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David Ben-Gurion’s body lies in state in a flag-draped coffin at the Knesset in 1973.
David Ben-Gurion’s body lies in state in a flag-draped coffin at the Knesset in 1973.

Ben-Gurion Passes Away

December 1, 1973

From the Center for Israel Education

David Ben-Gurion, (born David Gruen) Israel’s first Prime Minister passes away at the Tel Hashomer-Sheba Medical Center in Tel-Aviv at the age of 87. Ben-Gurion had been hospitalized since suffering a stroke a few weeks earlier.

After immigrating to the Land of Israel in 1906 from Poland, he worked as a laborer in Rishon Letzion and Petah Tikvah. He became general secretary of the Histadrut Labor Federation in 1921 and in 1930 he formed Mapai, the Zionist Labor Party. In 1935 he became chairman of the Executive Committee of the Jewish Agency for Palestine. Ben Gurion declared the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. In the thirteen years before statehood, he oversaw in an almost autocratic manner, the development of organizations and key institutions that formed the skeleton and muscle for the state. Ben-Gurion also pushed to make Jerusalem the capital of Israel.

In addition to vision and toughness, Ben-Gurion left an enormous written record of his years struggling for the Jewish state. His diaries, speeches, memoranda, and books left Israelis and historians with extraordinary first-hand accounts of the ups and downs, frustrations and hopes involved in building the state. His only peer in keeping such records was his early political rival, Chaim Weizmann who wrote thousands of letters that chronicled the earliest years of Zionism and its diplomacy. To the good fortune of both, the Zionist movement enjoyed a wide array of talented young men and women, leaders in all fields of endeavor, who were committed to the Zionist idea, and persevered to make their idea a reality. Taking destiny into Jewish hands and preserving it was their common and unshakeable bond.

In paying respects to Ben-Gurion, an estimated 100,000 mourners passed through the Knesset to honor him as his coffin laid in state. President Richard Nixon remarked, “It was with the deepest sorrow that I learned of the death of David Ben-Gurion. With courage, love, and determination, David Ben-Gurion worked to establish the modern State of Israel. As we move forward in the struggle for justice and peace, we take from the example of his life increased conviction that cause will triumph. The people of America join with the people of Israel in mourning the passing of a gallant man. As we shared his ideals and hopes, not only for Israel but for all mankind, so we share in their loss.”

On December 3, 1973, after a short ceremony during which no eulogies were given at his request, his small pine coffin was flown to Sde Boker, his kibbutz in the Negev. He was buried alongside his wife, Paula.

Find more details at the Center for Israel Education

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