Israel Mourns the Death of David Ben Gurion: Memorial Ceremony at Knesset

David Ben Gurion (Son of the Lion) died here shortly after 11 a.m. Saturday at the age of 87. Among the first Israelis to learn of his death were soldiers recovering from Yom Kippur War wounds at Tel Hashomer-Sheba Medical Center where Ben Gurion had been hospitalized since he suffered a stroke at his Tel Aviv apartment Oct. 18. When he was pronounced dead, police immediately cordoned off the ward. Only his children–Amos, Geula and Renana–were at his bedside. They had been summoned to the hospital an hour earlier when Ben Gurion lapsed into semiconsciousness and his life began to falter. But word of his passing spread like wildfire through the hospital complex. The soldiers were among the first to mourn the man who fathered the Jewish self defense force in Palestine in the early years of this century.

Rabbis of the army chaplain ship corps began a vigil of prayer and psalm-reading at the death bed. When the Sabbath ended, Ben Gurion was placed in a coffin draped with the national flag. This morning, the funeral procession began unofficially. The coffin was taken from the hospital and placed on an army command car which drove slowly to a helicopter waiting near the hospital grounds to carry Ben Gurion’s remains to Jerusalem. He will be buried Monday. It was a silent procession, Joined spontaneously by hundreds of the hospital staff–doctors, nurses, and attendants and scores of wounded soldiers, many of them following the coffin in wheel chairs or on crutches. When news of Ben Gurion’s death was flashed around the world, messages of condolence began to pour in from Jewish and world leaders, including President Nixon and President Georges Pompidou of France. (See separate story.)

Today, Ben Gurion lay in state in the outer hall of the Knesset building in Jerusalem. By nightfall despite rain and wintry temperatures. over 100.000 persons had filed past the bier to pay their final respects to the founder of the Jewish State. For two hours before the public was admitted, Ben Gurion’s son and two daughters and other relatives and close associates of the former Premier spent time alone at the coffin. Then the doors were opened and the vast procession of tribute began, led by Premier Golda Meir and her Cabinet, the Knesset Speaker and justices of the Supreme Court.

Flags throughout the nation flew at half-mast as Israel prepared for the funeral. The hour of his death will be marked by two minutes of silence throughout the country. A memorial ceremony win begin at the Knesset at 11 a.m. tomorrow. Afterwards, helicopters will carry Ben Gurion and the cortege to Sde Boker, the tiny Negev village where he made his modest home and where he will be laid to rest alongside the grave of his wife, Paula, who died in 1968. In accordance with Ben Gurion’s last request, there will be no eulogies at the Knesset memorial or at his grave.

When Ben Gurion died. Army Chief of Staff Gen. David Elazar issued an Order of the Day which was read at all military installations in Israel and on the front lines. It stated: "The man who stood at the cradle of the Israeli Army, who molded his insignia on it and promoted its image is with us no more. David Ben Gurion elevated the Israeli Defense Force from the underground into statehood and it was he who led us to our independence. Soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces are lowering its colors onto the coffin of Ben Gurion, the first citizen of Israel. The memory of his deeds, lessons and creation will remain forever in our hearts. His wonderful image will always be before our eyes, will always lead the way and will direct us to the road of peace and security."

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