The Sixth Prime Minister
Menachem Begin was born in Brest-Litovsk in 1913, and received a Jewish-Zionist education. His family was forced to flee during World War I but returned to Brest-Litovsk after the war ended. At an early age, Begin joined the "Hashomer Hatzair" movement, and in 1929 he joined the Betar Youth Movement, founded and headed by Zeev Jabotinsky.
In 1931 Begin began studying law at the University of Warsaw, graduating in 1935. He soon reached important administrative and leadership positions in the Betar movement, and in 1932 became a member of the national administration of Betar in Poland and Head of its Organizational Department. In 1937 he was appointed the Betar representative in Czechoslovakia, and in 1939 he was elected by Jabotinsky as Head of Betar Poland, an organization which trained approximately 70,000 youths for missions of defense and "illegal" immigration to the land of Israel.
After the outbreak of World War II, Begin escaped from Warsaw and found refuge in Vilnius, Lithuania. In 1940 he was imprisoned by Stalin's NKVD and sentenced to 8 years imprisonment in a Siberian labor camp.
Following Nazi Germany invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Begin was released and enlisted in General Andres' Polish army. Within that framework, he arrived in Israel in 1942.
In 1943 he was discharged from the army, and shortly afterward was appointed Commander of the Irgun Zva-i Leumi (Etzel), a post which he held until the organization disbanded in 1948. In February 1944, under Begin's leadership, the Etzel called for a revolt against the British Mandate authorities, and began a series of military actions which continued until late 1947. During this period, Begin commanded the Etzel's operations, including the Akko prison breakout, release of the underground prisoners, and the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
In the autumn of 1945, "The Hebrew Resistance Movement", which united the "Hagana", "Etzel" and "Lehi" in a common struggle against the British, was established, with Begin serving as the Etzel's representative in the movement's headquarters until it disbanded in 1946.
Upon the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Begin founded the "Herut" movement and headed its election campaign and opposition activities in the Knesset from 1949-1965. During the 50's he led the public struggle against accepting German reparations for the Holocaust. In 1965, "Herut" and the Liberal Party merged and formed "Gahal". They united in 1973 and, with the participation of several other parties, founded the Likud. During this period, Begin served as leader of the party and head of the opposition factions in the Knesset. In 1967, on the eve of the Six Day War, Gahal joined the National Unity Government, and Begin was appointed Minister without Portfolio, a post which he held until 1970, when Gahal resigned from the government due to the latter's refusal to accept the Rogers Program.
When the Likud won the 1977 elections, Begin was appointed Prime Minister. He hosted Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in his historic visit to Jerusalem in 1977, and in 1979, after lengthy negotiations, signed the peace agreement with Egypt in Washington. The same year, he won the Nobel Peace Prize, along with President Sadat. Following Ezer Weizman's retirement in 1980, Begin assumed the post of Minister of Defense, and in 1981 he ordered the Israeli Air Force to bomb the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq.
In 1981 he was re-elected Prime Minister, and in 1982 Israel launched Operation Peace for Galilee to destroy the terrorist infrastructure in Lebanon. The adverse situation in Lebanon and his wife Aliza's death in November 1982 led Begin to resign from the premiership in September 1983. He spent the rest of his life in seclusion, and was rarely seen in public.
Menachem Begin passed away in March 1992, and is buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. He is survived by a son, Benjamin Zeev, and a daughter, Hasia.