Ben Gurion was at the political forefront of the Labor Zionist movement during the fifteen years leading to the creation of the State of Israel when the Labor Zionism had became the dominant tendency in the World Zionist Organization. An autere, ascetic idealist, he was marked by the commitment to the establishment of a Jewish state.

In the Israelí delaration of independence, he stressed that the new Nation would “uphold the full social and political equality for all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex."

Ben Gurion encouraged Jews to join the British military. At the same time he helped orchestrate the illegal immigration of thousands of European Jewish refugees to Palestine during a period when the British placed heavy restrictions on Jewish immigration. He was also considered the architect of both the Federation of Jewish Labor, the Histadrut, which created a Jewish state within the British state; and the Haganah, the paramilitary force of the Labor Zionist movement, that facilitated underground immigration, defended kibbutzim and other Jewish settlements against attack thus providing the backbone of the future Israelí Denfense Forces. Both of these developments put pressure on the British to either grant the Jews a state in Palestine or quit the League of Nations Mandate. They accepted the Jewish State in 1948 on the heels of a United Nations resolution partitioning the territory between the Jews and the Arabs.

During the pre-statehood period in Palestine, Ben Gurion represented the mainstream Jewish establishment and was known as a moderate. He was strongly opposed to the Revisionist Zionist movement led by Ze’ev Jabotinsky and his successor Menachem Beguin. He was also involved in occasional violent resistence during the short period of time his organization cooperated with Menachem Beguin’s Irgun. 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 Beguin to call the operation off, but Beguin refused.

In 1947 Ben Gurion reached a status quo agreement with the Orthodox Agudath Israel party. He sent a letter to Agusdath Israel promising that the Shabbat would be Israel’s official day of rest, there would be no civil marriages, and the Orthodox sector would be granted autonomy in the sphere of religious education.

Ben Gurion declared the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948.  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 the end, Ben Gurion gave the order to fire on the Altalena, a ship carrying arms for the Irgun (also called Etzel). That command remains controversial to this day.

Ben Gurion led Israel during its War of Independence. He became Prime Minister on February 25, 1949, the day after the first armistice with Egypt was signed ending hostilities. 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 a National Water Carrier; and 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.

In 1953 Ben Gurion announced his intention to withdraw from government and settle in the Kibbutz Sde. Boker, in the Israelí Negev.  He returned to office in 1955 assuming the post of Defense Minister and later Prime Minister.  Returning to the government, Ben Gurin collaborated with the British and French to plan the 1956 Sinaí War in which Israel stormed to the Sinaí Peninsula in relation for raids by Egypt thus giving the British and French a pretext to intervene in order to secure the secure the Suez Canal after Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser had announced its nationalization. The intervention by the United States and the United Nations forced the British, French and Israelís to back down.

Ben Gurion was among the founders of Mapai party which governed Israel during the first three decades of its existence. He stepped down as prime minister for what he described as personal reasons in 1963, and chose Levi Eshkol as his sucessor. 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 Lavor Affair and formed a new party, Rafi, which won ten seats in the Knesset.

After the Six-Days War, Ben Gurion was in favor of returning all the occupied territories apart from Jerusalem,  the Golan Heights and Mount Hebron.

In 1968, when the Rafi Party merged with Mapai Party to form the Alignment Party, Ben Gurion refused to reconcile with his old party. He favored electoral reforms in which a contituency-based system would replace the 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.

David Ben Gurion

David Ben Gurion when he made the Declaration of the Creation of the State of Israel. May 14, 1948

Sculpture of David Ben Gurionin Israel’s largest airport, named in his honour.

David Ben Gurion is buried alongside his wife Paula in Sde-Boker


Graves of Paula and David Ben Gurion

In Sde.Boker in Neguev, Israel.

© Copyright 2008-9 Ana Nutta