On Sep. 28, 2016, former Israeli President Shimon Peres died, leaving behind a legacy of death and destruction. He epitomizes the disparity between Israel’s image in the West and its brutal policies in Palestine.
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Narration: September 28, 2016 - Sheba Medical Center, Tel Aviv, end of an era as the last link to Israel's founding fathers is severed …
SOUNDBITE [English] Chemi Peres, Shimon Peres's Son: “Today with deep sorrow we bid farewell to our beloved father, the ninth president of Israel”
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Palestine Resident: “Shimon Peres. Peres was a criminal, a butcher. He carried out a lot of massacres against the Arabs, the Muslims and the Palestinian people.”
Narration: The former Israeli President Shimon Peres dies at the age of 93 after suffering a major stroke. Peres was one of the last of a generation of Israeli politicians present at the birth of Israel in 1948. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his "deep sorrow" over Mr. Peres' death. A few miles from Tel Aviv, the climate is different.
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Sami Abu Zuhri, Spokesman, Hamas:“Shimon Peres was the last remaining Israeli officials who founded the occupation. His death is the end of a phase in the history of this occupation. The Palestinian people are very happy by the passing of this criminal who shed their blood.”
Narration: In 1934 at age 11, Peres emigrated to Palestine from Poland with his family to start a new life on a kibbutz.
Peres was quickly identified as a rising star by Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister who appointed him head of Israel’s navy in 1948 at age 24.
During the First Arab–Israeli War, Ben-Gurion kept Peres in a backroom job, where he was responsible for acquiring weapons, often illicitly, for the new Israeli army. Despite his lack of an army background, Peres was instrumental in developing Israel's large military industries. He also developed alliances with western states especially France and Britain which helped him establish the Dimona nuclear reactor. In fact, Peres’ most important task was developing in secret Israel's nuclear weapons program through the 1950s and 1960s. He believed an Israeli bomb was the key to guaranteeing Israel's status as a superpower in the Middle East. It’s estimated that Israel has now possession of some 200-400 nuclear warheads. In 1956 and with the help of France and Britain, Peres plotted an attack on Egypt that triggered the Suez Crisis though all three soon had to withdraw under pressure from the United States and Soviet Union.
In 1959 Peres was elected to the Israeli parliament which marked the beginning of a 48-year career as an MP. He led Ben-Gurion's Labour party to its first-ever defeat in the 1977 election against Menachem Begin. Over two decades, Peres lost five elections in which he stood for prime minister. There were few senior ministerial posts he did not hold at some point but popularity eluded him. Roni Ben Efrat, an Israeli political analyst views him as an opportunist: "His real obsession was with his own celebrity and prestige". "What he lacked was political principle. There was an air about him of plotting behind everyone's backs. He was certainly no Nelson Mandela."
As Yitzhak Rabin became Israel’s Prime Minister in 1992, Peres returned to what he did best: backroom deals, in this what led to the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. His pivotal role in realizing the Accords - a set of agreements between the Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization - earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, which shared with Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
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Narration: The Oslo Accords –which Peres was very proud of - soon proved disastrous for the Palestinians as it helped the settlements expand confining Palestinians to small enclaves of the occupied territories. In fact, contrary to popular belief, Israel’s settlement project in the West Bank was kick-started by Peres’ Labor party. He fought for the cause of the settlers to establish the first settlements in the northern West Bank. His slogan was "Settlements everywhere".
When Rabin was assassinated in 1995, Peres was assumed to win the general election but he lost to Benjamin Netanyahu, who discredited the peace process and its architects as "Oslo criminals".
For a long time, Peres saw himself providing a veneer of international respectability to Sharon governments through the second Intifada as they crushed the Palestinian movements and built a steel and concrete barrier through the West Bank. In 2005, he left the Labour Party and joined Sharon's new centre-right Kadima party - an act of betrayal many allies on the left found hard to forgive.
Late in life, with his appointment as president in 2007, Peres finally found the chance to reinvent himself with the wider Israeli public.
Among Palestinians, however, it was harder for Peres to rehabilitate his image
VOX POP [Arabic] Palestinian Resident: “Peres will have to answer for what he did to God and he did a lot: he made women widows and kids orphans. He was a war criminal, a real criminal and he violated a lot of the rights of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian cause.”
VOX POP [Arabic] Palestinian Resident: “The world is watching from one eye and keeping the other one closed. How could a man of peace kill children? How could he get the nuclear weapons? Because he was the one who got the nuclear weapons for Israel. Do you really think this is a man of peace? He fooled the world.”
Narration: Shimon Peres is also blamed for the 1996 Qana massacre. At that point, under his premiership, the Israeli military shelled a United Nations compound near Qana, a village in southern Lebanon, where hundreds of locals were sheltering. The raid killed 106 people and injured around 116 others. When asked to explain, Peres said, “We did not know that several hundred people were concentrated in that camp. It came to us as a bitter surprise.”
During Peres as a ten years president, two full-scale wars were launched against the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip, which took the life of more than 3,700 Palestinians.
Peres is best known in the West for his role in the negotiations that led to the 1993 Oslo Accords, yet for Palestinians and their neighbors in the Middle East, Peres’ track record is very different. In fact, he epitomizes the disparity between Israel’s image in the West and the harsh reality of its policies in Palestine and the region.