An interview with, Yariv Mozer, the 39-year-old director of the film Ben Gurion, Epilogue.
It all started with a fluke. In search for a film by prize winner documentary filmmaker David Perlov (June 9, 1930 – December 13, 2003), released in 1970, in order to bring the film to the screen, Yariv Mozer and co-producer Yael Perlov, David Perlov’s daughter, came across a rare interview with Mr. Ben Gurion, then 82-years-old.
The rare interview Ben Gurion agreed to give to a British film crew in April 1968, almost a year after the Six Day War, took place in Kibbutz Sde Boker. Ben Gurion was a member of the kibbutz, in Israel’s deep south. It was four months after the passing of his devoted wife Paula and five years after his surprising resignation, in 1963, from his 13-year run as Israel’s first Prime Minister.
Nurit Greenger: “What is your interest in Ben Gurion who died before you were born?”
Yariv Mozer: I was always interested in Ben Gurion, mostly because of my grandparents who belonged to the political party Mapai, Ben Gurion’s Party.
NG: In his early political life Ben Gurion, the founder of the labor party in Israel, was a socialist. But in the film he claims he was not a socialist?
YM: Ben Gurion was pragmatic. He questioned much and he changed his position on an issue, a subject, adjusting to present reality.
NG: What strikes you about the man?
YM: Ben Gurion was always afraid of the next war. Truly worried about Israel’s existence, whether the state will last, endure. He was our modern father.
NG: What about his life?
YM: Ben Gurion read much, as he tells us in the film’s interview. He was not materialistic, he lived a very modest life. At times there was not enough food for the two children, Paula and him, there was no Piaster (a monetary unit of several Middle Eastern countries, equal to one hundredth of a British pound) in the house. Our young and younger generation is materialistic, lack vision, are lost or are leaving the country because they do not have a clue why we are there.
NG: What did he see in the future?
YM: Ben Gurion was against television because he thought that the young would stop reading and not be interested in educating themselves. To a large extent, Ben Gurion was right.
NG: His vision around the bible didn’t turn out the way he wanted.
YM: Ben Gurion knew the bible well. He established the Bible Quiz that takes place each year. He wanted everyone to know our bible. Unfortunately, it has not turned out to be his way. Nowadays, the bible, The Book, belongs to the religious people and the secular people gave up on it. This is not the way of Ben Gurion’s vision.
This is a film that brought to life a precious interview with David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of then, the nascent state of Israel.
I was mesmerized watching this film, simply taken aback.
I was born in the Ben Gurion era and this movie gives me a truly fresh perspective of the man who declared Israel’s independence, who can be called the Father of the Third Jewish Commonwealth, known today, as the [modern] state of Israel.
I was always under the impression that Ben Gurion (October 16, 1886 – December 01, 1973, age 87), acted as a one man government, kind of a light autocrat. But no, this film shines a different light on the man, giving me a new impression of the statesman. Ben Gurion was a shepherd of people whose spirit was broken, who were in an emotional deep pain. Many were lost in a world of misery, whether they were Holocaust survivors or Jews who were expelled from Arab lands.
Excerpts From the Film Interview
Ben Gurion’s dogma and thoughts
Ben Gurion, who arrived to live in Israel in 1906, was part of the remaking of the Jewish state.
Ben Gurion: “Jews had the right to the country, they did not take it from others but have recreated it. There were never Palestinian people, Palestinian nation or a country called Palestine.”
Ben Gurion was well versed in the Bible the Scriptures. He believed that prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel spoke the truth.
Ben Gurion: “No one can talk to G-D; what they said was deep in their hearts. The prophets understood politics better than all the great kings or today’s statesmen. But they were unpopular, because truth is unpopular. A statesman who looks to be popular, whether he tell the truth or not, is dangerous.”
Ben Gurion was a forgiving person. Several years after the end of WWII which put an end to the systematic murder of Jews, the Holocaust, he signed the Reparation Agreement with the new German government, according to which Jews who were put through the torment of the Holocaust and survived it will be financially compensated. His decision was based on the Bible: “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” ~ Jeremiah 31:28, אָבוֹת אָכְלוּ בֹּסֶר וְשִׁנֵּי בָּנִים תִּקְהֶינָה, meaning, children will suffer for their parents’ misdeeds, with which he did not agree and went along. “Americans suffer now from the crimes of their Forefathers. That is not right, immoral history is not moral.”
When asked in the interview if he is a Socialist, Ben Gurion said, “Socialism has no meaning. Who called himself Socialist? Adolf Hitler on one side and Joseph Stalin on the other side. If Stalin is a Socialist, I have nothing to do with that kind of Socialism.”
Ben Gurion worked under almost any circumstances. His wife Paula said he had his books and writing to fill his life. He never finished the memoir he started to write.
For Ben Gurion, turning to God meant deep thinking about something; this is Jewish meditation. His friend, the Burmese statesman U Nu, taught him the benefit of meditation and to get rid of the ‘I’. He said, “It is not enough of us to meditate, every one of us must do something for the world, for humanity. ‘I’ is not bad, much depends if it is a selfish ‘I’ or a humane ‘I’.”
According to Feldenkrais theory, willpower is something you need to do and you may not want to do. Ben Gurion did not work on willpower, he liked what he does. Ben Gurion agreed. He liked very much what he did for Israel and the Jewish nation.
Ben Gurion on the nation of Israel
BG: “Moses, Moshe, approximately 3400 years ago, was the greatest Jew to ever have lived. He claimed: You are the least in number of all the nations and you must be a virtuous people – אתם המעט מכל העמים ועליכם להיות עם סגולה”
For Ben Gurion, ‘virtue’ meant be truthful, helping all those who need help, “love other men as you love yourself.”
So often dressed in Khaki shirt and pants, one would have seen Ben Gurion as a military warrior. Ben Gurion said, “Fighting is against our belief, against our faith. But, we are forced to do it. Destiny imposes it on us. Unless we keep and increase spiritual superiority, I doubt whether we will be able to achieve what we ought to achieve.”
To those who call themselves ‘Zionists’, Ben Gurion said, “I am not a Zionist. Zionist means return to Zion, not to live in Płońsk, Poland (where Ben Gurion was born). If you do not come to live in Israel what does it mean ‘Zionist’?”
For a long while I, the writer, have been saying that the image of the future Jew is the character of the Israeli Jew. Ben Gurion said, “I am an Israeli-Jew, but I am a Jew. A Jew who wants to live in peace among all nations, where there is not exploitation, but mutual help among human beings.”
Ben Gurion was a leader for peace. He said, “The army in Israel is the army of the people. The IDF – Israel Defense Forces – love peace but has superior capability to fight when necessary. The army is a great education institute, it brings together different ethnic groups. It is the best school to unite the people.”
Early after the Six Day War ended Ben Gurion advocated – and could have achieved – to allow the Arabs who lived in the territory Israel gained in the Six Day War’s victory to be governed by Jordan. However, no one went along with his idea.
Rather familiar with the collection of sayings of the Buddha, The Dhammapada, Ben Gurion said, “Hatred does not cease by hatred, only by love. This is the Dhammapada, said 500 years before Christ and Christianity and founded on the Torah. Deep human morality. You shall love thy fellow man like you love yourself. This did not apply to the Nazis.”
Ben Gurion was reborn in then-Palestine. He became part of the land. He said, “Our historic yearning has been for a new society built on liberty, equality, tolerance, mutual aid and love for man. A society without exploitation and discrimination, slavery or tyranny. Our stance in the world will not be determined by our supposed material wealth, nor by our military might, but by the moral light of our understandings. And although there are some shadows, among them heavy shadows in our lives now, we have the grounds to believe that we can be an example nation.”
In 1972, on his 86th birthday celebration, the famous singer Ray Charles visited Ben Gurion and sang to him this most appropriate song, much of its lyrics can relate to Israel: Heaven help the child who never had a home, Heaven help the man who gave child a gun, Heaven help the people with their backs against the wall, Heaven help us all!
Israel, and the Israeli-Jewish people are still at the very beginning, at a starting point of their journey as a free people, living in a sovereign state. Ben Gurion did not let anyone trample on Israel’s rights and image, he was Israel’s shield in the world. I think, if in Israel they follow Ben Gurion’s advice, things could be so much better.
I strongly recommend the film becomes an integral part of the education curriculum in Israel.
The film should be used as a powerful tool to counteract the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement.
I asked Yariv for a final statement and he said, “My parents are very proud of me. All I want is for this film to be an inspiration, first to the young people who are the future of Israel and to everyone.”
For me, this film’s context and what Ben Gurion brings to light in it is timeless. It is as if time stood still. Watch it and prove it to yourself.