by Sally Zahav
The Prime Ministers by Yehuda Avner is a book for anyone who is interested in gaining insight into the challenges and joys of Israel's earliest years. Yehuda Avner was privileged to serve four of Israel's early prime ministers: Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Yitzchak Rabin and Menachem Begin, in various capacities. He seems to have been present, sometimes as an active participant and sometimes as an observer in the chambers of power during many of the most sensitive and fateful moments in Israel's early history.
Below is an excerpt from The Prime Ministers that deals with Menachem Begin's first days as prime minister. It's worth noting that Menachem Begin was a lawyer who graduated from the University of Warsaw before immigrating to the land that was then called Palestine. So when he speaks of Israel's status, or the status of Judea and Samaria under International Law, it's not only a prime minister's opinion or a politician's bluster or wishful thinking, but a sound and legally grounded conviction. The excerpt:
The day after his victory, Begin had traveled to an IDF encampment called Kaddum, near Nablus, in the heart of the densely Arab populated hill country, and in the course of an impromptu press conference announced a settlement drive to embrace the whole of the West Bank, which he insisted on calling by its biblical name - Judea and Samaria.
"In that case, what is the future of the occupied territories?" asked a journalist.
Like a patient schoolteacher gently correcting an uninformed pupil, Begin replied, "These my friend, are not occupied territories. You've used this expression for ten years, since sixty-seven. But now it is seventy-seven, and I hope that from now on you'll start using the term liberated territories. A Jew has every right to settle in these liberated territories of the Jewish homeland."
"And what about the Arabs living here?" somebody asked.
Begin answered, "We don't want to evict anyone from his land. In this beautiful country there is room for the Arabs who are working their lands, and for Jews who will come to make the homeland blossom."
"Do you actually plan to annex these territories?" queried another.
"We don't use the word annexation", chided Begin. "You annex foreign territory, not your own country."
"But what about international law - the Fourth Geneva Convention, which expressly forbids settling occupied land?" pressed the questioner.
Begin would not be provoked. Gently, patiently, he explained, "I advise you to look carefully into the legal status of the territories of which you speak, and you will then understand that the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply. The UN 1947 partition resolution, which the Arabs refused to recognize, is null and void. The area which you call 'occupied' remains a part of what the League of Nations Supreme Council defined on the twenty-fourth of July nineteen twenty-two as the area to be reconstituted as the National Home of the Jewish people; and Jews have lived in, owned land, and tilled their soil here in these areas for hundreds of years prior to being evicted because of Arab wars of aggression."
"So will Israeli law be introduced into the West Bank?"
Begin benignly replied, "My friend, what you call the West Bank is Judea and Samaria. Please use these terms in the future. They are, after all, their original biblical names. As for Israeli law, this is a matter for consideration. Once I have formed a government, we shall go to the Knesset and ask for a vote of confidence, and then we shall consider what steps to take. Thank you," and off he went to join a group of would-be settlers, who were singing and dancing as they celebrated installing a new Torah scroll in their makeshift synagogue, which event is what had brought Begin to Kaddum in the first place.
There may be people in Israel today who are capable of the kind of vision, leadership and nobility of character that Begin possessed, but unfortunately, our current leaders don't seem to be among them. Our leaders reflect the uncertainty, anxiety and lack of simple faith of many among the populace. If we want to have worthier leaders, we should look inward and make ourselves worthy of great leaders. And here are a few lines that may point us in the right direction:
From "Then Satan Said," by Natan Alterman:
Satan then said:
How do I overcome
This besieged one?
He has courage
And implements of war
Only this shall I do,
I'll dull his mind
And cause him to forget
The justice of his cause.
- The Prime Ministers by Yehuda Avner; The Toby Press
- "Then Satan Said" by Natan Alterman
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.