David Ben-Gurion

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In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.

David Ben-Gurion (16 October 18861 December 1973) was the first Prime Minister of Israel. He was a leading Zionist campaigner before the establishment of the Jewish state, and played an instrumental role in Israel when the British Mandate in Palestine ended. He carried Israel through the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and lead the country in its first years of existence, not retiring until 1970.

Quotes[edit]

Everybody sees a difficulty in the question of relations between Arabs and Jews. But not everybody sees that there is no solution to this question.
Under no circumstances must we touch land belonging to fellahs or worked by them.
There is enough room in the country for ourselves and the Arabs.
The State of Israel is prepared to make its contribution in a concerted effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.
We consider that the United Nations' ideal is a Jewish ideal.
To maintain the status quo will not do. We have set up a dynamic State, bent upon creation and reform, building and expansion.
We need to anticipate the character of the times, discern embryonic forms emergent or renewed, and clear the path for circumstantial change.
We kept to our dedication and our missions. By these will the State be judged, by the moral character it imparts to its citizens, by the human values determining its inner and outward relations, and by its fidelity, in thought and act, to the supreme behest: "and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Here is crystallized the eternal law of Judaism, and all the written ethics in the world can say no more.
Unless we show the Arabs that there is a high price to pay for murdering Jews, we won't survive.
The most dangerous enemy to Israel’s security is the intellectual inertia of those who are responsible for security.
If an expert says it can't be done, get another expert.
  • Everybody sees a difficulty in the question of relations between Arabs and Jews. But not everybody sees that there is no solution to this question. No solution! There is a gulf, and nothing can bridge it… We, as a nation, want this country to be ours; the Arabs, as a nation, want this country to be theirs.
    • Written statement (June 1919), as quoted in Time magazine (24 July 2006)
  • Under no circumstances must we touch land belonging to fellahs or worked by them. Only if a fellah leaves his place of settlement, should we offer to buy his land, at an appropriate price.
    • Written statement (1920), as quoted in Teveth, Shabtai (1985), Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs: From Peace to War, Oxford University Press .
  • We do not wish, we do not need to expel the Arabs and take their place. All our aspirations are built upon the assumption — proven throughout all our activity in the Land — that there is enough room in the country for ourselves and the Arabs.
    • Letter to his son Amos (5 October 1937), as quoted in Teveth, Shabtai, Ben Gurion: The Burning Ground ; and Karsh, Efraim (2000), Fabricating Israeli History: The 'New Historians' ; this has been extensively misquoted as "[We] must expel Arabs and take their places" after appearing in this form in Morris, Benny (1987), The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947–1949, Cambridge University Press, p. 25 .
  • The acceptance of partition does not commit us to renounce Transjordan: one does not demand from anybody to give up his vision. We shall accept a state in the boundaries fixed today, but the boundaries of Zionist aspirations are the concern of the Jewish people and no external factor will be able to limit them.
    • Speech in 1937, accepting a British proposal for partition of Palestine which created a potential Jewish majority state, as quoted in New Outlook (April 1977)
  • "The debate has not been for or against the indivisibility of Eretz Israel. No Zionist can forgo the smallest portion of Eretz Israel. The Debate was over which of two routes would lead quicker to the common goal."
    • As quoted in Chomsky, Noam, 1999 .
  • "A partial Jewish State is not the end, but only the beginning. … I am certain that we well not be prevented from settling in the other parts of the country, either by mutual agreements with our Arab neighbors or by some other means. . . [If the Arabs refuse] we shall have to speak to them in another language. But we shall only have another language if we have a state."
    • As quoted in Chomsky, Noam, 1999 .
  • In our political argument abroad, we minimize Arab opposition to us. But let us not ignore the truth among ourselves. I insist on the truth, not out of respect for scientific but political realities. The acknowledgement of this truth leads to inevitable and serious conclusions regarding our work in Palestine… let us not build on the hope the terrorist gangs will get tired. If some get tired, others will replace them.
    A people which fights against the usurpation of its land will not tire so easily... it is easier for them to continue the war and not get tired than it is for us... The Palestinian Arabs are not alone. The Syrians are coming to help. From our point of view, they are strangers; in the point of law they are foreigners; but to the Arabs, they are not foreigners at all … The centre of the war is in Palestine, but its dimensions are much wider. When we say that the Arabs are the aggressors and we defend ourselves — this is only half the truth. As regards our security and life we defend ourselves and our moral and physical position is not bad. We can face the gangs... and were we allowed to mobilize all our forces we would have no doubts about the outcome... But the fighting is only one aspect of the conflict which is in its essence a political one. And politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves. Militarily, it is we who are on the defensive who have the upper hand but in the political sphere they are superior. The land, the villages, the mountains, the roads are in their hands. The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country, while we are still outside. They defend bases which are theirs, which is easier than conquering new bases... let us not think that the terror is a result of Hitler's or Mussolini's propaganda — this helps but the source of opposition is there among the Arabs.
    • Address at the Mapai Political Committee (7 June 1938) as quoted in Flapan, Simha, 1979 .
  • Referring to Palestinian refugees: "We must do everything in our power to ensure that they never return."
    • Address at the Mapai Political Committee (7 June 1938) as quoted in Feuerlicht, Roberta, 1983 .
  • Terrorism benefits the Arabs, it may lay waste the Yishuv and shake Zionism. But to follow in the Arabs' footsteps and ape their deeds is to be blind to the gulf between us. Our aims and theirs run counter: methods calculated to further theirs, are ruinous to us.
    • "On three fronts" (3 August 1938) as quoted in Rebirth and Destiny of Israel, New York: Philosophical Library, 1954, p. 91 .
  • From Jewish terrorism against Arabs it is a short step to Jewish terrorism against Jews.
    • "On three fronts" (3 August 1938) as quoted in Rebirth and Destiny of Israel, New York: Philosophical Library, 1954, p. 91 .
  • We must support the army as though there were no White Paper, and fight the White Paper as though there were no war.
    • Statement (12 September 1939), quoted in Teveth, p. 717, Shabtai (1987), Ben-Gurion: The Burning Ground, 1886–1948 .
    • Variants:
    • Fight the war as if there was no White Paper, and the White Paper as if there was no war.
      • As quoted in A History of Palestine from 135 A.D. to Modern Times (1949) by James William Parkes, p. 342
    • "We shall fight the War as if there was no White Paper, and the White Paper, as if there was no War."
      • As quoted in Pioneer (1968) by Deborah Dayan, p. 83
  • We accepted the UN resolution, but the Arabs did not. They are preparing to make war on us. If we defeat them and capture western Galilee or territory on both sides of the road to Jerusalem, these areas will become part of the state. Why should we obligate ourselves to accept boundaries that in any case the Arabs don't accept?
  • We extend the hand of peace and good-neighborliness to all the States around us and to their people, and we call upon them to cooperate in mutual helpfulness with the independent Jewish nation in its Land. The State of Israel is prepared to make its contribution in a concerted effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.
    • Israel's Proclamation of Independence, read on (14 May 1948)
  • Even amidst the violent attacks launched against us for months past, we call upon the sons of the Arab people dwelling in Israel to keep the peace and to play their part in building the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its institutions, provisional and permanent.
    • Israel's Proclamation of Independence, read on (14 May 1948)
  • I have just come back from the internment camps of Europe where I looked on the survivors of the Nazi charnel houses. I was in Dachau and Belsen. I saw chambers where hundreds of Jews were throttled every day. They were brought naked, as if to bathe, and the Nazis would peer through peepholes and watch them writhing in their death agonies.
    • An address at Hebrew University (28 November 1945), as quoted in Rebirth and Destiny of Israel (1954), p. 151
  • Our code must be framed to speed the absorption of immigrants into our economy, culture and society; to fuse the returning tribes into a homogeneous national and cultural unit; to forward our physical and moral healing and the cleansing of our lives from the trivia and dross which gathered upon us in dependence and exile. To maintain the status quo will not do. We have set up a dynamic State, bent upon creation and reform, building and expansion. Laws which lag behind development, merely a digest of experience and the lessons of the past, are useless to us. We need to anticipate the character of the times, discern embryonic forms emergent or renewed, and clear the path for circumstantial change.
    • Rebirth and Destiny of Israel (1954), p. 419; a portion of this paragraph has sometimes been misquoted as: "To maintain the status quo will not do. We have to set up a dynamic state bent upon expansion."
  • We have rebelled against all controls and religions, all laws and judgments which the mighty sought to foist upon us. We kept to our dedication and our missions. By these will the State be judged, by the moral character it imparts to its citizens, by the human values determining its inner and outward relations, and by its fidelity, in thought and act, to the supreme behest: "and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Here is crystallized the eternal law of Judaism, and all the written ethics in the world can say no more. The State will be worthy of its name only if its systems, social and economic, political and legal, are based upon these imperishable words. They are more than a formal precept which can be construed as passive or negative: not to deprive, not to rob, not to oppress, not to hurt.
    • Rebirth and Destiny of Israel (1954), p. 419.
  • "What matters is not what the goyim say, but what the Jews do."
    • An "oft-repeated credo" according to the "Windsor Star - Dec 3, 1973 and repeated in various newspapers (with minor variations) including the Jerusalem post (May 22,2009) "It doesn't matter what the goyim say, but what the Jews do"
  • In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.
    • Interview on CBS, (5 October 1956)
    • Variant: Anyone who doesn't believe in miracles isn't a realist.
      • As quoted in Israel : Years of Crisis Years of Hope (1973) by Roman Frister, p. 45
  • I was in Dachau and Belsen. I saw chambers where hundreds of Jews were put to death every day. … I saw the gallows in Belsen where Jews were hanged each Jewish holy day, while the rest were paraded to witness the ghastly punishments of men who had perhaps come a few minutes late to their daily grind. … It is beyond mortal power to bring back to life six million who were burned, asphyxiated and buried alive by the Nazis. But our six million brothers and sisters who went to their deaths have bequeathed us a sacred injunction: to prevent such a disaster overtaking the Jewish peoples in the future and to do so by the Jewish people being an independent people in its own land, capable of resisting any foe or enemy by its own strength.
    • Letter to an unnamed American friend, as quoted in David Ben-Gurion, in His Own Words (1969) edited by Amram M. Ducovny, p. 57 - 60; similar remarks appeared in an address at Hebrew University (28 November 1945)
  • We will make a great and awful mistake if we fail to settle Hebron, neighbor and predecessor of Jerusalem, with a large Jewish settlement, constantly growing and expanding, very soon. This will also be a blessing to the Arab neighbors. Hebron is worthy to be Jerusalem's sister.
  • Yet for many of us, anti-Semitic feeling had little to do with our dedication [to Zionism]. I personally never suffered anti-Semitic persecution. Plonsk was remarkably free of it, or at least the Jews felt well protected in the cocoon of their community life. Nevertheless, and I think this very significant, it was Plonsk that sent the highest proportion of Jews to Eretz Israel from any town in Poland of comparable size. We emigrated not for negative reasons of escape but for the positive purpose of rebuilding a homeland, a place where we wouldn't be perpetual strangers and that through our toil would become irrevocably our own. Life in Plonsk was peaceful enough. There were three main communities: Russians, Jews and Poles. Each lived apart from the others. The Russians as the occupiers kept a firm hand on the civil administration. There were no Polish or Jewish officials. Officials or the police almost never interfered in dealings between Jewish and Polish communities. They disliked both equally and took an aloof attitude to the town's day-to-day life. The number of Jews and Poles in the city were roughly equal, about five thousand each. The Jews, however, formed a compact, centralized group occupying the innermost districts whilst the Poles were more scattered, living in outlying areas and shading off into the peasantry. Consequently, when a gang of Jewish boys met a Polish gang the latter would almost inevitably represent a single suburb and thus be poorer in fighting potential than the Jews who even if their numbers were initially fewer could quickly call on reinforcements from the entire quarter. Far from being afraid of them, they were rather afraid of us. In general, however, relations were amicable, though distant.
    • Memoirs : David Ben-Gurion (1970), p. 36
  • The assets of the Jewish National Home must be created exclusively through our own work, for only the product of the Hebrew labor can serve as the national estate.
    • As quoted in Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs : From Peace to War (1985) by Shabtai Teveth, p. 66
  • If I knew that it was possible to save all the children of Germany by transporting them to England, and only half by transferring them to the Land of Israel, I would choose the latter, for before us lies not only the numbers of these children but the historical reckoning of the people of Israel.
  • Let me first tell you one thing: It doesn't matter what the world says about Israel; it doesn't matter what they say about us anywhere else. The only thing that matters is that we can exist here on the land of our forefathers. And unless we show the Arabs that there is a high price to pay for murdering Jews, we won't survive.
    • As quoted by Ariel Sharon, in the documentary The 50 Years War : Israel & The Arabs (1999), this advice was given to him by Ben-Gurion after the controversial raid on Qibya.
  • Regarding the Galilee, Mr. [Moshe] Sharett already told you that about 100,000 Arabs still now live in the pocket of Galilee. Let us assume that a war breaks out. Then we will be able to cleanse the entire area of Central Galilee, including all its refugees, in one stroke. In this context let me mention some mediators who offered to give us the Galilee without war. What they meant was the populated Galilee. They didn’t offer us the empty Galilee, which we could have only by means of a war. Therefore if a war is extended to cover the whole of Palestine, our greatest gain will be the Galilee. It is because without any special military effort which might imperil other fronts, only by using the troops already assigned for the task, we could accomplish our aim of cleansing the Galilee.
  • Um-Shmoom.
    • Transliteration of Hebrew statement meaning "The UN—Blah!", quoted in Israel : From War to Peace?: The First Hundred Years (2000) by Efraim Karsh, p. 40
  • The most dangerous enemy to Israel’s security is the intellectual inertia of those who are responsible for security.
    • Quoted in Supreme Command : Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime (2002) by Eliot A. Cohen, p. 172
  • If an expert says it can't be done, get another expert.
    • As quoted in Words from the Wise : Over 6,000 of the Smartest Things Ever Said (2007) by Rosemarie Jarski, p. 170


Disputed[edit]

  • Anyone who believes you can't change history has never tried to write his memoirs.
    • Attributed to Ben-Gurion in A Call to Action : The Handbook to Unite and Ignite America's Betrayed and Imperiled Public (2004) by A. T. Theodore, p. 6, but earlier published as a saying of unknown authorship in Uncommon Sense : The World's Fullest Compendium of Wisdom (1987) by Joseph Telushkin, p. 204


Misattributed[edit]

  • I fight, therefore I exist.
    • No clear citations of this to Ben-Gurion have been located. A very early variant of this idea (which plays upon the statement of René Descartes "Cogito ergo sum" — "I think, therefore I exist") is found in Die Weimarer Reichsverfassung (1922) by Leo Wittmayer, p. 255, a work about the Weimar Constitution, where Wittmayer speaks against the attitude, while stating it in Latin: "bello ergo sum".

Quotes about Ben-Gurion[edit]

  • One day, or rather night, in 1956 I sat up at his [Ben-Gurion's] house till three in the morning. That night, a beautiful summer night, we had a forthright discussion on the Arab problem. "I don't understand your optimism," Ben-Gurion declared. "Why should the Arabs make peace? If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country. Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We come from Israel, it's true, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that? They may perhaps forget in one or two generations' time, but for the moment there is no chance. So it's simple: we have to stay strong and maintain a powerful army. Our whole policy is there. Otherwise the Arabs will wipe us out. I'll be seventy years old soon. Well, Nahum, if you asked me whether I shall die and be buried in a Jewish State I would tell you Yes; in ten years, fifteen years, I believe there will still be a Jewish State. But ask me whether my son Amos, who will be fifty at the end of this year, has a chance of dying and being buried in a Jewish State, and I would answer: fifty-fifty." "But how can you sleep with that prospect in mind and be PM of Israel too?" I responded. "Who says I sleep?" was Ben-Gurion's simple reply. That was Ben-Gurion all over: he had told me that so as to show me how well he knew in his heart that Israel could not exist without peace with the Arabs, but his stubborn, aggressive unbending character prevented him from following what his own intelligence told him. The best proof of that is that having lost his grip on power his intelligence reasserted itself; he even became a 'Goldmannite', declaring that all the occupied territories except Jerusalem should be restored. On this point I am in agreement with him: Israel must keep Jerusalem.
    • Nahum Goldmann, in The Jewish Paradox : A Personal Memoir of Historic Encounters that Shaped the Drama of Modern Jewry (1978), as translated from the French by Steve Cox, pp 99-100 ISBN 0-448-15166-9 . One quote appearing here has sometimes been given erroneously as "That is natural: they think we have taken their country." The original "C'est normal; nous avons pris leur pays." is properly translated as "That is natural: we have taken their country".

External links[edit]

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