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Text of Begin’s Statement

December 21, 1981
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The following is the text of Premier Menachem Begin’s statement to U.S. Ambassador Samuel Lewis which was read out after the Cabinet meeting today by Cabinet secretary Arye Naor:

Three times during the past six months the U.S. government has punished Israel.

On June 7 we destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor Osirak near Baghdad. I don’t want to mention to you today from whom we received the final information that this reactor was going to produce an atomic bomb. We had no doubt about that. Therefore our action was an act of salvation, an act of national self-defense in the most lofty sense of the concept. We saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians, including tens of thousands of children.

Nonetheless you announced that you were punishing us — and you revoked a signed and sealed contract that included specific dates for the supply of (war) planes.

Not long after, in a defensive act — after a slaughter was committed against our people leaving three dead (including an Auschwitz survivor) and 29 were injured — we bombed the PLO headquarters in Beirut.


You have no moral right to preach to us about civilian casualties. We have read the history of World War Two and we know what happened to civilians when you took action against an enemy. We have also read the history of the Vietnam war and your phrase ‘body-count.’ We always make efforts to avoid hitting civilian populations, but sometimes it is unavoidable — as was the case in our bombing of the PLO headquarters.

Nonetheless you punished us: you suspended delivery of F-15 planes. A week ago, at the instance of the government, the Knesset passed on all three readings by an overwhelming majority of two-thirds the Golan Heights law. Now you are once again boasting that you are punishing Israel.

What kind of expression is this — punishing Israel? Are we a vassal-state of yours? Are we a banana republic? Are we youths of fourteen who, if they don’t behave properly, are slapped across the fingers?

Let me tell you who this government is composed of. It is composed of people whose lives were spent in resistance, in fighting and in suffering. You will not frighten us with punishments. He who threatens us will find us deaf to this threat. We are only prepared to listen to rational arguments. You have no right to punish Israel — and I protest at the very use of this term.

You have announced that you are suspending consultations on the implementation of the memorandum of understanding on strategic cooperation, and that your return to these consultations in the future will depend on progress achieved in the autonomy talks and on the situation in Lebanon.


You want to make Israel a hostage of the memorandum of understanding. I regard your announcement suspending the consultations on the memorandum as the abrogation (by you) of the memorandum. No sword of Damocles is going to hang over our head. So we duly take note of the fact that you have abrogated the memorandum of understanding.

The people of Israel has lived 3,700 years without a memorandum of understanding with America — and it will continue to live without one for another 3,700 years. In our eyes it (the U.S. suspension) is an abrogation of the memorandum. We will not agree that you should demand of us to allow the Arabs of East Jerusalem to take part in the autonomy elections — and threaten us that if we don’t consent you will suspend the memorandum.

You have imposed upon us financial punishments — and have (thereby) violated the word of the President. When Secretary (of State Alexander) Haig was here he read from a written document the words of President Reagan that you would purchase for $200 million Israeli arms and other equipment. This is therefore a a violation of the President’s word. Is it customary? Is it proper? You cancelled an additional $100 million. What did you want to do — to hit us in our pocket?

In 1946 there lived in this house an English General by the name of Barker. Today I live here. When we fought him you called us terrorists — and we carried on fighting. After we attacked his headquarters in the requisitioned building of the Kind David Hotel, Barker said: This race will only be influenced by being hit in the pocket — and he ordered his British soldiers to stop patronizing Jewish cafes.


To hit us in the pocket — this is the philosophy of Barker. Now I understand why the whole great effort in the Senate to obtain a majority for the arms deal with Saudi Arabia was accompanied by an ugly campaign of anti-Semitism.

First the slogan was sounded Begin or Reagan?–and that was nice because it meant that whoever opposes the deal is supporting a foreign Prime Minister and is not loyal to the President of the United States. And thus Senators like (Henry) Jackson (D. Wash.), (Edward) Kennedy (D. Mass.), (Bob) Packwood (R. Ore.) and of course (Rudy) Boschwitz (R. Minn.) are not loyal citizens …

Then the slogan was sounded: ‘We should not let the Jews determine the foreign policy of the United States.’ What was the meaning of this slogan? The Greek minority in the U.S. determined the Senate decision to withold weapons from Turkey after it invaded Cyprus.

No one will frighten the great and free Jewish community of the U.S. No one will succeed in cowing them with anti-Semitic propaganda. They will stand by our side. This is the land of their forefathers — and they have a right and a duty to support it.


Some say we must rescind the law passed by the Knesset. To rescind is a concept from the days of the inquisition. Our forefathers went to the stake rather than rescind their faith.

We do not need to go to the stake: we, thank God, have strength enough to defend our sovereignty and to defend our rights. If it was up to me (alone) I would say we should not rescind the law. But as far as I can judge, there is in fact no one on earth who can persuade the Knesset to rescind the law which it passed by a two-thirds majority.

Mr. Weinberger (Defense Secretary Caspar Weinber) — and later Mr. Haig — said that the law contravenes (adversely affects) Resolution 242. Whoever says that has either not read the resolution, or has forgotten it or has not understood it.

The essence of the resolution is negotiation to determine agreed and recognized borders. Syria has announced that it will not conduct negotiations with us, that it does not and will not recognize us — and thus removed from Resolution 242 its essence. How, therefore, could we contravene 242. As regards the future, please be kind enough to inform the Secretary of State that the Golan Heights law will remain valid. There is no force on earth that can bring about its rescision.

As for the contention that we surprised you, the truth is that we did not want to embarrass you. We knew your difficulties … it was indeed President Reagan who said that Mr. Begin was right — that had Israel told the U.S. about the law (in advance) the U.S. would have said no. We did not want you to say no — and then for us to go ahead and apply Israeli law to the Golan Heights.

As regards Lebanon, I have asked that the Secretary of State be informed that we will not initiate a war, but if we are attacked by the terrorists or the Syrians we will launch a counter attack.

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