On June 30th, Yitzhak Shamir, the seventh Prime Minister of Israel, passed away at the age of 96. He was the Israel’s second-longest serving Prime Minister, after Ben-Gurion. From his youth, when he first became involved in Zionist activities in Poland, throughout his involvement in the pre-State underground movements and until his last years, Shamir dedicated his entire life to the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. A man of intense convictions, Shamir refused to surrender his principles despite international and domestic pressure.
In his years as Prime Minister, he uncompromisingly defeated the first Palestinian intifada, renewed diplomatic relations with dozens of countries, established tens of new communities in Judea and Samaria and oversaw the gathering in of millions of Jews from Ethiopia and the Soviet Union. Despite his refusal to make concessions, he increased the Israeli standard of living and inaugurated an era of economic prosperity and security.
In his eulogy for Shamir, Netanyahu said that he “was from the generations of giants that founded the State of Israel.” It was this generation of giants that put into action the dream of restored Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel, stood up to the British empire and fought off Arab terror. Shamir immigrated to pre-State Palestine in 1935, leaving his family behind in Poland. (His entire family was later murdered during the Holocaust by the Nazis.) He eventually joined the Revisionist Irgun paramilitary organization, whose goal was to drive the British out of Palestine. When the organization split, Shamir joined the more militant Lehi (“Freedom Fighters of Israel”) group, under the guidance of Avraham “Yair” Stern. After Stern’s death at the hands of the British Mandatory powers, Shamir came to lead the organization. In July 1946, Shamir was imprisoned by the British and exiled to a detention camp in Eritrea. Shamir, along with other Lehi men, managed to escape through a 200 meter tunnel that they had dug under the camp.
Shamir was intensely in love with the Land of Israel. Indeed, he used to boast that he never surrendered a single grain of Eretz Yisrael. This brought him into conflict with the American administration that pressured him to halt the expansion of settlements in Judea and Samaria. When President Bush demanded that Shamir immediately cease Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria in exchange for loan guarantees (that Israel desperately needed to help absorb the million new immigrants from the Soviet Union), Shamir pointedly refused. When later asked if that decision was hard for him, he expressed bewilderment at the thought that he would sell his country for money.
When American Secretary of State James Baker (a strong proponent of Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria in his own right) conveyed to Shamir Bush’s strong opposition to settlements, Shamir had the courage to look him in the eyes and declare: “This is my land”, before moving to the next topic. His steadfast dedication to the Land of Israel, at the seeming expense of the diplomatic process, cost him politically. When he lost the 1992 elections to Yizhak Rabin, who subsequently signed the Oslo Accords and brought about the worst wave of terror attacks in Israeli history, Shamir expressed dismay that he would no longer be able to build in Judea and Samaria.
While Shamir was heavily criticized for his supposed lack of willingness for bold diplomatic moves with the Arab countries, twenty years after the Oslo Accords, he seems to have been clairvoyant. Rabin’s signing of the Oslo Accords unleashed a process of de-legitimization of Zionism, weakened Israel’s security situation and saw the murder of thousands of Israeli Jews at the hands of Israel’s newly moderate PLO “peace partners”. To this day, despite blatant failure by the Palestinians to ever even attempt to follow their Oslo commitments, Israel has still been unable to extricate itself from the quagmire that Rabin began. Before the 1991 Madrid peace talks, Shamir, in a politically incorrect yet absolutely true statement, said that “the Arabs are the same Arabs and the sea [where they want to throw us in to] is the same sea.” He was unembarrassed to say the basic truth that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people, that “Palestine” was a term invented by the Greek and Roman conquerors in a bid to erase the Jewish connection to their land, and that there had never been a Palestinian Arab state in history.
Shamir saw the fulfillment of one of the most basic goals of Zionism: the ingathering of the Jewish exiles. In May 1991, as the Ethiopian government of Mengitsu Haile Mariam was collapsing, Shamir ordered “Operation Solomon”, airlifting 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in one day. When the United States opened its doors to immigrants from the Soviet Union, Shamir demanded that the US stop classifying Soviet Jews as refugees. “Since 1948, no Jew is a refugee – Jews have a homeland,” Shamir explained. He lobbied Congress to pressure Moscow to fly Jewish emigrants directly to Israel, as opposed to Rome or Vienna. As a result, over a million Soviet Jews came to Israel, transforming Israel’s economy, industry and cultural life.
Shamir taught us the integrity of saying no, of standing by convictions despite overwhelming odds. He once expressed that “if history should remember me at all, I hope to be remembered as a man who loved Eretz Yisrael and who served it all the days of his life, in every means that he could.”
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's own and do not necessarily represent those of The Prince Arthur Herald.
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