David Ben-Gurion offers a secular definition of Judaism, arguing that God did not choose them; rather, they chose Him - and themselves - Peter Myers, January 1, 2004; update January 3, 2004. My comments are shown {thus}. Write to me at contact.html.

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David Ben-Gurion



{p. 7} PREFACE {by Abraham F. Rad}

'Words without deeds,' says David Ben-Gurion, 'are nothing.' And he adds: 'One must show the way by example.'

If anyone has set an example in the conduct of his life, Ben-Gurion is certainly that person. He has lived his thoughts in his day-to-day actions and he has devoted his entire existence to a single end: the redemption of the Jewish people in their ancient home of Israel.

Now that he can look back over sixty years in this country and to a life of Jewish activism that encompasses eight decades - four-fifths of a century! - the thoughts of Ben- Gurion must claim the attention of all who have shared in the Jewish experience. But though he takes the Jews as his subject in this book, he carries his wisdom to a plane of universality. Ben-Gurion likes to invoke the Prophet Isaiah who enjoined the Jews to be 'a light unto the nations'. Here, he himself has kept faith with this injunction.

{p. 8} Ben-Gurion writes of Moses whom he calls by his Hebrew name of Moshe. He says that Moshe gave the Jews a definition of their mission, a reason for their presence as a people. And he adds that today, 3,300 years later, this definition is as meaningful as when first formulated. In other words, all things in life change yet certain ideas and principles by the truth they embody abide for all time. ...

ABRAHAM P. RAD Honorary Chairman Israel Ccmmnications Center, Jerusalem


CHILD of the Polish ghetto, immigrant to Palestine, farm labourer and pioneer, political organizer, statesman, founder of the Israel Defence Forces and their first commander-in-chief, kibbutznik, scholar, David Ben-Gurion has in the course of eighty-odd years lived many lives.

Politically, he stands among the great of his time as a shaper of history. Like all larger-than-life leaders he has known adulation and hatred, has been followed and denied. But he has marked the twentieth century with his presence and, so doing, has changed the lives of many.

Principal mobilizer of the Jewish consciousness after the Second World War and architect of Israel's re-birth in nationhood, Ben-Gurion guided his country as its first Prime Minister through fifteen crucial years. More than any other individual, he bears responsibility for defending the young state against the onslaught of seven Arab armies, for shaping the machinery of government, establishing the educational system and bringing into existence many other institutions vital to national life. His efforts were instrumental in advancing agriculture, the extraordinary fertilization of an arid soil that is Israel's pride, and in maintaining the security of his people against their neighbours' peremlial hostility.

Over and above his actions, Ben-Gurion has become through a lifetime of single-minded devotion to Israel's cause a symbol of the continuing struggle to provide the

{p. 10} Jewish people with a national home. In the Ben-Gurion philosophy, Israel did not spring magically to life in 1948 by act of the United Nations. This legalization merely confirmed the reality of a Jewish prcsence brought about by laborious struggle, a struggle that must go on. The House of Israel, according to Bcn-Gurion, has been and must continue to be built where nothing stood before, by the toil of Jewish hands and brains, defended with Jewish blood, affirming a will to survive beyond repudiation and holocaust, a living example of the pioneer virtues for all mankind.

In daily life a modest man who opposes protocol with the informality of the farmer-pioneer, Ben-Gurion's words and deeds have always provoked thought, excitement, controversy no matter how softly spoken or unobtrusively executed. His retirement from government in June 1963 is a case in point. It has been dcscribed as spectacularly unspectacular. He simply announced his departure at a routine Cabinet meeting and left next day for a Negev kibbutz in that same desert wilderness of Zin where Moses wandered with the children of Israel four thousand years ago. There, as a member of the farming collective of Sde Boker, which in a decade has created a green, arable plateau from what was a waterless sand-dune, Ben-Gurion took up a new assignment: the tending of the sheep.

Today, he still lives at Sde Boker, occupying a clapboard bungalow and sharing the spare life of the farmers. He no longer shepherds but is writing the history of the Jewish nation from the first wave of Zionist immigrants in the 1870s to the present. He is doing this, he says, so that the younger generation will realize that what has been accomplished up to now is only a beginning, 'and a beginning is not enough !'

The text of this book is based on a series of interviws with Ben-Gurion during the filming of the Covenant Communications Corporation production Forty-Two Six, the story of

{p. 11} his life and times. While the script of Forty-Two Six was in preparation Ben-Gurion sat with the production team for a six-hour filmed interview. Cinemascope cameras were transported to the kibbutz from London, technicians brought in from Jerusalem. The library of the Teachers' College of the Negev, an institution which Ben-Gurion helped found and which stands adjacent to Sde Boker itself, was transformed into a studio. Filming occurred for two hour periods on three successive nights, after the heat of the desert sun had abated. Ben-Gurion spoke on a variety of subjects, from his own life to the future of the Jewish People and their mission in Israel. It was his evocation of Isaiah's statement in XLII, 6 of the latter's Biblical Prophecy that the Jews must serve as 'a light unto the nations', a model of wisdom and probity, which inspired the production's title.

The interview constituted a valuable working brief, a measure of authenticity for the concepts presented in Forty-Two Six. It also served as 'raw' material for a number of subsidiary projects.

But in its own right, the long exchange with Ben-Gurion stands as a remarkable document. It is a summing-up by a statesman who is also a man of reflection, well aware of shades of meaning and the changing view that time brings of one's own work. It embodies a distillate of thoughts by one who today can review with detachment the events of a long life, the high points of which gave impetus to realizing the two-millennia old Jewish dream of gathering in the exiles and re-building a nation.

What follows is a selection of Ben-Gurion's own words.


{p. 15} {editor's comment} 'I see the man through the cause.' Such is General Moshe Dayan's assessnlent of Ben-Gurion. The cause is and always has been Israel, a centrfugal core round which the ideas and actions of a totally dedicated personality have revolved. Israel itself in this context is the fulfilment of a militant Jewishness that transcends religion yet derives its vision from Torah, its strength from the fact of Jewish identity.

With the Jews, therefore, with what they are in light of the past and present and with what they seek to be, this account must begin. Here is Ben-Gurion's view of a people he describes as 'difficult unto themselves' but specially called upon by their own prophets to set an example for humanity.

{end of editor's comment}

THE Jews are sometimes like the stars, and sometimes they are as dust. I suppose that is true of mankind in general, and of all individuals. Nevertheless, it is what the Talmud specifically says of us. And as a people we do run to extremes.

The best among us have reached very high towards the stars. The worst have fallen exceedingly low because they have had to deny the Jewish ethic which emphasizes moral consciousness and by so doing closes the door on all excuses regarding the portent of one's actions. The traditional Prussian claim to innocence on the grounds of obeying orders is very un-Jewish. For us, right and wrong are between the individual and his own conscience. The Jew who commits evil

{p. 16} must, therefore, act in defiance of what his inner being affirms as right. So he carries an extra burden of wickedness.

{What then of the cruelties of the Israeli army, inflicted on Palestinians?}

Moreover, the Jewish moral code unlike the Christian one doesn't tell its adherents 'you should do this or that.' It simply define what one mustn't do, leaving positive actions to the discretion of each man. The Bible, our Bible which is the Old Testament, makes no injunctions such as: 'Be wise' or 'Be virtuous.' Rather, it cautions that: 'Thou shalt not kill', and 'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife.' Therefore, to be evil the Jew must go beyond action and transgress against fundamental negatives. That is being wicked indeed.

Equally, to be virtuous it isn't enough merely to avoid evil. One has to take a further step by making a positive contribution to the human condition.

I think this Jewish emphasis on negative rules and positive virtue accounts for a certain drive towards achievement and for a highly developed sense of justice, or rather of injustice. The Jews have always had a tendency to become passionately committed in any spiritual war against injustice, not only when it has concerned them directly but in the name of mankind as a whole. Where there are Jews, there are people fighting man's inhumanity to man, whether this be racial discrimination against the black race in America or intellectual freedom in the Soviet Union (I am thinking specifically of the imprisoned writer Yuri Daniel who has dared to criticize the present regime. There are many of his calibre I could name). Is this not reaching for the stars? I believe so.

{Ben Gurion advocated "Convergence" between the USSR & the US, towards World Government. Convergence meant getting rid of Stalinism in the USSR - restoring it to Trotskyism - and securing Zionist domination in the US: convergence.html.}

Everything we are as Jews, including our drive occasionally to grope beyond traditional bounds, comes directly from the Bible. In size we are nothing as a people and never have been. Had we not been children of the Book, who would have heard of us? We should be lucky to occupy a mere footnote in history. As things stand, a large part of history is our doing. We have never been far removed from the mainstream, often unhappily so and at peril.

I am always astonished at the Jewish contribution to human

{p. 17} thought. So many remarkable thinkers have been Jews. Their work and ideas form vast frames of reference that influence the lives of men everywhere, even when they are not specifically aware of this being so or disagree with the concepts involved. One can loathe or passionately adhere to Marxist doctrine but one cannot deny the impact of Karl Marx's thought on the world. Equally so with Freudianism and Freud.

When I use the star metaphor I am thinking of one who literally bears responsibility for humanity's progress towards them in this century. I mean, of course, Albert Einstein. So far as I know he remains the greatest scientific theoretician of our age. It was my privilege to have had a personal contact with him and, in matters outside the realm of science, to have experienced the nobility of the man.

{Note that Ben-Gurion was pro-Marx but anti-Stalin, placing him in the Trotskyist camp.}

{Ben-Gurion trots out Marx, Freud and Einstein again on p. 21 below. Are they the new "holy trinity", destroying all traditional cultures? einstein.html} ...

{p. 18} The rebirth of Israel was no overnight affair. Nor was it a question of an international legal arrangement. It started in earnest one hundred years ago, in the 1870s when the first pioneers left the rclative security of their lives in Eastern Europe and Russia and came here determined to create a Jewish national home on the foundations of the ancient one. Of course, there had always been a Jewish population here and Jewish communitics in the area called Palestine. But Israel as a nation was the work of three generations. It continues today, far from complete, especially and in its purest form down in the desert where I live and where we have had to do everything ourselves, from scratch.

But let us return to the intellectual restlessness of the Jews, their long-standing resentment against injustice however abstract or removed from themselves, their almost obsessional drive to search for truth. As I have indicated, these traits are one with the preoccupations of the Bible. For the Bible and for the Jews ever afterwards, both as individuals and as a people, the question of man's mission on earth has been paramount. The answer seems to be in function of what is conceived as man's highest calling, his creativity.

In this respect, the Book of Genesis is most revealing. Christian Gospel begins with the birth of Jesus; the Koran with Mohammed. Torah, however, doesn't start either with Moses or even with Abraham, the original Jew, the man who travelled from Chaldea into unknown territory beyond the Euphrates river thereby becoming a pioneer and the first 'Hebrew' or 'man who crossed over' the river. Torah begins with Creation and we are told that six days after conceiving the light, the grass and all the animals, on the final day of genesis a man and a woman were made and they were in the image of God. Of course, speaking personally as one who is non-religious, I believe that theology reverses the true sequence of events. To me it is clear that God was 'created' in

{p. 19} the image of man as the latter's explanation to himself of the mystery of his own earthly presence. More of that in another chapter.

{If there's no Chooser - no Yahweh - how can there be a Chosen People?}

The Bible, taking man as deriving from God, defines Adam as God's surrogate on earth. God surpasses man and the latter cannot even conceive Him as a whole. Yet, we are told, God is the embodiment of love, justice, mercy. When Torah speaks of man being in His image it means he must strive to possess these qualities.

More than all these things, God's most remarkable trait is his creativeness, whence man himself has sprung - according to the Book. Whether he was meant to or not, man from Adam's time has struggled to share in this creativity. This seems to me the crux of the story. God does the impossible, man strives to do the seemingly impossible. He goes to the moon. He also createcs a 'land of milk and honey' out of so apparently barren a wilderness as the Negev. This is sharing directly in the adventure of creation.

God also made Eden. But that wasn't so much to man's taste. Man couldn't bear to live in idleness so he contrived to get himself evicted from Paradise and since then has attempted to work his own magic. Often enough he has merely succeeded in creating Hell. Occasionally, and I believe we are doing this here in Israel, he has opened the way to a burgeoning of new life.

From the Bible, therefore, stems Jewish man's concept of himself, an image he has passed on to the whole of western civilization through the daughter religions of Islam and Christianity.

{But the Jewish religion was not "the first", as Ben-Gurion says below. The authors and editors of the Bible drew on Babylonian ideas, Akhnaten's monotheism, and the Zoroastrian religion, the religion of the First Persian Empire and its successor the Parthian Empire. The Jewish community in Babylon was especially subject to that influence: zoroaster-judaism.html}

However, the fact that the Book of the Jews came first, before any comparable mode of belief, has its importance to our history. It was for so long unique. For centuries, for millennia it stood as the only ethic that took inspiration not from practical necessities (as did the earlier Hammurabi code, for instance) but from an ideal above and beyond human existence. This accounts both for the richness of the Jewish

{p. 20} past and also for many of our troubles. The Book has always constituted a two-edged blessing.

Following the June 1967 war, I wrote a letter to General Charles de Gaulle answering his castigation of the Jews as an 'aggressive' people. I pointed out the obvious fact that no other people has been so exiled, dispersed, hated, persecuted, harried from country to country and finally (in our own time and in supposedly civilized Europe) slaughtered en masse. During all this we neither vanished nor despaired nor assimilated but held fast to the conviction that we would some day regain our land.

{i.e. Jewish history is a history of holocausts: holocaus.html. But what is the reason? Is the persecution of Jews by the Goyim (Pagans) a testament to their Chosen-ness?}

Are our faith and our suffering unrelated? I think not. One appears to grow from the other. By the metaphysical nature of the Biblical ethic, the Jews developed a universal conscience. That is never a comfortable thing to have, partly because one cannot hope to satisfy such a conscience and it is always nagging, and partly because other men with lesser consciences are constantly being brought up short, with resentment, in their confrontations with such a phenomenon. Jesus, who certainly was afflicted with a universal conscience, found himself on the Roman cross at an early age. The Jews since their exile have suffered perpetual martyrdom.

In their worship of an invisible God, the Jews from their beginnings appeared exotic and thereby menacing to others (one is always afraid of what one doesn't understand). With a code of conduct resolutely loftier and certainly different from that of other men, worshipping a God who was universal and whose very lack of presence carried great authority as evidenced by the seriousness with which the Jews obeyed His injunctions, this small people remained apart. It sought not to evangelize or convert, merely to go its own way, disdainful even in dispersion of its surroundings. Small wonder the Jews never found a true place for themselves outside their own homeland. Small wonder, too, that others looked upon them with an initial distrust often compounded by historical events into more sinister emotions.

{p. 21} If the Bible is one main pillar holding up the Jewish ethos, the other (and equally important one) is nationhood. The uniqueness of the Jewish people and of Judaism consists in this: no other religion is connected with the physical existence of a nation. Remove Jewish history and there is no Judaism.

This explains our attachment to Israel. And to my mind it accounts for the fact that if the Bible stresses creativity, the Jews not as individuals but as Jews were, and only are, truly creative when living in their own land.

What I have called the Jewish ethic, that which we took with us into exile, has certainly been responsible for forming individuals who through the ages have made creative contributions to whatever society they happened to be living in. Those we have already mentioned (Freud, Marx, Einstein and so forth) are cases in point. But Jews as Jews made only one positive contribution. They created through the Talmud and through their traditions a sort of portable homeland that kept them together through two thousand years of wandering and eventually enabled them to return to the very land held by their ancestors.

In exile, the Jews continued to live in their hearts and minds within the bounds of a heritage tied equally to the Bible and to the physical area regarded as home. As I said, this did not endear them to others because they were perpetually different, perpetually a foreign element in any community. But the creative process that produced Torah and that was so much a part of Jewish life before exile largely dried up. It became diverted to custodial duties, to protecting what already existed. The Jews multiplied their interpretations of interpretations, and explanations of the explanations of Scripture. Spiritual life like material life became increasingly impoverished. Jewish life as such shrivelled, went into the cocoon of the ghetto civilization. And if the Jews did happen to produce some creative genius, they were quick to condemn him for 'rocking the boat' as it were. In the seventeenth century, the great philosopher Baruch Spinoza was cast out of the Jewish

{p. 22} community. He gave his wisdom to others, not in Hebrew but in a foreign tongue. The Jews lived in political, economic and spiritual isolation. It was only by the renewal of practical interest in the homeland a century ago that the Jews found scope once again for their creative power as a people.

It follows, therefore, that without a Jewish national community, without Israel, there can be no truly creative Jewish life.

Even with the best of intentions, the Jew in the Diaspora can never be exclusively a Jew, and in fact he's a Jew very little. Whether they recognize it or not, Diaspora Jews live in a permanent 'condition of exile'. I mean that they are always a minority and thus dependent on a majority beyond their capacity to control. They are torn in never-ending conflict between a desire to preserve their Jewish status, which keeps them separate, and the assimilationist pressures of the social structure. In the Diaspora, very few Jews are among those elements of the population that furnish the basic labour of society, the farmers and industrial workers. Most Jews live crowded together in the cities. Even in the United States, where the Jews form a generally prosperous community and where there is certainly no restriction of movement, they are concentrated in the six largest cities, along the Eastern seaboard, in Chicago and in Los Angeles on the West Coast. Of a population of six million, almost three million live in the greater New York area alone.

In poorer countries, the gathering of Jews in the main cities makes them economically and physically vulnerable. The recent killing of Jewish hostages in Baghdad and the continuing persecution of the city's ancient Jewish community show how readily the authorities are able to sweep down upon these people, gathered in upon themselves, huddled in a central part of the city, ripe at any moment for persecution.

Whether living in poverty, overcrowded in ghettos, or in wealth still gathered in the cities, Jews in the Diaspora have remained separate from the primary sources of vitality of any

{p. 23} people: the soil and the factories. Thus basically, no matter how comfortably off, they have lacked solid ground under their feet.

Let us take the example I know best, the Diaspora's most successful community. I am thinking of the American Jewish community with which I have had the most personal experience. I once lived in the United States for three years and I have had to travel there often to deal with its representatives.

We in Israel have a special link with American Jewry which has contributed so generously to our efforts. We are of course grateful - more than grateful.

We know also that as people, the Jews of the United States do very useful, important work in their own country and are represented in all the professions. American literature owes a big debt to Jews, especially in the twentieth century. So do the arts in general as do the law, politics and the sciences. Nevertheless, even in the United States the Jews have comparatively little representation in heavy industry, high finance, in the proletariat or in agriculture. They are not a basic element of the national economy.

Further, a Jew in America is a split person. Or, more precisely, when is he a Jew? Some are Jews one day a year, for Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement, the holiest day ofthe Jewish calendar occurring on the tenth day of the seventh month, when one fasts and prays for forgiveness of sin. On that day the synagogues are full. Other Americans attend regularly every Saturday or sometimes on Sunday as a concession to the general, non-Jewish habits of the country. Perhaps a Jew will belong to a community centre which makes him feel he is participating in a Jewish activity, or one involving other Jews. Certainly, he can often be counted on to contribute generously to Israel since Americans are a generous people.

Nine-tenths of the time, however, the Jew in the United States is living the life of any other American. And so he should be in American terms. But not in Jewish terms. ...

{p. 26} ... I was sure even then that this land would become entirely Jewish. I know we had here the ideal opportunity to prove our mettle and ourselves as Jews. There was nothing here. It was literally a forgotten corner of the Turkish Empire and of the globe. Nobody wanted it, certainly not the Palestinian Arabs who were placidly vegetating in their poverty under the Turks. Their subsequent indignation at the Jewish presence was fomented artificially by special interest groups and the propaganda machines of the surrounding Arab nations. Were the Jews to disappear from Israel, which they won't, one thing is sure. The Arabs of Palestine would have no chance for autonomy given the expansionism of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and, to a lesser degree, Lebanon. Of that one can be certain!

In any event, when I came here, no one could have cared less about the place. Anyone was free to come and create afresh.

I believed then, as I do today, that we held a clear title to this country. Not the right to take it away from others (there were no others), but the right and the duty to fill its emptiness, restore life to its barrenness, to re-create a modern version of our ancient nation. And I felt we owed this effort not only to ourselves but to the land as well.

This country has passed through many hands. It has been conquered incessantly and incessantly abandoned. It has known the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Seljukes, the Crusaders, Mamelukes, Ottoman Turks and the British, apart from ourselves and the Canaanites before us. The Canaanites exist no more. Other than they and the Jews, the land has never been a home to anyone. It has been a battlefield, conquered territory, a place to plunder, a crossroads or a grazing ground. Only the Jews have loved the land for itself, have worked it, improved it, made it theirs through their care for it. This was true two thousand years ago, it is equally true today. Israel is ours in

{p. 27} the twentieth century not because we fought wars over it (these were protective actions after the fact of our presence) but because we settled it. I have devoted my life to the act of settling this land. And as I walked through it in 1906 and 1908, I knew our labour would prevail and that one day the country would be ours.

As a corollary to the establishment of Israel, I see the re-birth of Hebrew as the Jewish national language as a great victory and a great affirmation of our link to our ancient past. The languages of exile, principally Yiddish and Ladino, are perhaps interesting in their cultural and folkloric significance. But they are languages of humiliation. Hebrew, and with it the knowledge of its greatest written works, Torah and Talmud, are the matrix in which Jewishness is embedded. These elements kept the Jews true to themselves in dispersion. Today, Hebrew in modern guise gives the nation of Israel a special distinctiveness and acts as a constant reminder of the historical heritage from which our national life derives its richness.

Outside Israel, the growth of secularism brings theJ ewish communities of the world ever closer to assimilation. Secularism is a fact of our time and since I am not religious I have no reason to deplore it. But if I'm for secularism, I'm certainly not for the ignorance that comes in its wake.

In areas where Jews are not persecuted, an increasingly high number vanish, not dramatically but passively, passing into an anonymity born of lack of conviction. Were it not for Israel's existence, we should have to resign ourselves to total assimilation within the next century. A great cultural and humanistic tradition would be lost to mankind and the Jews never would have fulfilled Isaiah's command to act as 'a light unto the nations'.

Fortunately, with Israel's presence assured, there is no danger of this happening. But even within this country secularism threatens knowledge and ignorance threatens

{p. 28} lack of interest in the essentials of the Jewish tradition. The problem becomes increasingly acute for the velocity of history grows as our technological powers augment. The world has changed in the past one hundred years more than it did in the preceeding thousand. And the momentum continues to be cumulative.

It is all the more urgent, therefore, for Jews everywhere to realize their affinity with Israel, the Bible and Hebrew, the pillars whereon the condition of being Jewish rests.

How to make this realization come about? I think the answer today is the same one we had in 1906 and in 1870: pioneering.

Pioneers are open to the accusation of being rebels, of not accepting any mode of 'normal' life since that would be too conformist. But what exactly do we mean by the term normal life? Isn't it usually taken to describe a state of inertia where all is calm? Surely that sort of normality is highly abnormal! Life, after all, is struggle. The best tool with which to combat an assimilationism born of apathy is more of the spirit that built this country.

The pioneers I joined during my first years in Israel were poor. We wore what clothing we could find and our hair was long because we had neither time nor the facilitics to cut it. But we weren't necessarily nonconformist for its own sake. We wante to create a new life, go beyond the life that already existed.

That need has remained with me ever since. I think it found its highest expression fifteen years ago when I came to the desert. The Negev is even a more dramatic challenge right now, in our time, than the pioneering of earlier days.

As to the future, if the spirit of Israel is to endure, pioneering must go on. That is another reason why Jews should come here. Not only so that they can live wholly integrated lives but to render service. We don't need newcomers in the cities where there are enough people - more than enough! We need them here, in the desert, making a fertile land from sand

{p. 29} and rock with the help of modern science, coupled to the sweat of our backs.

Pioneering is Israel's life blood, as it is the life blood of all mankind. Going to the moon and coming to the desert to plant saplings are similar acts, in my opinion. Man must reach for the stars, it is in his nature. We have seen that the Bible first defined this aspect of human existence. But the stars are only a symbol. There is much to do on earth. The Jews today have the opportunity missed by so many generations in exile. They can follow the prophets who demanded that Israel be two things: that it represent a covenant between all the Jews so as to strengthen their cohesion as a people and that its mission also be to act as an example, 'a light unto the nations', for all mankind. For me, pioneering is setting the example and there can be no higher Jewish ideal than creating from this bare, besieged little land a rich and enduring way of life that in its plentitude will never stop searching for new areas of endeavour but that will serve as a model to inspire humanity everywhere.

{p. 36} Yet for many of us, anti-Semitic feeling had little to do with our dedication. 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 police almost never interfered in dealings between the Jewish and Polish communitics. 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

{p. 37} afraid of them, they were rather afraid of us. In general, however, relations were amicable, though distant.

I must add that my father maintained very friendly ties with numbers of Polish people who consulted him professionally and who, on many occasions, indicated their trust in him. That didn't mean the population at large wasn't anti-Semitic. Most Poles, as devout Catholics, looked upon Jews as 'the murderers of Christ'. That this view had no basis in fact, historical or apocryphal, meant little. But ingrained anti-Semitism didn't prevent Poles and Russians from having their particular Jewish friends. I'm reminded of a story concerning a former mayor of Vienna during the late nineteenth century who was known as a notorious anti-Semite. Nevertheless, he cultivated the society of more than a few Jews. When someone took him up on this apparent contradiction he retorted: 'In Vienna, I decide who is a Jew!' ...

{p. 38} Uncle Tom's Cabin stirred me for different reasons. I was taken aback by the idea of slavery, that a man could exploit other men so crudely, Tom's innate nobility impressed me deeply. Slavery neither crushed him nor took away his humanity. It was easy to draw the parallel between his tale and the story of Moses who repudiated slavery for the first time in recorded history.

{What about the Palestinians?}

... My father, as I have said, wasn't devout. He did observe religious practice. But essentially he was a freethinker. Many years later, in 1925, he came to Eretz Israel and there dropped all religious observances. But when as a boy I suddenly declared my disbelief in God, father was very stern with me and insisted I go through the rituals of belief for the sake of being at one with the community.

{p. 39} ... Then, when I was fourteen, I suddenly emerged from this tunnel to throw myself heart and soul into the Zionist movement.

With two older boys, Shmuel Fuchs and Shlomo Zemach (the latter becamc one of the fulest Israeli writers of my time), I helped establish a group to teach Hebrew. We called it the Ezra Society after the great teacher who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon to rebuild the Temple. There seemed to us marked affinity between Ezra's mission and time and our own newly born hopes for Palestine.

I joined Zemach in teaching Hebrew to the poor. All children went to Cheder but the poor, as is usually the case, for one reason and another received the thin end of the cultural heritage. Our activitics met with success and we expanded operations by having the first pupils teach others. We went through the Jewish quarter teaching Hebrew to our contemporaries until the entire youth had a feel for the language. Then, the younger generation took on their parents and soon Plonsk was one of the few citics of the Diaspora where almost every family had basic fluency in Hebrew.

{p. 42} The Jews avoided Russian courts, whenever they possibly could. When legal troubles arose, they went to the rabbi who often turned over routine affairs to a mediator for preliminary elucidation. If the thing could be settled without going further and without involving the rabbi as the highest Jewish authority, then so much the better. I enjoyed this activity and the rabbis had confidence in my ability although I was only fifteen when I began mediating. I must say I never lost an opportunity to militate for Zionism.

{p. 43} ... In a dazed and shaken mood, I managed to catch the train for Odessa.

While waiting there for a ship to Jaffa, Zemach and I visited the famous Zionist leader Menahem Ussishkin.

{p. 48} But now I felt anger rising. Here I had come to build Eretz Israel and first thing, after a long journey, after turning my back on education and my father's hopes for me, after finally arriving in the land of my ancestors, I was being asked to pronounce on Marxism. I burst out: 'Go to hell with your historical materialism. I've come to Eretz Israel and you talk to me of theories. What sort of Jews can you be?' And I stormed out slamming the door.

Then and there, I decided that Jaffa was no place for me. After locating Zemach, who had extricated himself from a rival outht, I set out on foot with him for Petach Tikvah, the oldest Jewish farming settlement in the country and a three hour walk slightly inland to the north.

{p. 49} The sky was wonderful. But the rocky land yielded little. I knew from Zemach's earlier letters how hard it was to get work. Now I found out for myself that even to survive would take all the energy and ingenuity I possessed.

The Jewish farmers from whom I sought hire as a day labourer were the sons of pioneers. The example of their fathers back in the 1870s and 1890s had done much to inspire my generation. Those were the men of the First Aliyah, or 'first wave' of modern immigrants. We were the Second Aliyah. I recall the effect upon me of a letter from one of the older generation appearing in a book of Meloirs of pioneering days that I still possess. The letter was from a man named Ze'ev Dubnow and was written in 1882 in answer to his brother, a well-known Russian Jewish historian, Simeon Dubnow. ... :

The ultimate aim is to build up this land of Israel and restore to the Jews the political independence that has been taken from them for the past two thousand years. Don't laugh. This is no dream. The means of achieving it can be the setting up of villages for agriculture and crafts, the building of factories and their gradual expansion, in other words a total effort to transfer all employment and agriculture into Jewish hands. In addition, it will be necessary to train young people and the young generations of the future in the use of firearms (in the wild and free Turkish Empire anything is possible) and then ... then even I give myselfup to reveries. Then will come that glorious day of which Isaiah prophesied in his glowing message of comfort. The Jews, with weapons in their hands if

{p. 50} necessary, will announce with a loud voice that they are masters in their ancient land. It doesn't matter that this wonderful day will come only in fifty years or later. What is fifty years for such an undertaking?

Thus spoke the First Aliyah, inspiring the hopes of the Second. But in Palestine times had changed. The old pioneers ... had mostly died off ... The offspring of men like Ze'ev Dubnow ... were repelled by young newcomers like myself with our raggedy clothes, long hair and outspoken talk of socialism, collective living and the sharing of wealth.

{p. 54} My group was engaged in what we called 'the conquest of labour'. We would go out as a collective and work on land which the Jews themselves had bought and paid for through the Jewish National Fund or the Jewish Colonization Association. We would prepare a large patch of ground, make it ready for planting so that it could be settled rapidly by permanent settlers following on behind us. Then we would move off to work a new tract, perhaps a valley swamp or a boulder-strewn hillside. The idea was that we, who prepared the ground, would be permanent pioneers, moving from place to place on reclamation tasks, making the land fit for Jewish farm settlers. We had no thought at the time of becoming settlers ourselves. ...

In 1909, a similar outfit working in the Jordan valley decided to continue permanent settlement on a tract they themselves had prepared, and to continue living the collective life there. So was born kibbutz Degeniah, the first example of this unique form of social and economic organization where everyone in the community is an equal no matter what his or her task and where all share title both to the land and whatever its yield.

{More on kibbutzes at return.html}

{p. 55} ... Would not becoming permanent settlers mean being 'owner-farmers', a hated class associated in their minds with materialism and exploitation? To settle was not 'pioneering', they contended. Bussel told them this was nonsense. They were not turning themselves into plantation owners, hiring cheap Arab labour and sitting back to reap the profits. They were proposing to continue as a collective, the same as before. Everyone would go on working as he or she had done, and the land would be owned by no one individually but by all. The majority backed Bussel's idea and that is how the first communal village, which in Hebrew is 'kibbutz', began.

I do not think the pioneers of Degeniah were themselves aware that what they were creating was unique, that others would follow their pattern and their example, and that the kibbutz idea would expand into a force of prime importance in the country. Today, many of our best people are kibbutzniks. From this group come the majority of our officers, who are picked on the basis of performance and for their leadership potential. Although in the nation, the kibbutzim constitute a mninor element, their contribution to the economy is enormous, out of all proportion to their size. They are the key to Israel's agricultural productivity. Then, too, the kibbutz has evolved important provocative social practices such as having children raised together but nevertheless in close contact with their individual parents, who unlike parents elsewhere devote two to three hours each afternoon to doing nothing but being actively, completely with their children. One can say without exaggeration that the kibbutzim constitute a social experiment from which peoples everywhere can take inspiration and ideas. And they are the one true example in today's world of a democratic form of socialism, combining the most advanced economic practices with a respect for individuality

{p. 56} and the inalienable rights of every human being, that has never been attained elsewhere. {but not for Palestinians}

No one could have foreseen that this influence on Jewish and universal values would grow from the modest settlement of Degeniah on the banks of the Jordan. Only much later did we come to recognize the greatness of the blessing hidden in the seed. Perhaps even now we are witnessing a mere fraction ofthe ultimate yield. For the sake of us all, I hope so.

My group stayed working in Sejera and the surrounding area for two years. Though most of us were new to manual labour, the labour itself caused little hardship. What hurt us more was worry and lack of sleep. At night, we had to guard against marauding Arabs and the threat of attack. We were an isolated community surrounded by nomadic Bedouins. Their intent was not to hurt us or to drive us away, but plain theft. They bothered the Arab settlements as much as they did us. The villages used to hire Circassian guards to keep watch over life and property. We in Sejera, true to the idea of being dependent on no one but ourselves, resolved to organize our own defence. To do otherwise seemed an abdication of our autonomy, the potential sacrifice of freedom.

Jews did not readily take to bearing arms. As a people we have an ingrained abhorrence to violence. In the centuries of exile we were often martyred. Yet we submitted in abnegation, rarely fighting back. Our weapons were intellectual, based upon reason and persuasion. Our brains were finely attuned to dialectical argument through long study of the myriad complexitics in the Talmud, that great edifice erected during our dispersion to comment and elucidate the far greater edifice of the Bible. To take up arms seemed abnormal. It was all very well to buy land with the contributions of the mass of Jewry in the Diaspora. To cultivate that land in accordance with the pioneering ideal seemed the best way of spending one's life. But for Jews to take rifles and defend that which they had sown seemed at first as going too far.

But we knew that here in the Galilee - and the principle

{p. 57} holds true for Israel today if she is to survive, and she will - we knew there was no normality in the accepted sense of the term. We wanted to create a new life consonant with our oldest traditions as a people. This was our struggle. And to achieve that goal, we had to re-create everything from the beginning, to re-invent society. So we were prepared for blood on our hands in the name of autonomy, self-determination and self-defence.

Of course, we would fight only if attacked. But in that wild part of the country attack was inevitable. There was complete anarchy up there in the Galilee. A running battle was going on between various Arab bands, and between nomads and village folk. Defence of the settlements certainly didn't depend on the Turkish government since it had to all intents abandoned the country to its own devices. The only interest Turkey had in Palestine was the collecting of taxes, and even that its representatives didn't carry out efficiently.

The Circassians were good village guards but, for the reasons stated, we evolved our own defence organization called Hashomer, or 'The Watchmen'.

The story of how a band of apprentice farmers with a handful of ancient firearms gradually grew through many adventures and despite all manner of setbacks and vicissitudes into the Army of Israel is fascinating in its own right and I shall touch on it in another chapter.

{p. 58} ... That same day the Arabs killed a Jewish carpenter named Shimon Melamed. It was then I realized the wider implications of this small clash. Sooner or later, Jews and Arabs would fight over this land, a tragedy since intelligence and good will could have avoided all bloodshed. But all the intelligence and all the good will in the world would come to naught, I knew, faced with the rigid traditions and blood code of the East.

{p. 59} ... It was, therefore, a hard and painful decision for me to leave the Galilee for Jerusalem where some of my political friends were pleading with me to help run a monthly journal published by the Labour Zionist Movement. I had been active in discussions and conferences of the movement and had begun sending in articles to the journal, which was appearing erratically. When the organization decided to create a regular monthly, it asked Ben Zvi and me to take over. I declined at first as I had thrown myself fully into the pioneering life and hated the idea of leaving the open air, and the close friendships of the Galilee, for a desk job with all its petty irritations. But as I wandered round in my free hours to visit other pioneer outfits and met fellow workers from different parts of the country at occasional meetings and get-togethers, I became convinced that our efforts were seriously lacking in cohesion. We would never enlarge the opportunities for Jewish labour or secure dignified conditions of work for newcomers to the territory unless we were properly organized. Only when we had accomplished that first step and could insist that workers' standards be raised would we be in a position to seek the support of the Jewish community as a whole, a necessary pre-condition for dealing with the Turkish authorities on land matters and for securing appropriate rights for all our people in Palestine.

In 1910, therefore, I somewhat reluctantly agreed to become a journalist. Perhaps one of the minor points influencing my decision was that the nub of Zionist activity in the country had moved from Jaffa to Jerusalem, in symbolic emphasis of our affinity with the city which had always been and was to become once more our capital. I presented myself to the Labour Zionist Party's new headquarters there and went to work writing editorials for Ahdout (Unity), its Hebrew periodical.

{p. 60} At this time, I evolved a pen-name, a Hebraicized version of my own name, that I have used ever since. Hebraicizing one's name seemed to my generation a way of underlining our feeling for the country and our affinity with our ancestors. We were, in effect, indicating our purpose of taking up where they had left off. So David Gryn became David Ben-Gurion, in homage to a Jewish hero called Ben-Gurion who died defending ]erusalem against the final siege of the Roman legions in 70 C.E. That was the year from which our exile dates. The Romans over-ran the city after a siege that had cut its defenders off for thirty-six months. Jecrusalem was put to the torch and the great Temple that Ezra had rebuilt disappeared in the flames, except for its famous Western Wall which became known to the Jews in dispersion as the 'wailing wall'.

... Jerusalem itself, now one of the most striking cities in the world architecturally, was a miserable place in those days, physically more uncomfortable than Jaffa. It was a sprawling slum inhabited by the poor of every nationality, a true Tower of Babel. Winters were hard with driving rains and icy winds sweeping viciously across the hills, whistling down tortuous cobbled streets that never stayed on one level but meandered endlessly across the slopes on which the city perched precariously.

{p. 61} ... I realized, however, that someone with a healthy contempt for words without deeds, political castles-in-the-air, and sectarian intrigue, someone with a pioneering background had to represent the true builders of Eretz Israel. I am sure I would have continued to enjoy and to be very happy with the simple though hard life of a farm labourer. I certainly was glad to return to that life after more than half a century in politics. Yet I felt it my task to represent the ideal of active Zionism in Palestine at the organizational level where there was a vast educational and political programme to accomplish if we were ever to succeed in creating a force that would truly represent the Jewish ideal to the world from the vantage point of the pioneer on the spot in Palestine.

{p. 67} ... Every thinking person in this country regrets the unhappy paradox that the most positive creation of a Jewish State should be an instrument of destruction. I have already remarked on how fundamentally alien to the Judaic character is violence, the abandonment of reason to mindless force. Having to bear arms is an affront to our Bible whereby we became the first people on earth to evolve formal concepts of personal liberty, of loving one's neighbour {but only if a Jew}, of the sinfulness of killing and the moral desirability of beating swords into ploughshares, as our great prophet Isaiah enjoined us to do. It is also an affront to the concept of our basic right here in modern times as emanating from laborious cultivation of a barren, empty and neglected land. We take no joy, therefore, in the necessity of a huge, onerously expensive commitment to military defence.

Yet neither in our own nor in Biblical times have we been free of this commitment. Both we and our ancestors have had to assume the dual role of humanists and fighters. That our forebears knew how to defend themselves with fierce passion and efficiency is proved by their last stand against the Romans which, in all, endured from 66 to 73 in the Common Era. Seven years of resistance against the entire Roman Army! The siege of Jerusalem alone took three years and during that time no food reached the city. ...

The Roman conquest ended on a high plateau of the Negev

{p. 68} in 73 c. with the fall of Masada, the ancient fortress town of King Herod which we have now excavated and restored. All the citizens, men, women, children, preferred to die by their own hand rather than become Roman slaves. Masada was the Jewish equivalent to the Greeks' Thermopylae.

A look at the map indicates why there has always been conflict here. This relatively small country constitutes a permanent crossroads of three continents. Thus it is subject to the strains and pulls of world politics. In our time, oil, Soviet ambitions in the Middle East, the interests of the United States, Britain and France are far more responsible for maintaining the tension than the largely bogus pretext of Arab nationalism. If the Great Powers genuinely wanted peace, there would be no Arab-Israel conflict.

{But in an interview in Time Magazine, of August 16, 1948, Ben-Gurion canvassed the expansion of Israel's borders: bengur48.html. And Israel Shahak attested that Ben-Gurion told the Knesset that the real reason for the Suez War was 'the restoration of the kingdom of David and Solomon' to its Biblical borders: shahak1.html}

The revealing about-face undergone by Soviet policy vis-d-vis Israel is a good illustration in point. Up to 1954, the Russians had been our most fervent supporters. As soon as the British pulled out of Egypt, however, it became expedient for them to woo the Arabs and they began denouncing the very existence of the nation they were first in the world to recognize.

So the Soviets undertook their love affair with Egypt and systematically ruined that country's economy by selling it obsolete military equipment which it could ill afford to pay for. Who needs such friends?

How much more profitable for Egypt, and indeed all the Arab world, to realize that common interest lies in making peace and working together with us to create in the Middle East the world's richest garden - which it could easily become! The Egyptians can thank the Soviets, acting as tempters to military adventurism, for their war dead, the destruction or seizure of two entire military machines' worth of equipment, for bankruptcy both economic and political, for the closure of the Suez Canal and the loss of the Sinai Peninsula. We are most grateful that the Russian bear sees fit to hug our enemies to its imperious bosom. We shall

{p. 69} continue to capture the weapons provided for our destruction and hurl them back at the enemy. ...

Again, before the Sinai campaign of 1956, there were literally dozens of attempts to negotiate with President Nasser of Egypt or at least engage a dialogue. All manner of

{p. 70} intermediaries were used in vain efforts to accomplish an Israel-Egypt meeting.

... The Soviets have dared call us 'colonialists'. Their own savage oppression of Eastern Europe makes them self-styled experts in such matters, no doubt. Nevertheless, one can state categorically that no people in history are less colonialist than we. Our claim to Israel is based on sweat, on digging the soil with our own hands, fertilizing, planting, harvesting, building, developing this beloved land of ours. We are known to fight with passion to defend it. Well, we have put everything we possess into it. That is the secret of our strength. And were we colonialists we wouldn't, we couldn't, have such strength!

It is again possible to say categorically that not by a single bullet or act of violence have Israel or the Jewish people in the twentieth century enforced their claim to this land. They have not affirmed their right to be here with arms, merely their right to remain. We have resorted to force in defence only. Despite the territorial gains our victories have achieved, our title here remains that which our toil has wrought. A comparison between the empty, stagnant, malaria-ridden Palestine of seventy years ago and the busy, up-to-date, ever developing Israel of today, gives the measure. And what we

{p. 71} have today is of our own making entirely. Colonialism, the exploitation of one people by another, just doesn't enter into it.

The local Arab population, by the way, has been the first to profit from our development. The Arabs, like ourselves, no longer die of malaria, no longer live out their days in near starvation, unemployment, hopelessness. More and more, they are integrating themselves into the Israeli population, what with their representation in Parliament, the enrolment of their young into our system of compulsory education, the emancipation of their womenfolk and their presence as volunteers in the military. It is a subject I shall touch on elsewhere, but I do want to say here that our relations with the Arab minority is one of mutual respect on the human plane and of education towards attainment of twentieth-century levels on the plane of social institutions.

As early as 1917, the Balfour Declaration acknowledged internationally Israel's right to exist. Our remarkable progress in cultivating this land even then had made our claim obvious to the world. Recognition of our right to be here was confirmed several times during the years and finally by the United Nations' demand of Britain in 1I947 that active steps be taken to establish a Jewish State in Palestine. All of which doesn't deny the right of any other people to have a State. Far be it from us to do such a thing. We were resigned in 1947 to receiving the rump end of Palestine in accordance with the United Nation's settlement. We didn't think that settlement very fair since we knew that our work here deserved a greater assignment of land. We didn't, however, press the point and prepared to abide scrupulously to international ruling come the day of our independence. We were also ready to see Jerusalem as an international city provided that the guarantees given by the United Nations to the Jewish population of its permanent right to live peacefully there and to participate in the city's democratic administration were respected. We had, therefore, absolutely no designs on Arab assigned areas.

{p. 72} But what happened? Our Jerusalem population was attacked even before independence. Our neighbours declared themselves our enemies and invited us to plunge into the sea, to abandon even that bit of land the whole world recognized as our own. And they set out to conquer us.

We Jews of Palestine had just watched in agony and helplessness as our brothers in the European lands, where many of us had originated, lined up in confusion and terror, divested of all belongings, even the clothes off their backs, for the journey into the gas chambers and ovens and starvation hells of the 'Final Solution'. We had witnessed this terrible abdication of humanity and we had all been marked by it.

If for no other reason than that of keeping faith with those who had died, we knew we must not walk in docility to the charnel house. So long as Israel lived, it would provide refuge from such atrocity. In the name of our persecuted dead we had to fight. If need be, we too would die. But in the manner of the Jewish heroes in the Warsaw ghetto, in Jerusalem besieged by the Romans, at Masada: backs to the wall, giving the enemy no quarter.

We were not, I hasten to point out, interested in dying or becoming martyrs. No more are we today. The Jews have had quite enough of that in their long history. We were and are concerned with life, with making Israel flourish, with showing mankind as a whole how one can create a land of plenty from a patch of wilderness. We came here in joy and hope, in devotion to our people, our heritage, our age-old vocation of contributing to humanity's well-being. Wherever there have been Jews, culture has flourished, humanity has advanced. We wished, and still do, to contribute our presence to the Middle East as a whole. I know that someday we shall be allowed to do so.

I think these preliminary comments, mostly on the subject of peace, provide a necessary background to the story of our Defence Forces, their role today as well as their official birth in

{p. 73} the midst of conflict as Israel struggled for independence. Keeping in mind our fundamental abhorrence of everything touching war and violence, and our belief in the Middle East's capacity for peaceful union, one can grasp the uniqueness ofthe IDF as an institution.

There is one comment more that must be made at this juncture. In recent times Israel has had to contend with charges of aggression. Since it is my deepest conviction that we are not now nor ever will be an aggressor nation, I wish to answer these charges.

Aggressiveness is another term used by the Soviet Union and its satellites to characterize our efforts at self-defence. It is perhaps easy for a nation possessing one sixth of the earth's total land mass within its borders to criticize the swiftness that so tiny a nation as Israel must deploy in meeting any threat to its frontiers. We shall not linger on the jumpiness the Russians themselves recently exhibited, big as they are, in their dispute with the Chinese over a mud flat neither have found use for since the two nations began. Israel can answer the epithets tossed at it by the self-evident observation that our geography demands we apply the rule: he who strikes first wins the battle. Otherwise, we should be overwhelmed. We have never hidden our intention of pursuing this tactic and indeed have warned our Arab enemies time and again that parading armoured columns along our borders, firing on our farmers, ploughing their fields, invading our airspace, stepping up terrorist raids on our territory, would have to be met with hard-hitting action on our part.

Let us take the best example of all: June 1967. Before the Six Day War, Nasser was literally brandishing his heavy tanks, courtesy of the USSR, at us on the Gaza strip frontier. The Gaza region faces our most populous, built-up and flattest area, Israel's single most vulnerable territory. Meanwhile, the Syrians fired on our kibbutzim from the Golan Heights, killing Israeli civilians day after day, and invaded our airspace with their MIG fighter planes. Then Nasser

{p. 74} prevailed upon the United Nations to withdraw its troops from the Tiran Straits which he took over, announcing loudly that henceforth the port of Eilath was cut off to world shlpping.

At that point, we had one of two choices. We could wait in passive apprehension, as the world exhorted us to do and rather in the manner of the European countries before the Second World War, for the the Arab 'Anschluss', as it were. Or we could take preventive action. Waiting meant sitting by until Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, our painfully cultivated lands and our factories went up in smoke under the impact of the enemy's Soviet bombers. It meant potentially sacrificing thousands of lsraeli lives. With less than three million people in our total population, we could not lightly contemplate such a loss. Especially not after what had happened to the Jews of Europe.

In any event, waiting would have meant sacrificing all military advantage and the consequent endangering of Israel's very existence.

What did we do, therefore? Well, first we went to the United Nations. Secondly, we published warning after warning to the Arab nations and to President Nasser in particular that we could not allow ourselves to be subject to such pressurings. We clearly outlined our intentions and pleaded to be left in peace. The answer: stepped up Arab hysteria and anti-Jewish propaganda. Our reluctance to fight was taken for weakness, instead of the attempt at reasonableness that it was. Nasser and his friends began to anticipate quick victory, a lift to Arab unity that might make the restive populations of those countries forget for a little while their material backwardness and the indifference of their governments to their misery.

After the closing of the Tiran Straits and the UN's hasty departure - over which I shall pass in silence as words fail in face of this unilateral and somewhat less than adroit initiative - there was nothing for it. We struck. Our first objective was

{p. 75} the saving of Israeli lives by knocking out enemy aircraft bcfore they could get into the air and hurt us. In the final analysis we had to attack or die. So much for our 'aggressiveness' in the Six Day War.

It is the same with our retaliation for the recurring attacks perpetrated by the Arab powers on our country today. We take no pleasure in punitive raids and other measures taken to curb enemy violations of the present ceasefire agreements. But survival dictates that so small a nation as Israel must do its utmost to discourage continual attack from its far more populous neighbours.

Let me add that even with defence so major a preoccupation, the mission of our armed forces remains as oriented towards constructive ends such as education and the unifying of Israeli youth through common training and experiences as it does towards warfare. There could be no greater antithesis than the IDF to a war machine of the classical type, nor to an instrument of fanaticism and conquest on the order of Hitler's goose-stepping storm troopers.

{p. 80} The post-war period began with a ruthless crackdown by the British Labour government on Jewish immigration and all Jewish defence initiatives. Haganah thereupon earned British enmity by devoting itself to illegal immigration. Its leadership went underground moving from kibbutz to kibbutz. Whenever the British caught suspected Haganah members they threw them in jail. They were forever confiscating our painfully gathered stores of arms and vehicles, many of these admittedly stolen from Mandate supply depots. But meanwhile the surrounding Arab countries continued to receive British weapons, artillery, armour, warplanes, the normal engines of war. British officers trained their armies and, in the case of Transjordan's Arab Legion, commanded them. So the situation was very one-sided and decidedly not in our favour.

The story, however, should really begin in the days of Hashomer for those times set the tone and cadence of our subsequent military development.

I did mention that among the Jews there were early doubts as to the justification of bearing arms in self-defence. In 1906 this was a controversial issue of the day. Such theoretical questions as when does defence become offence were debated

{p. 81} at great length among the pioneers themselves, many of whom had a philosphical bent of mind.

Regretfully, the sight of our dead, killed by Arab marauders, cut theory short. The debate ended with the Watchmen taking up arms. ...

Thus we created Haganah as the defence arm of the

{p. 82} Histadruth, the General Federation of Jewish Labour in Palestine of which I was the first Secretary-General. Since Histadruth was the country's largest Jewish association, its sponsorship ensured the spreading of a military defence programme throughout our population. Most of Haganah's early members were Histadruth workers who considered it also their mission to support the socialist ideal. However, as problems of security loomed ever larger, Haganah became totally preoccupied with defence and political ideology was dropped.

Haganah was chronically poor in arms and equipment. But it was exceedingly well endowed with self-discipline. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s Jewish communitics suffered all manner of harassment by Arab fanatics, mainly stirred to action through the machinations of Mufti el Husseini. Husseini, who spent the Second World War in Nazi Germany and ended up a wanted criminal, was directly responsible for provoking a series of Jewish massacres during the pre-war period. More than once Haganah was moved to consider an all out retaliation on Arab communitics. It always restrained itself and confined its activities strictly to defence. The coolness and self-discipline of our armed defenders prevented the country from succumbing to the flames of civil war at this time.

I have already mentioned Haganah's contribution to the British war effort against Hitler and its subsequent struggle against the British ban on Jewish immigration. I should add that Haganah formed the nucleus from which were recruited those brave women and men who served behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied Europe to lend what aid they could to the beleaguered Jewish population in these areas.

At the time independence became a certainty, our main problem was that of acquiring arms. One didn't have to be clairvoyant to know the Arabs would immediately attack us. Their attitude was more than plain. I am speaking now not of the Palestinian Arabs among whom nationalistie feeling was

{p. 83} non-existent but of the surrounding Arab nations who for a variety of political reasons had determined to play the anti-Jewish card. Transjordan, later Jordan, did in fact profit from the situation in 1948 by grabbing a goodly piece of land along the river Jordan's West Bank that it was supposed to be preseving for the much talked of but constantly ill-used Palestinians. Far from giving this land to its so-called 'blood brothers' of Palestine, Jordan stuffed the latter into concentration camps and kept the territory for itself. International contributions of food and money to aid these miserable refugees were then siphoned off by the governments supposedly defending their cause. All of this is hardly my affair. I merely want to indicate why I am indifferent to the outcries of the Arab nations concerning both the Palestinians' non-existent 'quest for independence' and their championship of it. Israel's disappearance tomorrow might produce a Jordanian, Syrian, Egyptian and Iraqi squabble over the spoils, another Middle East 'problem', as it were. I can guarantee that the one thing it wouldn't produce is true Palestinian independence. That is one reason the present situation is so utterly irresponsible, tragic in its meaninglessness. The ostensible cause for which the Arabs fight is no cause, other perhaps than hatred of one people for another. But if mankind is going to survive the atomic age this sort of hatred will have to cease. The Arab future as much as our own depends on overcoming it in the Middle East.

Having digressed so far, I must go on to say that in 1948 it was the Arab powers and not the Jews who exhorted the local Moslem population to leave their homes and their land. We asked them to stay and help us build a modern country. Those who left did so far more in fear of Arab threats of reprisal against 'disloyalty' than of their Jewish neighbours. In confidence they emigrated across the frontiers to the Arab nations which had demanded they come. They ended up in the foul conditions we know of.

Today, there is a new problem. A generation has grown up

{p. 84} in the squalor and bitterness of the refugee camp atmosphere. This generation covets Israel as a confined man covets freedom. Anything to escape from present conditions. Who can blame these young people? Certainly not I. They are a stunted, embittered, and I fear half-crazed handful of human beings existing on the margin of history and cut off from all roots due to the tragic error of their parents in trusting to false allies. Our hearts genuinely go out to them. But their plight is not of our making. By this statement I'm not trying to absolve us from a human responsibility to help them as best we can and if they will let us. But I am affirming that we just are not the cause of their homelessness and their misery. Israeli Arabs aren't miserable. They don't live in concentration camps. They are not exiles. In fact, they enjoy the highest standards of any Arab peoples' in the world today! They constitute those who stayed on and who, for the most part, gave their allegiance to Israel, the only democratic State this territory has known in thousands of years.

The fact that we are not responsible for the Palestine refugee problem does not mean we aren't concerned with it. We are willing to go far in helping to resolve it to the best of our limited means. We can only contribute to its resolution, however, if the other side recognizes the Frankenstein monster its ill-advised policies have created, and helps too.

Regarding the refugee camp offspring, sympathetic as we are to their condition and to its unfortunate causes, we cannot tolerate their criminal activities. One can deplore juvenile delinquency and publish analyses of its etiology; one cannot tolerate the delinquency itself. The case of Israel vis--vis the lunatic fringe issuing from these camps is the same. I think many an Arab government secretly agrees with our position. These people are now a source of danger for everyone. President Nasser and King Hussein of Jordan never know when some wild-eyed offspring of the camps will burst in on them, machine gun in hand. The latest trick of hijacking the

{p. 85} world's civil airliners will hardly endear these unfortunates to humanity at large.

To return to our problems of 1947 and 1948. We had no illusions about being allowed to live in peace with the advent of independence. We had to prepare as best we could against the aggression we foresaw as a matter of course. Yet we could not arm, nor carry out military exercises except in strictest secret and under very limiting conditions. Our people had to face war almost without preliminary training.

Haganah did its best to keep abreast ofthe situation. On the kibbutzim, it furtively drilled farmers in rifle practice; it mounted secret workshops where old trucks were provided with light machine guns and somewhat pathetic metal shields, vulnerable as it tumed out even to small arms' fire, attached to bumpers and sides. These vehicles we called 'armoured cars'. As such, they served heroically in one of the great exploits of Jewish history: the rescue of Jerusalem in April 1948.

As head of the Jewish Agency, the administrative body linking the Jewish community of Palestine with the Diaspora, I had for years (ever since the Biltmore Conference in 1941) been preoccupied with purchasing military equipment abroad. We had stockpiled some reserves here and there in the world. But what good could they do us waiting in some far off country? I am glad that I had sufficient grasp of our future needs to invest the limited funds at my disposal not only in weaponry but also in machine tool equipment for the production, autonomously within the country, of armaments and heavy military machinery such as amphibious bridge spans and the like. But again, we dared not bring this precious material in while the British and the threat of confiscation remained.

When we started the War of Independence, we had 45,000 able-bodied women and men connected with Haganah and Palmach. In addition, several thousand more people belonged to various 'private' armies that operated on their own.

{p. 88} Hundreds of settlements throughout the country found themselves isolated and under enemy attack. In these places, people had only their own spirit and ingenuity to count on. Even the leadership couldn't guess at the heroism, steadfastness and determination to stand the ground this spirit would call up. Words cannot do justice to the acts of devotion, both individual and collective, carried out by our citizens in the name of their new State of Israel. If ever an enemy was turned back by the unflinching wlll of a people, it was here in 1948. This went for everyone, regardless of age or sex. The women, of course, fought alongside the men in every combat entity. Since there weren't enough adults to go around, support for the fighting troops came from the children and old people. Our teenagers who had received special training in Haganah's clandestine youth camps took over the vital job of communications. Israel's 'signal corps', a lifeline indeed, was manned by fourteen and fifteen-year-olds!

The example of kibbutz Yad Mordechai stands as a typical and noble act of Israeli resistance during the first round of the War of Independence. The kibbutz was right on the Gaza strip frontier and one of the first spots in the country to bear the full force of an Egyptian armoured infantry onslaught. How the Jews did it, I don't know. But day after day they beat back Egyptians, holding them off with rifles, home-made grenades, tractors, pitchforks, stones, anything they could lay their hands on. When the central buildings so lovingly erected out of many years' kibbutz profits were burnt to the ground, they retreated into the barns and fought the enemy there, step by step, wall by wall, ruin by ruin. Eventually, Yad Mordechai did collapse. But by its resistance the Kibbutzniks had dislocated the entire military timetable of the Egyptian Army. An operation scheduled to take an hour or so the mere rounding up by a mechanized army of a few civilians, had lasted six days with the Egyptians halted at Israel's very frontier! That was typical of the resistance the Arabs encountered everywhere. They had

{p. 89} the steel, the manpower. We had only our total refusal to yield.

If isolation and lack of weaponry were the main difficulties that the population-at-large had to contend with, at headquarters, where I had assumed responsibility for military operations, we had a different order of problem.

Firstly, we had to adjust our thinking from the local, 'fire brigade' type of defensive actions we had always fought up to now to the prosecution of war at a national level and on several fronts. Before independence, no major military units, not even a full brigade, had ever been committed to battle. Only small groups of people had defended specific places or executed specialized actions such as Palmach's drive on Jerusalem.

Now it was imperative to order each action in accordance with a much vaster situation. We couldn't rush here and there defending villages and towns piecemeal. We daren't even waste our tiny reserves on rescuing Jerusalem's Old City, despite the popularity of such a course. I told the officers of the hastily named headquarters staff: 'We have to concentrate our forces and commit them in accordance with an overall plan to strike at the enemy armies. To destroy their fighting machine, we must go over to the counter-attack fighting them not only in the sectors of Israel which they have invaded but also in their territories. We must carry the battle over to them.'

This was easier said than done. We had first to resolve some serious administrative difficulties at home and within our own ranks.

Adjusting to nationhood, especially in the midst of war, is no easy task for the mind. In our newly created State, a few of the leaders themselves had difficulty in realizing that they were no longer nurturing a trade union movement, or a secret band of guerrilla fighters or even a political party, but indeed that their hands were on levers controlling the destiny of an entire country. Those of us who had made the adjustment knew that the first long-term necessity was to bring in go

{p. 90} modern armaments, the heavier the better. But some of our colleagues objected at first to spending money on these major weapons. 'What do you want with tanks, guns and bombers?' I recall one Cabinet Minister asking at a time when the Egyptians were threatening the Galilee and had already cut off the Negev. And I remember another who was 'disturbed' at the idea that Israel should have a police force!

A State is a State, and especially so beleaguered a one as Israel required the organs of external and internal security with all their elaborate modern appurtenances whatever our ultimate ideals of peace and brotherhood. I am proud to say, however, that our national democracy never suffered from the pressure of events. Israel has always remained true to its founding principles of representative government, an independent judiciary (the true safeguard of any democracy), the guarantee of civil rights ior all citizens, freedom of speech and of the press, freedom of worship and a fundamental belief in the dignity ofthe individual. In our darkest moments, no attempt was ever made to curb these liberties - and often enough the young government had to answer minority political dissent at home while fighting offthe enemy.

Our military set up in 1948 also suffered from an amateurism that, although heroic, lacked discipline and cohesiveness. The hierarchy of command had to be affirmed if we were to hold out. And this was difficult to achieve for a fighting force that had always battled spontaneously and in tiny units.

Jews being the individualists they are, much of Haganah, the Palmach units and the several private armies that were waging war in their own way and under their own command, had little notion of the primordial necessity of obeying directives from a centralized source, namely our headquarters, that could keep the general picture in mind. 'Who are they to tell us what to do?' more than one battlefield commander would demand. There were many instances when we in Tel Aviv were disobeyed, the combat units affirming their right to run themselves. Palmach in particular took the view that it was

{p. 91} self-sufficient and accountable only to its own chiefs. During the second truce of 1948, by which time we were stronger, the battle situation was better under control and we could even think of winning the war, I was obliged to disband Palmach on the imperative that it must integrate its effectives into the national Army. ...

Irgun violently disagreed with this policy. It was expecting

{p. 92} an arms' shipment from Czechoslovakia aboard the freighter SS Altalena. It announced its intention of defying the govemment ban and landing these weapons clandestinely when the freighter arrived.

I decided this must be the moment of truth. Either the government's authority would prevail and we could then proceed to consolidate our military force or the whole concept of nationhood would fall apart. Once again, this idea had to be hammered home to the Jewish leadership. There wasn't time to debate the niceties, the fine points of the situation. I knew we would never succeed in holding off the Arab armies with amateur heroics no matter how admirable the individual acts of courage and sacrifice involved. A nation was at stake. Not a farmhouse, road or town, but a nation. So I made my stand.

When the Altalena arrived and, in defiance to clear government injunction, the arms were being smuggled onto a beach, I ordered the Army to fire on the ship. Jews were firing on Jews in the midst of a fight to the death with the entire Arab world! Would the Army obey or would there be chaos?

In the event, my orders were carried out. The unloading of those arms we needed so desperately was stopped. Irgun and all the fighting forces were made to realize that changing times demanded subordination to the national will as expressed by those whom the people would designate to govern and command militarily.

The incident caused near civil war among theJews themselves. But in the eyes of the world we had affirmed ourselves as a nation. When the smoke cleared and the indignation died down, the population-at-large put itself squarely behind its government. The days of private armies were past and in the manner of every other well organized state, we had the makings of a central command under government control. With this achieved, we went on to provide the co-ordinated effort that in the course of a year brought us victory beyond our most hopeful expectations.

{p. 96} Judaism traditionally embraces the democratic concept of social conduct by stressing the individual's inward control of himself through the workings of personal conscience over outward forms of restriction. The individual's capacity to contribute to the group is considered voluntary and emanates from within himself. This is the dynamic at work in our Defence Forces today and, so I believe, accounts for their etraordinary spirit. It is in essence a democratic spirit, though it makes use of military discipline. The discipline is certainly there as it has to be, yet officers and men are on first name terms, they socialize off duty, they serve under similar conditions, wear the same uniform except for a small insignia, live largely the same lives. And if anyone attempted to impose upon them the classical, Prussian-type conccpts of militarism such as 'to obey is to obey', or 'you are not here to think', or the European soldiers' maxim of 'never under any circumstances volunteer', they would laugh in such a person's face. Insubordination is no problem in Israel. But people obey not because of threats and Articles of War so much as out of respect for their commanders' ability to judge a situation. They know that he or she has bcen picked for qualities of military leadership only and trained specifically to lead. A good number of our officers are chosen on the record of battlefield performance.

I would say that not only do the Israel Defence Forces pose no threat to our internal freedom, but that they actively contribute towards maintaining its integrity. In this sense, as in day-to-day operations, our military establishment is like no other in the world.

Basically, our Army, Navy, Air Force - all of which operate under unified command, thus eliminating the classical inter-service rivalries so common elsewhere and so wasteful of effort - are a voluntary association of citizens profoundly oriented towards civilian life. They have dedicated themselves temporarily to national sccurity in our country's great need. Of course, we have conscription and regulations regarding the

{p. 97} national service of young people. But these measures were taken and are maintained by Parliamentary law and democratic common consent as they are in other countries. The high number of volunteers who enter the paratroops, our military youth groups and special corps - I shall describe one of these, Nahal, later - indicates the willingness with which our young men and women submit to national responsibility. The remarkable lack of disciplinary infractions and misdemeanours committed by service people also attests to a general good will.

In themselves, these indications are salutory but hardly unepectable. Every major community in Israel is within ten minutes, jet bomber time, of a hostile frontier. The general support of the military by the citizenry comes from personal awareness of the enemy's presence.

However, the civilian orientation of even our highest ranking officers is a truly special charactcristie and one that I consider gives a dimension to our military organization few others possess.

When I speak of a civilian orientation I am certainly not talking about lack of military proficiency. Watch the Israel Army at drill or the Air Force and Navy at manoeuvres and you'll see a very high level of competence in the classical military arts. I challenge any European Army, including the most traditionalist, to better our standards!

I do mean, however, that our military is very far removed from career-oriented, caste-bound tradition. The IDF is not a club, a lifetime sinecure, a catch-all for people with nothing better to do than dress up in uniform. Foreign observers are always surprised at the youthfulness of our highest ranking officers. Traditionally (and after twenty years we do have traditions!), the Chief of Staff himself is in his forties and on temporary appointment only. This means even officers who are serving full time can expect to leave active duty early in life and pursue subsequent civilian careers. It also means we don't have, in the Europcan tradition, a staff of conformists at

{p. 98} Every Israeli in good health, whose religious beliefs do not preclude it, enters adulthood with two or three years of military service. Then he or she goes back to normal life for three-quarters of the time, with the other quarter devoted to reserve training. The result is that at any moment of the day or night the butcher, the baker, the office receptionist or stenographer, the farmer, the university professor, the shopkeeper, the Israeli man and woman in the street can grab a rifle, or hop into the driver's seat of a tank or behind the complex control panel of a sonar listening device and be ready to perform his or her military duties with utmost competence. In that sense, Israel's Defence Force functions as the Swiss military system which also makes soldiers of its citizens; or even more to the point in these difficult times, as the Minute Men of the American Revolution who in seconds could exchange farming implements for rifles in the cause of their country's freedom.

In our preparedness and in our innovations, we go further than other nations. We are obliged to. For one thing, we constantly face the realitics of combat. For another, we believe

{p. 99} in the equality of men and women and in the fluidity of our officer corps which is based, as I have said, not on class or even education in the ordillary sense but solely on performance.

{p. 1OO} Our strategists are deeply immersed in the Bible and go to it regularly for information concerning local terrain and also for lessons in tactics.

{p. 101} The IDF has been instrumental in stimulating Israeli industry to respond to our war needs. Of course, it's too bad that we have had to develop local industrial proficiency through the pressures of war. The fact remains that now we are advanced in such highly technical fields as aeronautics and rocketry. Today, we repair our own fighter planes and commercial airliners, manufacturing spare parts in our own machine shops. For our size and newness this makes us uniquely independent of the major industrial powers. We can now also build much of our terrestrial military equipment ourselves. This again is due to the imaginative national effort that the Israeli people as a whole have devoted to defence.

A word about women in our Forces. Israel's womenfolk enjoy and exercise equal status and responsibility with men in every activity of life. Their contribution to the development of this country has always been made on a basis of total equality. During the days of Hashomer and through the War of Independence, girls fought alongside men - just as civilians fought alongside soldiers. In the underground, women undertook many perilous assignments. Many died heroically, in the burning wrecks of Palmach's vehicles along the road to Jerusalem, for instance. However, as soon as it became possible to do so, women were taken out of the front-line units.

They perform several vital functions in military life. Firstly, they replace men in non-combatant roles which helps keep our front-line units up to strength. Then too, their service helps fashion in the Israeli mould great numbers of girl immigrants from the less developed countries who must be taught our attitudes of independence, self-reliance and civic consciousness. At the same time, the presence of women is calculatecd to remove the misconceptions about the opposite

{p. 102} sex that new immigrant male soldiers may bring with them from the societies and cultures of their origin. And psychologically, I am informed, men tend to work harder and are more reluctant to show fatigue in physical tests and manoeuvres where the girls keep going.

{p. 104} Because we have had to call on every able-bodied male up to the age of forty-nine and every able-bodied woman up to age thirty-four, many of our field forces have been newly arrived immigrants from every conceivable background. For this reason above all, I rate the armed forces as so great an accomplishment. They have become a training ground for integration into the national community. As a teaching instrument, the military ensures that aside from combat training, every recruit leaves service with a knowledge of Hebrew, the Bible, Israeli and general history, geography, mathematics and civics, bringing him or her up to the minimum standard of education in this country. Further, in the military no distinction is drawn between the ignorant and the more educated, between Sabras and immigrants who in civilian life may have unfortunate but inevitable barriers separating their spheres of activity. Thanks to the military, an illiterate young man with feudal ideas of the social order, who looks upon women as chattels to be sequestered in the home and so forth, can find his place in the twentieth century and in our very up-to-date society.

{p. 107} 7. 'The Bible is our Mandate'

{comment by the editor, Thomas R. Bransten}

The words are David Ben-Gurion's to the British Royal Commission of 1936. Under Lord Peel, the Commission investigated growing tensions in that barren little territory of rocks, sand duns, salt flats and waste that the Romans had renamd Palestine, so as to wipe away all memory of a people it had cost them dear and taken them a humiliating time to vanquish.

{p. 110} Archaeological evidence uncovered in this century indicates that, with the Chinese, the Jews share the distinction of being the oldest bearers of human civilization surviving to our day with cultural traditions and language intact. Judaism, a foundation stone of Western ethics, consists of three, basie inter-related elements: belief in a single Almighty God, the first such monotheism to be adopted by any people in history; an area of land considered uniquely and especially the heritage of the Jews; a sacred Book recording both the belief and the presence in Israel that affirms the territorial link.

{end of editor's comments; back to Ben-Gurion}

{p. 113} One can say, therefore, without being accused of mysticism, that the Jewish return to autonomy in Israel really dates from the fall of Jerusalem and Masada in the eighth decade of the Common Era. In other words, from the moment of conquest, bondage, expulsion, the Jews dedicated themselves as a people to return. All of Jewish culture strained towards that end.

{p. 114} The Romans laid waste land and city. They spread salt on the earth round Jerusalem as they had done at Carthage. And, as at Carthage, they changed the name ofthe territory to wipe away all trace of the inhabitants.

... Islam in its arrogance built the Mosque of el-Aksar on the site of the razed Second Temple, of which only the Western Wall remains today. Another Mosque at Hebron covers the tombs of Abraham, Isaae and Jacob-called-Israel. During the twenty years following 1948, when Samaria and a part of ancient Judah, including the portion of Jerusalem where all the historical monuments are concentrated, were under Jordanian rule, Jewish edifices were the targets of Arab frustration. As in East Europe under the Communists, synagogues became slum dwellings and storehouses; the tombstones of the cemetery on the Mount of Olives were used in road construction and for latrines.

Yet, I am proud to say, the first thing Israel did upon taking over these same areas in 1967 was to proclaim its intention of safeguarding the shrines of all religions and of according free access to those shrines for all concerned. We do not use Arab Mosques for latrines. Our suferings and our Biblical heritage impose upon us a code of civilized behaviour which respects the beliefs of all men.

{p. 115} Since 73 B.C.E., the Wandering Jew has been a stereotype.

{p. 116} What of the Palestinian and Arab outcry that this land belongs not to us but to them?

First, our title is older by a matter of four thousand years. Arab nationalism is a phenomenon of this century

{p. 117} ... the Palestinian Arabs remained at the most rudimentary levels of human existence. The above testimony shows how they failed to cultivate the soil according to any general plan or indeed develop any sense of national integrity.

{p. 119} ... I believe in ethnic relationships and in the consciousness of peoples for their affinities. How could I do else as a Jew who has devoted his life to invoking a sense of Jewishness in others of my people?

{p. 120} As to the Jews, I can only point to our Bible and to its sequence in the many Jewish initiatives to regain Israel stretching across the centuries since Masada and say: This is our Mandate. Come see for yourselves.

Since I invoke Torah so often, let me state that I don't personally believe in the God it postulates. I mean that I cannot 'turn to God', or pray to a super-human AImighty Being living up in the sky. Recently, I was asked whether in moments of stress I 'commune' with God and I shocked my interlocutor by asking him back: 'Does God have a telephone?' Yet, though my philosophy is secular, I believe profoundly in the God of Jeremiah and Elijah. Indeed, I consider it part of the Jewish heritage and the Jewish obligation to hold to this concept of God. Consider Elijah's famous revelation at Horeb:

And Elijah went forty days and forty nights unto Horeb, the Mount of God, where he lived in a cave. And Elijah listened for the voice of the Lord. A great and strong wind rent the mountains and broke in pieces the rock. But the Lord was not in the wind. And

{p. 121} after the wind came an earthquake. But the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire. But the Lord was not in the fire. But then, Elijah listened very carefully. And deep within himself he heard a still, small voice. And it was so, the voice of the Lord.

Every man has a conscience and the faculty within himself to discern between right and wrong. That is the meaning, at least to me, of Elijah's still, small voice and of Jeremiah's counsel.

I am not religious, nor were the majority of the early builders of modern Israel believers. Yet their passion for this land stemmed from the Book of Books. That is why the socialists of the Bilu movement rallied themselves with reference to Ezra. And it is why, though I reject theology, the single most important book in my life is the Bible.

Like many Jews, no doubt because of early traditional training, I have a fondness for study. I have read in various cultures, all of which have made me richer as an individual. I learned Greek so that I could enjoy Plato, for whom I have deep respect and who has given me many happy and speculative hours. I have also studied Hindu and Buddhist thought. From Plato, one learns elegance in reasoning; from Hinduism humility; from Buddhism the peace that comes of meditation. But from Torah one principally learns a moral activism that characterizes the Jews and that, I believe, has made them so admired and so detested whenever they have lived among others.

... They flourished in Islam for many centuries, helping to guide the destiny of this daughter culture. And they are the architects of Christianity. Who

{p. 122} could have been more of a purist in Judaism than Jesus?

Jews are activists, that is they have a Messianic spirit. They are not missionaries since they don't seek to convert others to their ways. But they are merciless with themseves. The Bible has imparted to them that divine discontent leading at its best to initiatives such as the pioneering life, at its worst to persecution by their fellow men. It has ncver allowed them as a people to enjoy for long comfortable mediocrity.

Certainly in Israel today we are Messianic. The Jews feel themselves to have a mission here; they have a sense of mission. Restoration of sovereignty is tied to a concept of redemption. This had determined Jewish survival and it is the core of Jewish religious, moral and national consciousness. It explains the immigration to Israel of hundreds of thousands of Jews who never heard of Zionist doctrine but who, nevertheless, were moved to leave the lands wherein they dwelt to contribute with their own effort to the revival ofthe Hebrew nation in its historic home.

A secular vision of the Bible must examine the postulate of the Jews as a Chosen People. I believe firmly that the true situation in history was the reverse of what the phrase implies. I think the Jews chose their God and not, as Torah puts it, that He chose us.

Torah suggests that God consulted the various peoples of Earth and asked, in effect, 'Can you accept my teachings? Can you agree that killing is wrong, that you should not commit adultery?' And so forth through the list of Commandments. The other peoples said no, we said yes and forthwith were adopted by Him.

But that is a mystical conception. The rationalist considers that the Hebrews, as so many other human beings, asked themselves: 'Who are we? Where did we come from? What are we doing here?' Their answer, over the millennia, is embodied in the Bible. ...

{p. 123} The uniqueness of the Jews is their adoption in the ancient world of a single invisible and Almighty Being. Such a Being is supreme in a way no surrogate god representing an element in Nature can be. Lesser gods lose their awesomeness by being all too human in their 'private' lives and in their quarrels with each other. In fact, the gods contemporaneous with the first Hebrews are often modest in their conduct. For example, in the Epic of Gilgamesh, discovered at the turn ofthis century in the excavated library of King Ashurbanipal at Nineveh and dated about 1700 B.C.E., there is a description of the Great Flood and the survival of an Ark very similar in its material details to that in the story of Noah. Archaeologists have, by the way, found actual traces of the Flood but that is another matter. The Gilgamesh tablets describe the gods of Mesopotamia, those Abraham abandoned for the Lord, as terrified by the disaster of the rising waters. They flee to the upper reaches of heaven where they 'crouch and cower like dogs'. One cannot imagine YHWH acting in this way since all Creation stems from Him.

The Greek and Roman gods are famous for either abusing their privileged status to lead the sort of love-life we humans daydream about, or incessantly quarrelling. Usually both things at once. Again, the Jewish God remains above the battle.

Other peples during the time of Jewish sovereignty in srael had a hard time grasping the concept of the Lord. The

{p. 124} Greeks considered the Jews godless because, as Alexander noted when he came to Judah, they displayed no idols. The Romans thought us lazy because of the weekly Sabbath when even servants and animals remained idle. They did not understand that the day of rest emanatcd from God and that the Jews as His tenants on Earth were following His law in seeing to it that all things of Nature within their jurisdiction received due repose.

The Jewish God had fashioned man in His image. This gave the latter, according to theJcws, a special role. God although invisible and endowed with supernatural powers called upon man, His steward, to emulate His example. Thus mankind had something to reach for, an ideal of moral conduct, beyond himself. He also had the freedom to utilize the products of Earth to increase his dominion over Nature and himself.

The Bible is universal in its message of love and of the oneness of man. I have already rernarked on its remarkable aspect of starting with the beginning of the universe rather than with the Jews themselves. Torah is not exclusive to a people since it clearly shows how all men spring from the same seed. All women too. This business in Genesis with the rib is, surely, just an afterthought!

Yet Spinoza was expelled from the Jewish congregation of Amsterdam for noting the contradiction: God is said to have picked the Jews to carry His message and to be a special people, a specially good and moral people living in their assigned land. How can the Lord be universal, asked Spinoza, and have a Chosen People? I won't argue the metaphysics of the point. But the message of the Chosen People makes sense in secular, rationalist and historical terms when turned around to describe an act of selection by Abraham and his successor of a God they had formulated. In other words, first came man, then his gods. This does not decrease the power of the Jewish God to work for good nor the validity of the Bible's message of righteousness. The Jews in their Book, according to the secularist idea, set down an accomplished fact by saying: 'It is our

{p. 125} duty as a people to be a model to the God we have chosen, to conform to His ways as we have defined them and to devote ourselves to making the land we have settled and attributed to His gift to us a prosperous land run along our moral precepts.' In that sense, the Jews can be considered a self-chosen people.

Unfortwlately, no human beings have yet achieved perfection or anything close to it despite good intentions, religious belief and codes of bchaviour. The Jews had their ups and downs as a sovereign people. In Isaiah's view, they were the worst people on Earth for a portion of their history. Nevertheless, and this is remarkable, they always produced moralists who laboured mightily to keep them in the paths of righteousness and whose words the Book carefully records. I refer to the Prophets.

A Prophet in the Jewish sense is no oracle. He isn't clairvoyant except through the exercise of his intelligence. He doesn't read ashes or put himself in a trance or predict the future according to magic. No, the Biblical Prophets were men of the world concerned with the daily facts of life in relation to their understanding of God's will. They considered themselves secular critics. Amos, for instance, was furious at being called a Nabi or wandering religious devotee.

The Prophets cleaved to the word of God as handed down in Biblical heritage. They devoted themselves to bringing the peoples' and their rulers' conduct in line with that word.

Amos spread the message of love. He affirmed the equality of man and drew attention to the family tie linking humanity as a whole. Reflecting on current problems in our world, I have often thought that had America heeded the message of Amos it would have refrained from importing black slaves from Africa. ...

{but the ships were owned by Jews, according to Tony Martin!}

{p. 127} The Prophets were perpetually telling the Jews how difficult a people they were in the eyes of God who deplored their deviations from the moral code they had set themselves. These men made many people uncomfortable but always they were respected. And I think they left the Jews with the heritage of striving towards a certain morality, a drive to seek the path of truth wherever it lay, whether attainable or no. ...

The Bible endowed the Jews with a self-appointed mission as thinkers, questioners, formulators.

... Where they Went they tried to re-create the atmosphere of their existence

{p. 128} in the ancient nation. But other Jews took their Messianic activism into outside society and either became revered advisers of humanity or society's villains. In our own time, Freud and Marx have been both to a sizeable portion of men.

{p. 129} However, suppose we had become English-speakers. Again, as with German, we should be adopting someone else's culture. We, the oldest civilized people in the West! That would

{p. 130} have been ridiculous. And how do we know that in fifty years English won't be a secondary language with Chinese replacing it at the top of the Tower of Babel? ...

For this reason I must say to my friends in the Galuth, in dispersion, that it is not we who have lost contact with you by resuscitating our cultural vehicle and making it live again. Rather, it is you who have cut yourselves off from your roots by denying yourselves knowledge of your own language. ...

The Jewish redemption is here and it is now. We are very privileged to live at a time when we are not forced to survive culturally on mysticism and dreams. It is not next year in Jerusalem but today!

{p. 131} The Jews of the world are coming to realize this, and they are making a choice. Many will cease to be Jews, will assimilate into other cultural traditions. We wish them well. But many more will see their link with us and reach over to grasp our hand of friendship. They will learn Hebrew, will come and will cherish their reinsertion into history.

And I am sure that now we are home again, we shall once more be creative as a people. We have already begun to be so. Today, we are in the process of writing a new Torah not only with scribes but with pioneers and farmers, artists and scientists, architects, teachers, engineers, legislators, collectivists, citizens in every walk of life. All speak the language of Moses and even the freethinkers among them study deeply in the Book, the source of inspiration, provider of a past and of a vision for the future. Our new Torah is being written now but its best chapters are still to come. It is my conviction that they will tell the story of our taming of the desert.

{p. 137} What we call Negev is an arid waste where high hills coloured dun, red and purple cast their shadows on narrow crater valleys and canyons. This desert stretches northwards to the edge of the fertile coastal plain along the Mediterranean where the Canaanite kings built their major settlements, impenetrable to the Israelites untilJoshua's day. Eastwards, the Negev climbs gradually upward towards the cliffs and crags overlooking the Dead Sea. And in the West it merges without change of landscape into the Sinai Peninsula between the Eilath Gulf and that of Suez. The Negev's rainfall is less than an inch a year and the minimum temperature rarely goes below fifty degrees Fahrenheit. Yet today, between Beersheba - the area's largest city located at its northern end - and the seaport of Eilath, southem terminus of an Israeli built road linking Red Sea to Mediterrancan, a number of modern communities have implanted themselves and are gradually extending the wasteland's arable portion.

One of these is kibbutz Sde Boker where I came to live in 1953. That I happened to choose this particular kibbutz is an accident. But that I decided to live in the Negev represents a continuation of the ideas I have followed throughout my life and namely the concept that the principal way the Jews can re-claim their ancient land is not by argument or invoking historical precedent but by their labour, that is, by creating an enduring, fruitful home for themselves where previously there was nothing.

I have always realized that if we are to be economically independent and viable under all circumstances, we must develop the Negev. ...

{p. 137} To me, it seemed more important to re-establish our authority over the Negev than even to attempt the rescue of Jerusalem's Old City.

{p. 146} The desert is a reproach to mankind. It is criminal waste in a world that cannot feed its population. Even for Israel, this barrenness is a reproach. The majority ofJews who come to this country go to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. I am against big cities. They bring out the worst in men.

It is my belief that every human being is a compendium of good and bad qualities. I think man's capacity to wreak evil to harm himself, is far greater than his ability to do good. Cities by their anonymity and their impersonality are a nefarious influence on the individual.

{p. 149} The Negev offers the Jews their greatest opportunity to accomplish everything for themselves from the very beginning. This is a vital part of our redemption in Israel. For in the end, as man gains mastery over Nature he gains it also over himself. That is the sense, and not a mystical but a practical one, in which I define our redemption here.

Israel must continue to earn its nationhood and to represent the Jewish people with their awesome past. It must be worthy of itself, which is no small achievement. It is one to be attained in the desert.

When I look out of my window today and see a tree standing there, that tree gives me a greater sense of beauty and personal delight than all the vast forests I have seen in Switzerland or Scandinavia. Because every tree here was planted by us. It was nursed to life by the water we brought to it at such cost

{p. 150} and effort. Why does a mother love her children? Because they are of her creation. Why does the Jew have affinity for Israel? Because here again everything remains to be accomplished. It is his privilege and his place to share in this creative act. The trees at Sde Boker speak to me in a special way, in another language than any other trees anywhere. Not only because I helped to grow them but because they constitute a gift of man to Nature, and a gift of the Jews to the cradle of their culture.

{p. 155} The Jews have always been optimists. They have had little to make them so during a long and careworn history. Yet they have managed to continue believing in themselves and to emerge from whatever ordeals confronted them with firm

{p. 156} hopes for the future.

{p. 162} Israel is far better equipped to resist cultural extinction than were the Jewish exiles during two thousand years. Our evident role here is to give new life to all that is meant by the 'Covenant' of the Jewish people whereby they remain one. That is hardly a role leading to 'drowning' in alien cultures. On the contrary, it represents a revival of our own cultural activity.

Most important, Israel is not just an eastern nation or just a western one. It is both ! In itself, it unites the two great streams of the Jewish people: the Ashkenazim whose traditions are western and the Sephardim whose cultural links are with the East. Here is another task for Israel: to marry the East with the West and thus again to serve as an example of unity and brotherhood to all mankind.

{p. 180} I have always been very concerned, secularist though I am, with this country's spiritual state. ...

Words without deeds are nothing. This I learned in the Bible and for myself from the moment I set foot in this land. Telling people: 'You must be good. You must help others,' accomplishes little. One must show the way by example. That is why I live at Sde Boker, to underline to all who come in contact with me the importance of this Negev area to our future. One must use words to communicate ideas and feelings. But words without the capacity to evoke deeds are meaningless.

Today I live alone here, and I work with words. I am writing, as I have said, the history of the modern Jewish State. I want the young people of Israel to realize how precious a heritage we of the older generations are delivering into their hands. They have both the privilege of carrying our work through to fuller fruition and the obligation to do so. They,

{p. 181} too, are under the Jewish injunction to be an Amsagolah. The realization of this inherited burden is what I hope my book will contribute to.

You cannot reach for the higher virtue without being an idealist. The Jews are chronic idealists which makes me humbly glad to belong to this people and to have shared in their noble epic. In a time when their neighbours were sacrificing live children to the fires of the idol Moloch they had evolved their invisible God, a God who forbade human sacrifice and who imposed a law of love and respect for all beings and things of this earth {yet who commanded the genocide of the inhabitants of Palestine: guthridge.html}. They codified this in the Bible and dreamt their dream of redemption in their land. Only a small part of this dream has ever come true and we have borne much suffering because of it. But the dream is there, the moral idea is there and as in the time of Moshe, the Jews must strive so long as they endure to be an Amsagolah. 'I the Lord have called thee in righteousness and have taken hold of thy hand and kept thee and set thee for a Covenant of the people, for a light unto the nations.' (Isaiah 42-6).

{end quotes}

Why Atheistic Jews supported Communism: Judaism as Religious Non-Theism: philos.html.


David Ben-Gurion's interview in Time Magazine of August 16, 1948: bengur48.html.

Ben-Gurion's forecast of World Government by 1987: tmf.html.

How was the Bible written, and by who? The Torah (including the Book of Genesis) was produced by Ezra around 458 BC, with the authority of the Persian Emperor (and under the influence of its Zoroastrian religion): bible.html.

S. G. F. Brandon on the derivation of the story of Adam and Eve from the Epic of Gilgamesh: adam-and-eve.html.

The religion of the First Persian Empire (549-330 BC) was Zoroastrianism; it has shaped Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Marxism and Radical Feminism: zoroaster-judaism.html.

The Zoroastrian religion and its progeny: the ancestry of religious fundamentalism, and Marxist millennialism: zoroastrianism.html.

Arnold J. Toynbee on the origins of the Bible: toynbee.html.

The Song of Songs, and other records of a Goddess orientation in Jewish tradition prior to Ezra: jewish-taoist.html.

Write to me at contact.html.