Yitzhak Shamir Biography

Yitzhak Shamir, the seventh Prime Minister of Israel, was a prominent figure in the establishment of the state of Israel. Born in Poland and educated in a Hebrew school, Shamir’s early involvement with a Zionist group shaped his dedication to the cause of the Jewish people. Despite facing multiple arrests by the British for acts of militancy, Shamir managed to escape and seek political asylum in France. After Israel gained independence, he returned and worked as a Mossad operative before entering politics. Joining the political party ‘Herut’, Shamir quickly rose through the ranks and eventually became Prime Minister. His contributions and unwavering commitment to the Jewish people continue to be remembered and revered in Israel.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Yitzhak Yezernitsky
  • Died At Age: 96
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Shulamit Shamir (m. 1944–2011)
    • Father: Shlomo Jeziernicky
    • Mother: Perla Jeziernicky
    • Children: Gilada Diamant, Yair Shamir
  • Born Country: Belarus
  • Prime Ministers
  • Political Leaders
  • Height: 5’0″ (152 cm), 5’0″ Males
  • Died on: June 30, 2012
  • Place of death: Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel
  • Grouping of People: Jewish Politicians
  • Cause of Death: Alzheimer
  • Notable Alumni: University Of Warsaw
  • Founder/Co-Founder: Herut
  • More Facts
  • Education: University Of Warsaw
  • Awards: Israel Prize

Childhood & Early Life

Yitzhak Shamir was born on October 22, 1915, in Ruzinoy, Poland (now in Belarus). His parents were Shlomo and Perla Penina Yezernitsky and his given name was Yitzhak Yezernitsky. Shamir attended the Hebrew Secondary School in Bialystok and joined Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s ‘Betar’ Zionist youth movement at the age of 14. He chose to study law at Warsaw University but cut his studies short in 1935 at the age of 20 to move to Palestine, which was then under British mandate. He enrolled in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and adopted the Hebrew surname of Shamir. His family in Poland was wiped out during the Holocaust, with his mother and one sister dying in concentration camps and another sister being shot dead. His father managed to escape but was killed while seeking shelter in his village.

Involvement in Zionist Movements

In 1937, Shamir became a member of the ‘Irgun Zvai Leumi’ underground group, which aimed to establish a Jewish state on both banks of the Jordan River and defend Jews from anticipated Arab backlash. In 1940, he joined the more militant ‘Lohamei Herut Israel’ (Lehi) or the ‘Stern Gang’. He was arrested by the British in 1941 but escaped detention in 1942 and became one of the leaders of the ‘Lehi’. He was involved in a plot to kill the British Minister for Middle East Affairs and was accused of bombing the King David hotel in Jerusalem in 1946.

Political Career

After Israel became independent in 1948, Shamir returned to Israel with a false passport sent by ‘Lehi’. In the 1950s, he became involved in various commercial ventures and worked as a secret-service operative for Mossad from 1955 to 1965. He quit Mossad in protest against the treatment of the Director-General. In the mid-1960s, he resumed his commercial activities and joined the ‘Herut’ party in 1969. His political rise was steady, and he became chairman of the party’s executive committee in 1975. When the ‘Likud’ came to power in 1977, Prime Minister Menachem Begin made Shamir the speaker of the Knesset. In 1980, he became the foreign minister and reestablished relationships with various countries. He became the Prime Minister of Israel in 1986.

Controversies and Achievements

Shamir faced international criticism for his handling of the massacre of Palestinians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila during the 1982 Lebanon War. He was also questioned about his responsibility in the Kahan Committee of Inquiry. He was the first Israeli prime minister to negotiate openly with the Palestinians, and his government promoted Jewish settlements in occupied territories. He chose to remain out of the anti-Saddam coalition during the Gulf War of 1991. Shamir’s loss in the 1992 elections was triggered by his inability to nurture the oriental Jewish electorate and the Labour party’s stand on Palestine. He resigned from the Knesset in 1996.

Personal Life and Legacy

Shamir met Shulamit Levy during his underground years, and they got married in 1944. They had a daughter and a son, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Shulamit passed away in 2011. Shamir suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in his later years and died on June 30, 2012, at the age of 96. He was given a state funeral and buried at ‘Har Herzl’ in Jerusalem. His autobiography, ‘Summing Up’, published in 1994, provides insight into his long career and extraordinary life. He was awarded the annual ‘Israel Prize’ in 2001 for his lifetime of achievements and contributions.

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