His Life's Journey
Shimon Peres: Statesman, Ninth President of the State of Israel, Prime Minister, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, a man of action and vision.
Shimon Peres was a founding father of Israel. From the early years of its establishment, he was central in its defense - from spearheading deterrence and defense capabilities and developing the IDF, to establishing the Dimona reactor and Sorek Nuclear Research Center. He worked tirelessly for decades to promote peaceful relations within Israel and between Israel and its neighbors, and he led Israel to become a global technology and innovation powerhouse.
Childhood in Poland and Immigration to Israel
Shimon Peres was born Shimon Persky on August 2, 1923 in Wiszniew, Poland (now Vishnyeva, Belarus). His father, Yitzhak, was a timber merchant and frequently traveled. His mother, Sara, was a teacher and a librarian.
As a boy, Shimon was educated by his maternal grandfather, Rabbi Zvi Meltzer, who was his inspiration and who raised him in the Jewish tradition and culture.
In 1934, three years after his father immigrated to Israel, Peres, his mother, and brother followed. His grandfather accompanied the family to the train station, and when he said goodbye to the young Shimon, he whispered his final will and testament, “I have one request of you - always stay Jewish!” A few short years later, his grandfather and the rest of the family who remained in Wiszniew perished in the Holocaust.
Ben Shemen Youth Village
After immigrating to Israel, the Persky family lived in Tel Aviv. The young Shimon was a member of the “Working Youth” youth movement, where he was invited to join the Ben Shemen agricultural village. Here is where he met his beloved Sonia.
Establishment of Kibbutz Alumot
During World War II, Peres joined a group whose goal was to learn the skills necessary to found a new Kibbutz – Alumot. The group's training began at Kibbutz Geva, where they learned to work the land. President Peres believed that establishing kibbutzim focused only on agriculture was not enough, and thus pushed for setting up factories in order to become a spearhead in industry.
From the Kibbutz to Defending a State in the Making
In 1947, at the age of 24, Peres was summoned by David Ben-Gurion to the Haganah headquarters and was placed in charge of personnel and procurement. He was sent to find and purchase weapons wherever he could, at a time when many countries refused to sell arms to a nation that had not yet been established.
Building Israel's Security
In 1953, Peres was appointed by Ben-Gurion as Director General of the Ministry of Defense, where he continued to lead the efforts to procure arms. Peres established a close relationship with France, and developed a security partnership through which he persuaded France to sell Israel tanks, advanced planes, jet planes, and cannons.
Together with Al Schwimmer, Peres founded Bedek Aircraft, which later became Israel Aerospace Industries. He was the force behind some of the largest security projects Israel has ever undertaken – among them, appointed by Ben-Gurion as the director of the top secret project to establish the nuclear reactor in Dimona and the Sorek Nuclear Research Center.
Establishing RAFAEL and the Infrastructure for Israeli Innovation
Peres devoted his time to promoting technological programs that would put Israel at the forefront of innovation and progress, which gave the country a significant advantage on the battlefield and in the economy.
In 1958, together with Meir Mardor, he established the RAFAEL Armament Development Authority, a part of the Ministry of Defense's Planning and Research Division. Peres promoted the establishment of the Computer and Information Systems Center and the acquisition of the IDF's first computer.
In addition, he worked to establish ties with West Germany and brought secret weapons to Israel up until 1964.
60 Years in the Knesset
In 1959, Peres was elected to serve as the Deputy Minister of Defense on behalf of Mapai party. A few years later, the political parties Rafi, Mapai, and Achdut Ha'avoda, decided to run as one party for the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) in a party called "The Alignment".
Throughout his time in the Knesset, Peres continuously promoted science, technology, and innovation in each of his roles: as Minister of Immigrant Absorption, he founded an international university in Jerusalem; as Minister for the Development of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, he initiated the reconstruction of refugee camps and the establishment of industrial parks to improve employment for Palestinians; as Minister of Transportation, he worked to establish the Ayalon Highway; as Minister of Postal Services, he promoted the construction of a satellite broadcasting station.
(Photo: Nati Hernik \ GPO)
Minister of Defense during Operation Entebbe (Thunderbolt)
On June 27, 1976, an Air France plane was hijacked on its way from Israel to France and flown to an airport in Entebbe, Uganda. The hijackers released 250 passengers but held hostage the 105 Jewish and Israeli passengers. In return for their release, they demanded the release of dozens of prisoners, most of whom were in Israeli prisons, as well as a monetary ransom. Peres was one of the sole voices arguing that Israel must not negotiate with the hijackers. Rather, he sought a military solution that was carried out on July 4th, 2976. Operation Entebbe became known as one of Israel's most successful and innovative operations.
(Photo: IDF Archive)
Prime Minister and Stabilizing the Israeli Economy
In the 1984 elections, the Alignment party, led by Peres, won the general elections with 44 seats, while Yitzhak Shamir won 41. They chose to form a unity government, with Peres serving as Prime Minister during the first two years of the term and as Foreign Minister during the second two years.
As Prime Minister, he succeeded in bringing about the withdrawal of IDF forces from Lebanon and placing them in the security zone, he worked to break the stalemate in relations with Egypt, and he led the efforts to bring Jewish immigrants to Israel both from the former Soviet Union as well as from Ethiopia, bringing 8,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel through Operation Moses.
Peres' greatest achievement during his time as Prime Minister was to save the Israeli economy from severe inflation of more than 400% through his "Economic Stabilization Program". The plan succeeded, and within a few months the economy stabilized. This program, which won Peres unprecedented support among the Israeli public, was innovative in its field and is considered to be a turning point in Israel's transition from a planned economy to a liberal "free market" economy.
(Photo: Sa'ar Ya'akov \ GPO)
Leading the Foreign Ministry - the "London Agreement"
As Foreign Minister, Peres led an historic process of secret peace talks with Jordan, in what was later known as the London Agreement. Peres believed in and was committed to the "Jordanian Option" - the concept that Jordan should be a party to any political settlement with the Palestinians, and thus signed the London Agreement contingent on government approval.
Shortly after signing the agreement in London, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir rejected it. Peres, who strongly believed in this solution, considered Shamir's refusal to be one of his greatest strategic political mistakes, and foresaw that it would lead to further escalation of the Palestinian issue. A year later, King Hussein announced that, in light of the agreement's failure, Jordan would withdraw and relinquished any sovereign claim over the West Bank.
(Photo: Avi Ohayon)
National Unity Government
In the 1988 elections, the Likud party won by a single mandate, and a national unity government headed by Shamir was established, with Peres appointed as Minister of Finance. In this capacity, Peres first recognized software as an industry, and even pushed for benefits and subsidies to software companies, thus furthering his contribution in transforming Israel into a modern economy. The actions he promoted in the 1980s built a strong infrastructure for the Israeli high-tech ecosystem and strengthened Israel's place as a scientific and technological power. Peres was instrumental in establishing the foundations of the "Start-Up Nation", transforming local Israeli companies into multinational corporations.
In parallel, he continued working to achieve a peace agreement with Jordan, as he felt that this was crucial for Israel's survival.
(Photo: Sa'ar Ya'akov \ GPO)
The Oslo Accords, Peace Treaty with Jordan, and the Nobel Peace Prize
As a Foreign Minister in Yitzhak Rabin's government, Peres conducted secret negotiations with the Palestinians in Oslo, which led to the signing of the Oslo Accords (Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements). This agreement laid the foundation for a future resolution with the Palestinians to the ongoing conflict.
Subsequently, Peres and Rabin, together with Yasser Arafat, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. In October of the same year, Israel and Jordan signed an historic peace agreement. The agreement, together with the 1993 Oslo Accords, gave Israel significant economic and political momentum, thus sparking investment in
education, infrastructure, and welfare for Israeli citizens.
(Photo: Sa'ar Ya'akov \ GPO)
On November 4, 1995, at the end of a rally in support of the peace process at the Kings of Israel Square in Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.
Following this tragedy, Peres returned to the post of Prime Minister and was tasked with addressing the deeply divided Israeli society in the days following the assassination.
(Photo: Zvika Israeli \ GPO)
Establishment of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation
Peres, as Chairman of the Labor Party and Leader of the Opposition, decided to continue promoting Israel and its role on the international stage through establishing the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. The Center aims to promote a prosperous Israel and to pave the way for shared-living and lasting peace in the region. The Center encourages regional cooperation and leads a broad range of programs.
Regional Economic Development
Between 1999 and 2006, Peres served as Minister of Regional Cooperation, Foreign Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee.
In these positions, Peres worked hard to strengthen the Negev and the Galilee and worked to promote projects for the development of education and science. He promoted Israeli nanotechnology and raised significant resources for universities, which later led to Israel becoming a leader in the field.
In 2012, Peres took part in the establishment of the International Center for the Study of the Human Brain and for the Advancement of the Field of Neuro-Technology. This has led to pioneering Israeli research in a variety of scientific fields.
Peres once said "All of my life I have acted to strengthen Israel and transform it into a science and technology power, and held an uncompromising commitment to morality and peace."
(Photo: Avi Ohayon \ GPO)
The Ninth President of Israel
On June 13, 2007, Peres was elected by a majority vote as the Ninth President of the State of Israel. Upon completion of his term, Peres had served 48 consecutive years in the Knesset - more than any other Knesset member in Israeli history. Peres also became the first person to serve both as Prime Minister and as President of Israel.
As President, he continued to promote peace and to promote Israel on the world stage as a nation of knowledge and industry. He also continued to hold working meetings with Heads of State, Members of Parliaments, and heads of international organizations.
As President, Peres was held in high esteem. His contributions were acknowledged by numerous countries around the world, which honored him with prestigious awards, most notably the Presidential Medal of Freedom, presented to him by President Barack Obama in June 2012.
(Photo: Amos Ben Gershom \ GPO)
Laying the Foundation Stone of the Israeli Innovation Center
In July 2014, Peres completed his seven year term as President. In his farewell speech he said: "I am saying goodbye to my role as President, but not to my obligation as a citizen."
A year before his passing, he laid the cornerstone for his final project - the establishment of the Israeli Innovation Center at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation.
Death and Legacy
On September 28, 2016, Shimon Peres passed away. Tens of thousands of Israelis paid their respects as he laid in state. At the funeral, which was attended by leaders from around the world, they saluted not only the man, but also for the country he dreamed of. He was laid to rest at the Great Leaders of the Nation plot on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.