David Ben-Gurion

by Jarrod Vargas

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Early LIfe


The world that preceded David Ben-Gurion followed many of the reforms that Europe began to experience in relation to Jewish residents. In western Europe, Jews began to enjoy more freedoms as a result of social reforms in the wake of things such as the French Revolution. Unfortunately, in Eastern Europe where David’s Family resided, the reality was a stark contrast to the more accepting attitude in relation to the antisemitism of Eastern Europe. The Jews of the Pale of Settlement were forced to settle in Poland on the command of the czar.

David Ben-Gurion was born as David Gruen on October 16th, 1886 in Plonsk Poland. He was the grandson of Zvi Aryen Gruen, a merchant. He lived with his father was Agvidor Gruen, and his mother was Shneidel Friedman in their family home in Plonsk Poland which today is a museum. Shneidel Friedman had a total of 11 children, of which David Gruen was the fourth surviving child. As a child, David Gruen was solitary and introverted in nature and rarely went outside of his home. He shared a close relationship with his mother and father. On his eleventh birthday, his mother passed away during childbirth. The pain of his loss took years to heal. Through his father, David inherited a love of zionism (as well as Theodor Hertzl) and hence a love of the home of the Jews. David’s love and understanding of Hebrew came from his grandfather. “He got me a Hebrew teacher when he was five, but… started teaching me the language of the Bible when I was three. He would take me on his knee and play Hebrew word games with me. Games which I remember to this day” (Gurion and Pearlman, 1965)

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It was his belief in Zionism that would compel him to one day go to the homeland of the Jews, Palestine. David received his early education from both a traditional religious school, as well as in part by a Russian state school, although Russian state schools typically put up barriers to Jewish students. It was at Russian schools that David began to learn Russian. He also decided on Russian school as a way to learn Russian as a way to reject Polish. Though he never experienced the pogroms that took place in Poland, he rejected his place of birth in favor of actively pursuing Zionism.
A young man named David Gruen would bear witness to the political revolution against Czarist Russia. His political views were shaped in part by Zionism, as well as the revolutions at the time. As a young adult, he honed his speech and persuasion skills as a member Poalei Zion, the Workers of Zion communist organization. Although his activities resulted in his arrest, it didn’t serve to deter him from political activism.

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Early Career


It was during his immigration to Palestine that David Gruen adopted his famous Hebrew last name. His last name is taken from Yosef Ben-Gurion who lead the Jewish government during the roman revolts. Palestine at this time was experiencing a growth of Jewish immigrants. During the Tanzimat period, reforms such as the khatti sheriff of 1839 extended equal rights to non-Muslims and provided other freedoms such as the freedom to worship, purchase land as a foreigner (Bahat, 138). It was during this period that David Gruen, now David Ben-Gurion left Poland for Palestine, arriving in 1906 at the age of 20, along with some of his friends. When he arrived, he secured employment performing farm work, such as picking fruit. Before long, he was elected in 1906 as an editor for Poalei Zion. In an attempt to create more representation for Ottoman Jews, David Ben-Gurion decided to learn Turkish and study law at the University of Constantinople University of Constantinople. During this period, Ottoman empire began to crack down on Zionist activities, which led to the deportation and arrest of David Ben-Gurion to the United States.

Life During British Mandate


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Around the age of thirty, David Ben-Gurion married Paula Manbaz a practicing nurse. Before their marriage, David Ben Gurion proclaimed to her that she would need to accept that they would one day return to Palestine. During this time, the Balfour Declaration was public knowledge. The Balfour Declaration Balfour Agreement, an open letter to Lord Rothschild from Foreign Secretary A. J. Balfour, was a document that expressed the support to create a Jewish State in Palestine. David Ben-Gurion signed up for the Jewish Legion of the British armed forces against the pleads of his wife, who by this time was pregnant with their first child. Still, David Ben-Gurion left to join the armed services. Though the Jewish Legion never participated in the action at the direction of General Allenby, the city of Jerusalem indeed fell to the British December 9th 1917.

During the Arab revolts of the 20’s, David Ben-Gurion joined the Histadrut as Secretary. During this time, other representatives dropped out, putting more responsibility into the care of David Ben-Gurion, thus further developing his leadership skills. In 1943, David Ben Gurion was elected to the Executive Zionist Congress where he became leader of the movement. British continued to limit Jewish Immigration while David Ben Gurion advocated for policies more sympathetic to Jews in Europe. As an example, he advocated at the UN, arguing that allowing increased Jewish immigration to Palestine is the only way to prevent another Holocaust from occurring. David Ben Gurion began to teach self military theory and history as a way to prepare himself to possibly lead military efforts. After the bombing of the King David Hotel, the British planned to end the mandate. Upon the exit of the British, David Ben-Gurion announced via radio at 4 p.m. that Israel would be a sovereign nation and declared independence May 14th 1948.

Post-British Mandate


David Ben Gurion became the first Prime Minister of the state of modern Israel, and received the formal acknowledgement from the United States and the U.S.S.R. of the acceptance of their sovereignty. David Ben Gurion as prime minister signed order to create the Israeli Defense Force in an attempt to unify Israel’s fighting forces and hence legitimize their rule. During their war for independence, David Ben Gurion made constant attempts to negotiate for arms from the British and United States and France. Multiple times David Ben Gurion turned his attention toward Eisenhower of the US government while trying to secure arms. Important policy stances from David Ben Gurion during his term included having the strategy to abandon no settlement, utilize abandoned British bases, abandoned Arab neighborhoods and temporary shelters to house incoming immigrants. In addition, David Ben Gurion made it a policy to create a secular education system.

David Ben Gurion resigned from the office of Prime Minister, but returned in 1955 as Defense Minister. In the nineteen sixties, US spy planes managed to get footage of nuclear facilities that Israel built in cooperation with France. David defended the existence of the nuclear facilities, saying that they were for peaceful reasons. Experts were worried about Israel’s possible building of a nuclear weapon. After reviewing the facilities, it was agreed that the facilities were for peaceful reasons. David Ben Gurion stepped down on the onset of the six day war, and by 1969 ceased to be a public figure.
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Family and Later Life


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David Ben Gurion married Paula Munweis in his thirties. David Ben Gurion was described to be a person who enjoyed romantic attention of his wife, however neglected his family’s attention at the expense of his Zionist ambitions. He sent letters home to his wife, whom accused him of not loving his family or cheating. His children describe not knowing their father and knowing better than to disturb him when he was home in the study. In his old age, David Ben Gurion tried to be a better grandfather by sending presents to his grandchildren on their birthdays, but still being distant.
David Ben Gurion withdrew from public life in 1969 and stepped down as Defense Minister. He spent his final years at kibbutz Sedeh Boker. David Ben Gurion spent half of his working day tending to sheep and writing his books. David Ben Gurion survived the death of his wife before preparing a resting place for himself. Two weeks before his death David Ben Gurion suffered a stroke which left him partially paralyzed and bedridden for two weeks. He died the first of December, 1973.

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References


Avi-Hai, Avraham. 1975. Ben Gurion State-Builder: Principles and Pragmatism 1948-1963. New York, Toronto: Halstead Press Book.
Bahat, Dan. 1989. The Carta Jerusalem Atlas. Israel, Carta Books.
Bar-Zohar, Michael. 1978. Ben-Gurion: A Biography, trans. By Peretz Kidron. New York: Delacorte Press.
Bar-Zohar, Michael. “David Ben Gurion Prime Minister of Israel.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 20 July 1998, https://www.britannica.com/biography/David-Ben-Gurion.
Cline, Eric, H. 2011. Jerusalem Besieged: From ancient Canaan to Modern Israel. USA, University of Michigan.
Gurion, Ben, & Pearlman, Moshe. 1965. Ben Gurion Looks Back. New York, Simon & Schuster Inc.

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