The story of Menachem Begin; from fascist, to terrorist, to mass murderer to... Nobel Prize winner!
The extreme right-wing group of the Irgun Zvai Leumi (Etzel) was advocating a violent version of Zionism that has no room for compromise with the Arabs.
Born in 1913 in Brest-Litovsk, Russia (now Belarus), Menachem Wolfovitch Begin grew up in Poland, home to the world’s largest Jewish population at the time, where the Zionist movement was very active in promoting the idea of a “Jewish state” in the “Promised Land”. However, the young Begin chose to join the far-right-wing branch of Zionism (later known as Revisionist Zionism), headed and inspired by another Russian-born Zionist activist, Vladimir Jabotinsky. At the age of 16, Begin joined Betar, a fascist-like youth paramilitary movement founded by Jabotinsky. In 1932, Begin became a leader in Betar in charge of the Organization Department. Although Begin graduated from the University of Warsaw in 1935 with a degree in law, he never practiced the profession and remained totally focused on his Zionist career.
The year 1939 was crucial in Menachem Begin’s life. After the Soviet Union signed the friendship treaty with Nazi Germany, Stalin’s security apparatus (NKVD) detained all the Zionist leaders and activists in Poland, suspecting they were loyal to, or agents for, the British. Begin was arrested and sent to prison in Siberia in 1940. Only after the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 and the Soviet-British relations improved that Begin was released from jail. Great Britain decided to make use of the Polish Army (whose country was under German occupation) of General Wladyslaw Anders in its war efforts in the Middle East. The British made arrangements with Stalin, and the Polish Army units were evacuated from the USSR in 1942. The Ander’s (Polish) Army was first sent to Iran, transferred to Iraq, and from there to Palestine where about 53,000 soldiers were regrouped. The British intention was to send them to Egypt to join the British military operations against the German forces, which were advancing from the west (Libya) in the summer of 1942. These Polish detachments that arrived in Palestine were operationally subordinate to British command and the purpose of the regrouping was to retrain them as a fighting force in North Africa, and Palestine was a transit route for them. Out of these 53,000 soldiers, at least 4300 were Jews. A significant part of these Jewish soldiers defected and decided to stay in Palestine. One of them was Menachem Begin (although his official biography says “he was discharged from the Polish army”).
In Palestine, Begin wasted no time. In 1943, shortly after his desertion of the Polish army, he was appointed commander of the Irgun Zvai Leumi (Etzel), the terrorist organization representing the Revisionist Zionist Jabotinsky movement. The extreme right-wing group was advocating a violent version of Zionism that has no room for compromise with the Arabs. According to Irgun doctrine, Palestine is the land of the Jews only and Arabs have to go elsewhere. Even the British got their share of Etzel’s enmity. Although Great Britain was the main promotor of the Zionist project in Palestine from the beginning (and issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917 promising the Zionists of a ”Jewish Homeland” in Palestine), that wasn’t enough for the Irgun and Jabotinsky’s heirs! The pragmatic approach of the British administration in Palestine and its maneuvering between all sides angered the Begin-led Irgun, especially when the British enforced quotas for Jewish immigrants to Palestine in order to regulate the process. 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 1948. During this period, Begin commanded the Etzel's operations, including the bombing of the King David Hotel in occupied Al-Quds(1946), the attack on "Acre" prison (1947), and the assassination of the Swedish diplomat and UN mediator in Palestine Count Bernadotte (1948). That led the British to put Begin on top of their most-wanted list of terrorists.
It was during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 when Menachem Begin committed his most horrible crime. It was a massacre. In April 1948, Menachem Begin accompanied by a large number of Irgun militants entered the Arab village of Deir Yassin, on the outskirts of occupied Palestine. The village was peaceful and its inhabitants were unarmed civilians. The attackers savagely butchered at least 200 residents, including women and children, blew up houses with people inside, and shot people randomly. They also took captives and loaded them on trucks that drove around occupied Al-Quds in a "victory parade". News about the Deir Yassin massacre spread out quickly in Palestine, causing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from the neighboring villages to flee in fear of a similar fate. Menachem Begin never regretted the massacre, nor apologized for it. In his autobiography “The Revolt”, he said that his troops who entered the village “gave warnings” to the Arabs, and added in cold blood, “the civilians who had disregarded our warnings suffered inevitable casualties”!
After the declaration of the so-called “state of Israel”, Menachem Begin laid down his gun and ordered his Irgun militants, along with other right-wing groups like Lehi, to join the mainstream Zionist forces, the Haganah, and together, they formed the Israeli Army. He established a political party, Hirut, to reflect his extreme-right and expansionist ideology. He remained the leader of the opposition for 29 years. Only in 1967, when “Israel” was about to launch its aggression against the Arab countries, Begin joined the “national unity” government.
In 1977, Begin won the general elections in “Israel” under the Likud coalition and seized power. Begin’s rise coincided with Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat’s coup against Nasserite policies and his rush toward the US and “Israel”. During his negotiations with Egypt, Begin showed a great deal of stubbornness and extremism in his demands. He practically refused to offer any reasonable settlement to the Palestinian problem, apart from an “autonomous region” where Palestinians can take charge of healthcare and municipal services without any kind of sovereignty.
It was only the Sadat’s readiness to accept all terms imposed by Begin for the sake of Sinai desert recovery to Egypt that made negotiations succeed. The result was a peace treaty very advantageous to “Israel” that included a nominal withdrawal from Sinai. Begin received the Nobel Prize for Peace, jointly with Sadat.
However, the very idea of “conceding” land to the Arabs was distasteful and bitter for Begin. It’s true that Sinai was not part of historical Palestine, but still, it was in "Israel’s" possession since 1967, and in Begin’s mind, what is conquered by force should remain in the hands of Jews, maintaining that "Israel’s" borders are determined only by the reach of its army. With this ideological background, Begin decided he needed “compensation”. And it was Lebanon. In June 1982, only five weeks after the withdrawal of the Israeli forces from Sinai, Begin unleashed his fury on Lebanon and ordered his army to invade it. The Zionist monster did not stop until he occupied Lebanon’s capital and destroyed it completely. Only then, Begin felt he received the appropriate compensation for his "concession" in Sinai.
But things didn’t go the way Begin wished. A new Lebanese national resistance movement evolved and started targeting the Israeli occupation army, very bravely and efficiently. The number of Israeli military casualties escalated over time until it reached the 1,000 mark (of dead soldiers). With every dead soldier, Begin's sorrows increased, and the psychological impact on him was great. The shock was harsh as he did not want and did not expect this fate for his fellow soldiers. Begin’s temper became very severe and his dealings with others, including officials from the government and army, were getting tough and nervous.
Begin then entered a state of severe depression that made him retreat into his home for a whole week, during which he stopped attending any meetings with officials from the government or the army. Begin's psychological condition worsened while he was in that isolation to the extent that he stopped shaving his beard and even eating! Everything ended when Begin sent a small message to the Israeli President consisting of a few words, "I offer my resignation from the premiership!" The only thing Menachem Begin did in his last days as an active politician was choosing his successor. Begin looked around to find someone who could be entrusted with “keeping Israel" after him. He did not find more extremist and puritanical than his old Irgun comrade, Yitzhak Shamir, so he handed him the job with one piece of advice: "Don’t hand over the “Land of Israel" to the Arabs!"