Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Address at the State Memorial Ceremony for David Ben-Gurion

Ben-Gurion Family, Distinguished Guests, With the passing of years, David Ben-Gurion’s image has become more forceful. Through the mists of time, rises the stature of the architect of Israel’s revival and the founder of the IDF – one of the greatest leaders the Jewish people has ever known. The hand of providence directed this great man to this critical juncture for our people, between Holocaust and national revival. His leadership was a shaping one, which built a nation as well as national foundations. It was a leadership founded on a great vision and at the same time rational analysis, which was free from illusion. He aspired to peace, but was not swayed by dreams. He correctly recognized that at the heart of the conflict with our neighbors, lurked a negation of the Jewish people’s right to exist in its own nation. He thus placed security at the top of the order of priorities, and determined, I quote: “It would be nice to have a good world, a world of peace, brotherhood, justice and integrity, but it would also be good if we could live in it. My first concern – as is that of every Jew – is to ensure the existence and security of the Jewish people.” In his writings I found an interesting reference to “painful compromises”, and I quote: “We have never forgotten that this is our country and have never relinquished it… Nevertheless, for the sake of peace we are willing to give up [the actualization of] some of our rights.” End quote. And his sharp assessment regarding the demographic reality in which we live has already been quoted. I quote: “When the question was posed as to whether we should choose the whole Land without a Jewish State or a Jewish State without the whole Land, we chose a Jewish state without the whole Land.” End quote. Many things which we take for granted today are the result of David Ben-Gurion’s decisions and leadership. Few remember that Ben-Gurion enforced the declaration of the establishment of the State on the People’s Administration, despite its members’ fears of the expected Arab invasion and in the face of heavy U.S. pressure to withhold a declaration. The Negev, and its magnificent expanses, on which we gaze, would not have become a part of the State of Israel were it not for his courage. Upon the establishment of the State, the Negev was cut off, and the plans of the U.N. mediators were to sever the Negev from the boundaries of the State. Ben-Gurion challenged them and commanded the IDF to take control of the entire Negev and create facts on the ground, which shaped the political reality. By establishing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Ben-Gurion confronted the entire international community, which supported internalization of the city, and even opposition from within – and triumphed. Even opening Israel’s gates to mass immigration of Jewish refugees from east and west was not obvious. The greatest experts at the time supported gradual, selective and focused immigration, adapted to the needs of the flailing economy. Ben-Gurion decided otherwise, and was right. David Ben-Gurion understood that the public’s trust is given to a leader in order to lead, determine clear goals and make difficult decisions. The fate of the people and the good of the State guided him, not polls, media treatment or measures of prestige. “I do not know what the people want,” he once said, “I know what is good for the people.” That was the secret of his power. That was his great virtue. Today, we should march forward in the light of the vision, inspiration and exemplary leadership of David Ben-Gurion, and realize the goals he bequeathed to us, most importantly, populating the Negev. We will realize them, with G-d’s help, and David Ben Gurion’s spirit will guide us on our path. May the memory of Paula and David Ben-Gurion be a blessing.
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