Begin, Menachem

views updated May 21 2018

Menachem Begin

August 16, 1913

Brest-Litovsk, Poland

March 9, 1992

Tel Aviv, Israel

Leader of the Irgun Zvai Leumi, prime minister of Israel

"The State for which we have striven from our early youth, the State which will give freedom to the people and assure the future of its sons, that State remains as the goal of our generation."

M enachem Begin emulated his father's passion and commitment to the dream of a Jewish state. His journey led him down paths of violence and diplomacy.

The city of Brest-Litovsk, where the Begin family lived and where Menachem, the youngest of three children, was born, was a border town in Eastern Europe. It was continually shifting from the control of one country to another. Russia, Poland, and Germany all claimed and governed the city at various points, but in 1913, when Begin was born, it was Polish. In a way it did not matter which country the city was in. The Jewish population had been settled there since the 1300s. They created their own world in their section of the city, with a synagogue (a Jewish house of worship), Hebrew-language schools, and community leaders who were their link to whatever country was running the city at the moment.

Ze'ev Dov Begin (pronounced BAY-ghin), Menachem's father, was one of these leaders. The Begin family had once been quite wealthy, controlling great areas of wooded land and making a fortune in lumber profits, but that all disappeared in the constant changes in government. During Begin's childhood the family was quite poor and sometimes hungry, but the father was respected both inside the Jewish quarter and in the rest of the city, a "doer" who was a talented organizer and who used his abilities to make life in the Jewish quarter better.

Whenever there was an event, a holiday to be celebrated, or a religious festival to be observed, Ze'ev Dov was in the forefront, making things happen. His festivities generally included scheduling a speech for himself, something he loved and at which he was extremely good. The cause of his life was Zionism, the movement that strove to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine, a land in the Middle East that was held holy by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike.

In his father's footsteps

It was not long before young Begin began following in his father's footsteps. Born in 1913, he was just ten years old when he gave his first speech. The occasion was a festival celebrating the Jewish revolt against ancient Rome in 135 c.e., and Ze'ev provided his son with a speech about Bar Kokhba, the leader of the revolt. This first taste of the power of words made a lasting impression on the boy. In his autobiography Begin recalled making this speech and enjoying his fame. He soon decided that he wanted to become a lawyer.

The Begin children attended the Jewish elementary school in Brest-Litovsk but later went to the local Polish high school. There the education was free, which was important for the family, and career opportunities were better for those educated in the Polish schools. Mixing Polish and Jewish teenagers created problems, though, and the Christian students insulted and humiliated the Jewish students daily. Being small and frail, Begin naturally turned all the more strongly toward his talent for words.

In 1931 Begin graduated from high school and went to Warsaw, Poland, to study law at Warsaw University. But his studies took second place to his Zionist activities, particularly his involvement in the Betar youth movement. Betar had been founded by journalist Vladimir Jabotinsky (1880–1940), whom Begin had heard speak and whom he admired. Its purpose was to prepare young European Jews physically and mentally for moving to Palestine. The leaders of Betar groups were expected to teach self-discipline, good manners, cleanliness, tact, loyalty, courage, self-esteem, and self-denial. The members wore uniforms, marched in parades, and trained with weapons. Before long, young Begin was promoted to head of the movement in Poland. When problems arose within the movement in Czechoslovakia, Begin went to help sort things out there.

By 1939 Jews living in Europe were growing increasingly anxious. The Nazi Party in Germany, headed by Adolf Hitler (1889–1945), was regularly attacking Jews, and this antisemitic poison was spreading throughout Europe. This made the dream of Zionism a matter of immediate importance. Jews in Czechoslovakia were being harassed and mistreated. While visiting there, instead of preaching the official Betar philosophy of the right of Jews to defend themselves, Begin began to urge going on the offensive. Maybe Jews should do some harassing of their own, he declared. For Betar, this was too close to encouraging violence, and Begin was ordered to return to Poland.

In the meantime, though, Arabs in Palestine were increasingly using violence against the Jews who had been settling there. What Begin was saying made sense to many in Betar. The result was Irgun Zvai Leumi (pronounced ear-gun zveye lee-you-mi), a more militant arm of Betar that did not believe that Jews should fight only in self-defense. They immediately began launching and supporting attacks on Arabs. The Irgun faction soon gained control of Betar and made military training its priority.

A dark time

After the German army invaded Poland in 1939, dividing the country with the Soviet Union (present-day Russia and its neighboring countries, with which Germany had a secret agreement), Begin fled to the Soviet Union. There, he was arrested as a troublemaker and spy and sentenced to a Soviet labor camp for eight years. He was freed after only one year as part of a general agreement between the Soviet Union and the Polish government in exile (the Polish government, still recognized as the true Polish government by other countries, fled to London, England, and was operating out of that city). Begin learned that his parents and his brother had disappeared in the

Jews and World War II

World War I (1914–18) changed the face of Europe. In the east Russia was transformed by the Bolshevik Revolution (1917) which replaced the czar (also spelled tsar; king) with a communist government. (Communism is a system in which the state controls the economy, including factories and businesses.) To the west, Germany, which had lost the war, was burdened with huge payments to England and France to make up for the losses those countries had suffered in the war.

In the early 1930s an economic depression gripped Western Europe, which made living conditions much more difficult. Things were particularly bad in Germany because of its huge war debts. A radical political party, the National Socialists (known as the Nazis), gained popularity by blaming Germany's problems on Jews. There was no rational basis for these accusations; the Nazis were using the Jews as scapegoats, or people who are blamed for something that is not actually their fault. In an effort to give a sense of pride to Germans following their defeat in World War I, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) also invented a theory of German racial superiority, claiming Germans were a "master race," especially compared with Jews. Hitler's followers often seized on these theories to attack Jews and steal or destroy their property.

In 1933 Hitler became chancellor (prime minister) of Germany. From there he gradually expanded his antisemitic (anti-Jewish) politics. It eventually resulted in the murder of six million Jews during World War II (1939–45), an event known as the Holocaust.

Hitler also wanted to expand Germany's territory to the east, into an area controlled by the Soviet Union (today, Russia and its neighboring countries). Joseph Stalin (1879–1953) had become the dictator of the Soviet Union in 1924. In order to expand the Soviet Union's own territories and keep Hitler from invading it, Stalin entered into a peace pact with Germany under which the two countries divided Poland between them. Although their political philosophies were opposite each other, Hitler and Stalin both ruled as dictators, and they were both willing to take whatever action seemed to be to their immediate benefit. Indeed, opponents of the Soviet Union who ended up in the Soviet part of Poland were quickly rounded up and shipped to prison camps in Siberia, a cold, empty part of northeastern Russia.

Ultimately, the peace agreement did not work out for Stalin: Hitler's armies invaded Russia in 1941.

Holocaust (the systematic killing of the Jews of Europe, as perpetrated by the Nazis), along with tens of thousands of other Polish Jews. Only Begin and his sister, Rachel, survived.

Begin joined the Free Polish Army, which was fighting the German occupation of Poland. The Free Polish Army was allied with the British army. Begin was sent to Palestine (then governed by Britain under the Palestine Mandate, a 1922 agreement negotiated by the League of Nations in the wake of World War I [1914–17] and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, which had formerly governed much of the Middle East.) There Begin learned English and served as an interpreter for the British army. During these years, his commitment to Zionism, which included calls for violence against Palestinian Arabs and the British, made him leader of the Irgun Zvai Leumi. Irgun members were committed to chasing the British out of Palestine. This angered the official Zionist leadership, the Haganah, which wanted to use diplomacy to achieve the same goal.

Out of this basic split in policy came confusion and bloodshed. Haganah refused to fund violent activities by Irgun, so Irgun turned to robbery and other crimes to raise money for arms. On November 6, 1944, gunmen assassinated Lord Moyne, Britain's minister for Middle East affairs, in Cairo, Egypt. Although a different group was responsible for the murder, the Irgun was blamed. This further destroyed the already shaky trust between Haganah and Irgun and made Begin the focus of an intense manhunt by the British.

After the full horror of what Nazi Germany did to the Jews became known—they murdered more than six million Jews during World War II (1939–45)—Begin issued a statement calling for open revolt against the British rulers in Palestine. He wrote, in part, that Britain had "shamefully betrayed the Jewish people" by not helping make Palestine available for immigration (only a certain number of Jews were allowed to immigrate despite knowledge of the mass killings). In this sense, he argued, the British effectively took part in the murder of Jews by the Nazis. He declared war on Britain "to the end… . We shall fight, every Jew in the homeland will fight," he promised.

Nevertheless, as World War II ended and Britain focused more and more on its problems at home, the Haganah and Irgun merged for about a year as the Hebrew Resistance Movement. In a well-planned attack on October 31, 1945, the Resistance sank

Zionism and the Founding of Israel

For centuries the Jewish people had lived in Europe without a country of their own. Most Europeans were Christians. They accepted the Jews in part because the Jewish religion did not prevent them from lending money, as the Christian religion did. The Jews thus filled an important role in the European economy, but they were also resented by many Christians for the money they earned by making loans.

In the late nineteenth century an Austrian Jewish journalist named Theodor Herzl (pronounced HURTS-el; 1860–1904) suggested that Jews should found their own state. It was, in part, a way to end the antisemitic attacks on Jews in Europe that had been going on for hundreds of years. Gradually small numbers of Jews began moving to Palestine to buy and run farms. Palestine, which was roughly in the same area as the ancient Jewish homeland described in the Bible, was ruled by the Turkish Ottoman Empire, which accepted the small migration.

The Ottomans were at war with Britain during World War I, and Britain's prime minister, Arthur Balfour (1848–1930), tried to gain Jewish support by issuing a statement (later called the Balfour Declaration) in 1917, promising to support a Jewish state in the Middle East after the war was over. The Ottoman Empire collapsed during the war, and France and Britain divided up its lands in the Middle East, creating Syria and Lebanon (run by France) and Iraq and Palestine (run by Britain). The stage was set for a struggle between Arabs and Jews living in Palestine to control the territory.

This struggle took on a new dimension at the end of World War II, when the Jews who had survived the Nazi Holocaust realized they could not bear to simply return to their countries (six million Jews were killed by the Germans during the war). Israel, a Jewish homeland since biblical times, was a potential new country that Jews could call their own. Aided by Zionists, thousands of Jewish survivors began pouring out of the Nazi death camps for Israel. The increase in migration threatened to upset the balance of population and power in Palestine.

At the same time some Zionists began organizing armed opposition to Palestinian Arabs, just as the Arabs began their own armed resistance to the Jews.

three police patrol boats, blew up railway lines at 153 points, and destroyed locomotives in a rail yard. They raided British police, army, and air force posts. On February 25, 1946, another raid destroyed twenty British army planes on the ground.

The eventual British response was to round up and imprison Zionist sympathizers, but the Resistance leaders, including Begin, mostly avoided capture. The Irgun continued to stage attacks, sometimes kidnapping British soldiers, which earned Begin a "Wanted for Terrorism" poster. The stage was now set for a truly dramatic gesture, and the Resistance supplied one with "Operation Chick."

Operation Chick

Begin's plan for Operation Chick had been ready for months. Finally, on July 22, 1946, the Resistance decided the time was right. The target was the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. The southern wing of the hotel held the headquarters of the British government in Palestine, the military police, and the special investigations offices. The hotel was also "home away from home" for British in Palestine; the lobby and restaurants were always packed. But on this day, as the usual activity went on upstairs, beneath the restaurant Irgun members were delivering milk cans packed with dynamite.

The Irgun had to overpower the kitchen workers, and a British officer who noticed a disturbance and came to investigate was shot, but the bombs were placed. The kitchen workers were freed and told to run for their lives, which they did, with the Irgun among them, making their getaway. The timers on the milk cans were set to go off in thirty minutes, at 12:37 p.m.

Afterward, the Irgun insisted that they made several phone calls to the hotel and to a local newspaper, warning that there would be an explosion and that the building should be emptied. For whatever reason, nothing was done.

At 12:37 the explosion came. All six floors of the southern wing of the hotel came crashing down, and when the dust finally cleared, ninety-one people were dead in the rubble and forty-five were injured.

Even after this attack, it was almost two years before Israel declared its independence, and the level of violence steadily rose. Both Arabs and Jews were intent on claiming as much territory as possible, in part by driving civilians from the other side off the land. Palestinians were driven from their farms and homes throughout Palestine. In turn, Palestinians attacked Jewish settlements and property in the cities.

In the meantime Jews were flooding into Palestine from the German death camps, increasing the Jewish population of Palestine and laying claim to a kind of moral right to settle somewhere in peace after the horrors of the Holocaust.

In all these activities—attacking Palestinian settlements and helping Jews get around British immigration controls—Begin and the Irgun played a major role.

After independence

After Israel declared its independence in 1948, there was no role for unofficial "terrorist" forces, and Begin dissolved the Irgun. He turned his attention to politics and became the leader of the minority conservative party in Israel's parliament.

In 1965 Begin combined his Herut Party with the Liberal Party, which eventually became known as the Likud Party. Begin continued to play a central role in the government of Israel, insisting that Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918–1970) sign a peace treaty recognizing the state of Israel after the Six Day War of 1967, in which Israel seized significant territory from Egypt and Syria. No treaty was signed, however, and Israel fought another war against Egypt in 1973.

Begin was elected prime minister of Israel in 1977, and he negotiated a treaty with Egypt's President Anwar el-Sadat (1918–1981) in 1978. The two leaders shared the Nobel Peace Prize for 1978 in recognition of the treaty.

Despite the treaty, tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbors continued. In 1981 Begin ordered the Israeli air force to bomb a nuclear power plant in Iraq, which Israel discovered Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein (1937–), was using to develop nuclear weapons. A decade later, during the Persian Gulf War (1990–91), it was confirmed that the raid did in fact set back Iraq's nuclear weapons program.

Begin's final major act as the leader of Israel was to order an attack on Palestinian positions in Lebanon, in 1982. Palestinians had long used southern Lebanon to launch raids into Israel, and Begin was determined to end the practice. But the attack on Lebanon was highly controversial. On June 6, 1982, army tanks rolled into Lebanon. Six hundred Israeli soldiers

died and three thousand were wounded. Many more Arabs were killed, and Israel's allies in Lebanon, who were primarily Arab Christians, murdered hundreds of people in a refugee camp.

Begin's wife, Aliza (whom he had married in 1939, and with whom he had three children), died in the winter of 1982. Begin resigned as prime minister shortly afterward. He dropped out of politics, being seen in public only rarely at memorials for his wife or at his grandchildren's weddings.

Begin died on March 9, 1992. He was buried in Jerusalem.

Terrorist or soldier?

The life story of Begin raises the question of whether a man who won the Nobel Peace Prize can be described as a terrorist. This has become a sensitive political issue. Palestinians argue that Begin's organization, Irgun, used terrorist tactics to drive Palestinians off their land and out of their homes

From War to Peace, 1948–1978

Between 1948 and 1973 Israel fought four major wars against its Arab neighbors, in addition to fighting countless terrorist raids across its borders.

1948: War of Israeli Independence. On the morning after Israel declared its independence, armies from surrounding Arab states—Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon—all launched attacks. Their aim was to destroy the new Jewish state before it had time to become established. But the Jews of Israel had been organizing for the occasion, and its informal armed forces became a military force that decisively defeated the combined Arab armies.

1956: Israel combined forces with Britain and France to try to seize the Suez Canal, an important waterway in Egypt linking the Mediterranean Sea with the Indian Ocean. By using the canal, ships traveling from Europe to India could avoid the long trip around Africa. Although they succeeded at first, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969) did not support seizing the Suez Canal (which had been built by Britain and was later taken over by Egypt's President Gamal Abdel Nasser [1918–1970]). By threatening to withdraw U.S. support from Israel, Eisenhower forced the invading armies to retreat.

1967: In June Israel launched a lightning strike against the Egyptians in the south and the Syrians in the north. The war was over in just six days, and resulted in Israel holding much of the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank of the Jordan River, and the Golan Heights of Syria. These territories became a long-standing source of conflict between Israel and its neighbors.

1973: In an effort to regain the territory they had lost in 1967, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. The attack surprised Israel, and at first Egypt and Syria made progress. Within a few days, however, Israel drove the Arabs back and began advancing across the Suez Canal into Egypt and toward Damascus, the capital of Syria. The United States, Israel's strongest ally, helped arrange a truce and persuaded Israel to return some of its newly seized land to Egypt and Syria. A few years later Egypt's President Anwar el-Sadat, who had started the 1973 war, negotiated a peace treaty with Israel, for which he and Menachem Begin shared the Nobel Peace Prize for 1978.

in the months before Israeli independence. His defenders point out that he used terrorist tactics against the British military as a guerrilla fighter for his people, and that even then he took care to warn people away from the targets of bombs. The question becomes, does winning a battle for independence make the difference between a terrorist and a patriot? The debate continues.

For More Information


Gervasi, Frank. The Life and Times of Meanchem Begin: Rebel to Statesman. New York: Putnam, 1979.

Haber, Eithan. Menachem Begin: The Legend and the Man. New York: Delacorte Press, 1978.

Hirschler, Gertrude, and Lester S. Eckman. Menachem Begin, From Freedom Fighter to Statesman. New York: Shengold Publishers, 1979.

Perlmutter, Amos. The Life and Times of Menachem Begin. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1987.


Elon, Amos. "Letter from Israel." The New Yorker, July 29, 1985, p. 60.

Johnson, Marguerite. "Fighter, First and Last: Menachem Begin: 1913–1992." Time, March 23, 1992, p. 42.

"Menachem Begin, RIP." National Review, March 30, 1992, p. 14.

Watson, Russell. "The Legacy of a 'Fighting Jew': Menachem Begin Transformed Israeli Politics." Newsweek, March 23, 1992, p. 45.

Begin, Menachem

views updated Jun 11 2018

Menachem Begin

Born on August 16, 1913 (Brest-Litovsk, Poland)
Died on March 9, 1992 (Tel Aviv, Israel)

Prime Minister of Israel
Political activist

Menachem Begin devoted his life to Israel's independence. From an early age he experienced the horrors of being Jewish in a world where Jews were not welcome and had no place to go. Begin survived imprisonment during World War II (1939–45; war in which Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, the United States, and their allies defeated Germany, Italy, and Japan), but lost all of his family except his sister to the death camps created by German Nazis (death camps were complexes built by the Nazis for the express purpose of mass murder). A frail man with thick spectacles, Begin rose to assume the leadership of Irgun Zvai Leumi, a militant group devoted to the creation of an independent Jewish state in the Middle Eastern territory of Palestine. For the violent attacks he led on British and Arab targets, Begin earned the contradictory labels of both "hero" and "terrorist." After Israel attained independence in 1948, Begin turned his attention from war to peace. As prime minister of Israel, Begin negotiated Israel's first peace treaty with an Arab state, securing an end to more than thirty years of tension with Egypt and winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978, which he shared with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat (1918–1981; see entry).

"We must beware of compromise. Any compromise, any agreement by the Jewish people in Palestine to a limitation of the concept of rule, or the concept of the Land of Israel, is likely to result in the loss of the entire political objective."

Suffered discrimination in Poland

Menachem Wolfovitch Begin was born on August 16, 1913, the youngest of Ze'ev Dov and Hassia Begin's three children. Begin's father worked as a traveling timber salesman, an occupation that brought him into contact with a wide variety of people. Ze'ev Dov Begin hoped that Jews would someday establish their own nation, and in his travels he made contact with many people who believed the same. Ze'ev Dov Begin committed himself to Zionism, an international political movement originating in the late nineteenth century, which called for the creation of an independent Jewish state in Palestine. As Begin grew up, his father determined that the young man needed a good education, something he himself had lacked, in order to work effectively for Zionism. The younger Begin possessed a sharp mind; he studied hard in school, learned many languages, mastered the game of chess, and developed a natural gift for public speaking.

Begin spent his first eight years in Brest-Litovsk, in a portion of Poland then controlled by the Russian Empire. The area was known as the Pale Settlement, a community where Jews were able to live legally, but where they suffered poverty and the threat of pogroms, or attacks on Jews. Although Begin and other Jews suffered discrimination at the hands of Poles—among other things, Jews were forced to take separate classes in schools, refused service in some restaurants, and prohibited from some movie theaters—he was inspired by the Poles' struggle for independence. In 1921 Poland obtained its independence from Russia. And following in that pattern, Begin would devote his life to the Jewish struggle for independence: Zionism.

At age fifteen Begin joined Betar, a Zionist youth group. Betar's founder, Vladimir Ze'ev Jabotinsky (1880–1940), inspired Begin and solidified much of his thinking about Zionism. Begin came to think that the Jewish homeland could only be formed through "war...not begging," as Begin was quoted in Virginia Bracket's book Menachem Begin. Jabotinsky's beliefs formed the bedrock of Betar's policies. As Betar promoted Zionism, it came to emphasize self-defense and members were taught about weaponry. Begin became a devoted Betar member and remained committed throughout his college years. In college he focused on studies he thought would help him further Zionism. With a law degree from Warsaw University in hand, Begin assumed the leadership of Betar's seventy thousand members in Poland in 1935.

In the meantime the Nazi Party had come to power in Poland's neighboring country, Germany. Poles knew of German leader Adolf Hitler's (1889–1945) systematic process of gathering and killing Jews. But in the late 1930s, as the Nazis began their invasion of France, Poland, and other countries, Begin remained in Poland. He married Aliza Arnold in 1939 and moved from Warsaw to Vilna, Lithuania. Begin continued to work for Zionism through Betar. Vilna became a hub for transporting Jews out of Nazi-controlled areas. Begin was aware that his actions and his house were being watched by the secret police of the Soviet Union. Vilna had come under Soviet control during the war and Zionist activities were illegal under Soviet law. In 1940 the secret police came to Begin's home and escorted him to jail, where he was interrogated at length but not accused of any wrongdoing. For more than a year Begin remained in detention, surviving on one meal a day. In April 1941, Begin was tried and sentenced to eight years in a Siberian labor camp as "an element dangerous to society," according to Richard Amdur, author of Menachem Begin. The camp, located north of the Arctic Circle, was cold, and the work building a railroad was difficult. According to Amdur, a Soviet soldier at the camp assured Begin: "You'll get used to it. If you don't, you'll die." Late in 1941, however, an agreement between Russia and Poland set Begin and 1.5 million other Polish prisoners free. Upon his release from prison, Begin discovered that he and his sister were the only members of their family to survive the prison camps.

While in prison, Begin had received a handkerchief from his wife with the letters OLA embroidered on it. Letters embroidered on handkerchiefs are usually nothing more than the initials of the owner, but these letters were a secret message for Begin. Ola is the Hebrew word for "going to Israel." His wife was telling him that she had moved from Poland to Palestine. But Begin needed money to travel to Palestine, so he joined the Polish Army as an English interpreter. His work with the army took him to Iran and then to Palestine in May 1942. In Palestine Begin found his wife waiting for him. Reunited, the couple started a family. Benjamin (sometimes spelled Binyamin) Ze'ev was born in 1943, followed by two daughters, Hasia in 1946 and Leah in 1949. Begin's devotion to his family remained the center of his life.

Battled for independent Israel

In the early 1940s Palestine was controlled under a British mandate and contained both Arab and Jewish communities. When Begin arrived there, Britain had begun limiting the number of Jewish immigrants to the country, even in the face of Hitler's murderous policies. As others, including political leader David Ben-Gurion (1886–1973; see entry), worked the political angles to negotiate for Jewish freedoms, Begin took more drastic measures. War, Begin had learned as a youth, was the only way for Jews to claim their own nation. Begin left his army position in 1943 to reorganize an underground militia called Irgun Zvai Leumi, or simply Irgun. Begin issued a declaration against Britain, reading: "There is no longer any armistice between the Jewish people and the British administration in Eretz Israel [Land of Israel] which hands our brothers over to Hitler. Our people are at war with this regime—war to the end," according to Amdur. Irgun carried out attacks against both British and Arab targets. Begin organized bombings, hangings, and other attacks.

Irgun's attacks angered those within the Jewish community who hoped to win independence through diplomacy. But when Hitler's atrocities against Jews became known to the world in 1945, Jews of all political persuasions banded together to carry out attacks against the British. The Hebrew Resistance Movement, as it was called, sank British police boats, bombed railroads, and attacked British military posts in Israel. The most significant raid occurred on July 22, 1946. Begin orchestrated the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which killed or injured more than one hundred British, Jews, and Arabs. Britain issued a fifty thousand-dollar reward for Begin's capture, but he eluded police and continued to lead Irgun attacks. The disruption caused by fighting prompted the British to ask the United Nations (an international organization founded in 1945 and made up of most of the countries of the world) for help in 1947.

The United Nations proposed a plan to divide Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states. Talk of creating a separate Jewish state irritated the surrounding Arab nations, who vowed to block any such measure. Fighting against the Arabs escalated in 1948; an Irgun attack on the Arab town of Deir Yassin in April of that year killed approximately two hundred people. The attack on Deir Yassin remains one of the most remembered attacks against Palestinian Arabs. Palestinian Arabs, especially those who lived in areas with large Jewish populations, reacted to the terror by fleeing their homes. Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948. Britain accepted the declaration and relinquished its mandate the next day.

Israel's independence did not create immediate unity among all Jews, especially about military tactics. The young country's first prime minister was David Ben-Gurion. Ben-Gurion recognized the importance of having a strong military, but did not agree with all of Irgun's practices. Ben-Gurion formed the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on May 28, 1948, which sparked a standoff between Irgun and the IDF in the Tel Aviv harbor. Irgun sailed a ship bearing arms into the harbor. Ben-Gurion ordered the IDF to fire upon it as a warning that the new Israeli government would hold its ground. Begin ordered Irgun's ship to stand down, averting a civil war. Irgun dissolved, but the incident remained an open wound in Israeli politics for years to come.

Begin's leadership of Irgun branded him a terrorist in the eyes of some, but many others considered his actions necessary for Jewish freedom. Begin considered himself a freedom fighter, an instrument necessary for Israel's "glorious revolution," as quoted by author Virginia Brackett. With Israel's independence won, Begin turned his attention to politics, forming a party called Herut, or Freedom Movement. The Herut party aimed to increase Israeli power through military force. Begin was elected the leader of the Herut, and ran the party in an authoritative manner, retaining complete power over party decisions for decades to come.

Turned to politics

In the first election of representatives to the Knesset, Israel's 120-member legislative body, Begin's party won fourteen seats. Ben-Gurion's party, the Mapai, won forty-four seats and the right to lead the government. In the Knesset, Begin and Ben-Gurion began a difficult political relationship because of their vastly different opinions. The two criticized each other openly and often. Begin called Ben-Gurion a "fool" and an "idiot," according to Amdur. Ben-Gurion characterized Begin as a "bespectacled petty Polish solicitor" and a "clown," according to Brackett.

As leader of the Herut party, Begin vied for more political power over the years. In 1952 Begin incited a riot at the steps of the Knesset in protest of Israel's acceptance of money paid by Germany for the atrocities against Jews committed during World War II. Though Ben-Gurion's policies remained stronger in these earlier years, Begin continued voicing his dissenting opinions. Begin's opinions about militant defense soon became more acceptable to the Israeli public as Israel battled with surrounding nations, especially Egypt, in the 1950s, and more and more Israelis completed their mandatory service in the IDF. His party's growing strength enabled Begin to form a coalition between Herut and the Liberal party in 1966. The new coalition party was called Gahal and won twenty-six seats in the Knesset, a number high enough to wield significant political power. Begin's power in government was on the rise.

In May 1967 Egypt threatened war with Israel. With war on the horizon, Israel quickly formed a new national government, one that could gain the broad base of support the country would need during a war. On June 6, 1967, Begin assumed the role of "minister without portfolio," a position that gave him a voice in the highest levels of the new government, but no specific area of government to control. That same day the Israeli military started the Six-Day War, during which Israel demonstrated its military might and quadrupled its size, taking territory from Syria, Jordan, and Egypt and displacing more than one million Palestinians from their homes either by fear or force. Over the next three years, Begin used his position in government to promote a peace treaty with the Arab nations before returning any of the land captured during the war.

Egypt, unwilling to accept defeat, continued to conduct smaller attacks on Israel after the Six-Day War, but was continually rebuffed by Israel's superior forces. When Egypt's president Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918–1970; see entry) died in 1970, his successor, Anwar Sadat, began working to regain Egyptian access to the Sinai Peninsula by negotiating for a peace treaty with Israel. The frustrated peace process led to another war between Israel and Egypt in 1973. The Yom Kippur War (known by Arabs as the Arab-Israeli War of 1973), launched on the Jewish holy day, took Israel by surprise. Egypt quickly won back some land across the Suez Canal and Israel began to take peace negotiations more seriously.

That same year, Begin tried to consolidate more power within the Israeli government by forming a new coalition, the Likud party. In 1973 Likud members sat in thirty-nine Knesset seats as representatives of the second most powerful political party in Israel. Begin remained at the Likud party helm, but suffered a severe heart attack in 1974. Despite his brush with death, Begin was committed to the build up of his political power. In the elections of 1977, the Likud party won forty-three seats to Labor's thirty-two, and Begin became the Israeli prime minister. As prime minister, Begin announced that he would seek peace for Israel.

Peace with Egypt

In November 1977 Begin invited Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to Israel as an overture for peace. Though negotiations between Israel and Egypt continued for nearly a year, no headway toward peace was made until U.S. president Jimmy Carter (1924–; served 1977–81) stepped in to help. Inviting Begin and Sadat to the U.S. presidential retreat of Camp David in Maryland, Carter opened the door for peace between the countries. After what Carter related as "thirteen intense and discouraging days, with success in prospect only during the final hours," Begin and Sadat came to an agreement, according to Amdur. The two were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978 for their efforts. The final peace treaty was signed on March 13, 1979, marking the end of nearly thirty years of war.

Over the next four years, Israel and Egypt would carry out most of the provisions detailed in the peace treaty. By April 25, 1982, Israel had completely withdrawn its troops from the Sinai Peninsula, but had not seriously addressed the status of the West Bank (one of the territories occupied by Israel after the 1967 war) or the self-rule of the Palestinians. The peace process did not endear the two countries to each other, however, and they settled into what came to be known as a "cold peace" (see sidebar).

Cold Peace

The peace negotiations between Israel and Egypt in the late 1970s generated a great sense of optimism. Israel was finally being recognized by the Arab state whose leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, said of Israel in 1967: "A State? No. We cannot recognize that," according to Richard Amdur in Menachem Begin. More than ignoring Israel's statehood, Egypt had been the leader of a coalition of Arab states whose announced goal was to destroy Israel. But after nearly thirty years of conflict, Egypt was ready for peace.

As of 2005, nearly three decades after signing the peace treaty in 1979, Egypt and Israel have maintained peace with each other, but that peace has been described as a "cold peace" by both sides because the relations between the countries have not grown closer over the years. The continued tension between the countries has manifested itself in many different ways. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak (1928–; see entry), who succeeded Anwar Sadat after his assassination in 1981, has conducted no formal visits to Israel, except to attend the funeral of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (1922–1995; see entry). An Israeli businessman named Azzam Azzam was arrested in Egypt in 1996 and sentenced to fifteen years in prison even though Israel repeatedly denied that he was an agent. When the Intifada, a series of violent attacks by Palestinians on Israelis, erupted in 2000, Egypt recalled its ambassador to Israel as a protest against Israel's reaction to the attacks. Israel arrested six Egyptian students for allegedly trying to kidnap Israeli soldiers in 2004.

In late 2004 the cold peace seemed to be thawing. "It's a certain moment when things are coming together, where the idea of breaking the violent stalemate of the last four years is seen as a possibility and everyone desires to make sure that the moment isn't missed," Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, a historian at Tel Aviv University, told the Christian Science Monitor. With the fate of the Palestinians playing a large part in the tensions between Israel and Egypt, the passing of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (1929–2004; see entry) in 2004 may have opened to door for closer relations. Egypt released Azzam Azzam from prison in December, and in return, Israel freed the six Egyptian students. Egypt and Israel also planned talks to aid Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. According to Voice of America, Israeli cabinet minister Meir Shitrit told Israel Radio that "after thirty years of cold peace, it was about time to turn it into a real peace."

With another Israeli election on the horizon, Begin struggled with his health and his political allies. In the early 1980s Begin lost the support of many of his advisors and ministers, who resigned after disagreements with him. But on June 7, 1981, Begin saw his popularity soar after Israeli military forces successfully destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor under construction. Begin won reelection as prime minister on June 30, 1981.

The undoing of Begin's power came nearly a year later, however. On June 6, 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon in an attempt to drive the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from Israel's borders. (The PLO is the political organization representing Palestinians.) The PLO had been using Lebanon as a base for launching guerilla (irregular warfare) attacks on Israel's northern border. The plan seemed simple: destroy the PLO's organization within Lebanon. Defense Minister Ariel Sharon (1928–; see entry) announced that "Operation Peace for Galilee" would conclude within forty-eight hours. He was wrong, and instead the Israeli military became caught in a lengthy war in Lebanon. The death toll mounted. World opinion and even Israeli support for the war deteriorated. Begin and his government came under intense scrutiny. Adding to the stress of governing, Begin's wife, Aliza, died on November 13, 1982. Begin's mourning distracted him from the duties to his office. On August 28, 1983, he announced to his cabinet, "I cannot go on," according to Amdur. He left office in September when Yitzhak Shamir (1915–) was elected prime minister. Begin lived a quiet retirement until his death on March 9, 1992.

For More Information


Amdur, Richard. Menachem Begin. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.

Brackett, Virginia. Menachem Begin. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2003.

Web Sites

James, Larry. "Egypt Frees Businessman Accused of Spying for Israel." Voice of America (December 5, 2004). Available online at (accessed on July 7, 2005).

Lynfield, Ben, and Dan Murphy. "Egypt, Israel Seize Chance for Thaw." Christian Science Monitor (December 6, 2004). Available online at (accessed on July 7, 2005).

Menachem Begin

views updated Jun 11 2018

Menachem Begin

Menachem Begin (1913-1992) was active in the movement to establish an independent Jewish state in Palestine and in the early Israeli government. After serving many years in the Knesset, Begin became Israel's first non-Socialist prime minister in 1977.

Menachem Begin was born the son of Zeev-Dov and Hassia Begin in Brest-Litovsk, White Russia (later Poland), on August 16, 1913. He was educated in Brest-Litovsk at the Mizrachi Hebrew School and later studied and graduated in law at the University of Warsaw. After a short association with Hashomer Hatzair, he became a devoted follower of Vladimir Zeev Jabotinsky, the founder of the Revisionist Zionist Movement, and joined Betar (Revisionist Zionist Youth Movement). He became active in the organization, joined its leadership, and in 1932 became head of the Organization Department of Betar in Poland. Later, after a period of service as head of Betar in Czechoslovakia, he returned to Poland and, in 1939, became head of the movement there.

Earlier, during the Palestine riots of 1936-1938, Begin organized a mass demonstration near the British Embassy in Warsaw and was imprisoned by the Polish police. He was also active in organizing illegal immigration to Palestine during this period. In 1939 he married Aliza Arnold (who died in 1982), with whom he had three children—one son (Benjamin) and two daughters (Chasia and Leah). When the Germans occupied Warsaw, Begin escaped to Vilna, where he was arrested in 1940 by the Soviet authorities for Zionist activity and sentenced to eight years of hard labor. He was held in Siberia in 1940-1941, but was released because he was a Polish citizen. In 1942 Begin arrived in Palestine with the Polish army formed in the former U.S.S.R.

Active in Palestine

Toward the end of 1943, after having been released from the Polish ranks, Begin became commander of the Irgun Tzevai Leumi. This militant underground organization worked for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine by opposing the British rule through various means, including violence. He declared "armed warfare" against the Mandatory government in Palestine at the beginning of 1944 and led a determined underground struggle against the British, who offered a reward for his apprehension. He tried, at the same time, to avert violent clashes within the Jewish community in Palestine. But he was not always successful as a peace maker among Jewish factions. Begin was on board the Irgun ship Altalena when it approached Tel Aviv with a consignment of arms during the Arab-Israel ceasefire of June 1948 and was shelled by order of the new Israel government of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.

With the independence of the State of Israel in 1948 and the dissolution of the Irgun, Begin founded the Herut (Freedom) Party and represented it in the Knesset (parliament) of Israel starting with its first meetings in 1949. He became Herut's leader, retaining that position for more than 30 years. Herut was known for its right-wing, strongly nationalistic views, and Begin led the party's protest campaign against the reparations agreement with West Germany in 1952. He was instrumental in establishing the Gahal faction (a merger of Herut and the Liberal Party) in the Knesset in 1965. He also developed a reputation as a gifted orator, writer, and political leader.

He remained in opposition in parliament until the eve of the Six Day War of June 1967, when he joined the Government of National Unity as minister without portfolio. He and his Gahal colleagues resigned from the government in August 1970 over opposition to its acceptance of the peace initiative of U.S. Secretary of State William Rogers, which implied the evacuation by Israel of territories occupied in the course of the Six Day War. Later, Gahal joined in forming the Likud bloc in opposition to the governing Labor Alignment, and Begin became its leader.

As Prime Minister

In May 1977 Begin became Israel's first non-Socialist prime minister when the Likud bloc secured the mandate to form the government after the parliamentary elections. He also became the first Israeli prime minister to meet officially and publicly with an Arab head of state when he welcomed Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem in November 1977. He led Israel's delegations to the ensuing peace negotiations and signed, with Sadat and U.S. President Jimmy Carter, the Camp David accords in September 1978.

In March 1979 he and Sadat signed the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, with Carter witnessing the event, on the White House lawn in Washington. Begin and Sadat shared the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. For Begin, and for Israel, it was a momentous but difficult accomplishment. It brought peace with Israel's most populous adversary and significantly reduced the military danger to the existence of Israel by neutralizing the largest Arab army, with whom Israel had fought five wars. But, it was also traumatic given the extensive tangible concessions required of Israel, especially the uprooting of Jewish settlements in Sinai.

The Knesset elections of June 30, 1981, returned a Likud-led coalition government to power in Israel, contrary to early predictions which projected a significant Labor Alignment victory. Menachem Begin again became prime minister, and his reestablished government coalition contained many of the same personalities as the outgoing group and reflected similar perspectives of Israel's situation and of appropriate government policies.

"Operation Peace for Galilee"—the War in Lebanon—beginning in June 1982 occasioned debate and demonstrations within Israel. It resulted in substantial casualties and led, at least initially, to Israel's increased international isolation and major clashes with the United States. Many of these results were muted over time, but the war left a legacy that continued to be debated long after Begin retired from public life. It was also a factor in Begin's decision to step down from the prime minister's office.

A Strong Leader

Within Israel, Begin's tenure was marked by prosperity for the average citizen, although there were indications (such as rising debt and inflation levels) that ultimately this might prove costly. The standard of living rose, as did the level of expectations. The religious parties enhanced their political power and secured important concessions to their demands from a coalition which recognized their increased role in maintaining the political balance and from a prime minister who was, on the whole, sympathetic to their positions.

The major external relationship continued to be the one with the United States, and this underwent significant change during Begin's tenure. The ties were often tempestuous, as the two states disagreed on various aspects of the regional situation and the issues associated with resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Nevertheless, United States economic and military assistance as well as political and diplomatic support rose to all-time high levels.

Begin's political skills were considerable and apparent. Despite his European origins and courtly manner, he was able to secure a substantial margin of popularity over other major political figures, particularly the opposition leaders. At the time of his resignation, he was the most popular and highly regarded of Israeli politicians, as the public opinion polls regularly indicated.

Later Years

Begin's decision to resign as prime minister of Israel on September 16, 1983, brought to an end a major era in Israeli politics. It was a shock to Israelis, notwithstanding Begin's earlier statements that he would retire from politics at age 70. Although no formal reason for his resignation was forthcoming, Begin apparently believed that he could no longer perform his tasks as he felt he ought to and he seemed to be severely affected by the death of his wife the previous year and by the continuing casualties suffered by Israeli forces in Lebanon.

Begin literally became a recluse, spending most of his remaining years secluded in his apartment. He was seldom seen in public; often he only left his sanctuary to attend memorial services for his wife or to visit the hospital. He died of complications from a heart attack on March 9, 1992, in Ichilov Hospital, in Jerusalem.

Ironically, less than three months after his death, Likud, the party created by Begin, under the leadership of Yitzhak Shamir, lost the parliamentary elections to Yitzhak Rabin's Labor party. According to Rabin, Begin was the best of the last "of a special generation in the life of the Jewish people, characterized by the Holocaust and the resurrection." In the form of nationhood in 1948, and even in death, he maintained a significant influence on his nation's politics.

Further Reading

Begin wrote numerous articles and several books which include reminiscences and provide insight into his views of history. They include Ha-Mered (The Revolt), which describes the struggle of the Irgun and other Zionist organizations against the British and the Arabs in Palestine and constitutes memoirs of his years as head of the Irgun, and Be-Leilot Levanim (White Nights), reminiscences of his imprisonment in the Soviet Union. Two books in English about Begin provide sympathetic and detailed examinations: Eitan Haber, Menachem Begin: The Legend and the Man (1979), and Eric Silver, Begin: The Haunted Prophet (1984). Sasson Sofer's Begin: An Anatomy of Leadership (1988) is also a good resource. □

Begin, Menachem

views updated May 18 2018

Menachem Begin

Born: August 16, 1913
Brest-Litovsk, Poland
Died: March 9, 1992
Jerusalem, Israel

Polish-born Israeli prime minister

Menachem Begin was active in both the movement to establish an independent Jewish state in Palestine and in the early Israeli government. After serving many years in the Knesset (the Israeli legislature), Begin became Israel's prime minister in 1977.

Early years

Menachem Begin was born the son of Zeev-Dov and Hassia Begin in Brest-Litovsk, White Russia (later Poland), on August 16, 1913. He was educated at the Mizrachi Hebrew School and later studied law at the University of Warsaw in Warsaw, Poland. Begin had witnessed many acts of violence against Jews in Europe. He went to work for a group associated with the Revisionist Zionist Movement, which Vladimir Jabotinsky had founded. The movement called for the creation of an independent Jewish state in Palestine, which at that time was controlled by Great Britain.

In 1939 Begin married Aliza Arnold, with whom he had three children. Later that year the British moved to put limits on the immigration (coming to a country of which one is not a native) of Jews to Palestine. Begin organized a protest in Warsaw in response and was imprisoned by the Polish police. Begin escaped, but he was arrested in 1940 by Soviet authorities. He was held in Siberia from 1940 to 1941, but was released because he was a Polish citizen. In 1942 Begin arrived in Palestine as part of the Polish army.

Active in Palestine

In 1943, after his release from the Polish army, Begin became commander of the Irgun Tzevai Leumi, a military organization dedicated to the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. He declared "armed warfare" against the government in Palestine at the beginning of 1944, and led a determined struggle against the British. With the independence of the State of Israel in 1948, Begin founded the Herut (Freedom) Party and represented it in the Knesset of Israel, starting with its first meetings in 1949. He became known as a gifted public speaker, writer, and political leader.

Begin remained in the legislature until he joined the Government of National Unity on the eve of the Six-Day War of June 1967. In that war Israeli forces gained control from Arab groups of two major sections of Palestine. Begin and several others resigned from the government in August 1970 over opposition to Israeli acceptance of U.S. Secretary of State William Rogers' peace proposal, which suggested that Israel should return territories taken over during the Six-Day War. Begin stayed active in politics as leader of the Likud group that opposed the ruling party.

As prime minister

In May 1977 Begin became Israel's prime minister. In November of that year he became the first Israeli prime minister to meet with an Arab head of state, when he welcomed Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (19181981) to Jerusalem. In March 1979 he and Sadat signed the Egypt-Israel peace treaty on the White House lawn in Washington, D.C. For Begin, and for Israel, it was an important but difficult accomplishment. Although it brought peace with Israel's main enemy, it forced Israel to give up some of the land for which it had fought.

Begin again became prime minister after the Knesset elections of 1981. In June 1982 the Israelis invaded Lebanon, causing a war that led to much criticism from other countries, including the United States. Many of these problems eased over time, but the effects of the war were felt long after Begin retired from public life. Still, he remained the most popular of Israeli politicians. The standard of living in Israel rose under his rule, and although the United States and Israel often disagreed about the issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict, assistance and political support from the United States to Israel rose to all-time high levels while Begin was in office.

Later years

Begin's decision to resign as prime minister of Israel in September 1983 brought to an end a major era in Israeli politics. It was a shock to Israelis despite Begin's earlier statements that he would retire from politics at age seventy. Begin apparently believed that he could no longer perform his tasks as he felt he ought to. Plus, he seemed to be deeply affected by both the death of his wife the previous year and by the continuing losses of Israeli forces in Lebanon. Begin spent most of his remaining years in his apartment, and was seldom seen in public. Often he left home only to attend memorial services for his wife or to visit the hospital. He died of complications from a heart attack on March 9, 1992, in Jerusalem.

For More Information

Brackett, Virginia. Menachem Begin. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2002.

Seidman, Hillel. Menachem Begin: His Life and Legacy. New York: Shengold, 1990.

Sofer, Sasson. Begin: An Anatomy of Leadership. Oxford; New York: B. Blackwell, 1988.

Begin, Menachem

views updated May 11 2018

Menachem Begin

"The King David Hotel"

Excerpt from The Revolt, first published in 1964

"That was the worst of it: no water. I had gone without food in Lukishki and elsewhere. Here for the first time I learnt what it mean to go without water. Hunger and thirst—it is best to know neither. But if I had to choose between them, I would unhesitatingly choose hunger. Prolonged thirst is terrifying."

I n the spring of 1946, Menachem Begin (1913–) was the leader of a Jewish underground movement called the Irgun Zvai Leumi. The organization was fighting to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, a region in the Middle East that was ruled by Great Britain since the end of World War I (1914–18), when the Ottoman empire, which governed much of the Middle East for centuries, was dismantled. World War II (1939–45) had ended, and Jews who had survived the Holocaust, the period before and during the war in which the German military systematically killed six million Jews, were desperate to migrate to Palestine in order to establish a new Jewish nation: Israel.

Trying to maintain the balance of power in the region, Britain was restricting the number of Jews immigrating to Palestine and limiting the Jewish settlements to a small area. Irgun Zvai Leumi used terrorist tactics against the ruling British to help Jews expand their presence in Palestine. On July 22, 1946, the Irgun carried out their most daring act of the conflict: blowing up a wing of the King David Hotel, which housed British intelligence agents (spies). Ninety-one people were killed, and Menachem Begin became the most-wanted man in Palestine.

In his memoir, The Revolt, Begin recalled the bombing campaign and his subsequent escape from British patrols sent to search for him. He compared hiding from the British to the time he had lived in a solitary-confinement cell in a Russian prison camp in World War II prior to immigrating to Palestine.

Things to remember while reading"The King David Hotel":

  • At the time of the events described in this memoir excerpt, in 1946, Begin was wanted as a terrorist. His arrest likely would have resulted in his conviction and execution for his role in the King David Hotel explosion.
  • Begin went on to become the prime minister of Israel; eventually, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in negotiating a peace treaty with President Anwar el-Sadat (1918–1981) of Egypt. The one-time terrorist, for whose capture the British had offered a huge reward, later was hailed as a patriot by his fellow Israelis and as a statesman by the Nobel Prize committee.

What happened next …

A year and a half after the Irgun set off an explosion at the King David Hotel, David Ben-Gurion (1886–1973) declared independence for Israel. The combined armies of Syria, Egypt, and Jordan attacked the new country, but all were thrown back. Israel, long the dream of nationalist Jews called Zionists, had become a matter of fact.

Menachem Begin became a member of Parliament in the new country and later its prime minister. He died in 1992.

Did you know …

  • British government papers, opened thirty years after World War II, showed that the British blocked the International Red Cross from helping forty thousand European Jews escape the Holocaust by traveling to Palestine through Turkey.
  • Menachem Begin was born in Brest-Litovsk, a city that had been a part of three different countries—Germany, Poland and Russia—as the national borders of eastern Europe kept shifting. As a teenager, Begin began advocating that Jews actively strike back against those who persecuted or attacked them.

For More Information

Begin, Menachem. The Revolt. First published in 1964. Reprint: New York: Nash Publishing, 1977, pp. 227–30.

Begin, Menachem. White Nights: The Story of a Prisoner in Russia. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.

Bell, J. Bowyer. Terror Out of Zion: Irgun Zvai Leumi, LEHI, and the Palestine Underground, 1929–1949. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1977.

Clarke, Thurston. By Blood and Fire: The Attack on the King David Hotel. New York: Putnam, 1981.

Gervasi, Frank. The Life and Times of Menachem Begin: Rebel to Statesman. New York: Putnam, 1979

Silver, Eric. Begin: The Haunted Prophet. New York: Random House, 1984.

Temko, Ned. To Win or To Die: A Personal Portrait of Menachem Begin. New York: W. Morrow, 1987.

Begin, Menachem

views updated May 23 2018

Begin, Menachem (1913–92) Israeli statesman, prime minister (1977–83), b. Belarus. A Zionist, Begin was sentenced to eight years' slave-labour but was released in 1941 to fight in the new Polish army. As commander of the paramilitary Irgun Zeva'i Leumi, he led resistance to British rule until Israeli independence in 1948. As leader of the Freedom Party (Herut), Begin clashed with David Ben-Gurion and the animosity between the two men only eased in the Six-Day War (1967). In 1973 Begin became leader of the Likud Party. In 1977 Likud formed a coalition government with Begin as prime minister. Although a fervent nationalist, he sought reconciliation with Egypt and signed the Camp David Accord with Anwar Sadat in 1979. In recognition of their efforts they shared the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize. Re-elected by a narrow margin in 1981, Begin maintained a hardline stance towards the West Bank and Gaza Strip. His popularity waned after Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon and he was succeeded by Yitzhak Shamir.