David Ben Gurion - Speech to Mapai Central Committee

Jan 16, 1948

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Following the UN Partition decision (UN General Assembly Resolution 181) it became increasingly obvious that the Jews and Arabs of Palestine were in the midst of a developing war. David Ben-Gurion, head of the ruling Mapai party, had understood that a war was inevitable since 1946. In public, he was optimistic about victory. In private, he had the grimmest forebodings, some of which he permitted himself to express in the closed forum of the Mapai central committee. Ben-Gurion was convinced that the people had to be prepared for war, not just by military training, but psychologically, and that the nation had to be prepared for total war.  One of his greatest concerns was for national morale. After the first bombing of Tel Aviv by Egyptian aircraft, he surveyed the wreckage and the bystanders. He remark was "Ayleh Ya'amdu" - "these [people] will stand."

This speech conveys a steely determination that is no doubt purposely and consciously reminiscent of Winston Churchill's speeches at the outset of World War II. Yet at the same time, Ben Gurion takes time to assert a fundamental commitment to peace and to universal humanitarian values. It is the latter that he believes will be decisive. That theme was to be repeated many times in speeches by Israeli leaders, and in particular by Yitzhak Rabin, in his 1967 Acceptance Speech for an Honorary Doctor of Philosophy Degree.



The introduction above is copyright 2008 by Ami Isseroff. The translation below is copyright 2008 by Ami Isseroff and Zionism-Israel.com. Except for brief citations, no part of this work may be reproduced without permission. Please feel free to link to link to this page, but do not copy it to your Web site, and do not use it in a printed work without obtaining written permission.  

The eight months before us are not like the eight months that we experienced each year - and perhaps are unlike the eight years or eighty years, and I fear to say also to the eight hundred years that have passed or that shall come in another period- for there is a clear feeling that the entire history of the Jewish nation has been folded into the seven or eight months ahead, which we have already entered, the history that has been going on for over three thousand years, and upon which shall depend the Jewish history to come, perhaps for hundreds or thousands of years. I am incapable, and do not want to see at present beyond the next seven or eight months, because in my opinion they will determine everything - for during this period the war will be decided, and there is nothing that exists for me now other than this war.

War is different from anything else in history - no matter if it is good or bad, and I do not think it is good, but one does not choose war, but is rather forced by it. And the peculiarity of war is that it subordinates everything, absolutely everything, to its needs. And whoever doesn't know enough to be subordinated and to subordinate everything to war needs - when there is no escaping war - is condemned: he is condemned to extinction, and condemned to shameful extinction. War is the supreme test, not not only of power, but of the will to live. And we are now, after 2,000 years, put to this supreme test, and it is not easy to foresee how we shall hold up and with what we shall come out of it. It is not dependent on whether the Arab League sends armies or does not, or how many Arab soldiers shall be drafted to fight us, or who will will help them and who will not help them. I don't say that there is no difference if the league will send armies or no, if tens of thousand of Arab soldiers will join the fight against us or a hundred thousand soldiers, and if they get more or less weaponry. All these will make a huge difference, and  we will pay a huge price if matters fall out one way or the other. But I say that this issue is not crucial. What is crucial is the test of wills, that the supreme test beyond which there is nothing: whoever will have the peak will, will withstand the test and remain alive. Whoever will have a failure of will, will fall, and will be faced with total extinction, moral, national and physical extinction, and therefore everything must be subordinated to the needs of war - not just the strength, not just the means, but also the soul and spirit, all the spiritual and moral powers, in addition to the physical powers of humans and of the economy - of the entire nation and of each person in the nation.

The ingathered Jewish nation has as yet not been subject to a test of collective will, since we have had almost no collective will since the lost our independence. We had collective aspirations, collective longing, but it is doubtful if we had a collection will. This will began to bud here in the homeland, since we arrived to take hold of the land of the homeland and undertake an independent endeavor, and the entire question is whether [the collective will] has already matured and ripened.

And perhaps prematurely we have been suddenly confronted with this supreme test, and we must withstand it, otherwise it will be the last test that is followed by nothing other than extinction. And therefore, it is it difficult for me now to understand any language other than the language of war. I hear every other language as as foreign language that I learned a while ago and that has since, sunk, as if fallen into the abyss. And it is best that all of us forget for now a great deal of what we learned in other distant times - even though the "distant time" is but a few months ago! - and focus the essence of our lives, all our senses and our limbs in one single desire - the desire to win. Without that, we shall not withstand the terrible test, and if we do not withstand the test, all the talk of salvation and a state and Tikkun Olam ["correction of the world" -social consciousness] and the future and liberty, and all other things good and beautiful -- all these are now nothing but words, words, words. The real test, the only [test} is victory in the war, and that is the text of our will.

The  Yishuv [Jewish community] is as yet unacquainted with the best [worst] of the test - despite Salameh, despite Haifa, despite Sheikh Jarrakh, despite Kfar Szold, despite Gvulot, despite Kfar Etzion. For many it is - there, somewhere over these, not "here" inside each and every one of us. We shall not withstand the test as long as each of us does not understand that the front is not "there" or "here" - but rather inside each of us, that not this farm or that point on the front are what stand on the front, but rather every man and woman, every youth and old person, every boy and baby, and we are called to a supreme effort that includes each of us, and from each of us is required the maximum, and it seem to me, that we are now before only the beginning of this effort - and perhaps the effort hasn't begun as yet.

And all of it is the war. There is now nothing more important than war needs, and nothing equal to war needs. And just as I don't understand the language of "state" right now, I don't understand the language of Aliya (immigration) and the language of settlement and the language of culture. There is only one criterion: are these things needed for the war effort or not. If they are needed -- let them be done. if they are unnecessary -- let them wait until the crisis is past. There are no exceptions, that is the great terror and the the great misfortune embedded in every war, that is a cruel and jealous Moloch [god that demands child sacrifice] who knows neither compassion or compromise.

However this cruel view -- and any other view contains self-deception that must end in failure and extinction -- requires one vital distinction, and this distinction reveals the difference between the concept of people of peace, like ourselves, and the concept of men of war like the Mufti and Hitler and similar. There is a historical philosophy that sees in war the highest goal of mankind, the glory of man, the glory of power and its right, and this philosophy supports war as a free choice and as a supreme goal. This is the Nazi philosophy in its many equivalent manifestations in human history, from the time of Cain to Hitler and his students and supporters in different peoples.

That philosophy is anathema to Judaism, as we understand it, as it was understood, so it seems to me, by the prophets and wise men of Israel; we resort to war out of lack of choice -- because it is forced upon us. After it has been forced upon us, it is our duty to carry it out in a supreme total effort, marshalling all of our physical, moral, economic and technical capacity, with no limitations, with an effort of will that is greater than that of Nazis and their look alikes. In this war, and in the coming months, the historic struggle of the Jewish nation that has continued for thousands of years shall be decided -- and all that happened to us in the days of the Romans, the Byzantine empire, the Arabs, the Crusades, Chemielnizky and Hitler, was no more than episodes in the this long struggle. A great decision shall be made now, in the coming months -- and the decision shall be in our favor, if we do not know of any "there" in Kfar Etzion or another village, but if rather, the front reaches the soul of each of us, and it shall arrive there whether we like it or not, without oral or written explanations -- for history shall speak and its voice shall be heard --  even the deaf shall hear it, if we have not yet completely subordinated ourselves with our entire capacity to the demands of war -- we shall do so sooner or later, but before it is too late, if the senses of a nation fighting thousands of years for its existence as has no other nation do not disappoint us, and we do not recoil from the great test as we did not recoil from thousands of little tests, and we know how to marshal every scrap of  physical and spiritual energy to the struggle, no less than those who are steadfast in their faith that war is the highest goal of superior peoples, who are supposedly destined to rule the world by divine grace. But that is not enough. It is necessary that we take up the yoke of war and show a greater will to win than those others. We shall do it, precisely because for us war is not a goal in itself, and we see war as a terrible accursed misfortune, and resort to war only from lack of choice --  war and peace are nothing more than means to something else -- that "something" will give us the advantage that our enemies to not have and that is denied to the followers of violence: a vision of life, a vision of national rebirth, of independence, equality and peace -- for the Jewish nation and for all peoples of the world.

That was our life vision in days of peace, for which we worked and created, toiled and fought for decades, for which generations hoped and waited in anticipation, which was prophesied by our prophets in ancient times and great spiritual leaders in our days, and which we shall defend at the gates today. This vision shall not detract, but quite the opposite, will add to our war effort, amplify our strength and give us an advantage, perhaps decisive, over our enemies.

We will not concern ourselves, as long as there is a war, with matters that are not related to war needs -- even if they are the essence of our lives in peacetime. We will not hesitate to destroy farms and to waste huge resources -- if the needs of war require it. If we do not spare the lives of people, certainly we shall not spare anything else, and the Moloch of war preys on the most valuable thing -- the lives of people. But rather, we shall now focus only on the war effort -- not because we are abandoning our vision from peaceful times, but quite the contrary, because we remain faithful to it unto death and eternity and its name -- we shall make war.

In these two things shall we be tested: If we know, as long as war is forced upon us, to become subordinated to its needs without reservation, condition or limitation -- and if we do not for a minute forget the vision for which we are fighting. This vision provides the surplus of strength and the advantage of arms that is likely to tip the balance. 

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