Israeli leaders mourn Peres loss, celebrate his legacy

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“This is the first day in Israel without Shimon Peres,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a special session this week to mourn and honor the former president and prime minister, who died early on Sept. 28.

“In the name of the entire Jewish people, in the name of the citizens and government of the State of Israel, I also send deep condolences to Shimon’s family.”

Netanyahu earlier released a statement in which he noted that Peres, who died two weeks after suffering a massive stroke, “devoted his life to our nation and to the pursuit of peace.”

Shimon Peres (center) accepts the Nobel Peace Prize with Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin in Stockholm. photo/wikipedia-gpo

The prime minister wrote: “He set his gaze on the future. He did so much to protect our people. He worked to his last days for peace and a better future for all. As Israel’s president, Shimon did so much to unite the nation. And the nation loved him for it. His name will be forever engraved in the story of the rebirth of the Jewish people, as one of our great leaders, as one of the founding fathers of the State of Israel.”

Among the Israelis mourning Peres’ passing was author Amos Oz, who noted that the elder statesman had radically altered his political views as he aged. “My friend Shimon had a very rare human quality: He had the ability to change,” Oz told the Associated Press.

“When I met Peres in the early ’70s, he was in my eyes a banal hawk. Supporting settlers, a settler lover, a security man, the more land the better, the more power the better. He changed before my eyes … into an enthusiastic and stubborn believer in Israeli-Palestinian peace and Israeli-Arab peace.”

Peres’ family announced his death at 7 a.m. in Israel, several hours after his passing.

Chemi Peres, one of the statesman’s three children, thanked the nation and people around the world for their support and prayers on behalf of his father. “You enveloped our father in love, and we know how much he loved you,” he said.

Rafi Walden, Peres’ personal physician and his son-in-law, said Peres died with dignity and did not experience pain.

Israeli schools dedicated the first hour of classes on Sept. 28 to Peres’ memory, as instructed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett. “Shimon Peres was my education minister, and I will miss him very much. He didn’t watch history — he wrote it,” Bennett said in a statement.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said the Israeli parliament “bows its head and agonizes over the passing” of Peres, Israel’s ninth president and a former prime minister.

“He was among the giants of our national leadership over the past century; a man with much credit to his name, a shining example of a proud Zionist who aspired his entire life to act for the benefit of the country and its citizens.”

Tzipi Livni, a joint leader of the Zionist Union and a former foreign minister, wrote in the New York Times: “There are very few people in the world whose lives align so effortlessly with the birth and being of their homeland.”

Peres, she said, “left an indelible mark on Israel — fighting for its independence, its security, and then, for its peace. It is difficult to imagine Israel’s past without him; it will be even harder to imagine its future.” — jta