Childhood & Early Life
David Ben-Gurion was born on October 16, 1886 in Plonsk to Avigdor Grun and Scheindel. His father was the leader of the Hovevei Zion movement, which became a major influencing factor and led him to adopt Zionism. His mother passed away when he was just 11-years-old.
At the age of 14, he co-founded a club, ‘Ezra’, which promoted Hebrew studies and the ‘promised’ Holy land.
As a student at the University of Warsaw in 1905, he joined the Social-Democratic Jewish Workers’ Party known as ‘Poalei Zion’. Twice arrested for the Russian Revolution, he finally immigrated to Ottoman Palestine in 1906.
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In Palestine, he was appointed as the chairman of the central committee of the newly formed branch of the group ‘Poalei Zion’, in Jaffa, the port city of Israel
Apart from being the party’s chairman, he worked as an orange-picker and in 1907, he moved to Galilee, where he worked as an agricultural laborer. It was during this time, he decided to break away from politics.
On April 12, 1909, he was involved with an armed group who staged an attempted robbery, who ended up murdering a farmer and a watchman. In the same year, he joined the ‘HaShomer’, a Jewish defense organization, which helped safeguard local Jewish communities.
In November 1911, he moved to Thessaloniki, which he believed was one of the best Jewish cities he had ever seen. He learned Turkish in order to be able to study law. He moved to Istanbul in 1912, where he joined Istanbul University.
Gurion and another friend, Ben Zvi, recruited around forty Jews into a Jewish militia to assist the Ottoman Army during World War I, however, despite his efforts, he was deported to Egypt in March 1915.
From here, he travelled to the United States of America, where he stayed for the next three years. On his return, he and Zvi recruited around 10,000 Jews to fight on Turkey’s side.
He served briefly in the British army and then returned to Palestine after the end of World War I.
After the death of one of the theorists of the Poalei Zion, the group split in 1919 and he was made the leader of the right-wing group of Poalei Zion called ‘Ahdut HaAvoda’.
In 1920, he became the general secretary of the Histadrut, the Zionist Labor Federation in Palestine and joined forces with another party to create ‘Mapai’, a stronger right-wing labor party.
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Gurion’s views about the Arab world were published in 1931 in a book titled, ‘We and Our Neighbors’.
In 1935, Zionism became the dominant trend and he was seen fit to be made the head of the World Zionist Organization. The same year, he also became the chairman of the executive committee of the Jewish Agency.
During World War II, he encouraged the Jewish population to support and volunteer for the British Army and about 10% of them obliged and many of them were women.
In September 1947, he signed a status-quo agreement with the leader of the Orthodox Yisrael party, where he established that ‘Shabaat’ would be Israel’s official day of rest. He also assured that every the Jewish community would be able to avail all the facilities entitled to citizens, including education and health.
To all intents and purposes, he was the leader of the Jewish population, even before the state’s autonomy was established. On May 14, 1948, he declared the Independence of the state of Israel.
He was elected as Prime Minister of Israel when his party won majority seats during the first national election, held on February 14, 1949.
As the prime minister, he oversaw the establishments of various state institutions, the establishment of the National Water Carrier and even headed ‘Operation Magic Carpet’, which brought around 49,000 Yemenite Jews to the new state of Israel.
In 1953, he resigned from his position and Moshe Sharett was elected as the prime minister in January 1954. However, he served as the acting prime minister when Sharett was out of the country for a year.
In 1955, he was appointed as defense minister and was soon re-elected as prime minister. In response to the recurrent, aggressive Egyptian guerrilla attacks, he armed the Israeli army with the help from France and Britain and invaded the Sinai Peninsula of Gaza. This war became a highlight of his career and was his only chance of guaranteeing Israel’s endurance and making sure that another Holocaust doesn’t happen again.
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He finally stepped down as prime minister in 1963, due to personal reasons and retired from politics in 1970.
He authored ‘My Meetings with Arab Leaders’, which was published in 1967.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Paula Munweis in 1917 and the couple had three children.
Towards the end of his life, he lived in a desert in Negev, where he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and passed away due to a stroke on December 1, 1973.
The ‘Ben Gurion International Airport’ in Israel is named after him and one of the major institutions in the country, ‘Ben-Gurion University of Negev’ also bears his name.
His picture is printed on both sides of the 500 denomination lirot issued by the Bank of Israel.
A riverside boardwalk in Paris by the River Seine is named after him.