28th September 2016
Shalom dear friends,
Shimon Peres 1923-2016
ברוך דיין אמת
At 07:00 this morning Israel awoke to the news that Shimon Peres had passed away. Despite his 93 years it came as a surprise, after all Shimon Peres was as spritely and alert as ever, wasn’t he?
Szymon Perski born on August 2nd 1923, in Vishneya, Belarus fled persecution and the imminent war, and came to the nascent state. From the very beginning he became involved and ultimately his political career spanned an incredible 66 years.
Intensely intelligent and unafraid of confrontation Shimon Peres served in many governmental positions serving his country since the founding of the state yet political popularity seemed to evade him. It was not until he set politics aside and took the position of President of the State of Israel did he flourish into a true Statesman, representing Israel with great honour.
Shimon Peres believed one should seek peace but prepare for war. His critics always said he sought peace at any price but they were wrong. After the 6 Day War it was Shimon Peres who encouraged building in Yehuda and Shomron – Ofra was Shimon Peres special project and the settlement was built in 1975 when he was Israel’s Minister of Defence with the backing of the Labour Government. It was Shimon Peres who fought the entire Israeli establishment, political, financial and scientific, and succeeded in building the Dimona Nuclear facility, raising the funds and importing scientists from overseas.
His relationship with Yitzchak Rabin was strained. It is said that he drew Rabin into the Oslo Accords https://www.knesset.gov.il/lexicon/eng/oslo_eng.htm and it is easy to criticise what turned out to be an untenable accord but Shimon Peres brought hope, however short lived. He never lost his determination to find a solution to Israel’s insecurity. He said “One should never stop finding a solution to problems but there are problems that one simply has to learn to live with them”
He was fascinated by nanotechnology, indeed technology in general. His mind kept sharp by surrounding himself with young people, he loved to learn, to read……. He didn’t watch television or go to the movies but he absorbed several books every day.
Very recently he suggested to the Chief of Staff of the IDF that every serving soldier be given funds to study at university, and that all schools teach a second and third language other than Hebrew and English.
He ate sparingly, mostly fruit and vegetables and performed suitable exercise every morning.
Zvi and I had the privilege of being invited to his Presidential Conferences where no matter how renowned the speakers, how famous their works, how erudite their lectures, the highlight was always when he sat alone on the stage, 3,500 people waiting to hear what he had to say. He spoke without notes, his thoughts always expressed with exceptional clarity and enormous humour. His favourite sparring partner on these occasions was Tony Blair, no mean speaker himself. On one such occasion, the entire hall was silent, awaiting President Peres words of wisdom, and he sat alone on stage reading a newspaper! Unhurriedly he looked up from the page and announced that he was reading about India “Did you know that India has been unable to replace its official hangman for six months?” The assembled dignitaries jiggled uncomfortably in their seats, had the old man finally lost it? “You know I have no problem with a country that cannot find anyone to take the place of the official hangman having nuclear weapons. I have a problem with countries where everybody wants to be the hangman having nuclear weapons.”
As President he garnered respect and love from politicians and statesmen from around the world. His regal manner and ability to respond to any situation brought him the popularity that had evaded him throughout his political career. Thousands of Israelis, young and old alike, will walk past his coffin in front of the Knesset paying homage to a great Israeli; Leaders from around the world will come for his funeral on Friday paying apt tribute to someone who worked so hard to bring peace. He would have been very disappointed that neither King Abdullah nor General Al Sisi will be there.
Perhaps the life of Shimon Peres is best described in pictures. I leave you with this from the Times of Israel.
He will be sorely missed. May his soul rest in peace and his family be consoled among the mourners of Zion
With love from a sad Jerusalem