March 6th 2015
David Ben-Gurion, born David Grün in Poland in 1886, was a leader of the Zionist movement in Mandate-era Palestine and became the first prime minister of Israel in 1948. Under a towering portrait of Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl, it was David Ben-Gurion who declared the independence of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948 with the words “…we hereby declare the establishment of the Jewish State in the Land of Israel. She is the State of Israel.”
Today, a modest museum has been created at Tel Aviv’s Independence Hall, where the story of that dramatic day is told. Off the main hall where the announcement was made, a brief film explains the historical context of the declaration – and the building itself. Here, visitors can also listen to a recording of the entire ceremony, including David Ben-Gurion’s historic speech and the singing of “Hatikva,” Israel’s national anthem.
Prior to the founding of the State of Israel, the Zionists were defended by a series of underground fighting groups, which included the Irgun (led by Menachem Begin, another future Prime Minister of Israel), the Haganah and Lechi. Shortly after taking over as the Prime Minister, Ben-Gurion sought to unite these various factions into a single national army which we now known as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
In June of 1948, a month into the War of Independence but before the union of these fighting groups was completed, Begin’s Irgun smuggled in a ship full of crucially needed arms. The ship, known as the Altelena, landed at Kfar Vitkin, a small moshav on the Mediterranean coast that is today home to 2,000. As weapons were painstakingly unloaded onto the Kfar Vitkin beach, Ben-Gurion insisted that the Irgun’s stockpile be turned over to the nascent IDF. Begin refused, and in a painful decision, Ben-Gurion ultimately ordered the IDF to destroy the ship.
After Ben-Gurion’s retirement from public life in 1970, he and his wife Paula moved to Sde Boker, a kibbutz in the Negev, where he lived until his death in 1973. He and his wife are buried nearby, on a hilltop ridge overlooking the desert that he loved. The furnishings, books and clothes in Ben-Gurion’s modest kibbutz home have been preserved exactly as they were when David and Paula lived there.
Including Independence Hall, Kfar Vitkin and Sde Boker on your tour of Israel will make the life of Israel’s first prime minister all the more meaningful.