Golda Mabovitz was born in Kiev, Ukraine
in 1898. Her parents emigrated with their family to the United States in 1906 where she attended school and teacher training college in Milwaukee. She joined the Labour Zionist Party in 1915, an early indication of her political interest.
In 1917, she married Morris Myerson and later changed her married name to Meir.
As a qualified teacher she taught in local schools for several years, but in 1921, she and Morris went to live in Palestine, joining a kibbutz where they helped with farm work, before moving to Tel Aviv where Golda Meir worked as a treasurer in the Office of Public Works of the Histadruth (Trades Union Federation).
From 1928, as secretary of the Working Women’s Council in Palestine, she became its representative on the executive of the Histadruth. From the following year she acted as a delegate to congresses of the World Zionist Organization and became increasingly involved with politics as a member of the executive of the Jewish National Council in Palestine.
In 1948 Golda Meir was appointed a member of the Provisional Government and became Israel’s Ambassador to the Soviet Union. She joined the Knesset in 1949, serving as Minister of Labour and National Insurance until 1956, when she became Foreign Minister, a post she held for ten years. In this period, she came to international prominence, continuing a close relationship with the United States, and also forging links with South America and the newly independent countries of Africa.
This was a difficult period for the young state of Israel. It featured armed struggles with nearby Arab countries, including the Six-Day War in June 1967 when Israel attacked Egypt, Syria and Jordan, gaining much territory, including East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Sinai and the Golan Heights, and causing simmering Arab resentment.
Golda Meir finally became Prime Minister in March 1969, at the age of 71. In a famous address to the Knesset in May, the following year, she offered to extend the hand of peace to Israel’s Arab neighbours but also voiced her fears about their aggressive intentions, warning in particular of Egypt’s military relationship with the Soviet Union.
Sadly, her worst fears were to come true with the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War on 6 October 1973, when Egypt and Syria combined forces against Israel. Meir and her Labour Party won the election of December 1973 but in 1974, she resigned, in the aftermath of the war .
… In recent months, and in the past weeks especially, the security situation has worsened seriously on the southern front in particular, and the harmful effect of that is felt on the other fronts also.
The main feature of this escalation and tension is an advanced and dangerous stage of Soviet involvement in Egypt, at the beck and call of Egyptian aggression and infractions of the ceasefire. There is no precedent for this involvement in the history of Soviet penetration into the Middle East, and it is encouraging Egypt in its plan to renew the war of attrition and so move further along the path of its vaulting ambition to vanquish Israel. …
The Israel Defence Forces have punished this vainglorious aggression. I shall not retell the tale of their courage and resource: the digging in, the daring operations of the Air Force, the power of the armour. Aggression has been repelled, the enemy’s timetable upset and the pressure on our front line eased by our striking at vital enemy military targets along the Canal and far behind it and confounding his plans for all-out war. True, to our great sorrow, we have suffered losses in killed and wounded, but our vigorous self-defence has thwarted Egypt’s scheming and stultified its endeavours to wear us down and shake our southern front.
‘No small nation, no minor nation, can any longer dwell in safety within its frontiers.’
Thus bankrupt, the Cairo regime had only the choice between accepting Israel’s constant call to return to reciprocal observance of the ceasefire, as a stepping-stone to peace, or leaning more heavily still on the Soviet Union to the point of asking it to become operationally involved, so that Egypt might carryon the war of attrition, notwithstanding the unpleasant repercussions of that involvement.
Egypt chose the second course .
… We have informed Governments of the ominous significance of this new phase in Soviet involvement. We have explained that a situation has developed which ought to perturb not only Israel, but every state in the free world. The lesson of Czechoslovakia must not be forgotten. If the free world – and particularly the United States, its leader – can pass on to the next item on its agenda without any effort to deter the Soviet Union from selfishly involving itself so largely in a quarrel with which it has no concern, then it is not Israel alone that is imperilled, but no small nation, no minor nation, can any longer dwell in safety within its frontiers.
‘The aspiration to peace is … the cornerstone of our pioneering life and labour.’
… Three years after the Six-Day War, we can affirm that two fundamental principles have become a permanent part of the international consciousness:
Israel’s right to stand fast on the ceasefire lines, not budging until the conclusion of peace that will fix secure and recognised boundaries; and its right to self-defence and to acquire the equipment essential to defence and deterrence. … The aspiration to peace is not only the central plank in our platform, it is the cornerstone of our pioneering life and labour. Ever since renewal of independence, we have based all our undertakings of settlement and creativity on the fundamental credo that we did not come to dispossess the Arabs of the land but to work together with them in peace and prosperity, for the good of all.
… We have not wearied of reiterating, day in, day out, our preparedness for peace: we have not abandoned hopes of finding a way into the hearts of our neighbours, though they yet dismiss our appeals with open animosity.
Today again, as the guns thunder, I address myself to our neighbours: Stop the killing, end the fire and bloodshed which bring tribulation and torment to all the peoples of the region! End rejection of the ceasefire, end bombardment and raids, end terror and sabotage!
To attain peace, I am ready to go at any hour to any place, to meet any authorised leader of any Arab state – to conduct negotiations with mutual respect, in parity and without pre-conditions, and with a clear recognition that the problems under controversy can be solved. For there is room to fulfil the national aspirations of all the Arab states and of Israel as well in the Middle East, and progress, development and cooperation can be hastened among all its nations, in place of barren bloodshed and war without end.
Golda Mabovitz was born in Kiev, Ukraine