“The declaration of the state of Israel was one the toughest decisions David Ben-Gurion had to make as Israel’s first prime minister,” his grandson Alon Ben-Gurion said Tuesday, March 14, during an interview with the AJT.
Yet David Ben-Gurion was determined to fulfill his vision for a Jewish home and realized early on that he would have a war before he had a state.
“How many people do you know who have created a state?” Alon Ben-Gurion said. “Zero. Only Ben-Gurion has succeeded in doing so.” He added that when his grandfather was asked why he was so determined to create a Jewish state, his response amounted to “I decided to do it when I had questions and no one could give me an answer.”
As the effective leader of the Haganah, Ben-Gurion, alongside Menachem Begin of the Irgun and Yair Stern of Lehi, sought to create a nation for the Jews by kicking out the British from Jewish establishments, then working with them to fight the Arabs for land promised in the Balfour Declaration of 1917.
The Jordanian army, built and trained by the British, and the Syrian, Lebanese and Egyptian militaries were ready to fight. The first bombs landed in Tel Aviv as soon as Ben-Gurion declared the state of Israel, killing 47 people in a bus terminal.
“We lost a lot of people to build Israel,” Alon Ben-Gurion said. “The first people who came did not have anything, but they believed in a Jewish state and pushed for it in the worst conditions and made it happen. Now it is our job to maintain it, keep it and cherish it. It is our right to be there.”
In addition to fighting Arab countries, Ben-Gurion faced dissatisfaction within his own party because of the small portion of land they would receive for Israel. U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall called Ben-Gurion’s foreign secretary, Moshe Sharett, and advised him that he would not have U.S. support for an independence declaration.
Even though some advised him to delay the declaration of the Jewish state, Ben-Gurion hated procrastination and was determined to create a Jewish home.
He also looked toward the Negev as the cradle of Israel. It was always a focus of his life, and when he was asked why he wanted the desert, his reply, according to his grandson, was “For the next 60 years, I will be able to bring up to 20 million people to this place because the Negev is not settled. There are already settlements throughout the country, but we will have to work together.”
Since arriving in the land of Israel in 1906, Ben-Gurion had a single-minded vision for a Jewish homeland, Alon Ben-Gurion said, and he often said, “I prefer a Jewish state on part of Israel than to have a whole Israel with no Jewish state.”
Israel continues to change, Alon Ben-Gurion said. “With all the challenges facing Israel, however, keeping Israel together as a Jewish state is one of the biggest we face in our lifetime. We don’t have to agree on everything, but this is the most important thing. The belief and knowing our ability as a Jewish state provides strength to Israel. Believing in our country, knowing what we have, believing our mission and what we built there is important because for 2,000 years we did not have it.”
He said it’s a mistake that many Jews, including young Jewish Americans, want to separate Judaism from Israel. “They say I am a French Jew, American Jew or Moroccan Jew; it doesn’t work. When 6 million went to the oven, no one asked them where they are from. Countless Jewish minorities are now all coming to Israel because the Jewish religion is the only religion in history that is associated with land.”
Ben-Gurion added: “When we read the Bible, we always say, ‘If I forget you, Jerusalem, I lose my right hand.’ You may claim to be an American Jew, but you are still praying to Jerusalem. You cannot separate the two; they are one.”