Menachem Begin (1913 - 1992)
Nobel Peace Prize Winner
Prime Minister of Israel, 1977 - 1983
"Jews must be so strong that there will never be another
Menachem Begin was born August 13, 1913 in Brest-Litovsk, which was
at the time part of the Russian Empire. He was the youngest of
three children. As a child, he and his family were forced to flee into
Russia to escape the fighting between the German and Russian armies
in World War I. At the end of the war, they returned to
Brest-Litovsk, which was by then part of Poland.
After graduating from the local public high school
began attending Warsaw
University in 1931. He graduated in 1935
with a degree in law
. A passionate Zionist
from an early age, as
a teen he had joined Ze'ev Jabotinsky
movement. After college, he began working full-time for Betar. He
quickly rose to important administrative and leadership positions,
becoming the head of Polish Betar in 1939.
As World War II began, he encouraged thousands of Polish Jews to
emigrate illegally to Palestine, just as the country was being
closed off by the British government. He continued to work for
the Zionist cause until he was arrested on charges of espionage in
1940 by Soviet authorities. He was sentenced to eight years in
Siberia, but was released in 1941 along with over a million other
After his release, he joined the Polish army and was sent to the
Middle East. His parents and brother remained trapped in Poland,
and perished in The Holocaust. Only Menachem and his sister
He had not been in the Middle East very long before he assumed command
of the Irgun Zva'i Leumi (also known as ETZEL, the Hebrew
acronym for "National Military Organization"). In this
capacity, he directed Zionist operations against British authority in
Palestine. He was behind many of ETZEL's operations, including the
Akko prison breakout and the destruction of the central British
administrative offices in the King David Hotel. 91 people -
Jews and Arabs as well as British - were killed in the bombing of the
hotel. The Palestinian government offered a reward for information
leading to his arrest, but he evaded capture by living in
disguise in Tel Aviv.
Following the reestablishment of the State of Israel in 1948,
Mr. Begin and his associates founded the Herut party. He headed the
party's list in all Knesset elections from the first, in 1949, to
the tenth, in 1981 (although by then Herut had joined with several
other political factions to form the Likud).
From 1948 to 1977, Menachem Begin was the leader of Israel's
opposition. In the 1950's, he led the movement against accepting
German reparations for the Nazi Holocaust. In May 1967, on the eve
of the Six-Day War, Begin was instrumental in the formation of
Israel's first government of national unity. He served as minister
without portfolio for the national unity government's duration, from
1967 to 1970. In 1977, he was declared Prime Minister as a result
of the elections to the ninth Knesset.
Shortly after he took office, Prime Minister Begin held a series of
secret meetings between Israeli and Egyptian representatives. This
resulted in formal meetings with Anwar Sadat, who was then the
President of Egypt, to discuss the possibility of peace between their
two countries. Over the course of the next two years, Begin and Sadat
engaged in intermittent negotiations as they worked toward signing a
peace treaty on behalf of Israel and Egypt, a feat which earned them
the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize. The treaty was based on the
Camp David Accords, and they signed it in 1979 on the lawn of the
White House in Washington, D.C..
However, in 1981 Begin ordered the Israeli air force to bomb Iraq's Osiraq nuclear reactor on the suspicion that the site was being
used to develop nuclear weapons which might be used against Israel.
And in 1982, under Begin's leadership and despite sharp criticism
(from both international and Israeli sources), Israel invaded and occupied Lebanon. A treaty ending the state
of war between Lebanon and Israel was signed in 1983, but was broken
by the Lebanese less than a year later.
On the domestic front, Prime Minister Begin initiated "Project
Renewal", which addressed long-ignored problems in Israel's urban neighborhoods. Steps were taken towards correcting inadequacies in
education, social services, and housing. Begin also initiated
"Operation Moses," and "Operation Solomon" in an
attempt to save Ethiopian Jews by aiding and encouraging their
immigration to Israel.
Begin wrote numerous articles, and two books: "White
Nights" (1957), an account of his experiences in Europe during
World War II, and "The Revolt" (1964), a history of
ETZEL's battle for an independent Jewish state.
In November of 1982, his beloved wife Aliza died. A few months
later, Begin resigned as Prime Minister and went into seclusion. He
was seldom seen in public after his resignation. He died in 1992 and
is buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, next to Aliza.
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