David Ben-Gurion was born in Płońsk in Congress Poland – then part of the Russian Empire.
In 1905, as a student at the University of Warsaw, he joined the Social-Democratic Jewish Workers' Party – Poalei Zion. He was arrested twice during the Russian Revolution of 1905.
In 1906 he immigrated to Ottoman Palestine.
On 12 April 1909, following an attempted robbery in which an Arab from Kafr Kanna was killed, Ben-Gurion was involved in fighting during which one guard and a farmer from Sejera were killed.
On 7 November 1911, Ben-Gurion arrived in Thessaloniki in order to learn Turkish for his law studies. The city, which had a large Jewish community, impressed Ben-Gurion, who called it "a Jewish city that has no equal in the world". He also realized there that "the Jews were capable of all types of work".
In 1912, he moved to Istanbul, the Ottoman capital, to study law at Istanbul University together with Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, and adopted the Hebrew name Ben-Gurion, after the Jewish leading figure Yosef Ben Gurion from the Great Jewish Revolt against the Romans. He also worked as a journalist. Ben-Gurion saw the future as dependent on the Ottoman regime.
Settling in New York City in 1915, he met Russian-born Paula Munweis. They were married in 1917.
After the Balfour Declaration of November 1917, the situation changed dramatically and in 1918 Ben-Gurion, with the interest of Zionism in mind, switched sides and joined the newly formed Jewish Legion of the British Army.
The house where he lived from 1931 on, and for part of each year after 1953, is now a historic house museum in Tel Aviv, the "Ben-Gurion House".
During the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine, Ben-Gurion instigated a policy of restraint ("Havlagah") in which the Haganah and other Jewish groups did not retaliate for Arab attacks against Jewish civilians, concentrating only on self-defense. In 1937, the Peel Commission recommended partitioning Palestine into Jewish and Arab areas and Ben-Gurion supported this policy. This led to conflict with Ze'ev Jabotinsky who opposed partition and as a result, Jabotinsky's supporters split with the Haganah and abandoned Havlagah.
The British 1939 White paper stipulated that Jewish immigration to Palestine was to be limited to 15,000 a year for the first five years, and would subsequently be contingent on Arab consent.
On 14 May 1948, on the last day of the British Mandate, Ben-Gurion declared the independence of the state of Israel. In the Israeli declaration of independence, he stated that the new nation would "uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of religion, race".
On 24 September, an incursion made by the Palestinian irregulars in the Latrun sector (killing 23 Israeli soldiers) precipitated the debate.
On 26 September, David Ben-Gurion put his argument to the Cabinet to attack Latrun again and conquer the whole or a large part of West Bank.
After leading Israel during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, Ben-Gurion was elected Prime Minister of Israel when his Mapai (Labour) party won the largest number of Knesset seats in the first national election, held on 14 February 1949.
On 5 June, the Six-Day War began with Operation Focus, an Israeli air attack that decimated the Egyptian air force. Israel then captured the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria in a series of campaigns.
On 18 November 1973, Ben-Gurion suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, and was taken to Sheba Medical Center in Tel HaShomer, Ramat Gan. During the first week following the stroke, he received visits from many high-ranking officials, including Prime Minister Golda Meir. His condition began deteriorating on 23 November, and he died on 1 December at age 87.