Sunday, December 24, 2006

Begin, Yamit, El Al and Shabbat

There's a wonderful article, which I'll post here at the end of this, going around emails and the internet about Menachem Begin and Shabbat. While I googled it, trying to find out its original publication link (which I didn't find), I discovered something else.

The Jewish Agency has a timeline showing what happened each year. Here are some of the things that happened in 1982:

It seems ironic that Begin's famous defense of Shabbat was barely a week after his government destroyed Yamit and the other Jewish communities in the Sinai.

April 25 : Three years after the signing of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, the Sinai is completely turned over to Egypt. The inhabitants of Yamit who refuse to leave, together with their supporters, are evacuated by force. Bulldozers raze the town. "The town looked as if an atomic bomb hit it." Egypt had offered 50 million dollar for the lot, but Israel had refused. The decision to destroy the settlements is made by Begin, on Defense Minister Sharon's prompting. One issue remains unsolved - the status of the Taba area, just south of Eilat.
April: Israel charges the PLO for two minings on the border, a bombing in Ashkelon, and a bus-bombing in Jerusalem.
May 2: Implementing one aspect of the coalition agreement with the religious parties, the government announces that El Al will cease flying on Shabbat.
And then, a little later:

June 4 - 5 : Israeli armed forces bomb and shell Arab terrorist positions from southern Lebanon all the way to Beirut. The PLO retaliates with rocket and artillery shelling of 23 Israeli settlements in western and northern Galilee and of Major Saad Haddad's enclave in Lebanon.
June 6 : Israel launches "
Operation Peace for Galilee".
Menachem Begin was a very complex personality. it was clear that he loved Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, and he was deeply religious, even though he didn't wear a kippah full-time, nor did he join any of the religious parties. For many of us his decision to give Sinai to Egypt and destroy Jewish communities was both unforgivable and incomprehensible.

Personally, I'm very "uncomfortable" when his "peace treaty" is praised by the Begin Center. I think that it was his fatal mistake and the cause of his later depression. He tried to justify it by saying that part of the agreement was a guarantee to preserve and increase Jewish settlement in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, but the truth is that his destruction of Jewish settlement in Sinai is used as the justification for Disengagement and all of the demands to destroy Jewish communities in the same Judea and Samaria.

He's now in Olam Haba, the Next World, and G-d is the only one to tally his fate.

El Al on Shabbos: Menachem Begin

by Yehudah Avner

The possible renewal of Saturday flights in the wake of c calls to mind a Knesset oration of yesteryear.

For days, tension permeated the Knesset. Stocky, gesticulating men combed
its corridors, committees and canteens, their numbers rising daily like
tugboats heaving in fresh infusions of lobbying power. They were El Al union
men, accompanied by their whispering lawyers, intent on scotching prime
minister Menachem Begin's resolve to halt the national airline's flights on
the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Without let-up, they
pressured, pestered and petitioned the parliamentarians. Even the
ever-ebullient, highly erudite, and strictly observant interior minister,
Dr. Yosef Burg, was collared.

He was waylaid by a union man who placed an amicable arm around his
shoulder, jabbed a forefinger into his chest and barked into his face so
grimacingly that his head was jerked backwards as if to have the arguments
shoved physically down his throat.

This was on May 3, 1982, the day premier Begin limped into a crowded Knesset
chamber tense with expectancy. He was in pain, recovering from a severe hip
injury, and it was with heavy, purposeful steps that he mounted the tribune
to deliver his El Al speech. He began quietly, factually, declaring that the
government had finally decided to halt all El Al flights on Shabbat and
festivals - a revelation that sent eyes glaring and hatreds flashing in the
public gallery where the union men sat.

Simultaneously, a sudden restlessness seized the opposition benches, which
erupted into a paroxysm of heckling: "So why don't you shut down TV on
Shabbat, too?" screamed one. "What about football matches on Shabbat?"
bawled another.

"Are you going to stop Jewish merchant ships at sea, too?" shouted a third.
This spasm of derision fazed the premier not one little bit. On the
contrary, it supplied him with new inspirations of vitriolic wit.

"Shout as much as you will," he ribbed, his deep-set, bespectacled eyes
scanning the opposition faces with scorn, his gaze finally settling on the
young, secular, radical left-winger Yossi Sarid.

"I have nothing to say to you and your kind, Mr. Sarid," he said, with a
glance that could wither. "In fact, I have nothing to say to anyone who
supports a Palestinian state that is a mortal danger to our people."

And then, changing tone, pitching his voice to a muted, sonorous, trembling
pitch, this man who believed in oratory as the supreme artful weapon, a
matter of style, cadence, and the application of controlled but massive
intellectual energy, intoned: "Forty years ago I returned from exile to
Eretz Yisrael. Engraved in my memory still are the lives of millions of
Jews, simple, ordinary folk, eking out a livelihood in that forlorn Diaspora
where the storms of anti-Semitism raged.

"They were not permitted to work on the Christian day of rest, and they
refused to work on their day of rest. For they lived by the commandment,
'Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.' "So each week they forswore two
whole days of hard-won bread. This meant destitution for many. But they
would not desecrate the Sabbath day." "So, stop football on Shabbat, too?"
butted in Sarid provocatively, triggering off another squall of jeers,
hissing, and name-calling.

Adroitly, to the delight of his supporters, Menachem Begin put his power of
mimicry to full use by calmly raising his right hand as if to catch a ball,
tossed it back, and resumed his rhetorical flow: "Shabbat is one of the
loftiest values in all of humanity," he said, his voice husky with emotion.
"It originated with us. It is all ours. No other civilization in history
knew of a day of rest. "Ancient Egypt had a great culture whose treasures
are on view to this day, yet the Egypt of antiquity did not know of a day of
rest. The Greeks of old excelled in philosophy and the arts, yet they did
not know of a day of rest. " Rome established mighty empires and instituted a
system of law still relevant to this day, yet they did not know of a day of rest. Neither did thecivilizations of Assyria, Babylon , Persia , India , China - none of them knew of a day of rest."

"So, put on a yarmulke," sneered Sarid.

"Hutzpa!" boomed Begin, bristling. "I speak of our people's most hallowed
values, and you dare stoop to mockery. Shame on you!" Then, arms up, fists
balled, he thundered with the devotion of a disciple and the fire of a
champion: "One nation alone sanctified the Shabbat, a small nation, the
nation that heard the voice at Sinai, ' so that your man-servant and your
maid-servant may rest as well as you.' "Ours was the nation that enthroned
Shabbat as sovereign Queen."

A crescendo of approval from the government benches sent the rafters
rattling, muffling every last vestige of dissent. And he, the Great
Commoner, idol of the common folk, caught up on the wave of his own
enthusiasm and sense of mission, rose to a pitch of almost uncontrollable
fervor, and thundered on: "So, are we in our own reborn Jewish state to
allow our blue-and-white El Al planes to fly to and fro as if broadcasting
to the world that there is no Shabbat in Israel ? Should we, who by faith and
tradition heard the commandment at Sinai, now deliver a message to all and
sundry through our blue-and-white El Al planes - 'No, don't remember the
Sabbath day. Forget the Sabbath day! Desecrate the Sabbath day.' "I shudder
at the thought."

The ensuing ruckus was terrific. The speaker sat ham-fisted, vainly banging
his gavel, which thudded as soundlessly as a velvet mallet. So Begin himself
raised his palms and then lowered them gently, once, twice, thrice, until
the furor quietened of itself. Whereupon, to hammer his point home, he
quoted the words of the celebrated secular philosopher of early Zionism,
Ahad Ha'am: "More than the Jews kept the Sabbath day, the Sabbath day kept
the Jews."

With that, he raised his eyes to the public gallery and vouchsafed its
occupants an intensely solemn stare. "Let me say this to the good workers of
El Al," he told the crowd. "The government has been the object of threats.
We disregard them. In a democracy, government decisions are not made under
threat." And then, like a sudden bugle call to historical grandeur, he
perorated with compelling passion: "Know this: We cannot assess the
religious, national, social, historical, and ethical values of the Sabbath
day by the yardstick of financial loss or gain. In our revived Jewish state
we simply cannot engage in such calculations when dealing with an eternal
and cardinal value of the Jewish people - Shabbat - for which our ancestors
were ready to give their lives. "One thing more. One need not be a pious Jew
to accept this principle. One need only be a Jew."

The writer was on the personal staff of four prime ministers, including Menachem Begin.


Anonymous said...

Ironically, Begin came into power because of Shabbat. The IAF had decided to fly in its newly acquired F-15s just before Shabbat and scheduled the welcoming ceremony at candlelighting. A frum journalist broke the story (despite an official Army ban on reporting it) and the Labor government fell.

Batya said...

Thank you!
I forgot.
It's an excellent point.

Lion of Zion said...

i thought likud swept into power because of nasty comments made about the edot hamizrah, who then switched their alliegances to likud.

Batya said...

"a" gave the reason the Rabin gov't fell.
The eidot mizrah loved Begin and began voting in larger numbers and joining the party.

You're both right.

Anonymous said...

This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post a while back.

Batya said...

thank you