Born as David Josef Gruen in Plonsk, Russia, David Ben-Gurion studied the "Lovers of Zion" movement at a school established by his father. At an early age he met and greatly admired Theodore Herzl, the founder of the International Zionist Movement, who died when Ben-Gurion was 18.
It was from then on that he was determined to carry through with what Herzl had only dreamed of—the establishment of a Jewish state. Because of his determination and in fear of the widespread anti-Semitism that plagued eastern Europe, Ben Gurion moved to Palestine in 1906.
He initially worked as a laborer and remained active in the Poalei Tzion movement, which he joined at 17. In 1910 he was elected a member of the editorial board of the Achdut (unity) newspaper and shortly thereafter adopted the Hebrew name David Ben-Gurion.
In hopes of changing the anti-Zionist Ottoman policies in Palestine he went to Constantinople, Turkey, in 1912 to study law and government. At the outbreak of World War I Ben-Gurion returned to Palestine but was arrested as a known member of Poalei Tzion and was deported.
He moved to New York City and began Hehaulutz, the American wing of Labor Zionism, and in 1917 married Paula Munweis, with whom he had three children. Certain that the Ottoman authorities would never support Zionism, he strategically altered his plans and joined Ze'ev Jabotinsky's call to form Jewish battalions within the British Army to liberate Palestine from the Ottoman Empire.
Ben-Gurion and his family returned to Palestine in late 1918. Ben-Gurion formed the Histadrut, the Federation of Laborers in Israel, in 1920 and was elected secretary-general in 1921. He also established the Haganah, the paramilitary force of the Labor Zionist movement, which facilitated underground Jewish immigration and provided the backbone of the future Israel Defense Force (IDF).
In 1930 Ben-Gurion formed the Israel's Workers Party, Mapai, which became the government during the first three decades of Israel's existence. He was elected chairman of the Zionism Executive and chairman of Histadrut, was regarded by the British as the official representative for the Jews in Palestine, and was instrumental in purchasing arms from Europe.
Ben-Gurion was elected the leader of the World Zionist Organization's Department of Defense in 1946. From this and his other positions he pressured the British to either grant the Jews a state in Palestine or to quit the mandate. In 1947 Britain chose the latter.
On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion announced Israel's declaration of independence and became leader of its provisional government. The surrounding Arab nations invaded Israel, and violence increased between the Arabs in Israel and the Jews.
Ben-Gurion recognized the rationale of Arab objections to Zionism early on and was aware of the nature of the clash between two genuine claims to the same land; however, he and others believed that the establishment of a Jewish homeland was crucial for the survival of Judaism.
Equipped with a stronger military force, Israel defeated the Arabs, and Ben-Gurion became the prime minister on February 26, 1949, a post he held until 1963 except for a period of two years (1953–55). In 1970 he resigned from politics altogether and worked on his autobiography at Kibbutz Sde-Boker until his death in 1973.