Thousands of people make their way to this pilgrimage site every year. David Ben-Gurion (1886–1973), Israel's first prime minister, was one of the 20th century's great statesmen. He regarded the Negev as Israel's frontier and hoped that tens of thousands would settle there. When Ben-Gurion resigned from government in 1953 (later to return), he and his wife, Paula, moved to the isolated, brand-new Kibbutz Sde Boker to provide an example for others. "Neither money
nor propaganda builds a country," he announced. "Only the man who lives and creates in the country can build it." And so, the George Washington of Israel took up his new role in the kibbutz sheepfold. In February 1955, he became prime minister once more, but he returned here to live when he retired in 1963. (He moved back to his Tel Aviv residence some months before his death, at the age of 87, in 1973.)
Set amid the waving eucalyptus trees is Paula and David Ben-Gurion's simple dwelling, a testament to their typically Israeli brand of modesty and frugality. Ben-Gurion's small Negev home is commonly known as "the hut," owing to its humble appearance. It's a one-story wooden home with a small kitchen, an eating corner with a table and two chairs, and simple furniture throughout. Visitors such as United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld drank tea with Ben-Gurion in the modest living room. Ben-Gurion's library shelves contain 5,000 books (there are 20,000 more in his Tel Aviv home, on Ben Gurion Boulevard). His bedroom, with its single picture of Mahatma Gandhi, holds the iron cot on which he slept (often only three hours a night) and his slippers on the floor beside it. The house is exactly as he left it.
Next door, in another painted-wood building, is an exhibition whose themes are the story of Ben-Gurion's extraordinary life, original documents that show the leader's strong ties to the Negev, and the Negev today in light of Ben-Gurion's dream. A film showing the footage of kibbutz members actually voting on his acceptance into their community is shown in the visitor center; the shop here sells gifts, jewelry, and books about the "Old Man," as he was known locally.
Ben-Gurion's Grave. The revered prime minister's grave, just 2 miles south of his desert home, is often visited at the same time. Walk through the beautiful garden until you reach the quiet, windswept plaza; in the center are the simple raised stone slabs marking the graves of David and Paula Ben-Gurion (she died five years before her husband). The couple's final resting place commands a view of Zin Valley's geological finery: a vast, undulating drape of stone that changes hue as the daylight shifts. The cluster of greenery and palm trees to the right on the valley floor marks Ein Avdat (Avdat Spring). Sde Boker, 84993. 08/655–0954. Free. Open all day, daily.