Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Menachem Begin Heritage Center

Former Israeli P.M., Menachem Begin
Where to take important guests who are visiting Israel during rainy season?  Well - we decided to head over to the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem.  We had read some very good reviews of the museum and we were not disappointed.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin was a fascinating historical figure.  His biography is filled with tremendous accomplishments.  From his imprisonment in Europe for having been a Z|ionist to his leadership of the Irgun group in pre-Israel Palestine, Begin faced countless life and death challenges.  After the establishment of the State of Israel, he served in the Knesset in the opposition for close to 30 years before becoming Prime Minister of Israel in 1977.  He is best known throughout the world for signing a peace treaty with Egypt under the leadership of Anwar Sadat.  He is also known for authorizing the Israeli destruction of Iraq's Osaka nuclear reactor in 1982.  But the musem also deals, quite fairly, with Begin's unravelling, following the 1982 Israel-Lebanon War.

On entering the museum, guests are provided with headphones so that they can tour the museum in languages other than Hebrew.  The Center tour is divided into sections of Begin's life.  It includes videos, photographs, articles and other media forms.  We made sure to phone in advance and book an English language tour (our guests were English speakers).  We were put with a group of about 30 others for the 1 1/2 hour tour.

Throughout the first part of the presentation, I wondered if the museum would deal with some of the more controversial aspects of Begin's life.  After all, hearing the story of Begin's early years, from his struggles in Europe to his immigration to Israel and his leadership of the Irgun group, one cannot help but be impressed by the history of a real Jewish hero. 

This theme continued throughout the years of Begin's service in the opposition in the Knesset (Israel's parliament) and even through his first governmental mandate. 

But the Center does not shy away from the 1982 Israel-Lebanon War, the Sabra-Shatilla Massacre by the Christian Phalangists and the subsequent inquiry into the Begin Government's role in permitting or failing to prevent that massacre.  The Center, by tracing Begin's speeches and commentaries, also raises some very central questions about Begin's belief in the "territorial integrity" of the Land of Israel.  Some of the commentaries suggest that Begin used the Egyptian Peace Treaty as a means of retaining control, for Israel, over Judea, Shomron (the "West Bank"), Gaza and the Golan Heights.  You can't help but wonder whether an alternative arrangement, a broader peace deal, would have served Israel better - or whether such a deal would have even been possible at the time.

The fallout over the Israel-Lebanon war, the large number of Israeli soldiers killed in the war, the failure of the army to accomplish its war aims and the controversy over events in Lebanon all led to the demise of the Begin government and to Begin's retreat from public life into a state of recluse. 

Like with many other Jewish historical figures, including our Biblical ancestors, we are reminded that human beings, even great ones, often make mistakes.

We all enjoyed the tour of this museum and left with plenty of material for discussion - and maybe even heated argument...

Fortunately, following the tour, we weren't too far from downtown Jerusalem, so we were able to stop off at one of our favourite Shawarma places, Moshiko, before heading back to Ra'anana.

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