Ben-Gurion: A Political Life - Shimon Peres (2011)
ca. 1882 Members of the Hovevei Tziyon (Lovers of Zion) movement begin to immigrate to Palestine in what will become known as the First Aliyah.
October 16, 1886 David Ben-Gurion, né Gruen, is born in Plonsk, Poland, then part of Russia.
1894 Captain Alfred Dreyfus is wrongly convicted of treason to France. He is sentenced to life imprisonment amid tremendous anti-Semitic sentiment.
1897 Theodor Herzl holds the First Zionist Congress in Basel.
1900/1901 At age fourteen, David Gruen founds his first Zionist group, Ezra.
1904 The Second Aliyah begins; this wave of Zionist immigration will bring 40,000 Jews, mostly from Russia, to Palestine by 1914.
Theodor Herzl dies.
September 7, 1906 David Gruen arrives in Jaffa as part of a group of Plonsk youth who are making aliyah together, settling initially in Petah Tikva.
Late 1907 David Gruen moves to Sejera, in the Galilee.
1908 The Young Turk revolution leads to minority groups gaining representation in the Turkish parliament.
September 1910 David is appointed an editor of Ha’achdut, the newspaper of Poalei Zion, the Zionist Workers’ Party, and adopts the last name Ben-Gurion.
1911 Ben-Gurion moves to Salonika to spend a year studying Turkish in preparation for attending law school.
1912 Ben-Gurion moves to Constantinople to study Ottoman law with his friends Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and Yisrael Shochat.
October 1912 Outbreak of First Balkan War disrupts Ben-Gurion’s studies.
Spring 1914 Ben-Gurion spends Passover with his family in Poland.
August 1914 Ben-Gurion returns to Palestine as war breaks out in Europe. He and other Zionists are arrested by Turkish authorities and eventually expelled.
April 1915 Ben-Gurion sails from Alexandria to New York.
He will remain in the United States until 1917.
November 2, 1917 The British government issues the Balfour Declaration, announcing that it “views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”
December 1917 Ben-Gurion marries Paulina Munbaz, known as Paula, in New York.
April 26, 1918 Ben-Gurion joins the Jewish Legion of the British armed forces.
December 1918 Ben-Gurion, as part of the Jewish Legion, arrives in Palestine from Egypt.
November 1919 Paula Ben-Gurion and their infant daughter Geula arrive in Palestine.
April 1920 The San Remo Conference confers control of former Ottoman territories of Palestine and Iraq to the British.
Spring 1920 The Ben-Gurion family temporarily moves to London, where Ben-Gurion runs the office of the World Poalei Zion movement.
March 1921 Ben-Gurion travels with his family to Plonsk to see his father.
May 1921 Arab riots break out in Palestine. Forty-seven Jews are killed. The British high commissioner suspends Jewish immigration to Palestine.
December 1921 Ben-Gurion becomes secretary-general of the Histadrut trade union federation, a position he will hold until 1935.
1922 Britain establishes the Emirate of Transjordan on the eastern part of the original Palestine mandate.
Summer 1923 Ben-Gurion visits the Soviet Union.
August 1929 Arab riots break out in Jerusalem and spread to Hebron and throughout (western) Palestine.
January 1930 Ben-Gurion’s Ahdut HaAvoda joins Hapoal Hatzair to form the Mapai Party.
October 1930 British colonial secretary Lord Passfield publishes a white paper restricting Jewish immigration and land purchases. Weizmann resigns as president of the World Zionist Organization in protest.
February 1931 British prime minister Ramsay MacDonald effectively abrogates the Passfield White Paper.
April 1931 Etzel, an independent rightist militia, is founded under the leadership of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, leader of the Revisionist Party.
June 1931 With 29 percent of delegates, Ben-Gurion’s Labor-Zionist party is the largest bloc at the Seventeenth Zionist Congress, held in Basel.
March 1933 Ben-Gurion starts tour of Eastern European Jewish communities to gather support for Labor Zionists.
June 16, 1933 Tension erupts among Zionist groups following the murder of Haim Arlosoroff, a rising figure in Mapai who had negotiated with Nazi Germany for the transfer of assets of Jews immigrating to Palestine.
July 1933 At the Eighteenth Zionist Congress, in Prague, Ben-Gurion’s Labor Zionists represent nearly 45 percent of the delegates. Ben-Gurion is elected to the Zionist Executive; the Revisionist Party secedes.
1935 Ben-Gurion becomes chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive, a position he will hold until 1948.
April 1936 Arab riots erupt in Palestine. They will continue intermittently for three years.
August 7, 1936 Great Britain appoints a Royal Commission of Inquiry, under the leadership of Lord Peel, to investigate the causes of the Arab Revolt.
July 1937 The Peel Commission recommends the partition of Palestine; the Jewish portion is to include only the Galilee and Jezreel Valley in the north, and a narrow coastal strip. Zionist groups are bitterly divided over whether to accept these terms.
February 1939 Ben-Gurion and Weizmann head the Jewish delegation to negotiations held by the British with Arabs and Jews in London. The talks fail to achieve any results.
May 1939 The MacDonald White Paper, seen by the Zionists as an abandonment of the Balfour Declaration, limits Jewish immigration to 75,000 over five years and drastically restricts land purchase by Jews in Palestine.
September 1939 Germany invades Poland; Britain and France declare war on Germany. Ben-Gurion says, “We must help the British in their war as though there were no White Paper, and we must resist the White Paper as though there were no war.”
April 1940 Ben-Gurion travels to London.
May 19, 1941 The Haganah, the military defense organization of Jewish Palestine, establishes the Palmach, a full-time strike force.
May 11, 1942 An Extraordinary Zionist conference in New York adopts the Biltmore Program, calling for the opening of Palestine to Jewish immigration, the placing of Jewish immigration under the Jewish Agency, and the establishment of a Jewish commonwealth in Palestine. For Ben-Gurion this means statehood immediately after the war.
November 1942 The British defeat of German forces at El Alamein, Egypt, removes the threat of a Nazi invasion of Palestine.
May 1944 Antipartition members of Ben-Gurion’s Mapai Party secede and form a separate party, using the name of Ben-Gurion’s original party of the 1920s, Ahdut HaAvoda.
November 1944 Members of Lehi murder the British resident minister in the Middle East, Lord Moyne. In response, Ben-Gurion orders the Haganah to crack down on Jewish militants and hand them over to British forces.
May 7, 1945 Germany unconditionally surrenders to the Allies.
July 1, 1945 Ben-Gurion solicits funding from prominent American Jews in New York to purchase weapons.
October 1, 1945 In Paris, Ben-Gurion orders the Haganah to launch an armed uprising.
November 1, 1945 The newly formed Hebrew Resistance Movement, incorporating the Haganah, Etzel, and Lehi, begins to engage in joint actions, cutting railroad lines around Palestine and damaging British ships.
May 1, 1946 The Anglo-American Commission recommends the admission of 100,000 Jewish refugees and the restoration of the Jewish right to buy land in Palestine. The British refuse to implement these recommendations.
June 16, 1946 The Hebrew Resistance Movement blows up bridges linking Palestine to neighboring countries; the British respond with a harsh crackdown in the Yishuv.
July 1946 Etzel bombs the British administrative headquarters at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, killing ninety people.
December 1946 At the Zionist Congress in Basel, Ben-Gurion allows for the possibility of partition in exchange for immediate independence; Weizmann cautions against a violent break with Britain and resigns from the leadership of the World Zionist Organization.
1947 Ben-Gurion’s concordat with the Orthodox Agudat Yisrael Party guarantees the hegemony of religious law in matters of personal status in the future state.
February 1947 The United Nations, at the request of Great Britain, takes on the question of Palestine.
July 1947 The UN Special Committee on Palestine’s visit coincides with the arrival of the ship Exodus.
November 29, 1947 The UN General Assembly votes for the partition of Palestine. Violence will escalate between Jewish forces and Palestinian irregulars, backed by volunteers from Arab countries.
April 5, 1948 Haganah fighters briefly reopen the road to Jewish Jerusalem.
April 9, 1948 Etzel and Lehi fighters kill civilians in the Arab village of Deir Yassin, helping to spark the Palestinian refugee crisis.
May 13, 1948 The Etzion bloc of settlements south of Jerusalem falls to the Arab Legion.
May 14, 1948 Ben-Gurion proclaims the establishment of the State of Israel. The United States, the USSR, and other key countries recognize the new Jewish state. Israel is immediately invaded by the armies of Egypt, Transjordan, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.
May 26, 1948 The Provisional Government establishes the Israel Defense Forces and outlaws any other armed force within Israel.
June 1, 1948 Menachem Begin, head of Etzel, agrees that his fighters will join the IDF.
June 8, 1948 The “Burma Road,” an alternate route to Jewish Jerusalem, is opened, bringing relief to the city’s besieged inhabitants.
June 11, 1948 A four-week truce goes into effect, allowing the Israeli Army time to bring in arms and train more fighters.
The Altalena sets sail for Israel, laden with arms and refugees. Begin insists that the arms be distributed first to Etzel fighters within the IDF.
June 20, 1948 The Altalena arrives at Kfar Vitkin, Israel. Ben-Gurion orders his commanders to secure the ship. In clashes at Kfar Vitkin and on the Tel Aviv beach, sixteen on board and three IDF soldiers are killed.
July 8, 1948 Fighting with the invading Arab armies resumes. The IDF achieves successes in the North.
July 18, 1948 A second UN-ordered truce goes into effect.
September 17, 1948 UN envoy Count Folke Bernadotte is murdered, allegedly by Lehi. Ben-Gurion responds by arresting hundreds of Lehi and Etzel members.
October 1948 Ben-Gurion dismantles the separate Palmach command structure within the IDF.
The truce breaks down. Ben-Gurion responds with major attacks in the Negev, forcing the Egyptian Army out of Ashdod and Ashkelon.
January 25, 1949 Israel holds its first parliamentary elections, resulting in a coalition government led by Mapai. Ben-Gurion serves as prime minister and minister of defense.
February 16, 1949 Chaim Weizmann is sworn in as president of Israel, having been elected in absentia shortly after the declaration of statehood.
February 24, 1949 Israel and Egypt sign an armistice.
March 1949 IDF forces reach the Red Sea in the last operation of the War of Independence.
March 23, 1949 Israel and Lebanon sign an armistice.
April 3, 1949 Israel and Transjordan sign an armistice. Israel retains areas in the North and the center of the country not included in the Jewish state under the 1947 UN Partition Plan. Transjordan annexes the West Bank and becomes the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
July 20, 1949 Israel and Syria sign an armistice.
December 9, 1949 The UN General Assembly passes a resolution to internationalize Jerusalem, as per the original Partition Plan.
December 11, 1949 Ben-Gurion leads his cabinet in declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel and moving the government offices from Tel Aviv.
April 4, 1950 Ben-Gurion and the Jewish Agency Executive agree on a plan to build maabarot, transit camps, for the massive numbers of new Jewish immigrants.
May 1951 Ben-Gurion establishes the Israel Bonds program at a massive rally in Madison Square Garden, helping to ease Israel’s financial crisis.
July 20, 1951 King Abdullah of Jordan is assassinated, putting an end to secret peace negotiations with Israel.
January 1952 Rioting erupts in Jerusalem as the Knesset debates an agreement with Germany over reparation funds.
July 1952 A military-led revolution in Egypt overthrows the Egyptian monarchy.
September 1952 Israel signs an agreement with Germany to accept reparations funds.
November 1952 Chaim Weizmann dies. Yitzhak Ben-Zvi is elected president.
November 1953 Ben-Gurion resigns.
December 1953 Ben-Gurion and Paula move to Kibbutz Sdeh Boker in the Negev. Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett takes over as prime minister, with Pinhas Lavon as defense minister.
July 1954 An Israeli spy ring is arrested in Egypt.
February 1955 Ben-Gurion returns to government as minister of defense under Moshe Sharett.
1955 Egypt, led by Gamal Abdel Nasser, one of the revolutionary officers, announces a major arms deal with Czechoslovakia, signaling a new closeness with the Soviet bloc.
July 1955 Ben-Gurion leads the Mapai to victory in parliamentary elections. A new coalition government takes office in November, with Ben-Gurion prime minister once again.
July 26, 1956 Nasser nationalizes the Suez Canal, hitherto owned largely by Britain and France.
October 1956 Ben-Gurion attends a secret summit in Sèvres, France.
October 29, 1956 Israel, in concert with France and Britain, invades Egypt. Israel conquers the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula and opens the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping.
March 1957 Under pressure from the United States and the Soviet Union, Israel withdraws from the Sinai. UN forces are deployed along the border and at Sharm el-Sheikh to ensure Israel access to the Straits of Tiran.
May 23, 1960 Ben-Gurion announces that Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann is in the hands of Israeli security services and will be tried by Israel.
January 1961 Ben-Gurion resigns, in the wake of a government investigation that clears Pinhas Lavon of responsibility for the Egyptian spying debacle.
August 1961 Mapai wins a plurality in parliamentary elections; Ben-Gurion once again forms a coalition and becomes prime minister.
June 16, 1963 Ben-Gurion resigns.
January 1965 Ben-Gurion travels to Britain with Israeli president Zalman Shazar to attend Winston Churchill’s funeral.
February 1965 Ben-Gurion confronts Golda Meir and Moshe Sharett over the Lavon Affair at a Mapai Party conference. In June, Ben-Gurion secedes from Mapai and forms a new party, Rafi.
June 5, 1967 Israel launches preemptive air attacks against the Arab armies massed on her borders. In what will become known as the Six-Day War, Israel conquers the Golan Heights, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai.
January 1968 Paula dies and is buried at Sde Boker.
May 1970 Ben-Gurion retires from the Knesset.
October 6, 1973 Israel is attacked by Egypt and Syria, launching the Yom Kippur War.
December 1, 1973 Ben-Gurion dies.
In Poland (then part of the Russian Empire) with members of the Plonsk branch of the socialist-Zionist organization Poalei Zion, sometime in the early 1900s. Ben-Gurion, still known as David Gruen, is in the bottom row, center. “David and his comrades drafted their response to the Uganda Plan, which had been submitted to the 1903 Sixth Zionist Congress in Basel. ‘We have reached the conclusion that the way to fight Ugandism is to make aliyah.’ They were not yet adults, but their thinking at that time would inform and shape their entire adult lives.” (Government Press Office, State of Israel)
With Yitzhak Ben-Zvi (right) as law students in Turkey in 1912. “At that time, Ben-Gurion believed that the Yishuv’s basic political interest lay in nurturing its loyalty to Turkey.” (Government Press Office, State of Israel)
As a member of the Jewish Legion of the British Army during World War I. “Ben-Gurian’s unit of the Jewish Legion eventually marched into Palestine from Egypt in December 1918, after the war was officially over. Unable to distinguish himself in military prowess, Ben-Gurion, by now a corporal, plunged straight back into his foremost field of distinction—Zionist affairs.” (Government Press Office, State of Israel)
Paula and David Ben-Gurion in New York in 1918, shortly after their wedding. “Russian-born and Yiddish-speaking like himself, she was by some accounts a member of Poalei Zion, but by her own account was not a particularly ardent Zionist.” (Government Press Office, State of Israel)
The family at home in Tel Aviv in 1929. From left to right: David, Renana (on his lap), Paula, Geula, Avigdor Gruen (his father), and Amos. “Ben-Gurion tried, but the fact is he did not give much time to family life. He spent long periods traveling abroad, alone. And even at home he was busy around the clock with his work.” (Government Press Office, State of Israel)
With Chaim Weizmann, who would become Israel’s first president, in Switzerland in 1945. “There was never much love lost between them, even though Ben-Gurion wrote to Weizmann in 1937, All my life I have loved you … I have loved you with all my heart and soul.’ Weizmann was to mention Ben-Gurion precisely twice in his six-hundred-page autobiography.” (Government Press Office, State of Israel)
May 14, 1948. Reading Israel’s Declaration of Independence at the Tel Aviv Museum to the People’s Assembly and to the world. “Throughout the country,” he wrote in his diary, “there is profound joy and jubilation … I feel like the bereaved among the rejoicers.” (Zoltan Kluger/Government Press Office, State of Israel)
June 22, 1948. The Altalena on fire off the coast of Tel Aviv. “ ‘This is an attempt to destroy the army,’ Ben-Gurion thundered. ‘This is an attempt to murder the state. In these two matters there cannot be any compromise.’ The cabinet backed him … The Palmach commander Yigal Allon, now a senior IDF general, was put in charge of the operation.” (Hans Pinn/Government Press Office, State of Israel)
With new immigrants at a school in Farradiya, a transit camp in northern Israel, in 1950. “More than 700,000 Jews, beginning in the 1940s and continuing through 1967, had to leave the Arab countries where their families had been living for centuries. They were all absorbed here. We thought, perhaps naïvely, that this would be an example for the other side.” (David Eldan/Government Press Office, State of Israel)
As prime minister and defense minister in 1953, with the Israel Defense Forces senior staff and Shimon Peres, who was director-general of the defense ministry at the time. Peres is seated at Ben-Gurion’s left, Moshe Dayan at his right, and Yitzhak Rabin is standing between Ben-Gurion and Peres. “Ben-Gurion wanted to join the paratroopers [so that he could] do the required series of jumps from airplanes. Dayan said, ‘You want to be a paratrooper? So, I’m your commander. I command you to be something else: be prime minister!’ ” (Government Press Office, State of Israel)
With Paula and a newborn goat at Kibbutz Sdeh Boker in 1954. “I feel here like I felt the first time I set foot in Eretz Yisrael,” he wrote. (Fritz Cohen/Government Press Office, State of Israel)
Ben-Gurion standing on his head, on the beach at the Sharon Hotel in Herzliya in 1957. A devoted student of Moshe Feldenkrais, Ben-Gurion claimed that the Israeli physicist’s exercise methods cured his lumbago. (Paul Goldman/Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv)
At the White House with President Harry Truman and Ambassador Abba Eban in January 1951. “Eleven minutes after Ben-Gurion’s proclamation of independence, the American government announced that the United States would recognize the new state. It was Truman’s personal decision, overruling the professionals at the State Department.” (Fritz Cohen/Government Press Office, State of Israel)
With Eleanor Roosevelt, at home in Tel Aviv, in 1952. “It seems to me,” Mrs. Roosevelt wrote to President Truman in January 1948, “that if the UN does not pull through and enforce the partition and protection of people in general in Palestine, we are now facing a very serious situation in which its position for the future is at stake.” (Fritz Cohen/Government Press Office, State of Israel)
Finally meeting Sir Winston Churchill, in London in 1960. “Ben-Gurion was in awe of Churchill’s ‘magnetic leadership, powerful eloquence, contagious courage … deep sense of history, and an unshakeable faith in the destiny of his people … History would have been quite different if there had been no Churchill.’ He would never have written or said that of himself, of course. But I say it without reservation: I truly believe that without Ben-Gurion the State of Israel would not have come into being.” (© From the Jewish Chronicle Archive/Heritage Images/Imagestate)
With West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer in New York in May 1960. At this meeting Ben-Gurion obtained from Adenauer an agreement for a half-billion-dollar loan, beyond the original $700 million in goods and services West Germany had agreed to provide as reparation payments. (Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
With French president Charles de Gaulle, at the Palais de l’Élysée in Paris, in June 1960. “Ben-Gurion was skeptical at first about the French connection, though he let me pursue it without hindrance. I saw we were not going to get weapons from the Americans or from the British, and definitely not from the Russians. I visited de Gaulle in his office. He knew what we were doing, and he supported it.” (Fritz Cohen/Government Press Office, State of Israel)
With President John F. Kennedy in New York in May 1961. “As Kennedy walked Ben-Gurion alone to the elevator, he said, ‘I know that I owe my election to your people.’ How could he repay the Israeli leader for this support? he asked. ‘You can repay us by being a great president of the United States,’ Ben-Gurion replied.” (New York Daily News via Getty Images)
With Frank Sinatra in Jerusalem in May 1962. Sinatra had just come from Nazareth, where he presided at the groundbreaking ceremonies for the Frank Sinatra International Youth Center for Arab and Jewish children. (© David Rubinger/Courtesy of the family of Frank Sinatra)
From left to right: Ben-Gurion, Ezer Weizman, and Menachem Begin at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, in November 1967. “When Ben-Gurion attacked someone, it was over his position, not his characteristics. He didn’t hate Begin personally. Personal hatred was not a factor at all.” (Ilan Bruner/Government Press Office, State of Israel)
With Southern Command General Ariel Sharon at an Israeli army installation near the Suez Canal in January 1971. “As for the Sinai Peninsula,’ Ben-Gurion said after the Six-Day War, ‘we should demand direct negotiations with Nasser, and if he agrees to peace with us and to free navigation in the Straits of Tiran and in the Suez Canal, then we should evacuate Sinai.’ This is in fact what happened, in stages, after the Yom Kippur War.” (Getty Images)
With Prime Minister Golda Meir in January 1972, at the Twenty-eighth Zionist Congress in Jerusalem. “When history comes to be written,” Ben-Gurion told her in 1948, “it shall be said that there was a Jewish woman who found the money which enabled the establishment of the state.” (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
With Shimon Peres and Moshe Dayan in 1972. “Ben-Gurion deeply respected Dayan. Dayan and I were like two colts galloping in the field.” (Photo by David Harris/© Rivka Harris)
October 24, 1984. Shimon Peres at Ben-Gurion’s graveside at Sdeh Boker, during his first visit to the Negev as prime minister. “Ben-Gurion seems to me now to be an emblem not only of the energy that created the State of Israel but also of the sort of leadership that the country so desperately needs today if it is to find its way to peace and security.” (Chanania Herman/Government Press Office, State of Israel)