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BEN-GURION, DAVID (1886-1973).

Pioneer builder of the State of Israel and its first prime minister. Born David Gruen in Poland, he inherited from his father a strong love for Zion into which he blended his own socialist ideals. In 1903, at age 17, he was already one of the founders of the Socialist Zionist Party, Poale Zion, in Poland. Even as a youth, he manifested great determination to fulfill his ideals, and pursued his aims with unusual courage.

In 1906, at 20, Ben-Gurion went to Palestine where he worked as a common laborer, experiencing all the hardships of the young pioneer. He became active in the Galilee, which had scarcely been opened for Jewish colonization. Work was hard, and the danger of Arab attacks lurked everywhere. Ben-Gurion led in founding the Jewish self-defense movement, and took an active part in organizing the Socialist Zionist worker’s movement. When Turkey, which then ruled over Palestine, entered World War I, Ben-Gurion was expelled from Palestine. He came to the U.S. where he helped found the American Jewish Congress and organized the Jewish Legion, which he joined as a private. In 1921, he returned to Palestine and became general secretary of the Histadrut, or General Federation of Labor, participating at the same time in other Zionist activities. In 1933, he was elected to the Executive of the World Zionist Organization, and from 1940 on he acted as chairman.

Ben-Gurion played a decisive role in the struggle for the establishment of the State of Israel. Despite heavy pressure from the U.S. Department of State to postpone the proclamation of independence for Israel, he was largely instrumental in bringing it off as scheduled on May 14, 1948. As prime minister and minister of defense during the formative years of the state, he may be credited with many of its achievements. His scholarly articles and orations served the movement for years in clarifying Zionist ideals and aims. During his pioneering days, he wrote, “A land is built only by pioneers who know how to give their lives to realize their ideals.” He became the embodiment of this pioneering spirit. Ben-Gurion retired at age 67 to the isolation of the Negev, but returned to assume leadership in 1955. He initiated the Sinai Campaign. He retired from the premiership in 1963 and was succeeded by Levi Eshkol. In 1965, he broke away from Mapai and formed Rafi, or Israel Labor List. He resigned from the Knesset in 1970 and retired to his kibbutz, S’de Boker, where he engaged in study and writing until his death.

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