David Ben-Gurion wanted more women in government, IDF archives reveal

Newly disclosed letter written by first prime minister two months before establishment of state calls it ‘privilege and duty’ to name female ministers.

From Left: Shimon Peres, David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan (photo credit: AVRAHAM VERED / IDF AND DEFENSE MINISTRY ARCHIVES)
From Left: Shimon Peres, David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan
Ahead International Women’s Day, the IDF archives at the Defense Ministry have revealed for the first time a rare letter written by the country’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, demanding the inclusion of women in the government as well as a letter written to Ben-Gurion by Esther Arditi, the “Angel in White.”
The first letter was written by Ben-Gurion in 1948, two months before the establishment of the State of Israel nearly 70 years ago. In the letter, he speaks about his views on the importance of appointing women to the government.
“I think the appointment of a woman to the government is a great privilege and one that is also a duty for the Yishuv,” he said in the letter that was given to Women’s Council, WIZO Women’s Union, Mizrahi Women, Women’s Association for Equal Rights, the Women’s Organization of Hapoel Hamizrahi, the Women’s Federation of Hadassah and the WZO World Federation of WIZO Women.
“It seems to me a duty of honor not only toward our mothers, sisters, wives and daughters, who bear the burden of building and shaping the image of the Yishuv, but also toward the wider world and our neighbors. In the government there is a flag – the flag of freedom and equality,” he wrote.
In addition, the archive has revealed a letter written by Esther Arditi, nicknamed the “Angel in White” for her work as a paramedic, rescuing and treating injured IDF pilots and soldiers on the battlefield.
Arditi, who was born in 1937 in Sofia, Bulgaria, was deported along with her family to Italy during World War II. In 1953 at the age of 16, when she graduated from high school, she decided to immigrate to Israel, to enlist in the IDF and was placed in the air force. She was sent to a paramedics course, which she successfully completed on November 22, 1954.
Only a week after she was certified as a medic, on the night of November 29, 1954, she was on a shift at Hatzor Air Force Base when a plane piloted by Maj. Yaakov Salmon and navigated by Maj. Shlomo Hertzman crashed as it came in for landing as a result of bad weather having caused the runway lights to gone out.
The plane began to burn rapidly, and the ammunition in it began to explode.
Arditi, who did not yet have her driver’s license, rushed to the scene of the crash and despite cries of her fellow rescue workers to stay away from the burning plane, the 17-year-old private rescued the two seriously injured crewmen before the plane exploded into flames.
For this, she received an honorary citation from the chief of staff of the IDF, Moshe Dayan, which was subsequently converted into a Medal of Distinguished Service. Arditi was the only female soldier in IDF history to be decorated with such a medal.
The pilot and navigator were evacuated to the hospital where Hertzman succumbed to his wounds and Salmon recovered. Eventually, Salmon’s family adopted Arditi, who was a lone soldier (in Israel without close family to help her).
When the commander of the air force, Maj.-Gen. Dan Tolkovsky, discovered that Arditi was a lone soldier who had been staying on base even during her vacations, he took measures to ensure her future.
“When the [army] release date approaches, it is necessary to help her and to bring her into an appropriate professional training framework so that she will not be lost and will not have to return to Italy,” he wrote in a letter that was also recently revealed.
During the Six Day War, Arditi volunteered to serve as a medic at the casualty unit of the Paratroop Brigade in Jerusalem, and later accompanied the paratroopers as a combat medic during the conquest of the Western Wall. A few years later, during the Yom Kippur War, she volunteered to serve as a medic in a field hospital near the Suez Canal. In 1975, she received a special letter of gratitude for her volunteerism from president Ephraim Katzir.
After completing her military service, she studied nursing at the Carmel Hospital in Haifa.
Fifteen years later, Arditi, who had become a tour guide, asked to bring her family to meet Ben-Gurion. In a modest letter, Arditi wrote to the prime minister, telling him a bit about herself and her family’s wish: “A family with Italian citizenship, whose greatest dream is to shake hands with the honorable Mr. David Ben-Gurion! I, too, would be very happy to shake hands with Mr. Ben-Gurion,” she wrote.
Arditi died on February 20, 2003, during a visit to relatives in Italy and was buried in Livorno.
A street in the Givat Hananya neighborhood of Jerusalem was named “The Angel in White” in her honor.