The Declaration of Independence, the founding document of the State of Israel, begins with the words, "The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people". These two things, the Land of Israel and the Jewish people, were always Yitzhak Shamir's top priorities. They dictated his worldview and they always guided his policies. These two things, the Land of Israel and the Jewish people, were uncompromising principles to Yitzhak Shamir. He served them his entire life.
"Anonymous soldiers without uniforms". Yitzhak Shamir and his fellow members of the Lehi underground sang these words, and that was how he lived his entire life – with a deep awareness of service and sense of mission. He was an anonymous soldier in the underground before the establishment of the country. He was an anonymous soldier at the Mossad after the establishment of the country. Later in his overt and higher official roles – Speaker of the Knesset, Foreign Minister and Prime Minister – Yitzhak Shamir was already well-known.
Even then, I was always impressed that, in his heart and through his humble behavior, he continued to see himself as that same anonymous soldier serving the people and the country. He never asked for any recognition or appreciation. He did not search out popularity or respect. Every action and decision he made had to pass one simple test – was it good for the Jewish people and the Land of Israel?
Shamir bore on his shoulders the burden of the history of the generation that suffered the Holocaust and experienced the rebirth on a personal and national scale. My colleague, MK Rivlin, spoke at the meeting of the Likud faction members yesterday and told how, at the moving ceremony of the reading of the names, "Every Person has a Name", Shamir would speak of the murder of his father, mother and other family members by the Nazi collaborators. It was one of the few times when his voice would tremble.
He wholeheartedly believed that his mission as Prime Minister charged him with the responsibility to continue the colossal historic task of returning the Jewish people from the ends of the Earth to the land of our ancestors, and fortifying our national home in our land.
He was stubborn and suspicious when faced with any idea that meant a reduction in the borders of the homeland, and his loyalty to the homeland knew no bounds. He was creative and open in the same measure when faced with any idea that meant seizing another opportunity to continue ingathering the exiles.
Yitzhak Shamir made a tremendous contribution to the immigration and successful absorption of one million Jews from the former Soviet Union. He believed that the immigrants would change the country's face and that they would contribute greatly to Israel's development. He was right, of course. He also contributed to the immigration of the Ethiopian Jews, whose millennial yearning for Zion moved him.
He was a man of deep feelings, but he was fundamentally a practical man. He felt that every minute of his life must be dedicated to the goals he set for himself – for his people and his homeland. He was a man of few words, but when he spoke, every word he said expressed the depths of his heart.
Shamir was never blinded by the glamour that accompanied his meetings with world leaders, and he never lost his composure when faced with large and powerful countries, even superpowers. He stood before these countries and spoke the truth of Israel in a matter-of-fact and clear tone of voice, while taking into account the justness of the Jewish people's path and the Land of Israel's rights. It is no secret that some people around the world did not agree with his positions, but I accompanied him to many meetings and I was impressed, and you too can be impressed, that over time, world leaders learned to appreciate and respect his strong steadfastness with regard to Israel's national interest and security.
It was when he served as Prime Minister, even as he did not compromise his positions, that a significant number of countries established diplomatic relations with Israel or renewed them, including the Soviet Union, China, India, Spain and others.
As opposed to his image as a sphinx who did not take international systems into account, I remember that he would call me when I served as UN ambassador – one of his many appointments of young people whom he advanced. He was committed to advancing young people and nurturing them, and many of them are here today, slightly less young. He would call me and ask what was happening there, what was happening in the United States and what was happening in relation to Israel, of course.
He wanted to discuss the smallest details. It was important to him in the public diplomacy battle. Even when we went to Madrid, he did not go with great enthusiasm, but that is where the dialogue towards peace talks with our neighbors began. He thought the public diplomacy battle was the most important fight and that it was not enough for us to be right, but rather we should talk about this rightness as much as possible.
Beyond the fact that the good of the country as he understood it always was a top priority, two things from his six and a half years as Prime Minister stand out to me: firstly, Shamir recognized the importance of national unity. It was true in 1984 when he and Shimon Peres established the unity government, and it was true in the elections that followed when he could have formed a narrow government and still preferred unity. Yitzhak Shamir recognized that unity among the people was an important source of national strength. The second thing that stood out during his tenure was the restraint he demonstrated during the Gulf War.
It has been said many times that Shamir decided not to respond when the missiles were falling on Israel because he did not want to weaken the international coalition that had organized against Saddam Hussein.
However, there is an important detail in the story that is less known. When the missiles were falling on Israel, Shamir did not sit idly by.
He sent a message to the United States through then-Defense Minister Moshe Arens that Israel was going to move against Iraq. The United States understood that Shamir was serious in his intentions and preparations. And he was serious. The Americans understood that words and promises would not suffice, but before Israel could act, a ceasefire was announced that eliminated the need for Israeli action. If the missile fire had continued, Israel, under Yitzhak Shamir's leadership, would have acted. That is how Shamir was – firm, practical, full of faith, steady and totally committed to Israel's security.
Today we accompany him to his final rest here in the plot for Great Leaders of the Nation, alongside his devoted wife Shulamit, his loyal partner whom he loved with all his heart and who passed away last year. On her gravestone is written, "Her devotion will only be released in death".
Yitzhak Shamir will be remembered as one of the nation's great leaders who dedicated their lives to their people and their homeland, and thus will he be written in the history of the people of Israel.
May his memory be blessed.