Menachem Begin (August 16, 1913 - March 9, 1992) became the 6th Prime Minister of Israel in May 1977. He negotiated the Camp David Accords with Egyptian president Muhammad Anwar al-Sadat, for which they jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978.
His greatest credit to the State of Israel was achieving the first peace treaty with Egypt and neutralizing Egypt's army.
Begin was born in Brest-Litovsk, a city then still in the Russian empire, which became part of Poland from 1919 to 1939 and is today a part of Belarus and known simply as Brest. From 1939, he was the leader of the Zionist Betar organization. In 1940-1941 he was imprisoned in the USSR. In 1941, following his release under the Sikorski-Mayski Agreement, he joined the Polish army of Anders, but was unofficially discharged from that army along with many other Jewish soldiers.
Begin then moved to British-controlled Palestine, where he quickly made a name for himself as a fierce critic of mainstream Zionism and a proponent of the more radical Revisionist Zionism. In 1942 he joined the Irgun (also known as Etzel) and in 1947 assumed its leadership. He was responsible for the bombing of Jerusalem's King David Hotel, at that time a British administrative and military headquarters, that killed 91 people. In 1948 he was at the center of the shipping of Irgun arms to Israel, ending in the sinking of Altalena by gunfire ordered by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.
The Irgun, together with the underground Lehi militia (also known as "The Stern Gang"), were widely denounced by mainstream Israelis, particularly Ben-Gurion, as terrorist organisations. Shortly after the founding of the state of Israel they were dismantled by the Israeli government.
In 1948 Begin founded the right-wing political party Herut, which eventually became the much-larger Likud party. Between 1948 and 1977, under Begin, it formed the main opposition to the dominant Labour party in the Knesset (Israel's parliament).
In 1977 Likud were elected to office and Begin became Israel's sixth Prime Minister, leading Israel's first non-Labour government.
In 1979, Begin signed the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty with Anwar Al-Sadat. Under the terms of the treaty, Israel handed over the Sinai peninsula to Egypt. This involved the demolishing of all Israeli settlements in the area (including the town of Yamit). Begin faced a strong internal opposition to this move, which led to a split in his own Likud party.
In 1981, Begin ordered the bombing of Iraq's Osiraq/Tammuz nuclear reactor. Soon after, Begin stated that "On no account shall we permit an enemy to develop weapons of mass destruction against the people of Israel." This change in Israel's nuclear policy is now known as the Begin doctrine.
In 1982, Begin's government invaded Lebanon, citing the need to put the PLO out of rocket range of Israel's northern border. This began the Israeli engagement in southern Lebanon which lasted for three years (with limited Israeli presence in Lebanon continuing until 2000). According to Haaretz reporter Uzi Benziman , the then Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon deceived Begin as to the purpose of the war, and extended it without authorization. Sharon sued Haaretz and Benziman in 1991. The trial lasted 11 years, with one of the highlights being the deposition of Benny Begin , Menachem Begin's son, in favor of the defendants. Sharon lost the case
Begin himself retired in August 1983, deeply disappointed and depressed by the war, his spouse's death, and his own illness. He died in Jerusalem in 1992, followed by a simple ceremony and burial at the Mount of Olives.
On February 2005 Begin was voted as "The Greatest Israeli Leader" with %32.8 of the votes.
Soon after Menachem Begin and the Likud party won the Israeli election in 1977, the government's foreign policy was stated as follows:
"the Jewish people have unchallengeable, eternal, historic right to the Land of Israel including the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the inheritance of their forefathers," and pledged to build rural and urban exclusive Jewish colonies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip." (Iron Wall, p. 354-355)
When President Reagan sent a letter to Menachem Begin condemning the attack on the Iraqi civilian nuclear reactor in June 1981, Begin responded with a letter, he wrote "A million and half children were poisoned by the Zyklon gas during the Holocaust. Now Israel's children were about to be poisoned by radioactivity. For two years we have lived in the shadow of the danger awaiting Israel from nuclear reactor in Iraq. This would have been a new Holocaust. It was prevented by the heroism of our pilots to whom we owe so much." (Iron Wall, p. 387)
As a justification for the invasion of Lebanon. On June 5, 1982 he told the Israeli Cabinet:
"The hour of decision has arrived. You know what I have done, and what all of us have done. to prevent war and bereavement. But our fate is that in the Land of Israel there is no escape from fighting in the spirit of self-sacrifice. Believe me, the alternative to fighting is Treblinka, and we have resolved that there would be no Treblinkas. This is the moment in which courageous choice has to be made. The criminal terrorists and the world must know that the Jewish people have a right to self-defense, just like any other people" (Iron Wall, p. 404-405).
"The Partition of Palestine is illegal. It will never be recognized .... Jerusalem was and will for ever be our capital. Eretz Israel will be restored to the people of Israel. All of it. And for ever."
Menachem Begin, the day after the U.N. vote to partition Palestine.
- "No more wars, no more bloodshed, and no more threats"
- -Menachem Begin, Broadcast to the Egyptian People, November 11, 1977.
- "Free women and men everywhere must wage an incessant campaign so that these human values become a generally recognized and practised reality. We must regretfully admit that in various parts of the world this is not yet the case. Without those values and human rights the real peace of which we dream is jeopardized."
- - Menachem Begin, Nobel Lecture, December 10, 1978