Shimon Peres Was Good for Israel, but Never for the Palestinians
‘He was not a man of peace’ Ghada Karmi
The funeral of Shimon Peres, Israel’s former president, on Friday will be attended by some of the world’s most prominent leaders, including President Obama, Bill Clinton, Prince Charles and President Francois Hollande. He will be honoured as a great statesman and admired as a man of peace and the last of the Israeli state’s founding generation.
I wonder how many of them would be interested to know that for Palestinians, on the receiving end of this “great” man’s policies, Peres was an integral part of a project that was anything but honourable? That his whole history was devoted to establishing and then developing a state founded on dispossession and the ethnic cleansing of another people?
Each stage of Peres’s life is a testament to the pursuit of this ignoble project, considered estimable by those who, unlike myself and my family, never had to pay the price. He first arrived in my homeland in 1934, a Polish immigrant named Persky until he changed his name like the majority of Zionists who came to Palestine.
He joined the Haganah, the Jewish underground army, which fought against Palestinians resisting the takeover of their country by foreign immigrants like Peres; and later the British army, by then seen as an obstacle to realising the ambition of establishing a state for Jews in my country.
In 1956, Peres was involved in Israel’s participation, with Britain and France, in the Suez war against the Palestinians’ strongest defender, Egypt. That adventure resulted in the next stage of Peres’ career, the building of Israel’s nuclear reactor, furnished by France in gratitude for Israel’s participation at Suez. The Dimona nuclear site in the Negev is an alleged source of contamination and the nuclear warheads it produced pose a constant danger locally and to the wider region.
Far from being a man of peace, Peres was a true disciple of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, who never believed in peace with the Arabs. Rather than pursuing friendly relations with Israel’s Arab neighbours, like his mentor Peres sought from the start to gain the support of the Arabs’ former colonisers instead, Britain, France, and finally the imperialist successor to these powers, the U.S.
Peres was part of the governments that established the first illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank following the 1967 war that have swallowed so much of Palestinian land, and he was against giving up any of the conquered territory throughout the 1970s. In 1982, he initially supported the war against the Palestinian Liberation Organization in Lebanon led by the then Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin.
The Israeli invasion later resulted in the massacre of hundreds of Palestinian refugees at the camps of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut. But Lebanon did not see the last of Peres. In 1996, as prime minister of Israel, he presided over the disastrous Israeli attack on a U.N. base at Qana, which killed 106 civilians sheltering there.
Always hard-line and ruthless in the pursuit of Israel’s wellbeing and, according to his long-time rival, the veteran Israeli politician, Uri Avnery, his own personal advancement, Peres re-invented himself in the early 1990s as a man of peace. He was a co-signatory with Yitzhak Rabin to the 1993 Oslo Agreement that was hailed at the time as a great breakthrough in the conflict with the Palestinians, but for many of them was nothing other than surrender on the part of the Palestine Liberation Organization to Israel’s formidable power.
For that, he was awarded a share in the Nobel Prize for peace, and ever since then has positioned himself as an elder statesman, a man of peace imagining a future of reconciliation with the Arabs. In this new guise, he has been able to persuade many a Western political leader that he is genuine as he seems, and has succeeded in removing from their minds the reality of a life built on enmity and expansion.
But we, Palestinians, are not fooled. Peres was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Had he desired peace as earnestly as he pretended to do, he could have made it happen long ago. As Israel’s prime minster, not once, but twice, he was in a position to have withdrawn Israel’s army from the Palestinian territories and negotiated the setting up of the Palestinian state that at the end he claimed to wish for.
At the very least, he could have worked to lift the siege of Gaza, an act that has led to unimaginable suffering. He did none of those things because he was not a man of peace. He was Israel’s true and faithful servant in an enterprise which has irrevocably damaged my life and that of all Palestinians, and is the major focus of dangerous regional instability.
When the world’s leaders gather for the funeral on Mount Herzl, once a place in my native city of Jerusalem but under its previous Arab name, they might wish to commemorate Shimon Peres as a man who was good for Israel. But they should remember that for Palestinians he and those like him were the cause of an endless calamity that can only be resolved when men such as Shimon Peres are neither honoured nor admired.
By Ghada Karmi, a Palestinian academic at the University of Exeter in the U.K. and the author of Return: a Palestinian Memoir