Ben-Gurion meets with UNSCOP members at J'lem YMCA 311.
(photo credit: Israel National Archives)
The hundreds of thousands who took to the streets from Kiryat Shmona to
Beersheba calling for social justice have gone back home, but not
The powerful image of regular Israelis rallying for a better
life has left an indelible mark. Now the battle to turn symbolism into reality
swings to the government and the Knesset for changes to the budget and the
crafting of a socially responsible fiscal policy.
Rising prices have
undercut the purchasing power of many, but they’re not looking for government
handouts or welfare. They’re looking for changes that will enable them to earn
an honest wage and support their families.
professors stood just behind the organizers providing cogent advice at the
forefront of the expert committee established by the protest organizers. Profs.
Yossi Yona and Avia Spivak brought their decades of experience – as activists,
educators and economists – to bear.
BGU’s Student Association and its
leadership vocally and fully supported the national student union and the
pivotal role it played in the call for social justice. It was natural for BGU
students to answer the national call as they are, themselves, heavily involved
in social justice on the local level on a daily basis.
Day, it is worthwhile to look back at the ideas of Israel’s first prime
minister, and one of its most powerful visionaries, David Ben-Gurion. As we mark
his passing 38 years ago, his vision of a just society and the sustainable
development of the South has never been more relevant.
AS HE declared in
1955, just seven years after the founding of the state, “Only through a unified
effort by the state in planning and execution, by a people ready for a great
voluntary effort, by a youth bold in spirit and inspired by a creative heroism,
by scientists liberated from the bonds of conventional thought and capable of
probing deep into the special problems of this country, shall we succeed in
carrying out the great and momentous task of developing the South and the
Much can be learned from Ben-Gurion’s personal example. He was a
man of simple tastes. His house in Sde Boker was not a villa, but instead a very
modest home, filled with what he treasured most – his books and the mementos
given to him by those he corresponded with around the world.
A man with
an avid interest in the statistics and minutiae of governance, Ben- Gurion
managed to keep his feet on the ground while aiming for a higher
He understood that Israel’s future lay in the breathtaking vistas
of the Negev.
Yet, as Ben-Gurion himself learned, it takes more than a
grand vision to effect sweeping social change.
There is a chance in the
coming years to truly move from vision to reality in the South of Israel. The
Negev region has vast untapped potential. Encompassing 60 percent of the
landmass of Israel, but barely 10% of the population, it is ripe for sustainable
Even as the center of the country becomes overcrowded,
there’s a breath of fresh air coming from the desert.
Bulldozers are now
churning the earth outside the university’s gates to build the Advanced
Technologies Park (ATP).
When complete, it will house state-ofthe- art
facilities for hi-tech and biotech companies, with BGU providing a steady source
of high quality, creative manpower – an overflowing pool of potential employees.
Intern a t i o n a l telecommunications and hi-tech companies such as Deutsche
Telekom and EMC have already reserved the first building.
potential of the South, many of the IDF’s bases are slated to be moved here in
the coming years. Training, communications and intelligence bases will be moved
to the south bringing with it the thousands of intelligent and motivated
soldiers who serve in the IDF. And, of course, BGU has been a hub of academic
excellence with a decidedly community-focused outlook for the past 41
It is not enough to declare that the Negev and the Galilee will be
the recipients of government development strategies.
It is time to get
down to the nuts and bolts: to cut through the red tape, issue building permits
and licenses and connect the Negev to the center via highspeed and frequent
Ben-Gurion hoped to lead by personal example,
leaving his home in Tel Aviv to settle in the periphery. While he did so, few
followed. Forty-eight years later, now is the time for the nation to pull
together and put policy in the service of ideology to sustainably develop one of
the most beautiful and underutilized areas of our country.The writer is
the president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.