David Ben-Gurion Biography

David Ben-Gurion was the first Prime Minister and defense minister of Israel. Explore this biography to learn more about his profile, childhood, life and timeline.

David Ben-Gurion

Quick Facts

Gender: Male
Birthday: 16 October 1886
Died: 01 December 1973
Nationality: Israeli
Sun Sign: Libra
Spouse/Ex-: Paula Ben-Gurion
Father: Avigdor Ben Gurion
Children: Amos Ben-Gurion, Renana Leshem, Geula Ben-Eliezer
Education: University of Warsaw, Istanbul University Faculty of Law
Awards: Bialik Prize, Honorary doctor of Tel Aviv University

David Ben-Gurion was a prominent personality in the history of Israel because he delivered the country’s declaration of independence and was also the Zionist head of the famous, World Zionist Organization. One whose legacy has been recorded in history books and countless national publications, Gurion was known and revered as the ‘Father of the Nation’. His charismatic personality won him the adulation of the masses and he became the unpretentious leader of the Jewish community in Palestine. As the Prime Minister, he helped build various institutions in the state and launched projects that helped in the overall development and growth of the nation. Under his leadership as Minister of Defense, Israel witnessed many successes, one of the highlights of his long and effective career being, the invasion of Egypt in the ‘Sinai’ region. Following his retirement and towards the end of his life, he stayed in the Negev desert, before he left for his heavenly abode. Named of the ‘100 Most Important People of the 20th Century’, he united many Jewish militias and was largely, the frontrunner in leading the Palestinian state to its liberation. He supported the establishment of relations with West Germany, which was met with force opposition. However, his determination and his level-headedness, urged him to move on with establishing a bond; and so he did. This international personality was known for his military leadership and his alluring personality. If you would like to learn more about this Israeli statesman, scroll further.

Childhood & Early Life

David Ben-Gurion was born in Plonsk to Avigdor Grun and Scheindel. His father was the leader of the Hovevei Zion movement, which became a major influencing factor that 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.

Career

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, Gurion was involved with an armed group who staged an attempted robbery, who ended up murdering a farmer and a watchman.
In 1909, he joined the ‘HaShomer’, a Jewish defense organization, who 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. Here, he studied Turkish for his law studies and then finally moved to Istanbul in 1912, where he studied at 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 remained 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 Gurion was made as the leader of the right-wing of the group called ‘Ahdut HaAvoda’.
In 1920, he became the general secretary of the Histadrut, the Zionist Labor Federation in Palestine and emerged as a clear winner after he joined forces with another party to create ‘Mapai’, a stronger right-wing labor party.
Gurion’s views about the Arab world were published in 1931 titled, ‘We and Our Neighbors’.
In 1935, he Labor Zionism became the dominant trend and Gurion 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, Gurion encouraged the Jewish population to support and volunteer for the British Army and about 10% of them obliged, many of them, who 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 and that every sector in the Jewish community would be granted autonomy in all spheres of life including education and health facilities.
To all intents and purposes, Gurion was the leader of the Jewish population, even before the state’s autonomy was declared. On May 14, 1948, Gurion declared the Independence of the state of Israel and was also elected as Prime Minister of Israel when his party won majority seats during the first national election, held on February 14, 1949.
As a 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 the second Prime Minister, Moshe Sharett was elected in January 1954. However, Gurion served as temporary 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, Gurion armed the Israeli army with 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 making sure of Israel’s endurance and that another Holocaust would not happen again.
He authored ‘My Meetings with Arab Leaders’, which was published in 1967.
He finally stepped down as Prime Minister in 1963, due to personal reasons and retired from politics in 1970.

Major Works

During 1936-1939, when the Arab revolt was taking place in Palestine, he instigated a policy of ‘Havlagah’, a set of actions to be taken against Arabs who were attacking Jewish settlements. He also supported the Peel Commission when they suggested that Palestine be split into Jewish and Arab settlements.
At the outbreak of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, he was responsible in overseeing the state’s military operations. He unified all the Jewish militias of the state into one national army, the ‘Israeli Defense Forces’ (IDF).

Awards & Achievements

In 1951 and 1971, he was honored with the Bialik Prize for Jewish thought.
He was voted as the ‘2nd Greatest Israeli of all time’ in 2005.
He was included in the list of ‘100 Most Important People of the 20th Century’ by Time Magazine, posthumously.

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.
Israel’s airport, the ‘Ben Gurion International Airport’ is named after him and one of the major institutions in the country, ‘Ben-Gurion University of Negev’ is also named in his honor.
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.

Trivia

Israel’s first Prime Minister’s structure and look inspired the appearance of the ‘The Guardians of the Universe’, powerful aliens, in the famous, ‘Green Lantern’ Comics.
He became close friends with North Vietnam’s Politburo chairman, so much so, the chairman offered to set up a Jewish holiday home for the Prime Minister in Vietnam.

Citation Information

Article Title

David Ben-Gurion Biography

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Last Updated

June 04, 2019

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