A British Philosopher Recalls Talking about King David and Churchill with David Ben-Gurion

In 1986, the Jewish Quarterly Review celebrated the centenary of David Ben-Gurion’s birth by publishing the Russian-born Anglo-Jewish philosopher Isaiah Berlin’s recollections of their personal encounters. The second of these took place in New York City during World War II, when Berlin, seeking the American Zionist activist Ben Cohen, knocked on a hotel-room door and found himself greeted by a surprised pajama-clad Ben-Gurion.

We next met at his house in Tel Aviv in 1950, when he was prime minister of Israel. He asked his wife Paula to give me some coffee or orange juice—“Coffee? orange juice? water would be much easier,” she said, “would you mind?” I did not. BG then spoke passionately and at length about the decisive role of individuals in history—his heroes were Churchill (BG was in London in 1940), Tito, and de Gaulle—men who fought against apparently overwhelming odds, and won. The image of David and Goliath, it seems to me, governed his thoughts at many moments of his life.

After this I saw him in Oxford on two or three occasions—he used to come incognito (during his premiership), mainly, it seems, because Richard Crossman had first interested him in the works of Plato and then told him that Blackwell’s Bookshop in Oxford was by far the best place to obtain books by and on him. On one occasion he stayed in the old Mitre Hotel. . . . I went to the Mitre and found him in an upstairs parlor, surrounded by noisy beer-drinkers, warming his feet in front of a coal fire, absorbed in a translation of Indian classical poetry. He tore himself from the page and greeted me with the words “Socrates, gurus, rebbes—same thing, no difference, deep wisdom.”

On another occasion, Berlin took part in a Bible discussion group the prime minister held at his home on Sabbath afternoons. The conversation had turned to King David and the prophet Nathan, who famously remonstrated him for his misdeeds:

Someone then remarked that, as was known, David was not allowed to build the Temple because he was a man of blood; only Solomon could be permitted to do this. At this point BG sprang to the defense of David with mounting passion—declared that he was by far the greatest of the Jews since Moses, that the blood he had spilt was in a holy cause, that he was the creator of a nation, and that Nathan had gone far beyond what was proper in making so fierce an attack on this great and good king.

Read more at Jewish Quarterly Review

More about: David Ben-Gurion, Isaiah Berlin, King David

An Israeli Buffer Zone in the Gaza Strip Doesn’t Violate International Law

 The IDF announced on Thursday that it is safe for residents to return to some of the towns and villages near the Gaza Strip that have been abandoned since October 7. Yet on the same day, rocket sirens sounded in one of those communities, Kibbutz Mefalsim. To help ensure security in the area, Israel is considering the creation of a buffer zone within the Strip that would be closed to Palestinian civilians and buildings. The U.S. has indicated, however, that it would not look favorably on such a step.

Avraham Shalev explains why it’s necessary:

The creation of a security buffer along the Gaza-Israel border serves the purpose of destroying Hamas’s infrastructure and eliminating the threat to Israel. . . . Some Palestinian structures are practically on the border, and only several hundred yards away from Israeli communities such as Kfar Aza, Kerem Shalom, and Sderot. The Palestinian terrorists that carried out the murderous October 7 attacks crossed into Israel from many of these border-adjacent areas. Hamas officials have already vowed that “we will do this again and again. The al-Aqsa Flood [the October 7th massacre] is just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth.”

In 2018 and 2019, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad organized mass marches towards the Israeli border with the goal of breaking into Israel. Billed by Palestinians as “the Great March of Return,” its name reveals its purpose—invasion. Although the marches were supposedly non-violent, they featured largescale attacks on Israeli forces as well as arson and damage to Israeli agriculture and civilian communities. Moreover, the October 7 massacre was made possible by Hamas’s prepositioning military hardware along the border under false cover of civilian activity. The security perimeter is intended to prevent a reprise of these events.

Shalev goes on to dismantle the arguments put forth about why international law prohibits Israel from creating the buffer zone. He notes:

By way of comparison, following the defeat of Nazi Germany, France occupied the Saar [River Valley] directly until 1947 and then indirectly until reintegration with Germany in 1957, and the Allied occupation of Berlin continued until the reunification of Germany in 1990. The Allies maintained their occupation long after the fall of the Nazi regime, due to the threat of Soviet invasion and conquest of West Berlin, and by extension Western Europe.

Read more at Kohelet

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, International Law, Israeli Security