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David Bedein

David Bedein: Shamir's legacy:

David Bedein , July 6, 2011

Concerning the passing of former Prime Minister Itzhak Shamir

[],  our agency followed Yitzhak Shamir up close.

Covering the 1988 elections on special contract for the New York Times,Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, all three bureau chiefs would ask at the end of each day for a report of what Shamir said each day on the campaign trail. There was never much to report, because Shamir's messages were short, succinct and to the point, as he stressed his daily message of a commitment to a strong, independent Israel, over and over.

In February 1993, eight months after Shamir was out of power, I conducted an  interview with Shamir at his office in Tel Aviv. 

The interview was commissioned by someone abroad whose late father had served with Shamir in the Lechi, also known as the Stern Group.

The editor wanted to know two things:

How did Shamir  manage to stand up to US pressure to withdraw from areas acquired by Israel in 1967?
And he also wanted an answer to a personal question that his father had never found out: How did Shamir manage to escape the well guarded prison camp that the British army had set up to detain the Jewish underground in Kenya?

So I asked Shamir:

How did you stand up to the pressure of the Reagan Plan of 1982 which demanded Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines, with only cosmetic changes.

His answer: We Said No.

And how did you respond to the Schultz plan of 1987?

His answer: We Said No.

And to the pressures from James Baker in 1991? 

His answer: We Said No.

And then, after a few more answers in this regard, he gave me his legendary resolute and said, very simply, that "When we said no, they understood no"

And how did Shamir escape the prison camp? When that question came up, I discerned a distinct twinkle in his eye. Shamir smiled and said: "I kept my eye on the laundry cart, as it was wheeled into the camp every day, and, one morning, I climbed into the cart, under the sheets".

And then Shamir described his trek to Djibouti at the horn of Africa, where he managed to become a stowaway on a ship,

Learning that the ship's captain was a Jew, Shamir made an acquaintance with him and sailed on to freedom with him.

I had neglected to ask Shamir if he knew ahead of time that the ship's captain was a coreligionist.

Secrets are buried with Yitzhak Shamir this week.  Israel's seventh prime minister was a man of few words.


David Bedein

Director Israel Resource News Agency

Center for Near East Policy Research

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