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Joseph Ben-Gurion leader before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD and David Joseph Ben-Gurion first priminister of the new nation of Israel in 1948.


Joseph ben Gurion was according to Josephus one of the chief leaders of the First Jewish–Roman War, which erupted in the year 66 in Roman Judea. Along with Ananus ben Ananus, ben Gurion was heading the Judean provisional government (66–68), formed in the aftermath of the Battle of Beth Horon (66). Ben Gurion was killed in the year 68 during the carnage of the Zealot Temple Siege.

David Ben-Gurion (/bɛn ˈɡʊəriən/ ben GOOR-ee-ən; Hebrew: דָּוִד בֶּן-גּוּרִיּוֹן‎ [daˈvid ben ɡuʁˈjon] (About this soundlisten); born David Grün; 16 October 1886 – 1 December 1973) was the primary national founder of the State of Israel and the first Prime Minister of Israel. He was the preeminent leader of the Jewish community in British Mandate Palestine from 1935 until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, which he led until 1963 with a short break in 1954-55.

Ben-Gurion's passion for Zionism, which began early in life, led him to become a major Zionist leader and executive head of the World Zionist Organization in 1946.[1] As head of the Jewish Agency from 1935, and later president of the Jewish Agency Executive, he was the de facto leader of the Jewish community in Palestine, and largely led its struggle for an independent Jewish state in Mandatory Palestine. On 14 May 1948, he formally proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel, and was the first to sign the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which he had helped to write. Ben-Gurion led Israel during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, and united the various Jewish militias into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Subsequently, he became known as "Israel's founding father".[2]

Following the war, Ben-Gurion served as Israel's first prime minister and minister of defense. As prime minister, he helped build the state institutions, presiding over national projects aimed at the development of the country. He also oversaw the absorption of vast numbers of Jews from all over the world. A centerpiece of his foreign policy was improving relationships with the West Germans. He worked with Konrad Adenauer's government in Bonn, and West Germany provided large sums (in the Reparations Agreement between Israel and West Germany) in compensation for Nazi Germany's confiscation of Jewish property during the Holocaust.[3]

In 1954 he resigned as prime minister and minister of defense but remained a member of the Knesset. He returned as minister of defense in 1955 after the Lavon Affair and the resignation of Pinhas Lavon. Later that year he became prime minister again, following the 1955 elections. Under his leadership, Israel responded aggressively to Arab guerrilla attacks, and in 1956, invaded Egypt along with British and French forces after Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal during what became known as the Suez Crisis.

He stepped down from office in 1963, and retired from political life in 1970. He then moved to Sde Boker, a kibbutz in the Negev desert, where he lived until his death. Posthumously, Ben-Gurion was named one of Time magazine's 100 Most Important People of the 20th century.

During the 1948 Arab–Israeli War Ben-Gurion oversaw the nascent state's military operations. 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 that end, Ben-Gurion used a firm hand during the Altalena Affair, a ship carrying arms purchased by the Irgun led by Menachem Begin. He insisted that all weapons be handed over to the IDF. When fighting broke out on the Tel Aviv beach he ordered it be taken by force and to shell the ship. Sixteen Irgun fighters and three IDF soldiers were killed in this battle. Following the policy of a unified military force, he also ordered that the Palmach headquarters be disbanded and its units be integrated with the rest of the IDF, to the chagrin of many of its members. By absorbing the Irgun force into Israel's IDF, the Israelis eliminated competition and the central government controlled all military forces within the country. His attempts to reduce the number of Mapam members in the senior ranks led to the "Generals' Revolt" in June 1948.

Military leadership

As head of the Jewish Agency from 1935, Ben-Gurion was de facto leader of the Jewish population even before the state was declared. In this position, Ben-Gurion played a major role in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War When the IDF archives and others were opened in the late 1980s, scholars started to reconsider the events and the role of Ben-Gurion.[53][clarification needed]

Founding of Israel

On 14 May 1948, on the last day of the British Mandate, Ben-Gurion declared the independence of the state of Israel. In the Israeli declaration of independence, he stated that the new nation would "uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of religion, race".

In his War Diaries in February 1948, Ben-Gurion wrote: "The war shall give us the land. The concepts of 'ours' and 'not ours' are peace concepts only, and they lose their meaning during war."[54] Also later he confirmed this by stating that, "In the Negev we shall not buy the land. We shall conquer it. You forget that we are at war."[54] The Arabs, meanwhile, also vied with Israel over the control of territory by means of war, while the Jordanian Arab Legion had decided to concentrate its forces in Bethlehem and in Hebron in order to save that district for its Arab inhabitants, and to prevent territorial gains for Israel.[55] Israeli historian Benny Morris has written of the massacres of Palestinian Arabs in 1948, and has stated that Ben-Gurion "covered up for the officers who did the massacres."[56]

After leading Israel during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, Ben-Gurion was elected Prime Minister of Israel when his Mapai (Labour) party won the largest number of Knesset seats in the first national election, held on 14 February 1949. He remained in that post until 1963, except for a period of nearly two years between 1954 and 1955. As prime minister, 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. Ben-Gurion saw the struggle to make the Negev desert bloom as an area where the Jewish people could make a major contribution to humanity as a whole.[57] He believed that the sparsely populated and barren Negev desert offered a great opportunity for the Jews to settle in Palestine with minimal obstruction of the Arab population,[dubious – discuss] and set a personal example by settling in kibbutz Sde Boker at the centre of the Negev.[57]

During this period, Palestinian fedayeen repeatedly infiltrated into Israel from Arab territory. In 1953, after a handful of unsuccessful retaliatory actions, Ben-Gurion charged Ariel Sharon, then security chief of the northern region, with setting up a new commando unit designed to respond to fedayeen infiltrations. Ben-Gurion told Sharon, "The Palestinians must learn that they will pay a high price for Israeli lives." Sharon formed Unit 101, a small commando unit answerable directly to the IDF General Staff tasked with retaliating for fedayeen raids. During its five months of existence, the unit launched repeated raids against military targets and villages used as bases by the fedayeen.[58] These attacks became known as the reprisal operations.

In 1953, Ben-Gurion announced his intention to withdraw from government and was replaced by Moshe Sharett, who was elected the second Prime Minister of Israel in January 1954. However, Ben-Gurion temporarily served as acting prime minister when Sharett visited the United States in 1955. During Ben-Gurion's tenure as acting prime minister, the IDF carried out Operation Olive Leaves, a successful attack on fortified Syrian emplacements near the northeastern shores of the Sea of Galilee. The operation was a response to Syrian attacks on Israeli fishermen. Ben-Gurion had ordered the operation without consulting the Israeli cabinet and seeking a vote on the matter, and Sharett would later bitterly complain that Ben-Gurion had exceeded his authority.[59]

Ben-Gurion returned to government in 1955. He assumed the post of defense minister and was soon re-elected prime minister. When he returned to government, Israeli forces began responding more aggressively to Egyptian-sponsored Palestinian guerrilla attacks from Gaza, which was under Egyptian rule. Egypt's President Gamal Abdel Nasser signed the Egyptian-Czech arms deal and purchased a large amount of modern arms. The Israelis responded by arming themselves with help from France. Nasser blocked the passage of Israeli ships through the Straits of Tiran and the Suez Canal. In July 1956, the United States and Britain withdrew their offer to fund the Aswan High Dam project on the Nile and a week later, Nasser ordered the nationalization of the French and British-controlled Suez Canal. In late 1956, the bellicosity of statements Arab prompted Israel to remove the threat of the concentrated Egyptian forces in the Sinai, and Israel invaded the Egyptian Sinai peninsula. Other Israeli aims were elimination of the fedayeen incursions into Israel that made life unbearable for its southern population, and opening the blockaded Straits of Tiran for Israeli ships.[60][61][62][63][64][65] Israel occupied much of the peninsula within a few days. As agreed beforehand, within a couple of days, Britain and France invaded too, aiming at regaining Western control of the Suez Canal and removing the Egyptian president Nasser. The United States pressure forced the British and French to back down and Israel to withdraw from Sinai in return for free Israeli navigation through the Red Sea. The United Nations responded by establishing its first peacekeeping force, (UNEF). It was stationed between Egypt and Israel and for the next decade it maintained peace and stopped the fedayeen incursions into Israel.

In 1959, Ben-Gurion learned from West German officials of reports that the notorious Nazi war criminal, Adolf Eichmann, was likely living in hiding in Argentina. In response, Ben-Gurion ordered the Israel foreign intelligence service, the Mossad, to capture the international fugitive alive for trial in Israel. In 1960, the mission was accomplished and Eichmann was tried and convicted in an internationally publicized trial for various offenses including crimes against humanity, and was subsequently executed in 1962.

Main article: 1963 Israel–United States standoff

Ben-Gurion is said to have been "nearly obsessed" with Israel obtaining nuclear weapons, feeling that a nuclear arsenal was the only way to counter the Arabs' superiority in numbers, space, and financial resources, and that it was the only sure guarantee of Israel's survival and the prevention of another Holocaust.[66] During his final months as premier Ben-Gurion was engaged in a, now declassified diplomatic standoff with the United States.[67][68]

Ben-Gurion stepped down as prime minister for personal reasons in 1963, and chose Levi Eshkol as his successor. A year later a rivalry developed between the two on the issue of the Lavon Affair, a failed 1954 Israeli covert operation in Egypt. Ben-Gurion had insisted that the operation be properly investigated, while Eshkol refused. Ben-Gurion subsequently broke with Mapai in June 1965 and formed a new party, Rafi, while Mapai merged with Ahdut HaAvoda to form Alignment, with Eshkol as its head. Alignment defeated Rafi in the November 1965 election, establishing Eshkol as the country's leader.