Menachem Begin was born in Brest-Litovsk, Poland on 16 August 1913, son of Zeev-Dov and Hassia Begin. He was educated at the Mizrachi Hebrew School and the Polish Gymnasium (High School). In 1931, he entered Warsaw University and took his law degree in 1935.
Until the age of 13 he belonged to the Hashomer Hatza’ir scout movement, and at the age of 16 joined Betar (Brit Trumpeldor), the nationalist youth movement associated with the Zionist Revisionist Movement. In 1932 he became head of the Organization Department of Betar for Poland travelling on its behalf throughout the country, and contributing many articles to the revisionist press. He was sent to Czechoslovakia to head the movement there.
In 1937 he returned to Poland, and for a time was imprisoned for leading a demonstration, in front of the British Legation in Warsaw, protesting against British policy in Palestine. He organized groups of Betar members who went to Palestine as illegal immigrants, and in 1939 became the head of the movement in Poland. On the outbreak of World War II, he was arrested by the Russian authorities and in 1940-41 was confined in concentration camps in Siberia and elsewhere, but was released under the terms of the Stalin-Sikorski agreement.
On his release he joined the Polish army and was transferred to the Middle East. After demobilization, in 1943, he assumed command of the Irgun Zvati Leumi (National Military Organization), known by the initials of its Hebrew name as “Etzel”. In this capacity he directed Etzel’s operations against the British, and the Palestine Government offered a reward of £ 10,000 for information leading to his arrest, but he evaded capture by living in disguise in Tel Aviv. In 1947, he met in secret with several members of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine as well as the foreign press, to explain the outlook of his movement.
After the establishment of the State of Israel, he founded the Herut Movement, together with his colleagues, and headed the party’s list of candidates for the Knesset. He has been a member of the Knesset since the first elections.
On 1 June 1967, Mr. Begin joined the Government of National Unity in which he served as Minister without Portfolio until 4 August 1970.
On June 20, 1977, Mr. Menachem Begin, head of the Likud party – after having won the Knesset elections (17 May 1977) – presented the new Government to the Knesset and became Prime Minister of Israel.
His publications include “White Nights” (describing his wartime experience in Europe), “The Revolt”, which has been translated into several languages, and numerous articles.
He was married to Aliza (nee Arnold), and has a son and two daughters.
In 1978 Begin, aided by Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, came to Washington and Camp David to negotiate the Camp David Accords, leading to the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty with Egyptian President, Anwar Sadat. Before going to Washington to meet President Carter, Begin visited Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson for his advice
Under the terms of the treaty, brokered by US President, Jimmy Carter, Israel was to hand over theSinai Peninsula in its entirety to Egypt. The peace treaty with Egypt was a watershed moment in Middle Eastern history, as it was the first time an Arab state recognized Israel’s legitimacy whereas Israel effectively accepted the land for peace principle as blueprint for resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. Given Egypt’s prominent position within the Arab World, especially as Israel’s biggest and most powerful enemy, the treaty had far reaching strategic and geopoliticalimplications.
Almost overnight, Begin’s public image of an irresponsible nationalist radical was transformed into that of a statesman of historic proportions. This image was reinforced by international recognition which culminated with him being awarded, together with Sadat, the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978.
Yet while establishing Begin as a leader with broad public appeal, the peace treaty with Egypt was met with fierce criticism within his own Likud party. His devout followers found it difficult to reconcile Begin’s history as a keen promoter of the Greater Israel agenda with his willingness to relinquish occupied territory.
Agreeing to the removal of Israeli settlements from the Sinai was perceived by many as a clear departure from Likud’s Revisionist ideology. Several prominent Likud members, most notably Yitzhak Shamir, objected to the treaty and abstained when it was ratified with an overwhelming majority in the Knesset, achieved only thanks to support from the opposition. A small group of hardliners within Likud, associated with Gush Emunim Jewish settlement movement, eventually decided to split and form the Tehiya party in 1979. They led the Movement for Stopping the Withdrawal from Sinai, violently clashing with IDF soldiers during the forceful eviction of Yamit settlement in April 1982. Despite the traumatic scenes from Yamit, political support for the treaty did not diminish and the Sinai was handed over to Egypt in 1982.
Begin was less resolute in implementing the section of the Camp David Accord calling for Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He appointed Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon to implement a large scale expansion of Jewish settlements in theIsraeli-occupied territories, a policy intended to make future territorial concessions in these areas effectively impossible. Begin refocused Israeli settlement strategy from populating peripheral areas in accordance with the Allon Plan, to building Jewish settlements in areas of Biblical and historic significance. When the settlement of Elon Moreh was established on the outskirts of Nablus in 1979, following years of campaigning by Gush Emunim, Begin declared that there are “many more Elon Morehs to come.” During his term dozens of new settlements were built, and Jewish population in the West Bank and Gaza more than quadrupled.
Reflection and Prayer: Menachem’s legacy and influence on the modern State of Israel and neighbours has been significant and continues to this day. The issues he grappled with in his lifetime, from the War of Independence to the Sinai peace deal have set and example for all those who followed. May the Lord restore Zion, and may the Prince of Peace establish his kingdom in justice and righteousness. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen.