Shimon Peres: History in making

September 28, 2016 Agencies
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Shimon Peres, one of the founders of the State of Israel, was instrumental in building and developing Israel’s defense and security industry, establishing the IDF, developing the nuclear reactor in Dimona and the nuclear research facility at Sorek, and heading the Israeli defense industry.

Furthermore, he worked tirelessly for decades to promote peaceful relations within Israel and between Israel and its neighbors, and was at the forefront of transforming Israel into a technology powerhouse and global leader in innovation. At 93, Peres was a statesman, the Ninth President of the State of Israel, the Prime Minister of Israel, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, a man of action, and a man of vision.

President Shimon Peres    Photo: Henry Benjamin

President Shimon Peres Photo: Henry Benjamin

Throughout his life, Peres was dedicated to serving the State of Israel. For more than sixty years he served the country in the highest positions. He was President, Prime Minister, Minister of Defense, Foreign Minister, Finance Minister, Interior Minister, Immigration Minister, Transportation Minister, Communications Minister, Minister of Information, Minister of Regional Cooperation and Development of the Negev and Galilee, and served four times as the Leader of the Opposition.

His public service began at the age of just 24, when he was recruited by Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, with the mission of breaking the embargo and arming the military. He was appointed Director General of the Ministry of Defense at the age of 29, and began secretly developing the nuclear reactors in Dimona and in Sorek, which remain central to the defense and deterrence capabilities of Israel to this day. During this period, together with Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan, Peres was one of the initiators of Operation Sinai (Operation Kadesh), entered a military agreement with France and England, and established security relations with Germany, thus bringing in large quantities of weapons to arm the military. Peres also became the father of Israel’s strategic relationship with France. Following the imposition of a military arms embargo, this relationship allowed Israel to obtain advanced weaponry, acquire vital intelligence and technology, and establish its own defense industries, without which the nation may not have survived. In parallel, Peres was also working to establish the Israeli Air force.

As Minister of Defense in 1976, Peres planned and oversaw the release of Israeli hostages in Operation Entebbe, a military operation that is recognized as one of the most daring and successful of the twentieth century and in the history of Israel. In the days following the abduction, Minister of Defense Peres worked tirelessly on this unprecedented military operation to free the hostages, demonstrating his decisive leadership and emphasizing that, in no way, would he give in to terrorism.

Along with his contribution to strengthening and building Israel’s defense, Peres worked for decades to promote peace within Israel and between Israel and its neighbors. As Minister of Defense in 1974, Peres conducted the negotiations on the Sinai Interim Agreement with Egypt, and his secret meetings with King Hussein led to the signing of the historic treaty between Israel and Jordan under the government of Yitzhak Rabin. As Foreign Minister in 1994, Peres laid the foundations for future peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. In 1996 Peres founded the Peres Center for Peace to promote peaceful relations and shared-living between Arabs and Jews and Israelis and Palestinians, and in July of 2016 he laid the cornerstone for the establishment of the Israeli Innovation Center at the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa, together with the Prime Minister and President of Israel.

As Prime Minister (1984-1986), Peres turned Israel’s economy around and saved it from collapse following the worst economic crisis in its history, with a peak inflation of over 400% per year, through his Economic Stabilization Program. Peres believed that it was the right of every Jew in the world to live in Israel. As Prime Minister, he worked to open the gates of the Former Soviet Union and enable the immigration of Soviet Jewry to Israel, oversaw Operation Moses, during which 8,000 Ethiopian Jews were brought to Israel, and pushed for the release of the Prisoners of Zion (a term for Soviet Jews and Refuseniks imprisoned for Zionist activities).

Shimon Peres is among the founders of Israel’s high-tech industry, which has led the country to become the technological powerhouse that it is today – the Startup Nation. As Prime Minister, Peres was the first to recognize the potential of computer software as an export (a decision that laid the foundation for the high-tech industry). Over the years, he advanced the world’s perception of Israel as a science and technology superpower, and brought about the development of Israel’s scientific research, thus pioneering advancements in important fields such as neuroscience, robotics and nanotechnology.

In 2007 Peres was elected by the Knesset to serve as Israel’s 9th President, becoming the first President to also have served as Prime Minister. During his presidency, Peres was admired and respected for his unprecedented work with Israel’s diverse and multicultural population, as he advocated for strengthening Israeli society, promoted Israel’s international standing, and established institutions to encourage Israeli entrepreneurial and scientific breakthroughs. These initiatives included: awarding the Presidential Medal of Distinction to Israelis and world leaders who worked for the benefit of the State of Israel, establishing an education program entitled Future Scientists and Inventors, and providing scholarships of excellence to leading researchers.

Around the world, Peres is seen as a visionary leader representing the best of Israel. His work to advance the State of Israel in the world over the years, and to lay the foundation for future peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, is appreciated worldwide. His work has been recognized through being presented with the Nobel Peace Prize, as well as receiving medals and honorifics from global, national, and religious leaders the world over. He was granted honorary citizenship of the Knights of the Franciscan Monastery of Assisi by the Pope, was made a Knight of the Order of St. Michael and St. George by Queen Elizabeth of England, and received the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which was awarded to him by President Barak Obama. Peres was the first Israeli head of state to ever receive this honor.

Peres was a man of thought, of conviction, and of strength, an author of poetry and countless books and articles. He was born as Szymon Perski on the 20th of Av, 5674 (August 2, 1923) in the town of Vishnyeva, Belarus (then Poland). He immigrated to Israel in 1934, studied at Balfour and Geula in Tel Aviv, and was then educated in the Ben-Shemen youth village. In 1941 he was sent for training to Kibbutz Geva with a group from Ben-Shemen, and later joined Kibbutz Alumot in the lower Galilee. In the beginning, he worked as a shepherd and a farmer. He was married to Sonya (nee Gelman) in 1945, and they have three children: Prof. Tsvia Walden – a linguist and professor, Dr. Yonatan Peres – a veterinarian, and Nehemia (Chemi) Peres – a businessman and co-founder of leading Israeli venture capital and technology firms. They have eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. His wife, Mrs. Sonya Peres, passed away in 2011.

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