ISRAEL: The Watchman

  • Share
  • Read Later

(3 of 6)

The Going Up. Few people understand Israel as well as David Ben-Gurion. His life tells the story of Israel's development. He was born, the fourth of eleven children, in 1884, at Plonsk, Poland, then part of Russia. As he grew up, all Russia was stirring. Jews especially felt the tension of gathering storms. Zionism, the dream of the great Theodor Herzl, captured young David's imagination. So did Socialism. He decided to go to Palestine, where other Jews had preceded him. They belonged to the First Aliyah (literally, a going up, a wave); most of them were "gentlemen farmers" who hired Arabs to till their land and to guard their property. But Arab guards proved unreliable. The men of the First Aliyah hired some of the immigrants of the Second Aliyah, including David, to replace them. Ben-Gurion came to Palestine at a turning point in Zionist history. Such "practical" Zionists as British Chemist Chaim Weizmann† (who later won British promises to support a Jewish National Home in Palestine) had persuaded Zionists to speed up the development of Palestine without waiting for a political title to the country.

Handing Over. Ben-Gurion took three steps of the utmost practical and symbolic importance to Zionism: 1) he organized his fellow watchmen into a defense force, the germ of Haganah, the army that beat the Arabs this year; 2) realizing that forces outside Palestine would be decisive, he went to Turkey, which then held the country, to study law; 3) he then came to the U.S. to help organize the Pioneer Movement, which was based on the sound notion that if Jews were ever to get a solid footing in Palestine, they would have to work the land themselves.

One of the most dramatic and significant elements in Israel's story was the "declassing" of immigrants, the transformation of professional men and tradesmen into farmers and factory workers. Ben-Gurion's hand was in that extraordinary development.

He went back to Palestine as a corporal with Allenby's army in 1917 and then, under the British Mandate, organized the Labor party and the Histadrut (General Federation of Jewish Labor), over both of which he still exerts a dominant influence. Looking back, Ben-Gurion recently said: "We did not hesitate to hand over to the labor community the cherished institutions and treasured economic enterprises that were begun by small select groups inspired by a pioneering zeal—by the few men of the Second Aliyah."

"Sneh on Their Boots." The Histadrut, to which the men of the Second Aliyah turned over Zionism's economic heart, is unique among labor unions as Israel is unique among states. The Zionist socialists, having no nation, could not pursue a program of nationalizing industry. Instead, they turned over more & more functions to the Histadrut until it became a state within a state, a vast trust as well as a labor union. The Histadrut is one of Israel's biggest banks and the main local life insurance company. Histadrut controls 96% of all transportation. (It costs between $1,800 and $5,400 to join the bus drivers' union.) Nearly half of Israel's Jews belong to the Histadrut, which controls directly or indirectly 20% of the country's economy.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6