I confess my ignorance.
I really didn’t know much about Yitzhak Shamir beyond his title as former Israeli prime minister. The majority of Americans probably share my ignorance. He died Saturday at the age of 96 in a nursing home, a victim of Alzheimer’s disease.
I decided to check out what world leaders, journalists and others were saying about him this week in his obits. He was lionized as a hero for his “deep loyalty to Israel” by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel’s President Shimon Peres hailed him as “a brave warrior….a great patriot and lover of Israel who served his country with integrity.”
J Street — the “political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans” — “honored the contributions the indomitable Shamir made to the cause of Jewish independence.”
President Obama stated: “Yitzhak Shamir dedicated his life to the State of Israel. From his days working for Israel’s independence to his service as Prime Minister, he strengthened Israel’s security and advanced the partnership between the United States and Israel. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and the people of Israel.”
Fox News highlighted his service in the “Mossad as an intelligence agent who hunted Nazis, before entering politics.”
The BBC News reported that while in office, Shamir gained a reputation as an uncompromising opponent of Palestinian statehood, and “persistently advocated the creation of a Greater Israel encompassing all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan river.”
Aljazeera noted that “Shamir never saw territorial pullout as a way to resolve the Middle East conflict, and was one of the few deputies to abstain during the 1978 vote to ratify Israel’s historic peace agreement with Egypt. … Shamir always believed the Jewish state should stretch from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.” (Many Jews, of course, fear that Palestinians have the same belief …. in reverse.)
The British Financial Times obit said Shamir is “most likely to be remembered as a terrorist against British rule in Palestine during the 1940s and as a man whose aggressive Jewish settlement policy on Arab lands may have stymied Middle East peace for a generation.”
Joel Brinkley’s piece in the New York Times provided the most comprehensive background about the personal and political life of this enigmatic man. You can read it here.
Many of his friends and colleagues ascribed his character to his years in the underground in the 1940s, when he sent Jewish fighters out to kill British officers whom he saw as occupiers. He was a wanted man then; to the British rulers of the Palestine mandate he was a terrorist, an assassin. He appeared in public only at night, disguised as a Hasidic rabbi. But Mr. Shamir said he considered those “the best years of my life.”
To the Jewish public, and even to the other Jewish underground groups, Mr. Shamir’s gang was “lacking even a spark of humanity and Jewish conscience,” Israel Rokach, the mayor of Tel Aviv, said in 1944 after Stern Gang gunmen shot three British police officers on the streets in his city.
Years later, however, Mr. Shamir contended that it had been more humane to assassinate specific military or political figures than to attack military installations and possibly kill innocent people, as the other underground groups did. Besides, he once said, “a man who goes forth to take the life of another whom he does not know must believe only one thing: that by his act he will change the course of history.”
اسحق شامير was a complicated man. He walked in the halls of world power and hid disguised in the alleys at night; he spent time in prison for his role as an assassin and ended his days in a nursing home with no memories of his actions; he was loved by many and reviled by many. He certainly put his stamp on history, and probably condemned his children, grandchildren and the state of Israel to decades of bloodshed by his uncompromising stance with the Palestinians.