By Schmoel Yitzhak
My fondest memory of Yitzhak Shamir took place during his tenure as Prime Minister.
Visiting New York for meetings of which I wasn't aware, Israel's leader enjoyed a brief respite with a stroll around Manhattan's Central Park.
I happened to be in the park that afternoon, having no knowledge of the Shamir visit when -- somewhere near the 59th Street Exit -- I noticed a smallish fellow walking between a pair of larger men who easily could have been tourists from Iowa.
Then, I did a double-take -- and one more for good measure -- because my astigmatic eyes told me that the little chap was a very big man on the international scene. In fact, he was Israel's Prime Minister appearing as unassuming as a visitor from Dubuque. Nor was he being guarded as closely-protectively as I believed a head-of-state would.
After a momentary pause, I walked over to Shamir and -- in twenty seconds or less -- expressed my admiration for all he had done for the Jewish people before, during and after formation of the Jewish State. True to his modesty, the Prime Minister acknowledged my compliments with a simple wave of his hand and touch of a smile.
But anyone who paid heed to Shamir's rise in the Israeli political spectrum and his unexpected success running the Middle East's only democracy realized that there was a lot more to this leader than met the naked eye.
In many ways he was the acme of simplicity -- call it practicality -- because he understood that five words could adequately answer a question as well as five hundred. Furthermore, his instincts were impeccable especially as they related to the non-Jewish world.
A native of Poland, he emigrated to Palestine in 1935 at the age of twenty. His intuition divined what would happen to European Jews generally and specifically to his immediate family which remained behind in a Poland rife with anti-semitism. According to one contemporary obituary, his family was exterminated during World War II. "His father was killed by Poles the family had regarded as friends," wrote Joel Brinkley in The New York Times. "Memories of the Holocaust colored his opinions for the rest of his life."
Those memories do -- and should -- resonate throughout Israel today. Instead of Poles helping to exterminate Jews, today it's militant Islam as represented in Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood in Lebanon by Hezbollah, in Gaza by Hamas and Iran by the mad mullahs.
Shamir regarded the Arab world not with Obama-like rose-colored glasses but rather 20-20 vision. He believed that it was in Israel's best interests for Jews to live in the West Bank and Gaza; the more the better. During his tenure in office Jewish population in those areas increased by almost thirty per cent.
"Israel's days without Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip are gone," Shamir asserted, "and will not return."
He had the right idea but subsequent, weak-kneed leaders felt otherwise; to Israel's eternal detriment. There never should have been any capitulation to the Arabs on any front without explicit -- ironclad guarantees that the Arabs really wanted peace. But Yitzhak knew what his successors learned -- and still are learning -- the hard way. Capitulate to Arab demands and you get nothing but scorn in return.
Walk away from Gaza and you get rockets as payback. Exit Lebanon and you get a blitzkrieg that no other reasonable nation would accept without total, irrevocable war in return.
Had Yitzhak Shamir been at his sharpest during the late 1990s and into the 21st Century, he never would have forced Israelis out of Gaza; nor would he have budged from Lebanon. As he once so simply -- yet profoundly -- stated, "With our long, bitter experience, we have to think twice before we do something."
Let's hope that when dealing with the Arabs -- and the Islamic-fearing American president -- Benjamin Netanyahu once and for all has learned his lessons from Yitzhak Shamir!