Israel Flocks to Sde Boker for Colorful Ben-gurion Birthday Program
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Israel Flocks to Sde Boker for Colorful Ben-gurion Birthday Program

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Eleven thousand admirers gathered last night at former Premier David Ben-Gurion’s Negev retreat here to honor Israel’s former Premier on his 80th birthday. It was an appropriate setting for the Israeli leader who has preached throughout his career on the need to make the still barren Negev the heart of Israel’s life. The old warrior responded with another appeal keyed to the theme that “Israel’s independence and security depend on settlement of the Negev.”

A full yellow moon shone on the scene. Eighty schoolchildren with blazing torches formed a guard of honor. A forest of blue and white flags fluttered in the wind as gusts of desert sand fell on the participants, who included many diplomats, Israel army leaders, trade union leaders and members of Israel’s Government. The former Premier and his wife were protected by a wooden shield against the desert wind and sands.

Suddenly spotlights went on and the 11,000 well-wishers joined with the choirs and band in singing “Hayom Yom Holedet Le-Ben-Gurion” to the tune of “Happy Birthday.” Speaker after speaker brought messages and greetings. One said “stay with us and show us the way. ” That plea was voiced by Yehudit Simhoni, a Mapai member of Parliament, who spoke not as a politician but as a bereaved mother. Her son was General Assaf Simhoni, who was killed in the 1956 Sinai campaign.

The highlight of the celebration here was a 90-minute pageant, featuring slides on scenes of Mr. Ben-Gurion’s career, which were projected on a screen on the campus of the Sde Boker College, which the former Premier has worked intensively to build. Israeli actors read letters Mr. Ben-Gurion had written to his father and to his wife which made up a commentary on his life and work.


His white hair flowing in the wind, the casually dressed, elder statesman mounted the platform and began to speak in the same high-pitched voice and the same staccato delivery with which he had spurred Israelis to build the new state and with which he had denounced his enemies.

“Here in the Negev,” he declared, “we must plant our heavy industry and turn the Negev into a new Suez Canal to export our goods to Africa and Asia, Here we must build the country’s university and research center. This must become Israel’s most densely populated area.”

Messages of greetings from all parts of the world were received. One from British Premier Harold Wilson read; “There are few people who can look back on a life so wholly and successfully dedicated to your nation’s service. You took part in the foundation of a nation devoted to the principles of democratic socialism. Please accept warmest greetings.”

During the coming week, there will be similar celebrations in other parts of Israel, Most of Israel’s Cabinet Ministers and politicians are quietly abstaining from celebration of the occasion because of Mr, Ben-Gurion’s record of unyielding hostility to those who clashed with him in domestic politics. But the nation as a whole seemed to have returned for a brief period to the Ben-Gurion era, which has included leadership of Israel as Prime Minister for 15 of the state’s 18 years.

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