Gurion advocated gradual and practical steps and opposed
any declarations of Jewish statehood, which, he felt, they did not have (yet) the means
to carry out to fruition.
In 1937, together with Chaim Weizmann and Moshe Sharett, Ben-Gurion supported the Peel Commission partition plan, which suggested establishing a Jewish state in part of the Land of Israel. The proposal received his support even though the area allocated to the Jewish state was small. He felt that even such a small state can be an effective means toward reaching the Zionist goal.
Ben-Gurion participated in the St. James Conference in London, following which the third White Paper was published, limiting Jewish immigration and purchase of land in Land of Israel. Upon his return to the Land of Israel, Ben-Gurion declared an open struggle against British rule. In the 21st Zionist Congress (August 1939), he defined the struggle against the White Paper policy as follows:
|We need to act as though we were the State in the Land of Israel, and we need to act as such until we will be, so that we will be the State in the Land of Israel... We are standing before a major and tragic fight with the English government, but on this front we will not yield nor flinch even a bit.|
|Ben-Gurion fought the White Paper by increasing settlement activity, especially in areas that were forbidden for Jews. His opposition to the anti-Zionist policy of the British continued after the outbreak of World War II. Despite that, he supported active participation in the war against Hitler and the formation of Jewish units within the British military.|
|"We need to help the English in the war as if there were no 'White Paper,' and we need to oppose the 'White Paper' as if there is no war."|
In May 1942, Ben-Gurion was among the promoters of the Biltmore Conference in New York, and opened
the struggle for the immediate establishment of a Jewish state. The demand for immediate
self-rule was seen as a rejection for any proposed partition of the land, and therefore, there were many
political opponents of the "Biltmore Program." Within his own ranks, David Ben-Gurion took a strong stance
against the splinter militant groups, Irgun and Lehi, for their use of terror tactics against the British
army presence in the Land of Israel.
In 1946, at a conference of German refugees, Ben-Gurion said:
|"We will not be silent until the last of you who so desires will join us in the Land of Israel to build together the Jewish state."|
|In the years following WWII, Ben-Gurion escalated the struggle against the "White Paper" policy. On "Black Saturday (Shabbat)" - June 29, 1946 - the day on which the British suppression reached its climax with Operation Agatha (many Jewish political leaders and businessmen were arrested), Ben-Gurion was abroad. He wrote from there:|
|"We shall not despair nor harbor delusions. No Massada, and no Vichy. If we are expecting difficult and bitter days of struggle, we will remember that we are not preparing for a final battle, and our souls 'do not wish to perish with the Philistines.' With that, one must know that the moment we reconcile ourselves and put our heads down and do not have the will or perseverance to stand in the gate, then we will begin to fall down the slope that leads to the abyss.|
Ben-Gurion opposed all those who called for compromise with the British government in order to preserve
the current situation. At the same time, he continued to act strongly against the "terrorist" acts of the
Irgun and Lehi military groups. He viewed them as a danger to the Zionist struggle and as an excuse for
the British authorities to exercise punitive measures en masse against the Jewish Yishuv.
Following WWII, Ben-Gurion expected and cautioned of an attack of the Arab countries on the Jewish Yishuv. In his speeches, he demanded to place security issues as top Zionist priority. In the 22nd Zionist Congress (1946) he took on himself the defense portfolio and worked to strengthen the "Hagana" - to expand it, to better train the members, and especially to obtain military equipment.
On April 18th 1948, Ben-Gurion was appointed the head of the People's Administration and also in charge of security matters of the Yishuv. On May 14th, 1948, when the People's Council declared the State of Israel, Ben-Gurion became the Prime Minister and Defense Minister. Regarding this day, he wrote in his diary:
|I arrive in Jerusalem early in the morning and found the city rejoicing and happy. People were dancing in the streets, and a large crowd gathered in the courtyard of the Jewish Agency building. To tell you the truth, the joy was not a part of me - not because I didn't appreciate the decision of the UN. Rather, I knew what was to come - war with all of the Arab armies.|
|In the War of Independence, under the leadership of Ben-Gurion, the Israeli
Defense Forces overcame the armies of the Arab states and the "irregulars" who joined them.
After the elections for the Constituent Assembly (which turned into the First Knesset), Ben-Gurion was again appointed Prime Minister and Minister of Defense. In those first years of statehood, he stood at the forefront of the effort to absorb massive immigration and to build the economy amidst difficult conditions. He also called for people to fulfill their potential as pioneer settlers, especially in the Negev.
As Prime Minister, Ben-Gurion worked intensively to fortify the status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. About a year after the War of Independence, he initiated the Knesset decision to move the Knesset and all of the government offices to Jerusalem. He claimed that this move will for once and all abolish the demand to internationalize Jerusalem, a demand that kept appearing in various international contexts. His attitude toward Jerusalem, as well as the attitudes of others of his generation, was most likely influenced by the fact that the Old City was lost to Israel during the War of Independence.
Throughout his years as Prime Minister, until his final retirement in 1963, he resigned numerous times from his role over coalition crises and inter-party struggles. In 1953, he resigned from the government and joined the Sde-Boker Kibbutz in the Negev. He explained that his resignation was motivated by personal reasons including his inability to withstand the emotional stress that comes along with his government jobs. The role of Prime Minister he turned over to Moshe Sharett, and Pinhas Lavon replaced him as Minister of Defense.
In February 1955, following Lavon's resignation over the "Esek Bish" affair, and following the elections of 1955, Ben-Gurion returned to his post as Prime Minister. After the Egyptian-Czech arms deal of 1955, in which Soviet arms were sold to Egypt, Ben-Gurion announced to the Knesset:
|"If the lines of the armistice are to open beyond the border to terrorists and murderers, they will not be closed to the defenders and gatekeepers."|
One year later, Ben-Gurion stood at the head of "Operation Kadesh" during which the IDF,
in coordination with France and Great Britain, conquered half of the Sinai peninsula. Later, Ben-Gurion
developed a close friendly relationship with the French president of the time, Charles De Gaulle.
Despite wide-ranging public opposition, led by the leader of the "Herut" movement Menachem Begin, Ben-Gurion labored to achieve a signed agreement with West Germany on the payment of reparations already in 1952. In the beginning of the 60's, he met with German Chancellor Conrad Adenauer, and in 1965, the process to establish diplomatic ties with Germany was set in motion. During the years 1963-1965 Ben-Gurion attempted to be in contact with leaders of Arab states, but to no avail.
In 1963, Ben-Gurion resigned from his post in the Government. Though he explained this resignation also as being for "personal reasons," he apparently was compelled to leave when he realized that his basic opinions on foreign affairs and security were not supported by his political peers. The disagreements surrounded the following issues: The development of a nuclear option, the diplomatic ties with Germany, especially following the affair of the German scientists who developed missiles for Egypt. Though the debate regarding these issues quieted down in the later 60's, at the beginning of the decade, they were the center of major social dispute - both among the public and among the members of the government.
As per Ben-Gurion's recommendation, Levi Eshkol was appointed Prime Minster and Minister of the Defense. Soon, however, disagreement between Ben-Gurion and Eshkol escalated because of information that was coming to light regarding the Lavon Affair ("Esek Bish" - 1954). In the summer of 1963, Ben-Gurion decided that remaining in the Government would damage his prestige and he announced his resignation from the Government and the Knesset. Shortly afterwards, he modified his decision and remained a Knesset Member. In June 1965, he split off from Mapai - together with Moshe Dayan, Shimon Peres, and others - and established the "Rafi" (Israel Labor List) party which won 10 Knesset seats in the Sixth Knesset. After the Six Day War (1967) Rafi merged with Mapai and "Achdut Avoda - Poalei Zion" to form the Israel Labor Party. Ben-Gurion refused to join the Labor Party and remained a single MK.
Until the Six Day War, Ben-Gurion was opposed to any preemptive attack on Arab countries, and appealed for the use of peaceful methods to overcome crises. On June 5, 1967, the first day of the Six Day War, when he found out that Israel's air force took out the Egyptian air force on the ground, he was ecstatic. In the following days, he was also thrilled with the conquest of the Old City of Jerusalem, which he saw as the completion of the War of Independence. His joy, however, was tinted with fear of the possible reprisals following the victory and the unification of Jerusalem.
Ben-Gurion realized that the world support for Israel of the time will not last and requested to set down facts immediately in Jerusalem before it's too late. He used his position and prestige to influence the Government members and the mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek (who was a Rafi member) to make some far-reaching changes in the nature of the city, including the immediate resettlement of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, even at the price of resettling Arab residents in the western part of the city. He also pushed the mayor to expand the plaza area by the Western Wall (Kotel) to accommodate large numbers of people who will want to pray there.
In the elections for the Seventh Knesset in 1969, Ben-Gurion ran at the head of a party called the National List ("Reshima Mamlachtit") which won 4 Knesset seats. In June 1970, at the age of 84, Ben-Gurion resigned from the Knesset and from political life. He went to live in Sde-Boker and wrote his memoirs.
David Ben-Gurion published tens of books, most of them collections of articles and speeches. Some of them were collections of letters and historical studies on the Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel and the history of the state.
|Political Biography: David Ben-Gurion|