Menachem Begin (1913-92) -- Born in Poland and an active Zionist, Begin arrived in Palestine during World War II, having lost much of his family in the Holocaust, and assumed command of an underground organization responsible for attacks against the British presence in Palestine. Condemned by Ben-Gurion and the Israeli provisional government for these tactics, Begin led the opposition to the Labor governments of 1948 to 1977. He became prime minister in 1977, and presided over the Camp David negotiations and peace treaty with Egypt in 1979. Though he approved the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, he resigned as prime minister in 1983 in despair about the war. He and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978.
David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973) -- This Polish-born Zionist leader immigrated to Ottoman-ruled Palestine in 1906. Exiled by Ottoman Turks during World War I, he fled to the United States, where he met his wife, Paula. Ceaseless architect of the emerging Jewish state in the 1930s, he became Israel's first prime minister and led the country in the 1948 War of Independence. Deeply committed to the land, a visionary who believed Israel's future lay in the development of the desert, he retired to the Negev kibbutz of Sde Boker after his final term in office. In the euphoria after the 1967 war, Ben-Gurion urged magnanimous terms for a peace settlement, including the return of most conquered lands. He lived just long enough to see his country survive the onslaught of the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
Abba Eban (1915-2002) -- South African-born, Cambridge-educated author, diplomat, and former foreign minister, Eban was noted for an eloquence and wit unrivaled among Western leaders since Winston Churchill. When asked by reporters about divisions between hawks and doves in the Israel cabinet during the tense days before the Six-Day War, he quipped, "The government of Israel is hardly an aviary." An Arabic scholar and a supporter of more moderate policies regarding the West Bank and Gaza, he is known for his PBS television series, Civilization and the Jews. Among his observations: "History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives."
Teddy Kollek (1910-2007) -- Indefatigable mayor of Jerusalem for 28 years, Kollek arrived in Palestine from Vienna during the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s, and was originally a member of Kibbutz Ein Gev. Leader of the One Jerusalem Coalition, his commitment to maintaining peace among the many ethnic and religious groups in the city was matched by his determination to adorn Jerusalem with every kind of artistic, cultural, and civic treasure possible. Amazingly accessible to the people of Jerusalem during his long tenure, Kollek often answered the municipal phones himself in the early morning hours before his staff arrived.
Golda Meir (1898-1978) -- Born in Russia, Meir emigrated to the United States as a child. As a young Milwaukee schoolteacher and ardent Zionist, she emigrated to British Mandate Palestine in 1921. Meir held many posts in the Labor Party and was famous for her personal courage: In 1948, on the eve of Israeli independence, she risked her life to travel to Jordan (disguised as an Arab woman) to plead with King Abdullah I not to make war on the new Jewish nation. Advised by Abdullah to wait a bit longer for independence, she shot back: "We've already waited 2,000 years." Prime minister from 1969 to 1974, Meir projected a grandmotherly image, often doing business with Israeli and foreign leaders in her kitchen. Her government was criticized for failing to detect the Egyptian and Syrian Yom Kippur surprise attack in 1973, and bore responsibility for heavy casualties.
Yitzhak Rabin (1922-95) -- Rabin was the first Israeli prime minister to be born in the land that was to become Israel. Originally a student of agronomy, he joined Palmach, the elite Haganah strike force, and served with Allied forces fighting in the Middle East during World War II. A brilliant strategist, as commander in chief of Israel's armed forces during the Six-Day War in 1967, he led the country to its greatest military triumph. Rabin's first term as prime minister, from 1974 to 1977, was distinguished by the successful raid on Entebbe Airport in Uganda, which rescued almost 100 Jewish and Israeli hostages. As defense minister in a Likud-Labor Coalition government, in 1987 he supported a hard line against Palestinian demonstrators, but came to be increasingly committed to creating a world in which Israelis and Palestinians could live side by side, "In dignity. In empathy. As human beings." Rabin was a modest, noncharismatic leader, and public faith in his caution and judgment enabled him to make concessions and territorial withdrawals in the search for peace. He was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995. Rabin was assassinated in November 1995 by an Israeli opponent to his policies.
Boris Schatz (1866-1932) -- Lithuanian-born court sculptor to the king of Bulgaria and ardent follower of Theodor Herzl, Schatz arrived in Jerusalem in 1906 and founded the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Crafts with the purpose of developing an indigenous artistic tradition for the nation he believed would one day be reborn. The Bezalel Academy planted the seeds for a modern cultural scene in Jerusalem, which had previously been a remote, religiously oriented community. Israel's extraordinary commitment to the arts is in no small part due to Schatz's vision of art as a necessary component of the emerging nation.
Abraham Ticho (1883-1960) -- Born in Moravia, Dr. Ticho arrived in Jerusalem in 1912 determined to battle the trachoma and other endemic eye diseases that caused thousands of cases of blindness among the local population. As founder and head of Jerusalem's first ophthalmic hospital, he became a modern Jerusalem legend, working endlessly to save the eyesight of all who approached him (including Emir Abdullah, later king of Jordan). He was known for sometimes brusquely dragging off both Arab and Jewish children he spotted on the streets for treatment at his clinic. When he was stabbed and left for dead during the political unrest of 1929, thousands in Jerusalem's Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities prayed for Dr. Ticho to recover. As one whose life's work was bringing light to others, Dr. Ticho was fascinated by Chanukah menorahs, sometimes accepting exotic Chanukah lamps in exchange for treatment. His remarkable collection of menorahs is now in the Israel Museum. The 19th-century mansion he shared with his wife, the artist Anna Ticho, is now a downtown branch of the Israel Museum.
Yigael Yadin (1917-84) -- A leading member of the Haganah during the 1940s, Yadin was responsible for drawing up and implementing Haganah's defense of Jerusalem in the War of Independence. After serving as chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces until 1952, he devoted himself to archaeology, leading and writing about excavations at Hazor, Masada, and in the caves of the Judean Desert, and publishing extensively on the Dead Sea Scrolls. A brilliant lecturer, Yadin made archaeology so exciting and accessible to the Israeli people that he virtually became a national hero, and archaeology the national sport. Read Yadin's exciting, beautifully photographed book, Bar Kochba, and you'll understand why.
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