all his years in opposition -- as head of
an underground movement denounced by the
Jewish leadership, for nearly three decades
as leader of a party that lost eight Knesset
Menachem Begin never lost sight of the goal
he moved to realize once he finally came
to power as
Israel's sixth prime minister: a proud Jewish
people, secure within their own state.
Begin died of heart failure
in 1993 at the age of 78. He had wanted
a simple Jewish funeral, and that
is what was held 13 hours after he died
at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv. He was
buried in a simple
ceremony on the Mount of Olives, beside
his beloved wife, Aliza, who died in 1982.
Begin had rejected the
state funeral that was his due as prime
minister of Israel from 1977 to 1983.
Vice President Dan Quayle was poised to
fly to Israel to represent the U.S. government
ceremonies. So were former President Jimmy
Carter and former Secretary of State Cyrus
who worked closely with Begin during the
Israeli-Egyptian peace process in the late
But their trips were
In Washington, U.S. President
George Bush praised Begin for his very courageous,
in trying to bring peace to the Middle East.
His historic role in the peace process will
forgotten, Bush told reporters.
While the graveside ceremony
for Begin may have been simple, the funeral
attracted a crowd of
mourners estimated by police at 75,000.
Thousands of mourners, many in tears, walked
the 2 1/2
miles from the funeral home to the cemetery.
A fleet of 50 busses carried others through
had been closed to traffic.
The procession made its
way through the heart of eastern Jerusalem,
as many Arab residents
watched silently from roofs, windows and
sidewalks. "It almost looks as if they're
respects, too," said a news photographer
to a colleague aboard a bus bound for the
Begin's son, Knesset
Member Binyamin Ze'ev Begin, saw to it that
his father's wishes were
observed. According to informed sources,
he told the government's ceremonies committee,
by Industry and Trade Minister Moshe Nissim,
that the family wanted a Jewish funeral,
Nevertheless, at the
graveside with Benny Begin and his sisters,
Leah and Hassiya, stood President
Chaim Herzog, Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir,
Labor Party Chairman Yitzchak Rabin and
of others representing the many facets of
Menachem Begin's long and fruitful career.
Ambassador Mohammed Bassiouni attended at
the urging of President Hosni Mubarak.
Seven of Begin's former
comrades-in-arms of Irgun Zvai Leumi, the
guerrilla army that he led against
the British authorities in the final years
of the Palestine Mandate, served as pallbearers.
They laid his
coffin to rest next to the grave of Aliza
Begin. Menachem never recovered from her
loss, which is
believed to have been a major factor in
his resignation from the office of prime
minister and from all
public life less than a year later.
Benny Begin recited kaddish
at his father's grave, where he had placed
a small, wooden temporary
marker. The marker read: "Menachem,
son of Ze'ev Begin, may his name be remembered
Begin's loyal friend and longtime personal
aide, Yehiel Kadishai, read the El Male
After the family and
dignitaries had left the grave, thousands
of onlookers broke through the human
chain of police to pay their last respects.
Some kissed the freshly dug grave, some
saluted and others
just laid stones on the mound of earth.
While there were no eulogies
at the graveside, apparently at the family's
request, Shamir delivered
two on Monday- one to the nation on Israel
Radio and the other to his ministers at
a special session
of the cabinet. In both, Shamir, who called
his predecessor "one of the great men"
of Jewish history,
stressed Begin's ideological heritage, which
he said continues to guide Herut and Likud,
that he founded on the precepts of Ze'ev
Jabotnisky's Zionist Revisionist movement.
"In the spirit
of his doctrine and path, we will continue
the struggle for the sake of the strengthening
the Jewish people in its land," the
prime minister said in his radio speech.
Begin, the son of a Jewish
timber merchant in czarist Russia who became
Israels sixth prime minister
15 years ago, was a man driven to feats
of courage and the depths of despair. His
vision was forged
from the Holocaust and love for the Jewish
He embodied the history
of Jews in this century, particularly those
whose lot was inextricably
interwoven with the birth and continuance
of the state of Israel. He will likely be
for signing Israel's first peace treaty
with an Arab neighbor (Egypt) in March 1979.
A native of Brest-Litovsk,
he lived to learn that his parents and brother
had perished in the flames of
the Holocaust. His father was among the
5,000 Brest Jews rounded up by the Nazis
at the end of
June 1941, ostensibly for forced labor.
In fact, they were taken outside the city
limits and shot or
drowned in a river. His mother died in Brest's
Jewish hospital, while his brother Herzl
without a trace in the Holocaust. The Brest
ghetto was liquidated in October 1942.
Begin first joined the
Socialist Zionist youth movement Hashomer
Hatzair. At the age of 16 he
embraced the ideas of the Revisionist Zionist
Ze'ev Jabotinsky and became a member of
Zionist youth movement in Poland. He received
a law degree in 1935 from the University
and took over leadership of Betar.
In 1939, when the Nazis
invaded Poland, Begin fled to the Soviet
Union. He was arrested in
September 1940 and charged with espionage.
He was taken to a concentration camp in
where he was sentenced to eight years. Soviet
authorities freed him in 1941 as part of
an accord with the
Polish government-in-exile that allowed
for the freeing of 1.5 million Poles. Begin
then found his sister,
the only other surviving family member,
and became active in helping Jew immigrate
to their land.
He soon joined the Free
Polish Army. The stint took him to Iran
and then Palestine. He learned
English from listening to BBC Radio. He
then served in the British Army in Palestine
as an interpreter
until 1943. At that time, he became the
leader of the liberation movement Irgun
Tzvai Leumi -- Etzel --
whose means were more effective than the
mainstream Haganah, with which he disagreed
over how to push
the British out of Palestine.
In 1946, under his leadership,
the Irgun blew up a wing of the King David
Hotel in Jerusalem, where
the British were headquartered. Some 90
people -- Jews and Arabs, as well as British-
despite warnings that there would be a bombing.
Begin's picture was posted
in all British prisons and offices in Palestine.
The British conducted an
extensive manhunt for Begin, who had a price
on his head that began at $8,000 but rose
to $50,000. Begin
escaped the British dragnet by disguising
himself as a bearded Rabbi Israel Sassover.
Begin wrote about his
days with the Irgun in "The Revolt."
He also wrote another book, "White
Nights," about his time in a Soviet
Begin helped found the
Herut party in 1948 and was from then to
1967 leader of the opposition in
the Knesset. In 1969 he was named minister-without-portfolio
in a national unity cabinet.
In 1977, after Israel
had lived under the exclusive domain of
the Labor Party for nearly three
decades, Begin's Likud bloc managed, in
a stunning election upset, to unseat the
veteran party, which
was then riddled by dissension and tainted
by economic scandal.
A mannered Polish-born
lawyer steeped in European culture, he came
to be revered in Israel by
masses of immigrants from Arab countries,
whom he led to political power. Viewed by
his enemies in the
Zionist establishment as a demagogue and
potential putchist, he proved a punctilious
incalculably enriched Israel's democratic
Begin was the first prime
minister to refer to the west bank as Judea
and Samaria, considering them
an integral part of the Land of Israel.
No sooner had he been elected than he went
off to visit an
Israeli settlement in the west bank, Ekon
Moreh, and declared it to be part of "liberated
was under his tenure that Jews embarked
on the wholesale resettlement of their land.
In June 1981, Begin asked
the cabinet to approve the bombing of the
Iraqi nuclear reactor at
Osirak. On Shavuot, Israeli planes flew
below radar detection through Arab airspace
the facility which Israel later claimed
had been primed for a start up.
But Begin also came to
cherish the role of peacemaker. It was after
several visits to the United
States and Romania, which was then playing
the role of go-between, that Begin decided
to extend an
invitation to Egypt's President Anwar Sadat
to come to Jerusalem. The Egyptian leader
and made his historic visit in November
1977, the first and only Arab ruler to do
The path from Sadat's
Knesset podium to the signing of the peace
treaty on the White House lawn
was a bumpy one.
Begin -- as well as many
Laborites -- resisted Egypt's initial demands
for the return of the entire Sinai
and for a promise of autonomy to the Palestinians
of the west bank and Gaza Strip. And when,
12 arduous days of negotiations at Camp
David, Begin presented the peace treaty
to the Knesset,
only 29 of Likud's 43 representatives were
among the majority that approved the accords.
In 1978, Begin and Sadat
were honored with the Nobel Peace Prize.
Only Begin went to Oslo that
December to accept the prize.
Begin deeply valued his
friendship with Sadat. When the Egyptian
leader was assassinated by
Moslem fundamentalists in October 1981,
Begin went to Cairo and walked to the funeral,
held on a Saturday.
But Begin's name also
become synonymous with the invasion of Lebanon,
beginning a war that
would cause a sharp rift in the country.
The invasion was staged to rake out Palestinian
Southern Lebanon who had been shelling Israel's
north. But it soon escalated to an invasion
itself, Israel's first incursion into an
In 1983, as the Israeli
public was experiencing a deep division
over the war, Begin called on Israelis
to "show tolerance, rid themselves
of hatred and show understanding of each
other." He said that
"differences of opinion were legitimate
and should not lead to physical confrontation."
This insistent respect,
pride, and sense of unity are the lasting
lecacies of Menachem Begin, the great
There have been many famous
Betaris throught our long history. You can
click on the links below to read about these
special and brave individuals.