Begin, Menaḥem

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BEGIN, MENAḤEM (1913–1992), Israeli statesman and former commander of the Irgun Ẓeva'i Le'ummi (iẒl); prime minister of Israel. He served in the First to Tenth Knessets. Begin was born and educated in Brest-Litovsk. He graduated with a law degree from Warsaw University. After a short association with Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir he joined Betar, becoming a member of its leadership in Poland in 1931 and head of the movement there in 1938. During the disturbances in Palestine in the years 1936–38, Begin organized a mass demonstration near the British Embassy in Warsaw, and was imprisoned by the Polish police. When the Germans occupied Warsaw, Begin escaped to Vilna, where he was arrested by the Soviet authorities and sentenced to eight years of hard labor in the Arctic region. Because he was a Polish citizen, he was released at the end of 1941 and arrived in Palestine in 1942 with the Polish army formed in the Soviet Union. Toward the end of 1943, after having been discharged from the Polish ranks, Begin became commander of iẒl. He declared "armed warfare" against the British Mandatory Government at the beginning of 1944, and led a determined underground struggle against the British, who offered a reward for the disclosure of his whereabouts. On July 22, 1946, the iẒl under Begin's command, carried out an attack on British Headquarters in Jerusalem, in the King David Hotel, which resulted in numerous deaths. The original plan had been to cooperate in this operation with the *Haganah, but this attempt failed, and despite Begin's attempts to avoid violent clashes within the Yishuv, there was great animosity between the two camps. After the Proclamation of Independence, in the course of the first ceasefire in the War of Independence in June 1948, Begin was on board the iẒl ship Altalena when it approached Tel Aviv with a consignment of arms. The ship was shelled by order of the Israeli government (see *Irgun Ẓeva'i Le'ummi). In 1948 Begin founded the *Ḥerut movement and became its leader. He was to serve in the Knesset as leader of Ḥerut, and later *Gaḥal and the *Likud until 1983. David *Ben-Gurion refused to consider Begin as a partner in any of his coalitions, and it was only after Levi *Eshkol became prime minister in 1963 that the attitude of the ruling *Mapai towards him changed.

In 1952 he led the protest campaign against the Restitution Agreement with the Federal Republic of Germany, and after clashing with the police outside the Knesset building, was banned from participation in Knesset meetings for several weeks. In the course of his many years as leader of the main opposition party, Begin gained a reputation for his fiery speeches and acting as a watchdog for democracy. He unsuccessfully fought to have the Emergency Regulations, which Israel had inherited from the British, abolished, and objected to the special Military Administration to which the minority citizens of Israel were subjected until 1966, which was based on these regulations. Towards the elections to the Sixth Knesset in 1965 he was instrumental in establishing the Gaḥal parliamentary group with the Liberal Party. In May 1967, on the eve of the Six-Day War, Gaḥal was invited to join the government by Levi Eshkol, and Begin was named minister without portfolio in the Government of National Unity. As the head of Gaḥal, he joined the government formed by Golda *Meir after the 1969 elections, but left the government the following year in protest against its acceptance of the American Rogers Plan for a settlement with Egypt, involving a withdrawal by Israel of territories occupied in the course of the Six-Day War (see *Israel, Historical Survey).

In 1977, after 29 years in the opposition, Begin, at the head of the Likud, won his first general election and was called upon to form a government. He established a coalition made up of the Likud (including Ariel *Sharon's Shlomẓion), the National Religious Party, Agudat Israel, and the Democratic Movement for Change. Five months after he became prime minister, President Anwar Sadat of Egypt came to Jerusalem for a historic visit, addressing the Knesset on November 20, 1977. In his response to the Egyptian President's speech Begin made his famous declaration: "No more war, no more bloodshed." After signing the Camp David Accords with Sadat on September 17, 1978, and with the help of Foreign Minister Moshe *Dayan and Minister of Defense Ezer *Weizman, Begin signed Israel's first peace treaty with an Arab state with Egypt on March 26, 1979, on the White House lawn in Washington. On December 10, 1978, Begin and Sadat jointly received the Nobel Prize for Peace in Oslo.

Despite many crises in his first government, and the resignation of numerous ministers, the Likud emerged victorious in the elections to the Tenth Knesset, and Begin formed his second government, made up of the Likud, the National Religious Party, Agudat Israel, and Tami, and despite misgivings he appointed Sharon as his defense minister. In June 1981 Sharon, with Begin's approval, embarked on Operation Peace for Galilee, which was meant at first to involve the occupation by the idf of a 15-mi. (40-km.) strip in Southern Lebanon, and the ousting of the plo from that land. Begin's slogan for the operation was: "No more Katyushas on Kiryat Shmonah." However, as the situation in Lebanon became more complex, and following the death of his beloved wife and his own failing health, Begin decided to resign from the premiership in October 1983. After his resignation Begin seldom left his home until his death in 1992.

His writings include Ha-Mered (1950; The Revolt, 1964), which describes the struggle of iẓl; Be-Leilot Levanim (1953; White Nights, 1957), reminiscences of his imprisonment in Russia; and Ba-Maḥteret: Ketavim u-Te'udot (4 vol., 1959–61), a collection of writings from his days in the underground.

Begin's son, Ze'ev Binyamin *Begin (1943– ), was also active in politics.

add. bibliography:

A. Golan and S. Nakdimon, Begin (Hebrew, 1978); U. Benziman, Rosh Memshalah be-Maẓor (1981); T. Preuss, Begin la-Shilton (1984); E. Silver, Begin: the Haunted Prophet (1984); S. Haydemann, The Begin Era: Issues in Contemporary Israel (1984); I. Peled, Begin's Foreign Policy (1987); A. Perlmutter The Life and Times of Menachem Begin (1987); S. Sofer, Begin: An Anatomy of Leadership (1988); Y. Aḥimeir, Hamanhig she-Hevi et ha-Shalom (1992); Arie Na'or, Begin ba-Shilton: Edut Ishit (1993); H.Z. Hurwitz, Begin: His Life, Words and Deeds (1994); M. Karniel, Morashto shel Menaḥem Begin (1995); S. Sandler (ed.), Yisra'el ba-Mizraḥ ha-Tikhon: Moreshet Menaḥem Begin (2000); M.H. Isaacson, Begin (Hebrew, 2003).

[Yohanan Bader /

Susan Hattis Rolef (2nd ed.)]