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David Ben Gurion (1886-1973)

First Prime Minister and First Defense Minister of The State of Israel (1948-1953 & 1955-1963)

Born David Gryn in Plonsk (in Russia that became Poland), October 16, 1886, his father was an ardent member of the Hovevei Zion. His mother died when he was 11.

At age 14, he became one of the founders of the Ezra youth movement. Ben-Gurion joined the Poalei Zion (Zionist workers) movement at age 17 and was arrested twice during the revolution of 1905-1906.

He settled in Eretz Yisrael in 1906, first working in orange groves and wine cellars. As a watchman and farm worker, he became convinced that true Zionism meant settling the land.

In Jerusalem in 1910, he began writing for Poalei Zion newspaper Ahdut, along with Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and Rachel Yanait (Ben-Zvi). This was the first time he used the name "Ben-Gurion."

During World War I, he originally favored Turkey and adoption of Ottoman citizenship. Anti-Zionist persecution changed his mind. He and Ben-Zvi were exiled to Egypt in March 1915.

Ben-Gurion went to New York where he was instrumental in preparing young Jews to come to Palestine immediately after the war. He married Paula Munweis in 1917. She was an integral part of everything he did until her death in 1968.

When Great Britain issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917, Zionist hopes for a national home received an important boost. Ben-Gurion helped organize the Jewish Legion for Britain. He enlisted in Canada in 1918, but the war was over by the time he reached Palestine.

After the war, he became general secretary of the Histadrut labor federation in 1921; in 1930 he formed Mapai, the Zionist labor party; and in 1935 he became chairman of the executive committee of the Jewish Agency for Palestine.

When Britain limited Jewish immigration to Palestine in 1939, a decade of Zionist warfare began. Ben-Gurion was unrelenting, and finally in Tel Aviv, on May 14, 1948, he proclaimed independence for the State of Israel.

He continued as prime minister for 15 years (except 1953-1955), during which time the young country fought two wars (the War of Independence and the Sinai Campaign) while tripling its population from 1/2 million to 1 1/2 million. Even after he lost the leadership of his party, he remained in the Knesset until he retired from politics in 1970.

Ben-Gurion died on his kibbutz, Sde Boker in the Negev, during the Yom Kippur War, on December 1, 1973.

His books in English include Israel: A Personal History (1970) and The Jews in Their Land (1974).


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