UPDATE 10:00 am Israel time Sunday:
There was an unusual report ten minutes ago of a missile being fired from and having struck the Sinai. No further info.
SPECIAL NOTICE: Please note that due to former PM Yitzhak Shamir’s death last evening, the UNESCO Israel Quiz (Part 2) will appear tomorrow.
It was a delightful summer evening back in 1993. Your humble servant and his family were attending an outdoor wedding in a bucolic orchard just north of Tel Aviv.
The bride was the daughter of Uri Porat, an author, regular columnist for the leading Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, and former press secretary of Menachem Begin. Porat (whom I had gotten to know well through many discussions at family gatherings during the previous decade) was married to my wife’s first cousin.
The groom was the son of a man who had figured prominently in Israel’s War of Independence and had started a major advertising agency afterwards–and as such had a number of friends in the Israeli government and media.
After arriving, I remember standing in the wine line sandwiched between Shimon Peres and Haim Yavin (the ‘Walter Cronkite’ of Israel TV news at that time–being the only broadcaster on Israel’s Channel 1). Ezer Weizman was a little farther back in the queue (my youngest son got his autograph).
Suffice it to say that Peres, Yavin, and Weizman each had his own entourage which consisted of a moving bubble of adoring fans. The actual wedding took place around 9 pm that evening after which The Ethnix, Israel’s premier band at the time, took center stage for music and dancing.
I don’t really recall when it was after the wedding ceremony under the chuppah had taken place that I went back to our table in the grass (one reserved for family) and had a seat. All I remember is that at some point, the back of my chair brushed the back of a chair of a person sitting at the table beside ours–or his brushed mine.
I turned around and it was Itzhak Shamir. I remember thinking at that moment “Where did he come from?”–because he hadn’t been sitting there when we sat down, and there had been no flurry of activity next to us.
My first thoughts were simply how alone he was–the only other person at the 8-person table was his bodyguard–and how small he was in height (I saw later on one of his “wanted posters”-see below–that he was fancifully listed as 1.65 meters (5’3″). But more than this, PM Shamir exuded straight-postured old world charm, and when he said “Slicha” (“Excuse me”) in his heavily inflected Hebrew, I felt as if I could have been sitting in a cafe in Warsaw.
As I said, he was alone, but he looked as if he wanted to be alone–and I didn’t say anything else other than the return “Slicha”. But I did occasionally glance over my shoulder as he sat quietly, hands folded, as the wedding party danced on into the warmly fragrant Israeli night.
In retrospect, I wonder what Shamir was thinking about that evening as he glanced around at the likes of Peres and Weizman. His political star was in decline: it hadn’t been long since he had been voted out of government and replaced by Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres who were engineering the Oslo Accords with PLO terrorist Yasser Arafat.
Was he remembering the youth of his already long and storied life that began in Ruzhany in the Russian Empire on October 15, 1915 as Icchak Jaziernicki, and continued at a Hebrew high school in Bialystok, Poland where he joined Betar–the Zionist youth movement. Or was he thinking about meeting his own wife, Shulamit (a refugee from Bulgaria), in a British detention camp after he came to Palestine in 1935?
So many things could have floated through his mind that night: his membership in the Irgun Zvai Leumi and more militant Stern Gang; his capture (he spent some six months hiding out alone in an orchard not far from very orchard in which the wedding was taking place), imprisonment, and exile (to Eritrea) by British . . .
. . . his fight in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence; his directing Mossad in the late 1950s and being the primary architect of Operation Damocles (the assassination of former Nazi scientists who were creating an Egyptian missile program).
But given the fact that it was Uri Porat’s daughter getting married, maybe Shamir was remembering joining Menachem Begin’s Herut party in 1969 yet feeling betrayed a decade later by Begin’s Camp David Accords and the Peace Treaty with Egypt–both of which he refused to vote for.
Given his utterly self-effacing personality that night, I seriously doubt that he was thinking about when he was Speaker of the Knesset or his two terms as Israeli Prime Minister (the longest serving of any Prime Minister except for David Ben Gurion).
In any case, a point came in the evening when I glanced back and he was gone–as inconspicuously as when he had arrived–with no fanfare and no fuss.
This morning, even in death, Shamir is being vilified on the Israeli left; however, encomiums have poured in–even from two of his bitterest adversaries, Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres.
Barak issued this statement: “His whole life, Shamir was as stable as granite and maintained focus without compromises. He always strived to ensure Israel’s freedom. His devotion knew no bounds [and he] always sought what’s right for the people of Israel and for the country’s security.”
President Peres had this to say: “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.”
His daughter Gilada offered these words: “My father belonged to a different generation of leaders, people with values and beliefs. I hope that we have more people like him in the future. His political doing has undoubtedly left its mark on the State of Israel. Dad was an amazing man, a family man in the fullest sense of the word, a man who dedicated himself to the State of Israel but never forgot his family, not even for a moment. He was a special man.”
To your humble servant, Yitzhak Shamir was a devoted patriot who uncompromisingly fought for Eretz Yisrael. More than this, he was a man whose personal belief in trading “peace for peace” with the Arabs–not “land for peace”–has been proven a thousand times over. To repeat what his daughter said, Yitzhak Shamir was a man of “values and beliefs. I hope that we have more people like him in the future.” He may have been diminutive in height, but he was giant in stature.