On September 28th, the world lost a giant, Shimon Peres.
Israel’s oldest statesman and the last link to its founding generation, Peres unfortunately succumbed to the debilitating stroke that he had suffered just two weeks prior, ending a distinct era in Israeli society.
During his incredible 93 years on this earth, he served his country in numerous roles, serving in the Israeli Knesset since 1959 and taking on numerous ministerial portfolios as well as serving as a two-time prime minister and acting as president from 2007 to 2014.
However, what Peres is best known for around the world is his role in the Oslo Accords, earning him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his efforts. While the Oslo Accords themselves have largely failed to garner the peace that its architects had originally hoped for, that certainly doesn’t downplay their role in building the foundation for both Israelis and Palestinians to live together in harmony.
Through his decades of devotion to the State of Israel and the pursuit of peace, Peres inspired millions both at home and abroad to believe that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and there’s no doubt that he’ll be greatly missed by all who dare to dream.
Even though Shimon Peres is no longer with us, he lives on through his legacy, and if you want proof, just look at who attended his funeral. Not only were there tens of thousands of Israelis from across the political spectrum in attendance, but there were dignitaries from over seventy countries, including representatives from Jordan and Egypt. Perhaps the most surprising guest of all though, was Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who came to the funeral to pay his respects despite vocal pressure from those in the Occupied Territories for him to stay home. This speaks volumes of the profound effect that Shimon Peres had on those around him and his ability to transcend regional and political boundaries.
Indeed, Shimon Peres’ legacy lives on in the hearts of those who yearn for the day where Israelis and Palestinians can coexist peacefully. His legacy lives on every time someone stands up against the naysayers and the doubters and boldly rises to vocalize their thoughts against the pessimistic establishment. His legacy lives on when people dare to dream big and push towards the future that they deserve instead of the future that they’ve been told they have to settle for.
In a country like Israel where history is of great importance, Peres rarely lingered in the past, opting instead to look towards the future. It was through this optimism – something that his critics labeled “naivety” – that the impossible was achieved. As a member of the Haganah, Shimon Peres personally engaged in combat against countries like Egypt and Jordan, who at the time of Israel’s founding, were dedicated to its annihilation. Few people who were personally involved in those intense altercations ever believed that a lasting peace was possible. But Shimon Peres was different, and lo and behold, Israel secured lasting peace deals with both Egypt and Jordan in 1979 and 1994 respectively thanks to the dreamers like Peres and their sense of unrelenting idealism. Peres taught us that even when the situation may seem hopeless on the surface, peace is always worth pursuing.
In the 1970s and 80s when the Israeli establishment refused to even talk to the PLO, it was Peres who realized that peace requires stepping out of your comfort zone and working against all odds to strive for coexistence. It was this sincerely held belief that would shape the path towards the Oslo Peace Process.
With Peres’ passing, his dream of a two-state solution now falls squarely on our shoulders; it’s now up to us to continue what he started.
It’s up to us to embody the change that we want to see in the world and look towards the future with hope even though the current situation in Israel seems to indicate a dismal reality. I hope for the sake of Israel’s future as both a Jewish state and a democracy that we’re up to the challenge.
If we wish to reach a peace deal and see Peres’ dreams realized, we must make our voices heard and hold our leaders to account. We must advocate loudly for our demands of a two-state solution in the face of rising violence, mutual distrust and adversity. And above all, we must work tirelessly to embody the dreamer that Shimon Peres so exemplified, because if he taught us anything, it’s that with enough hard work and effort, dreams really can come true.