Ben-Gurion: Father of Modern Israel (Jewish Lives)

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Each has received a new biography that offers vastly different portrayals of its subject and his political foil. At the same time, Ben-Gurion was a pragmatist, willing to adjust his pro-Labor principles for the greater cause of Israel. After his self-imposed exile at Kibbutz Sde Boker in the s, Ben-Gurion returned to political life and got caught up in Labor Party infighting.

Like Winston Churchill, Shapira writes, Ben-Gurion was at his best when pushed by historical circumstances. Several lives were lost in the ensuing violence; additional deaths were averted only because Begin ordered his troops not to fire back. At other times, however, Gordis overreaches in trying to deflect blame from his subject.

David Ben-Gurion - Prime Minister - Biography

Despite their political and personal differences, however, Ben-Gurion and Begin also shared some intriguing similarities. Although he had a reputation for unstinting devotion to principles, Begin was a compromiser, no more so than when he made historic peace with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in the late s. After spending an entire year in Thessaloniki, Ben Gurion decided to travel to the heart of Ottoman politics in Istanbul with his friend Yitzhak Ben-Zvi; the entry requirements of Istanbul University during this period required passing a test in Ottoman Turkish as well as Ottoman literature, geography, history and pre-law.

The director of the law school was the individual in charge of organising the entry of students into these examinations - yet he could not believe that Ben Gurion had succeeded in learning Turkish in eight months, and he congratulated him for his efforts and hard work. Ben Gurion would succeed in passing the examinations, but further difficulties awaited him: namely, that the Turkish government imposed a requirement on university students that they enter military service first before entering university.

Yet Ben Gurion was able to solve the issue, before coming against two further problems: namely, obtaining a permit to study and live. Again however, Ben Gurion was able to solve the two obstacles through employing a local lawyer. At the time, the First World War was iminent. Ben Gurion noticed that Ottoman soldiers, despite their exertion in war, did not deploy their frustrations against the people in Istanbul, by contrast to his previous experience and observations of Russian troops.

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He thus became convinced that the news he used to hear of Turks while in Russia were false, proceeding to take it upon himself to respond to the false allegations circulating around Turks by declaring:. I did not witness such a scene in Russia where soldiers pass through the markets of Istanbul without causing any damage; the situation was very different in Russia, whereby the soldiers vented and emptied their anger at the people when passing through the markets, with blood spilt of these Russian soldiers who are described by Russian newspapers as tough and savage on the frontlines.

In April , the universities began to teach in private homes, and Ben Gurion was required to obtain a medical document proving that he was healthy, as well as a document proving that he had taken a vaccination from the government in Istanbul in order for his payment of university tuition installments to be accepted - before falling ill during this period because of the weather and climate in Istanbul.

~ Also in this issue ~

Before the exams were held in July, Ben Gurion would participate in a conference held in Vienna on Zionism. As for his examination results, he would achieve a full mark 10 out of 10 in civil rights, penal law, administrative law as well as politics, economics and finance, while receiving a mark of 9. University lectures would finally resume in November, with news of reforms being undertaken in the Law Faculty reaching Ben Gurion through newspapers.

Accordingly, the subjects of Roman Law, Philosophy of Law, Contemporary Law and Forensic Medicine medical jurisprudence were added during the new academic term. Furthermore, a new Jewish teacher was hired. However, when classes began Ben Gurion would be surprised to find two new subjects that he was unaware of, namely Inheritance and Public Rights. When Ben Gurion realised that he could not learn Roman law without learning the language with the subject forming the mainstay and foundation of modern Western law , he asked his father to send him a Russian-Latin dictionary, a book on Latin Grammar, an explanatory guide in Russian and a Latin reading book.

The Hope: David Ben-Gurion

Because of his confidence in his French, Ben Gurion would require only a few weeks to learn Latin, passing with excellence his exams in with full marks in the subject of Islamic law. The circumstances of the Ottoman state during its last few years, especially during the First World War and indeed, even for years beforehand, ensured its failure to realise the dangers of Jewish migration to Palestine either through Turkey or through Ottoman ports both land and sea. Even if it did know of these migration waves, the state did not realise its dangers towards the future of Palestine, as the Ottoman state considered Palestine first and foremost as part of its territory, thus allowing its citizens to move through and within it without restraints.

Ben-Gurion: Father of Modern Israel

Jewish students used to travel on a student discount to Jaffa on a Russian ship; on their way to Palestine came the news of the declaration of war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia on the 28th of July - to be soon joined with another piece of news, the killing of Jim Jors. The next day, Germany would declare war on Russia, and would be joined with the entry of the Ottoman Empire into the war in October - placing the Jews of Palestine in a difficult situation, as most of them were Russian citizens who feared that they would be forcibly displaced by the war.

Subsequently, Ben Gurion and Ben-Zvi would undertake a decision for Jews to request Ottoman citizenship as a result of the persecution of Jews in the Russian Empire, to form a Jewish military unit to defend Jerusalem in the event that it came under siege, and for this military unit to train in the garden of one of the Russian churches.

After this news reached the Ottoman military commander Djemal Pasha, he ordered the dismantling of the military unit and arrived in Jerusalem. Here, one of the Jewish leaders conducted an interview in French with Djemal Pasha, and the latter would provide the Jewish interviewer with a document written in Turkish to deliver to Ben Gurion. According to Ben Gurion, the deliverer of the message did not understand its contents as he could not read Turkish, leaving Ben Gurion in a state of shock at what was written within it: praise of the Jews and recounting the good treatment by the Turks of the community, while affirming that the Jews in Palestine were Zionists, and Zionists were enemies of the state.

Thus his new name was appropriate in more ways than one: as Joseph Ben-Gurion had been a military leader in first-century Jerusalem, so David Joseph Ben-Gurion aspired to be a military leader in the 20th-century city.


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Apart from visits home and an interlude in Istanbul to study law, Ben-Gurion stayed in Jerusalem until deported to Egypt in by the Ottoman authorities, who were allied with Germany in the First World War. While he awaited deportation, he met a Jerusalemite Arab, Yahia, with whom he had studied in Istanbul. In his mind they were close friends. For years to come he told the story of one of their conversations, and it provides an important insight into his thinking about the Arabs.


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  • Peace agreements with the Arab population were only a means to an end. Because both peoples wanted Palestine, he believed that there could only be conflict until one side won decisively. At the time, Palestine was a British mandate set up by the League of Nations, but a British Royal Commission report recommended partitioning the land into an Arab and a Jewish state.

    Although Ben-Gurion had lost faith in the British over the years, his pragmatism led him to believe that a Jewish state of any size could become a power base for Zionist goals. The rest will come in the course of time. It must come. After the war, international opinion swung in favor of a Jewish homeland, especially when the full horror of the Holocaust became known.

    But by then Ben-Gurion had become convinced that whatever form the Jewish entity would take, the Jews were alone as a people. The Jewish forces retaliated, and within a few months the Jewish paramilitary force Haganah, on orders from Ben-Gurion, began expelling Palestinians from entire villages and bringing in Jews to take their place.

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