Israel's founding generation remembered

Jerusalem (AFP) –


David Ben-Gurion, Chaim Weizmann and Golda Meir are among the European Jews who founded the state of Israel in 1948.

Ahead of the 70th anniversary of the creation of the country, here are key figures in its history.

- David Ben-Gurion -

Long-time Zionist leader Ben-Gurion read out Israel's declaration of independence in a Tel Aviv ceremony on May 14, 1948 that established the new state for which he was the first prime minister.

Born in Plonsk, today's Poland, in 1886, he emigrated to Palestine in 1906.

A visionary and leading figure in the Mapai, the forerunner of the left-wing Labour Party, Ben-Gurion established main institutions of the future Israel including the powerful Histadrut trade union and system of collective kibbutz villages.

He died in 1973 aged 87.

- Chaim Weizmann -

The first president of Israel, Weizmann took part in the ground-breaking 1897 Basel congress which pronounced the intention for a "legally assured home" for Jewish people in Palestine.

Weizmann was born in 1874 in Motal, now Belarus. In 1904 he moved to Britain where he worked with foreign secretary Arthur James Balfour on a 1917 declaration of support for the creation of Israel at the expiry of the British mandate on Palestine.

In 1929 he was founding president of the leading Jewish Agency that promoted the Zionist cause and enabled him to meet the leaders of Europe.

He remained at the head of Israel until his death in 1952.

- Golda Meir -

Born in 1898 in Kiev, Golda Meir was among the signatories of the declaration of independence, later becoming a minister and then prime minister.

A strong and inflexible personality, she held radical opinions against the Palestinian cause.

Her time at the head of government was marked by a 1973 war sparked by a surprise attack by Egypt and Syria that Israel was only able to defeat after setbacks that caused severe losses.

Meir resigned in 1974 and died four years later.

- Passing the baton -

- Shimon Peres: A hardliner who became an advocate of peace, Peres was a key political figure in Israel from its creation until the end of his presidential mandate in 2014.

Considered the father of Israel's nuclear programme, as defence minister in the 1970s he supported the establishment of the first Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

In 1994 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, with Israeli premier Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, for his role in negotiating the Oslo peace accords that envisaged the creation of a Palestinian state.

- Yitzhak Rabin: A deputy commander in the elite Palmach unit of paramilitary organisation Haganah that became the Israeli army after 1947, Rabin succeeded Meir as head of the Labour party and then government.

He was one of the main advocates of a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, and was assassinated by a right-wing Jew a year after receiving the Nobel.

- Moshe Dayan: One of Israel's military heroes, Dayan was named foreign minister in 1977 and negotiated peace with Egypt in 1979, Israel's first peace accord with an Arab nation. He wore a black eyepatch after losing an eye in World War II.

- Menachem Begin: Founder of the rightwing Likud party and prime minster from 1977 to 1983, Begin was a firm Zionist who also sought peace with Israel's neighbours.

He signed the 1978 Camp David peace accords with Egypt, sharing that year the Nobel Peace Prize with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.

- Ariel Sharon: One of the most controversial military and political leaders of Israel who was once known for his ruthlessness, Sharon was defence minister behind the 1982 invasion of Lebanon.