June 30, 2012
Yitzhak Shamir was born Yitzhak Yzernitzky in Ruzinoy, Poland on October 22, 1915. He began studying Hebrew in Poland and at the age of 14 joined the Betar youth movement. In 1935, at age 20, he immigrated to Palestine and enrolled at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Disenchanted with the mainstream Zionist approach towards the British administration of Palestine, in 1937 he joined the underground revisionist group Ha-Irgun HaTzevai HaLe’umi B’Eretz Yisrael (“National Military Organization”), more commonly known as the Irgun. In 1940, the Irgun decided to end their underground armed activities and cooperate with the British in the fight against Nazi Germany. Shamir was a part of the group who subsequently broke away from the Irgun and formed the more militant Lehi (Lohamei Herut Israel or “Fighters for the Freedom of Israel”). Lehi, also known as the “Stern Gang” after its founder Avraham Yair Stern, targeted British troops and bases in Palestine, hoping to use force to drive the British out. Shamir became a leader of the group after Stern was killed by the British.
Shamir was arrested by the British twice and in an effort to hide from them, changed his last name from Yzernitzky to Shamir. In public, he often dressed as a Hasidic rabbi to avoid being recognized and captured.
After a period in the private sector, Shamir served in a senior post in the Mossad for ten years and was elected to the Knesset in 1973 as a member of Menachem Begin’s Herut party. When Begin resigned in 1983, Shamir became the seventh prime minister of Israel. He was prime minister during the 1991 Gulf War when Israel was hit by Iraqi Scud missiles, and at American urging did not retaliate in order to preserve the international coalition set up to defeat Iraq. Shamir was a staunch advocate for building settlements in the West Bank and thus was continually at odds with American presidents. When he left office he acknowledged that while he was Prime Minster, though negotiations took place with the Palestinians it was never his intention to relinquish territories to them.
In the photo, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir greets Ethiopian immigrants at an absorption center in January 1991.