Shimon Peres, man of war, died for peace
Shimon Peres, Israel’s former Prime Minister and President, passed on during the week at the age of 93. This is after many years of fruitful service to his country and to the world.
After news of his death broke, torrents of eulogies flowed for the man described as a colossus in the politics of Israel. A number of Palestinians and Arabians, however, do not view him from a positive position, due to his involvement in successive Arab-Israeli wars. They remember that it was also under his government in 1996 that over 100 civilians were killed while sheltering at a UN peacekeepers’ base in the Lebanese village of Qana.
The narrative around his public service could be looked at in two ways: years of war and peace building. Peres came to public space at a very young age. He started his career in the late 1940s, holding several diplomatic and military positions including Deputy Director-General of Defense in 1952, and later Director General between 1953 and 1959. These years were the building blocks for his political career.
Though he was elected to the Knesset in the 1959 elections as a member of the Mapai Party, his over seven decades of politics saw him move across about six political parties: Labour, Alignment, Likud, Rafi, Mapai and Kadima.
In the early years, Peres was more militarised. No wonder, he was regarded as a hawk. Probably with age and better understanding of the essence of service, after participating in many negotiations for his country, there was a reversal of his philosophy on public engagement.
He was part of those that negotiated the Protocol of Sevres in 1956. He held another negotiation with former US President John Kennedy in 1963 and was part of the Jordan-Israel peace treaty in 1994. The last effort won him the Nobel Peace Prize along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat. That was a huge turning point for him in terms of being a peace advocate, culminating in founding of the Peres Centre for Peace in 1996.
One of his quotes was: ‘Peace is very much like love. It is a romantic process – you have to live it, you have to invest in it, you have to trust it. As you cannot impose love, so you cannot impose peace’.
One thing that seemed to shape the standpoint of his public engagement could be role-playing psychology. When he served in the military, he was more militarised, equipping the Israeli army with ammunition for war and also going to battles. But when he had the opportunity to serve as foreign minister including holding some economic portfolios and winning the Nobel Peace prize, his approach changed to peaceful engagement.
Peres was born August 2, 1923 in Weinlawa, Poland, now known as Vishniev, Belarus. He migrated with his family when he was 11 to the then British-controlled Palestine.
He grew up in Tel Aviv, joined a socialist youth group, the Hanoar Haoved or Working Youth, and at age 15, he attended Ben Shermen Agricultural School and later joined an armed underground movement, Haganah, to counter Arab sniper attacks. He also joined the Zionist military organisation, which had David Ben-Gurion as leader. Ben-Gurion later became Peres’ mentor.
In 1945, Peres married Sonia Gellman whom he met at Ben Shermen. They were blessed with three children.
Peres was polyglot. He spoke Polish, French, English, Russian, Yiddish and Hebrew, though he did lose his Polish accent. He was a poet and songwriter, writing stanzas during cabinet meetings, with some of his poems later recorded as songs in albums. It is also said that due to his profound literary interests, he quoted Hebrew prophets, French literature and Chinese philosophy with ease.
Some of his published works include: The Next Step (1965); David’s Sling (1970); And Now Tomorrow (1978) and From These Men: Seven Founders of the State of Israel.
The staying power of Peres stands him out. Had he agreed to calls to resign from politics in 1977, the story of a man of peace would never have been told and the international acclaim he is receiving today would not have been.