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Begin, Menachem (1913-1992)

Perennial opposition leader who became prime minister (1977-1983) and signed the peace treaty with Egypt.

Born in Brest Litovsk (now Byelorus), on August 16, 1913. He studied law at the University of Warsaw. Active in the Zionist movement, he became head of Betar in 1939. When the Germans invaded Poland, he fled to Lithuania, but was arrested and held in a Soviet concentration camp (1940-1941) until he joined a Polish army formed in the USSR to fight the Nazis.

By 1942 he was in Palestine, where he became a commander of the Irgun Zvai Leumi, an underground group seeking to oust the British from Palestine by force.

After British withdrawal, he was on the Irgun ship Altalena which approached Tel Aviv with a consignment of arms, contrary to the orders of the newly-formed Israel Defense Forces. The government ordered the ship to be shelled. Begin transformed the Irgun into the Herut (Freedom) party in the Knesset in 1948.

In 1952 he led the party's protest against the reparations agreement with West Germany. On the eve of the Six Day War, he became a minister-without-portfolio in the national unity government. He left the government in 1970 when a majority in the government accepted the U.S.-sponsored concept of what was to become relinquishing territory for peace.

In 1973, the Likud (Unity) bloc was formed and Begin was a leader. When they won the elections in 1977, he became prime minister. It was during this tenure that in 1978, he and Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat received the Nobel Peace prize for the peace treaty they would sign the following year, after returning much of the Sinai to Egypt.

In 1981, he was re-elected and in 1982 he authorized the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. In failing health and following the death of his wife, Aliza, he stepped down in September 1983.

His books in English include White Nights (1957) and The Revolt (1964).


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