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Begin Receives Nobel Peace Prize

December 11, 1978
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The 1978 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded here today to Israeli Premier Menachem Begin and to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who was represented at the ceremony by former Parliament Speaker Said Marai. Both men, Begin in his address, and Sadat in his message read out by Marai, pledged themselves in the Israeli Premier’s words, to: “no more war, no more blood and no more enmity.”

Both men also paid tribute to President Carter for his role in the current peace process and for his “energy and devotion to peace.” The Nobel Peace committee also mentioned at length in its citation the role played by the American President during and after the Camp David negotiations.

Sadat referred in his message to some of the difficulties still to be overcome if peace is to be signed. “We have now come to a moment of truth in the peace process which requires each one of us to take a new look at the situation.” He added: “I trust that you all know that when I made my historic trip to Jerusalem, my aim was not to strike a deal as some politicians do. I made my trip because I was convinced that we owe it to this generation and to generations to come.”

Throughout his nine-page address, the Egyptian President did not refer once by name either to Begin or to the State of Israel. He reiterated, however, the known Egyptian demands that peace should be comprehensive, just and indivisible.


Sadat’s message, which observers in Oslo found harsher in tone than what had been expected, twice mentioned the Palestinians and their problem. In his recent speeches the Egyptian President has abstained from doing so in recent months. Sadat’s message said that the “goal (of the peace treaty) is to bring security to all the peoples of the area and to the Palestinians in particular, restoring to them all their right to a life of liberty and dignity.”

The Israeli Premier in his address stressed repeatedly Israel’s deep set desire for peace. He said “at Camp David, despite all the differences, we found solutions for problems, agreed on issues and the framework for peace was signed. The path leading to peace was paved.” Begin added that a peace treaty with Egypt “can serve as the first indispensable step along the road towards a comprehensive peace in our region.”

The Israeli Premier first paid tribute to the memory of Golda Meir and stressed that “she strove with all her heart to achieve peace between Israel and her neighbors.” The audience, which included King Olav V, Crown Prince Harald, and the Norwegian Prime Minister, rose to their feet for a minute of silence in tribute to the late Premier.

Begin also recalled the plight of Soviet Jewry, which he stressed “now wants to go home–home to Israel.” In the audience sat, as the Premier’s personal guest, Soviet activist Silva Zalmanson.


The actual ceremony took place in a 13th century Norwegian fortress atop a wind-swept hill overlooking the icy waters of Oslo fjord. In spite of the nature of the award, peace, the Akershus castle compound looked like a besieged camp with hundreds of soldiers and police manning the castle’s walls, helicopters hovering overhead and gun boats training their cannons on the castle from the sea.

Some of the Norwegian guests, less than 100, walked up to the hill along a snow covered path. The Israeli and Egyptian parties came for security reasons in police guarded buses and cars. Begin and his wife, Aliza, who are staying at the Royal Castle as the King’s personal guests, were flown by helicopter to the castle.

The award presentation ceremony took place in a relatively small, rectangular hall. Its walls were covered with French tapestries and its windows looked out over the icy waters of the port and the snow covered fields which surround the castle. A small chamber orchestra, which sounded all violins and cellos, played the slow Nordic music of Grieg and Sibelius.

Begin, who wore a black suit and silver tie, looked slightly flushed as he entered the room. As he recognized old friends in the hall, he turned round beaming and smiling to them. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency was one of the few wire services present in the hall.

Begin was the first to be called to the rostrum to receive the diploma, the Peace Gold Medal and the approximately $175,000 check–half the prize’s amount. Begin has announced that he will donate the money to a special fund to be set up for retarded children. Sadat has said that he will use the money for the development of his native village in the Nile valley.

The Premier smiled broadly as he was handed his diploma. Last night he told the JTA that the day of the award “will be the third happiest in my life–after those of Israel’s creation and the reunification of Jerusalem.” After the ceremony he told reporters and friends, “It was a marvelous moment–the recognition of Israel’s desire for peace.”

Marai was the first to speak. He read Sadat’s message underscoring such words as “comprehensive settlement” and “rights of the Palestinians”; he also seemed to look straight at Begin as he read Sadat’s threat that “the one who prevents peace will be cursed by generations to come and by history.”

Outside the university building in central Oslo, where the award presentation is usually held, 400 pro-Palestinian demonstrators and some 60 Norwegians protested against this year’s awards. Most Norwegians seemed, however, to take only a mild interest in both the ceremony, relayed over Scandinavian television channels, and the demonstrations. People stayed at home out of the cold or went skiing as they normally do on sunny weekends. The press also tuned down its criticisms in recent days as Norwegians start indulging in one of their national pastimes, “who will be next year’s winner.”


On Friday Mrs. Begin lit the traditional Friday night candles in their suite at the Royal Palace. The Premier and Mrs. Begin, their daughter and son-in-law then joined the King and the Crown Prince for the traditional Sabbath eve dinner. A special huge chaleh had been brought from Israel for the occasion, but kiddush was not said as Israeli wines were not available. Begin explained to the King the meaning of the kiddush and the importance of the Friday night blessings. During two hours of conversation between the King and the Israeli party, Begin told the King that Israel and Jews all over the world felt “deep admiration” for Norway’s war-time resistance to the Nazi occupation. The King’s welcome has been above all possible expectations.

Dulzin said: “Golda was a great mother of Israel, an inspiring leader of the Zionist Movement. She had a burning belief in the truths of Zionism, great love for the Jewish people, a rare persuasive ability and deep-rooted Jewishness. All these characteristics have turned Golda Meir into the foremost spokesman of the Zionist Movement and the State of Israel.”

Other political leaders and factions expressed their sentiments. Moshe Kol, Independent Liberal Party head, said: “Golda was a leader who acted upon her principles and maintained the alliance with progressive liberalism.” Arye Eliav of the Shelli faction, a former secretary general of the Labor Party and one-time close collaborator with Mrs. Meir, spoke of her as “the lighthouse to Soviet Jewry” when she served as Ambassador to Moscow.

Avraham Schechterman, chairman of Herut, declared that “Mrs. Meir symbolized to the Jewish people and the world the face of this nation in life, its desire for independence and its pride. She won a place among the leaders of the world and with her passing she will be sorely missed–by her political rivals as well as others.”

Yeruham Meshel, secretary general of Histadrut, said of Mrs. Meir: “She combined human gentleness with Jewish stubbornness, the finest aspirations of the Jewish people, the best qualities of its leadership, the highest values of its pioneering movement and the greatest achievements of those who fulfilled its aims were all embodied in Golda Meir.”


Golda Meir’s life was involved, in one way or another, with every major event of this century affecting Jews and the struggle to rebuild the Jewish State. Its drama was such that she became a living legend. In recent years her career was dramatized in a major Broadway theatrical production and her autobiography was published the world over in many languages.

She was born Golda Mabovitch in 1898 in Kiev, Russia, one of three children of a carpenter. Poverty and pogroms drove the family to immigrate to the United States–as did many tens of thousands of Jewish families from Eastern Europe at that time. They settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin when Golda was eight. She was graduated from high school and enrolled in the Milwaukee Normal School for Teachers.

Childhood memories of pogroms, intensified by the massacres of Russian Jews during the civil war that followed the Bolshevik revolution, are credited with turning Golda toward Zionism in her early teens. A socialist in political outlook, she joined the Poale Zion (Labor Zionists) in 1915 at the age of 17. She proved to be a gifted orator in Yiddish and English and quickly attracted attention in local Zionist circles.

She was graduated from teachers’ training college in 1917 and was married the same year to Morris Meyerson, a young immigrant from Russia. She taught for several years in schools of the National Arbeiter Farband and was a member of a commission of the Joint Distribution Committee aiding East European Jews after World War I.

Mrs. Meir rejected the role of a “diaspora Zionist” and persuaded her husband to settle in Palestine. They arrived at Jaffa in the American steamer Pocahontas in the spring of 1921 when the third wave of aliya was in full force and Mrs. Meir plunged immediately into the pioneer life. For three years she engaged in forming as a member of Kibbutz Merhavia in the Jezreel Valley. In 1924 she assumed her first public position–as treasurer of Histadrut’s Office of Public Works in Tel Aviv, which later developed into the powerful construction cooperative, Solel Boneh.


In 1928, Mrs. Meir was appointed executive secretary of the Moetzet Hapoalot (Women’s Labor Council), the sister organization in Palestine of the Pioneer Women in the U.S. The following year she attended the 16th World Zionist Congress in Zurich as a delegate of Achdut Avoda, one of the two Labor Zionist groups that in 1930 formed Mapai, precursor of Israel’s Labor Party. That event marked the beginning of her activities in the World Zionist Movement.

In 1932, Moetzet Hapoalot sent Mrs. Meir to the United States as an emissary to the Pioneer Women, which she served as national secretary until her return to Palestine in 1934. She was invited then to join the executive committee of Histadrut and subsequently became head of its political department. She travelled extensively during the 1930s, attending Zionist Congresses as a delegate of Mapai and on numerous missions to Europe and North America on behalf of the Jewish Agency and the WZO.

She was also a member of the Executive of Vaad Leumi, the Jewish National Council in Palestine during the Mandatory period and served on many Histadrut bodies, including Kupat Holim, the sickfund; Aviron, an aviation company; and Nakhshon, a shipping enterprise. In 1936 she became chairman of the board of directors of Kupat Holim.

During World War II Mrs. Meir was a member of the War Economic Advisory Council of the British Mandatory Government and in 1940 she was designated head of Histadrut’s foreign relations department. When the British army detained most members of the Jewish Agency Executive on June 29, 1946, she became acting head of the Jewish Agency’s political department, substituting for Moshe Sharett (Shertok). She held that post at various intervals during Sharett’s absence from the country until Israel’s independence was established on May 14, 1948.

During the War for Independence, Mrs. Meir conducted negotiations with the late King Abdullah of Jordan for a peaceful settlement. Abdullah was subsequently assassinated by Arab extremists. Mrs. Meir was among the founders of the State of Israel. She signed the Declaration of independence as a member of the Provisional Council of State, the nation’s first legislative body.


In September, 1948, she went to Moscow as Israel’s first Minister Plenipotentiary to the Soviet Union and in 1948 she was elected, in absentia, to the first Knesset on the Mapai list. Mrs. Meir’s appointment to Moscow marked a turning point in the history of Soviet Jewry. Her presence sparked the first dramatic expression of long suppressed Jewish identity among Jews in the USSR.

When she attended High Holy Day services at the Great Synagogue in Moscow there was a spontaneous outpouring of tens of thousands of Jews to hail the first envoy from the Jewish State. This demonstration is known to have disturbed the Soviet authorities and planted the seeds of hostility that led later to the brutal suppression of Jewish national aspirations and civil rights in the Soviet Union and the severance of diplomatic relations with Israel in 1967.

In 1949, Mrs. Meir joined the Cabinet of Premier David Ben Gurion as Minister of Labor and Social Insurance, an office she held in subsequent governments until her appointment as Foreign Minister in 1956. Three years earlier she had assumed the chairmanship of the Israeli delegation to the United Nations General Assembly. At that time she brought to the attention of the world organization the anti-Semitic character of the Prague trials and the Moscow “doctors plot” allegations.


Mrs. Meir retired from the government in 1965 to become secretary general of Mapai. After the Six-Day War she was instrumental in bringing about the fusion of Mapai with the Achdul Avoda and Rafi factions to form Israel’s united Labor Party. After the death of Premier Levi Eshkol on Feb. 26, 1969, Mrs. Meir was summoned out of retirement to become Israel’s fourth Prime Minister. Thus, at the age of 71, she began a new career that was to elevate her to the ranks of world leaders. It was in that year that she paid her first visit to the United States as Premier and was received by President Nixon at the White House.

As Premier, Mrs. Meir’s overriding aim was to achieve peace with Israel’s Arab neighbors, perhaps the one goal in her lifetime that was to elude her. In August, 1970, she accepted the American peace initiative that ended the war of attrition with Egypt on the basis of an Israeli pledge to withdraw to “secure and recognized boundaries” under a general peace settlement. As a consequence of that agreement, the national unity government over which she presided split with the withdrawal of the Gahal (Liberal Party-Herut) alignment.

Mrs. Meir continued to head the Labor-led coalition government but by 1971 she was speaking publicly of retiring before the next elections. By then she was already suffering from the illness that would prove fatal. But at the insistence of her Labor colleagues and a majority of the public, she remained in office. She presided during Israel’s worst crisis, the Yom Kippur War of October, 1973 and its bitter aftermath. Her party was badly weakened in the elections at the end of 1973. Unable to form a firm coalition, weary of the bickering and recriminations within and outside of her party, she announced her retirement in April, 1974.

She continued in a caretaker role until June when she turned over the reins of government to her successor, Yitzhak Rabin. She also resigned from the Knesset. But she could not resign from the role of elder stateswoman that fate imposed. Every world leader who came to Israel during the past four years found his or her way to Mrs. Meir’s modest home at Ramat Aviv, a suburb of Tel Aviv, to talk, seek advice or reminisce.


Death came to her at a time when Israel appeared to be closer to peace than at any time in its 31 years of existence. She was known to have been seriously ill for some time but Israel and the world became aware of the terminal nature of her disease only during the last few weeks as daily bulletins from Hadassah Hospital reported her condition to be deteriorating.

At a press conference yesterday, Prof. Kalman Mann, director of the Hadassah Medical Organization, described her ailment as a tumorous condition of the lymphatic tissues, a low grade malignancy that worsens gradually over the years. Mann said it was first diagnosed in Mrs. Meir 15 years ago but was controlled by medication. Mrs. Meir entered the hospital four months ago suffering from back pains. It was found then that the disease had spread to her banes. Two weeks ago her liver became affected, resulting in jaundice.

Mrs. Meir was aware of her condition but remained optimistic and never gave up her chain smoking habit. “I won’t die young, “she remarked jocularly after reaching her 70th birthday. During the last weeks of her life she was alert, kept up with her family, who kept a 24-hour vigil at her bedside. Mann said she did not suffer undue pain at the end, except for abdominal cramps that were relieved by medication.

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