Named after figures who have left their mark on Israel’s history, walking the country’s streets can be a history lesson in itself. From the founder of political Zionism to the country’s first prime minister, here are some of the most significant individuals whose names have been immortalised in Israel’s spaces.
Ben Gurion Boulevard
David Ben Gurion was born in Russian Poland and moved to Palestine in 1906, going on to become Israel’s first prime minister and a legendary figure in Zionism. He was the man to declare Israel’s independence in 1948 and earned the title ‘Father of the Nation’. He led the nascent state during two spells, 1948-53 and 1955-63, and retired from his lengthy political career in 1970.
Today, tourists can visit the cubic, unassuming residential home he once lived in on this street, and also the eye-catching statue of him doing a handstand on Tel Aviv’s beach.
Yitzhak Rabin was an Israeli military leader who became Israel’s first native born prime minister in 1974, leading the country’s Labour government until 1977. It was his second tenure as prime minister, however, that ultimately defined his life. In 1993, one year into his second spell, Rabin’s government agreed the Israel-PLO accords with Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organisation.
A year later, following a series of clandestine meetings, Rabin signed a full peace treaty with King Hussein of Jordan, and later that year was awarded the Nobel Peace Price. The concessions he made for peace with the Palestinians came with a heavy price: in 1995, while speaking at a peace rally in Tel Aviv, Rabin was shot dead by a right-wing Israeli Jewish extremist.
Ben Yehuda Street
Eliezer Ben Yehuda is the symbolic protagonist in the story of Hebrew’s miraculous revival. Born in 1858 in Lithuania, Ben Yehuda was an early Zionist pioneer who moved to Jerusalem in 1881 with a vision to restore Hebrew as the mother tongue of the Jewish people. Hebrew had been used by Jews in biblical times, but for 2,000 years had been largely dormant as a spoken language.
Ben Yehuda took it upon himself to develop a modern Hebrew vocabulary, combining brand new and ancient Hebrew words. He made lists of new words which he’d spread to Palestine’s Jewish inhabitants using Hebrew newspapers, and raised his son as the first native born speaker of Modern Hebrew. Eventually, due to his tireless work and a host of other factors, Hebrew was adopted as the main language of Palestine’s diverse, multicultural Jewish population, and is now the mother tongue to some 8 million Israelis.
Theodor Herzl is seen as the father of modern Zionism. Herzl expressed his visions for a Jewish state in his works Judenstaat (The Jewish State) and Altneuland (Old New Land), published in 1896 and 1902 respectively, and organised Zionist congresses in Vienna in the early 1900s. His Zionism emerged as a response to anti-Semitism and he believed Jews were a nation like any other.
Quite extraordinarily, he initially proposed a plan to create a Jewish state in Uganda, before realising that a return to their historic homeland in Palestine was the only viable option. Although he died in 1904 at 44, Herzl is considered the driving force behind the rise of political Zionism and the eventual creation of the Jewish State.
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