Israel Says Goodbye, Thank You to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir

By Joel Leyden
Israel News Agency

Jerusalem, Israel --- July 5, 2012 ... Part of the following was communicated by the Israel Government Press Office to the Israel News Agency.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke the following at the funeral of Israel Prime Minister Yitzhar Shamir at the Mt. Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem on July 2, 2012:

"The Declaration of Independence, the founding document of the State of Israel, begins with the words, "The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people". These two things, the Land of Israel and the Jewish people, were always Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's top priorities. They dictated his worldview and they always guided his policies. These two things, the Land of Israel and the Jewish people, were uncompromising principles to Yitzhak Shamir. He served them his entire life."

'Anonymous soldiers without uniforms'. Yitzhak Shamir and his fellow members of the Lehi underground sang these words, and that was how he lived his entire life – with a deep awareness of service and sense of mission. He was an anonymous soldier in the underground before the establishment of the country. He was an anonymous soldier at the Mossad - Israel Secret Service - after the establishment of the country. Later in his overt and higher official roles – Speaker of the Knesset, Foreign Minister and Prime Minister – Yitzhak Shamir was already well-known.

Even then, I was always impressed that, in his heart and through his humble behavior, he continued to see himself as that same anonymous soldier serving the people and the country. He never asked for any recognition or appreciation. Yitzhak Shamir did not search out popularity or respect. Every action and decision he made had to pass one simple test – was it good for the Jewish people and the Land of Israel?

Shamir bore on his shoulders the burden of the history of the generation that suffered the Holocaust and experienced the rebirth on a personal and national scale. My colleague, MK Rivlin, spoke at the meeting of the Likud faction members yesterday and told how, at the moving ceremony of the reading of the names, 'Every Person has a Name', Shamir would speak of the murder of his father, mother and other family members by the Nazi collaborators. It was one of the few times when his voice would tremble.

He wholeheartedly believed that his mission as Prime Minister of Israel charged him with the responsibility to continue the colossal historic task of returning the Jewish people from the ends of the Earth to the land of our ancestors, and fortifying our national home in our land.

He was stubborn and suspicious when faced with any idea that meant a reduction in the borders of the homeland, and his loyalty to the homeland knew no bounds. He was creative and open in the same measure when faced with any idea that meant seizing another opportunity to continue ingathering the exiles.

Yitzhak Shamir made a tremendous contribution to the immigration and successful absorption of one million Jews from the former Soviet Union.
He believed that Aliya, the immigrants would change the country's face and that they would contribute greatly to Israel's development. He was right, of course. He also contributed to the immigration of the Ethiopian Jews, whose millennial yearning for Zion moved him.

He was a man of deep feelings, but he was fundamentally a practical man. He felt that every minute of his life must be dedicated to the goals he set for himself – for his people and his homeland. He was a man of few words, but when he spoke, every word he said expressed the depths of his heart.

Shamir was never blinded by the glamour that accompanied his meetings with world leaders, and he never lost his composure when faced with large and powerful countries, even superpowers. He stood before these countries and spoke the truth of Israel in a matter-of-fact and clear tone of voice, while taking into account the justness of the Jewish people's path and the Land of Israel's rights. It is no secret that some people around the world did not agree with his positions, but I accompanied him to many meetings and I was impressed, and you too can be impressed, that over time, world leaders learned to appreciate and respect his strong steadfastness with regard to Israel's national interest and security.

It was when he served as Prime Minister of Israel, even as he did not compromise his positions, that a significant number of countries established diplomatic relations with Israel or renewed them, including the Soviet Union, China, India, Spain and others.

As opposed to his image as a sphinx who did not take international systems into account, I remember that he would call me when I served as UN ambassador – one of his many appointments of young people whom he advanced. Yitzhak Shamir was committed to advancing young people and nurturing them, and many of them are here today, slightly less young. He would call me and ask what was happening there, what was happening in the United States and what was happening in relation to Israel, of course.

He wanted to discuss the smallest details. It was important to him in the public diplomacy battle. Even when we went to Madrid, he did not go with great enthusiasm, but that is where the dialogue towards peace talks with our neighbors began. He thought the public diplomacy battle was the most important fight and that it was not enough for us to be right, but rather we should talk about this rightness as much as possible.

Beyond the fact that the good of the country as he understood it always was a top priority, two things from his six and a half years as Prime Minister of Israel stand out to me: firstly, Yitzhak Shamir recognized the importance of national unity. It was true in 1984 when he and Shimon Peres established the unity government, and it was true in the elections that followed when he could have formed a narrow government and still preferred unity. Yitzhak Shamir recognized that unity among the people was an important source of national strength. The second thing that stood out during his tenure was the restraint he demonstrated during the Gulf War.

It has been said many times that Shamir decided not to respond when the missiles were falling on Israel because he did not want to weaken the international coalition that had organized against Saddam Hussein.

However, there is an important detail in the story that is less known. When the missiles were falling on Israel, Yitzhak Shamir did not sit idly by.
He sent a message to the US through then Israel Defense Minister Moshe Arens that Israel was going to move against Iraq. The United States understood that Shamir was serious in his intentions and preparations. And he was serious. The Americans understood that words and promises would not suffice, but before Israel could act, a ceasefire was announced that eliminated the need for Israeli action. If the missile fire had continued, Israel, under Yitzhak Shamir's leadership, would have acted.

That is how Yitzhak Shamir was – firm, practical, full of faith, steady and totally committed to Israel's security.

Today we accompany him to his final rest here in the plot for Great Leaders of the Nation, alongside his devoted wife Shulamit, his loyal partner whom he loved with all his heart and who passed away last year. On her gravestone is written:"Her devotion will only be released in death".

Yitzhak Shamir will be remembered as one of the nation's great leaders who dedicated their lives to their people and their homeland, and thus will he be written in the history of the people of Israel.

May his memory be blessed."

Yitzhak Shamir was born October 22, 1915 in Ruzinoy, Poland where he attended the Bialystok Hebrew Secondary School and became an active member of Ze'ev Jabotinsky's Betar Zionist youth movement. In 1935, at the age of 20, Shamir interrupted his law studies in Warsaw to move to British Mandatory Palestine, where he enrolled at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Soon after arriving in Palestine, Shamir joined the Irgun Zvai Leumi (National Military Organization "Etzel") and, in 1940, followed Avraham Stern into the Lohamei Herut Yisrael (Freedom Fighters of Israel "Fighters"), another - more militaristic - underground defense organization. The following year he was imprisoned by the British authorities but, in 1943, he escaped from the British detention camp and soon became one of the Lehi's principal leaders.

Shamir served as Lehi's principal director of operations until 1946, when he was detained again by the British and exiled to a British­run prison camp in Eritrea. In 1947, he escaped from the camp as well, made his way to the neighboring French colony of Djibouti, and was later granted political asylum in France. Upon his return to Israel, Shamir took back his command of the Lehi, a position he would hold until the organization disbanded in 1949 after the formation of the Israel Defense Forces.

After managing several commercial enterprises, Shamir joined Israel's Secret Service - Mossad - in the mid­1950's. He returned to private commercial activity in the mid­1960's, when he became active in the campaign to free Soviet Jewry and joined Menachem Begin's Herut movement, which evolved into the Likud Party.

Elected to the Knesset in 1973 as a member of the Likud, Shamir served on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and the State Comptroller's Committee. Upon reelection to the Knesset in 1977, he became Speaker, in which capacity he presided over the historic visit of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and the debate over the peace treaty with Egypt.

Following the resignation of Moshe Dayan, Shamir joined the Begin Cabinet as Foreign Minister in March 1980, and continued in this position after the 1981 elections. He guided negotiations on the post­treaty "normalization" process with Egypt, and initiated diplomatic contacts with numerous African countries which had severed relations with Jerusalem during the Yom Kippur War. Following Operation Peace for Galilee in 1982, Shamir directed negotiations with Lebanon which led to the 1983 peace agreement (never ratified by the Lebanese government).

In October 1983, Shamir succeeded Menachem Begin as Prime Minister. Following the 1984 election, he became Vice­Premier and Foreign Ministry in the Government of National Unity.

Together with Israel Defense Minister Moshe Arens, Shamir worked with President Ronald Reagan and Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger to create a framework for US - Israel strategic cooperation and the US - Israel Free Trade Agreement. In midterm, Shamir returned to the premiership, rotating positions with Labor leader Shimon Peres.

Following the 1988 elections, Shamir again created a National Unity Government with Labor, but without the "rotation" element of its predecessor. This government fell in 1990 due to a vote of no­confidence in the Knesset, but, following a protracted stalemate, Shamir succeeded in forming a narrow coalition government.

In May 1991, Yitzhak Shamir ordered the airlift rescue of thousands of Ethiopian Jews, codenamed "Operation Solomon." In September 1991, he represented Israel at the Madrid Peace Conference which brought about direct negotiations with Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestinians.

Defeated in the 1992 election, Shamir stepped down from the party leadership and retired from the Israeli Knesset in 1996.

In 2001, Shamir was awarded with the annual Israel Prize in recognition of his lifetime achievements and special contributions to the society and wellbeing of the State of Israel. In 2004, Shamir's health declined rapidly, with the onset of Alzheimers Disease and he was subsequently moved into a private nursing home. The following year he was voted the 29th-greatest Israeli of all time through a poll conducted by the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot.

On June 30, 2012, Shamir died while at the nursing home he was living in in Tel Aviv. He was 96 years old. He was a given a state funeral on July 2 and buried amongst Israel's other war heros and prime ministers on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

Israel President Shimon Peres said: "Yitzhak Shamir was a brave warrior for Israel, before and after its inception. He was a great patriot and his enormous contribution will be forever etched in our chronicles. He was loyal to his beliefs and he served his country with the utmost dedication for decades. May he rest in peace."



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