Israel loses its founders but its roots remain solid

It was truly sad for the entire crowd of politicians, leaders, and crowned heads, from Obama to Hollande, from Clinton to Charles of England, as well as Donald Tusk, King Phillip, Tony Blair and plenty of others who with their seventy planes stormed Ben Gurion airport, to say goodbye to Shimon Peres.

Yes, of course, political dialogue seeped in through the tears: it was important that Bibi Netanyahu shook Abu Mazen’s hand and that Sara invited him to dinner. Awful, however, was the fact that the Israeli Arabs who sit in the Knesset decided not to attend this historic event. But stronger was the genuine love for Peres u to their identification with him of all the orators: Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, Peres’ three children, Amos Oz and Barack Obama. The latter spoke of his resemblance to Peres with insatiable poetic audacity, mentioning his own biography of a wandering mixed-race man as if it brought to evidence similarities with that of the 11-year-old Polish immigrant Szymon Perski.

Now that Peres is gone, ascending in their cars from the airport to Jerusalem, now rapidly redoubling through hectic traffic, all the Greats of the world surely watched to the surrounding panorama contending with their own nostalgia on the changing human and geographical landscape. Peres, everybody wrote, including myself, was the last of the Founding Fathers, and he was also an Israeli hero: he is one who never missed a meeting with the hope for peace, yes, but not only: he always an mostly remained committed to the strong defense of his small country: he was a main part of the construction of the nuclear reactor in Dimona and the building of the army in which Ben Gurion entrusted him. He didn’t compromise on the life of his fellow citizens: he pushed string for the operation Entebbe. Peres is also the man who asked the United Nation to expel Iran, who called Cameron anti-Semitic when he said that Gaza was “a prison camp;” who in 2009 spoke of the world deprecated “Cast Lead” mission as a necessary moment of self-defense against missiles fired on civilians and soldiers while – the “best generation that Israel has ever had” as he called them – were being accused in the pages of the international press. he was, no doubt, a great part of the founding of the settlement after 1967.

But after the great warriors – Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dayan, Peres himself, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, the people who came on foot from Poland and Russia, that made the desert bloom and ate only bananas and a little bread for years, and who like Peres went lived with they family in a tent continuing to write poetry while they learned to shoot – are they still among us? who are the Israelis today? The answer is written in history, and in what Netanyahu said at Peres’s funeral: we had many discussions, but in the end who was right? Both of us, responded Bibi, and in the end we became friends precisely for this reason. If we give a short and astonishing answer to the nostalgia many feel in relation to the passing of Peres, it is the following: Netanyahu is not unlike Peres.

Peace and security are very dear to him. To feel nostalgia for an optimistic, fun, educated and tireless man like Peres is almost understood. But to imagine therefore that we have lost men like him who are working for peace inside Israel isn’t true. Peres worked as a shepherd as a boy (“and I never lost a sheep” he said) and as a postman, but anyone who has children or grandchildren in Israel has worked quite a lot after the army in humble jobs (as waiters, chauffeurs, maids, etc.) in order to earn money for school, travel and rent. All the youngsters have fight and know the value of camaraderie. In Israel neither struggling nor confronting danger is s surprise. Its young people today, like those of yesterday, must do it. And they do. They must fight. And they fight. And love very much life. Like Shimon Peres. They must invent to survive: and from drip irrigation they have switched to high-tech.

Of course, the time of food shortages is over, as is the economy of exporting oranges. Consumerism plays a role in the things that all youths love such as cell phones, cars, etc. But the strong sense of solidarity is proven by the tremendous number of volunteers ready to lend a hand through community service, security, health, as well as in the requests to serve in combat units.

Israel’s young people are spoiled, yes, but to the extent that is allowed, patriotic songs and those about war are no longer written, but when there’s the necessity to offer their life or to defend their country from defamation, young Israelis are, again, like Peres, religious and secular. By the way, since the very beginning of the State they are always engaged in tough discussion against one another.

Netanyahu isn’t that young. He belongs to the generation that now inherits the responsibility of the Founding Fathers. right and left even if they don’t agree on how to pursue it, agree, just as Peres, that peace is necessary, that force is only a means, whereas peace is an aim, like Netanyahu said… Peres belonged to the generation that believed in the Palestinians as interlocutors, Bibi seeks another way. Experience has burned many, and even Shimon Peres bore its scars and gave an evident sign of that in his speeches and writings. Even when some world leader pretends he didn’t see.
Translation by Amy K. Rosenthal

This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale (October 1, 2016)

About the Author
Fiamma Nirenstein is a journalist, author, former Deputy President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.
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