By Rep. Elizabeth Esty
In his 93 years, Shimon Peres played an unequaled role in conceiving of, fighting for, and serving the state of Israel.
A list of his many awards and accolades – which include a Nobel Peace Prize, a Congressional Gold Medal, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom – cannot do Peres justice. A renowned statesman by the time he was barely an adult, Peres helped secure Israel’s independence, built up the nation’s defenses, served at the highest levels of public office for seven decades, and negotiated the 1993 Oslo Accords and a peace treaty with Jordan. Yet even that summary of his incredible career rings hollow compared with how profoundly Peres changed the world.
In the wake of the Holocaust, which took the lives of many in his extended family, Peres had the vision to imagine a strong, independent Israel and the relentless fortitude to bring that dream to life. For me, the most striking aspect of Peres’s legacy is this: I can think of no individual in history who devoted so much of himself to establishing a nation through military might, who later in life did so much to advance the cause of peace.
Though Peres and his family left Poland for what was then known as Palestine six years before the Nazi invasion of Poland, the horror of genocide and the scourge of anti-Semitism shaped his view of the world and of himself within it. He understood the urgent need for what was at the time a fledgling Jewish state to be able to defend herself from attacks.
But so too did he have profound empathy for people around the world who are victimized by discrimination. To his dying day, he was a voice for friendship and compassion – whether for religious minorities, LGBT people, or anyone else.
It took great strength for Peres to emerge from the Holocaust and the War of Independence as the relentless optimist he was. It took brilliance for Peres to build up Israel’s military into one of the most effective, innovative forces in the world.
But to understand that the purpose of all that military might was not war but peace, to use it to build peace treaties, save lives, and practice compassion – to hold true to those values throughout decades of living in a dangerous, conflict-ridden world, and to help countless others in countries around the globe understand those values, too – that took an extraordinary faith in humanity. It took humility and vision – rare and precious qualities that we need now more than ever.
Perhaps the best way to honor, and remember, the great Shimon Peres is to recall his response to the question of why he worked so hard to fashion the 1993 Oslo Accords.
“There was no alternative,” he said. “We had to do it.”
We mourn the death of Shimon Peres, but his legacy will continue to enrich our world and to remind us of the courage it takes to make peace.