(1913 - 1992)
Menachem Begin was born in BrestLitovsk in 1913. As a child
he was forced to flee with his family to escape the fighting between
the German and Russian armies in World War I.
A passionate Zionist from an early age, he joined Ze'ev
Jabotinsky's Betar youth movement in his
teens, rising quickly to important administrative
and leadership positions.
By 1936 he was in charge
of Betar Czechoslovakia, and in 1938 he became
the head of Betar Poland,
an organization with 100,000 members which
engaged in weapons training to defend Polish
Jewry, preparation and transport of illegal immigrants
to Israel, agricultural training, and
In 1940, Begin was imprisoned in
Siberian labor camps by Josef Stalin's NKVD
(a forerunner of the KGB). After the Nazi
invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, he was
set free by dint of his Polish citizenship,
and joined the Free Polish Army, which in
1943 made its way to Britishcontrolled
Palestine for training.
Contacting the dormant Jewish
Zvai Leumi, Begin set about planning
a Jewish uprising against the British authorities.
This began in 1944, but increased in pace
and scope immediately after World War II and
continued until late 1947. Begin ordered many
of the Irgun's operations, including the Akko
prison breakout and the destruction of
the central British administrative offices
in the King
David Hotel. Following the establishment
of the State of Israel in 1948, Begin
disbanded the Irgun.
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 1965, Begin merged his Herut
Party with the Liberals to form Gahal,
which later served as the foundation of the Likud
Party. The crisis atmosphere in 1967 saw
the establishment of a National Unity Government,
which finally brought Begin and other Gahal
leaders to the Cabinet table. The National
Unity Government continued until 1970, when
Begin insisted that Israel condition Egyptian
President Gamal Abdel Nasser's extension of
the cease-fire across the Suez Canal on the
signing of a peace treaty recognizing Israel.
In 1977, Begin was elected Prime Minister of Israel. As the new head of state, he helped
initiate the peace process with Egypt, which resulted in the Camp David Accords and the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty. As of a result of this effort to achieve peace with Egypt, Begin was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October 1978 with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
Begin invested national resources in development programs for
Israel's poorer neighborhoods and sought to liberalize Israel's
In 1981, Begin ordered the Israeli
Air Force to bomb the Osirak
nuclear reactor in Iraq,
where the Iraqi regime was developing nuclear
weapons. Though Israel was roundly condemned
by the international community at the time,
it became apparent during the 1991 Gulf
War that Israel's action had succeeded
in hampering Baghdad's drive to acquire nuclear
In 1982, after repeated acts of PLO
terror, Israel launched Operation
Peace for Galilee to remove the terrorist
threat from Israel's northern border.
Begin's decision to encourage Ethiopian Jews to immigrate to Israel
later culminated in Operation Moses, which brought thousands en
masse to Israel in the early 1980's.
Following the death of his
wife, Aliza, in the winter of 1982, Begin
resigned as Prime Minister. He spent the rest
of his life in seclusion, glimpsed in public
only at memorials for his wife or at the weddings
of his grandchildren. He died March 9, 1992,
and was buried on the Mount
of Olives in Jerusalem.