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Menachem Begin

In all his years in opposition -- as head of an underground movement denounced by the established
Jewish leadership, for nearly three decades as leader of a party that lost eight Knesset elections --
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 at the
ceremonies. So were former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance,
who worked closely with Begin during the Israeli-Egyptian peace process in the late 1970s.

But their trips were canceled.

In Washington, U.S. President George Bush praised Begin for his very courageous, farsighted role:
in trying to bring peace to the Middle East. His historic role in the peace process will never be
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 streets that
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 paying their
respects, too," said a news photographer to a colleague aboard a bus bound for the cemetery.

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, headed
by Industry and Trade Minister Moshe Nissim, that the family wanted a Jewish funeral, not an
international event.

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 scores
of others representing the many facets of Menachem Begin's long and fruitful career. Egyptian
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 in peace.
Begin's loyal friend and longtime personal aide, Yehiel Kadishai, read the El Male Rachamim.

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, the parties
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 of
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 people.

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 remembered most
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 perished
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 the Betar
Zionist youth movement in Poland. He received a law degree in 1935 from the University of Warsaw
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 Siberia,
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- were killed,
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 labor camp.

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 parlimentarian who
incalculably enriched Israel's democratic life.

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 Israel." It
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 and destroyed
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 accepted
and made his historic visit in November 1977, the first and only Arab ruler to do so publicly.

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, after
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, which was
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 terrorists in
Southern Lebanon who had been shelling Israel's north. But it soon escalated to an invasion of Beirut
itself, Israel's first incursion into an Arab capital.

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
Jewish hero.


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.


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