Shimon Peres's coffin to lie in state


The coffin of Shimon Peres, who died in hospital at 3.40am this morning, will be placed in front of the Knesset on Thursday morning for the public to pay their final respects.

The 93-year-old Peres was hospitalised at Sheba Medical Centre near Tel Aviv on September 13 after suffering a stroke.

He had been under sedation since then, with his condition consistently described as serious but stable.

On Tuesday his condition was reported to have deteriorated and he suffered multiple organ failure yesterday afternoon.

It is understood that President Obama and the Prince of Wales will attend his funeral on Friday.

Peres dedicated his entire adult life to the security of Israel and the search for peace with her neighbours.

He was the first former prime minister to be elected president of Israel, and until he retired in 2014, he was the world’s then oldest head of state.

Peres held almost every major political office since the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948. During a political career spanning over 66 years he had represented five political parties in the Knesset: Mapai, Rafi, the Alignment, Labour and Kadima. He served twice as prime minister and twice as interim prime minister and was a member of 12 cabinets.

Peres was noted for his charm and diplomatic skills. With his slow, rhythmic deep baritone voice he could be relied upon to pull in the crowds, as he did in May, 2015, when he addressed 900 guests who paid £250 per head to hear him speak at a Zionist Federation Grosvenor House Hotel event. He concluded his 30-minute address to the ZF’s largest fundraising dinner to date, by calling on guests to “dream more – remember less”.

He was born Shimon Persky at Vishneva, a town now in Belarus but ruled by Poland between the two world wars. The family was Zionist and young Shimon attended the Tarbut School, part of a Zionist school network.

In 1932, Shimon's father, Yitzhak, a well-to-do merchant, went ahead of the family to emgirate to British mandate-ruled Palestine. They rest joined him two years later when Shimon was 11. Those who remained behind, including Shimon's grandparents and uncle, were killed by the Germans and their local collaborators during the Second World War.

The family settled in Tel Aviv and Shimon was sent to the Balfour High School, where he excelled in history and literature, and was made editor of the class newspaper. He also joined the Socialist youth group, Hanoar Ha'oved (Working Youth), where, as he later recalled, "I dreamed of my future as a brawny, sunburned kibbutz farmer ploughing the fields of the fertile Jezreel Valley by day, singing lustily and fearlessly by night, on a fleet-footed horse."

At 15 he switched to the Ben Shemen agricultural boarding school, later becoming a founder-member of Kibbutz Alumot in the Jezreel valley. As the 22-year-old secretary-general of Hanoar Ha'oved in 1943, he caught the attention of Labour movement leaders, especially David Ben-Gurion.

Impressed by his organisational skills and dedication, Ben-Gurion drafted Peres in 1947 into the High Command of Haganah, predecessor of the Israel Defence Forces, putting him in charge of manpower, arms procurement and production.

Two years after Israel's War of Independence, Peres and his young family travelled to New York where he enrolled at the New School for Social Research, at the same time serving as deputy head of the Defence Ministry's mission and later becoming head of mission. His task was to enlist people and purchase equipment to help build a modern Israeli army.

Back in Israel, Peres was appointed by Ben-Gurion as director-general of the Ministry of Defence. At 29, he was the youngest ever person to hold the post, where he carefully nurtured relationships with the French government.

When Egypt's President Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal on July 26, 1956, it was Peres who represented Ben-Gurion in talks with French and British officials to plan an attack on Egypt. Just before signing the agreement with the two former imperial powers, Peres asked the French for a reward for Israel's participation in the coming war.

One of the major coups of his career was his masterminding of Israel’s secret nuclear programme in 1959. Acquiring a nuclear reactor for Israel was one of his most important diplomatic achievements. As he later wrote: "I finalised ... the building of a nuclear reactor at Dimona ... and the supply of natural uranium to fuel it".

In 1959, Peres won his first election to the Knesset and served as Deputy Defence Minister. In 1965, after a long simmering conflict within the ruling Mapai, Ben-Gurion broke with the party, took with him Peres and others, and established a separate faction called Rafi (Workers' List). Over the next years, Peres succeeded in mediating between Ben-Gurion and the rest of the Labour leadership which led, in 1968, to the forming of a larger Labour Party, Avoda.

Ben-Gurion died in October 1973, during the Yom Kippur War.Following Prime Minister Golda Meir's resignation in 1974, Peres challenged Yitzhak Rabin, then Labour Minister, in a contest for the party leadership. He lost but was made Defence Minister in Rabin's new government. He then plunged into the task of leading the IDF's recovery after the Yom Kippur War.

The highlight of his tenure was the 1976 Entebbe operation where, in a daring raid, Israeli commandos rescued passengers from terrorists who had landed a hijacked Air France flight at Entebbe, Uganda.

Relations between Rabin and Peres were, however, strained. In his autobiography, 'Service Notebook' (1979), Rabin famously wrote that Peres was an "incorrigible subversive". Deeply offended by Rabin's harsh words, which caused him substantial political damage and were used by political rivals to undermine him, Peres later commented: "Rabin is a man of solid intellectual gifts, but some of us feel that he tends to be over-suspicious."

On April 7, 1977, Rabin resigned as Prime Minister after his wife was exposed as holding a $3,000 account in a US bank, at that time an offence against Israeli currency regulations. Three days later, the Labour Party Central Committee unanimously endorsed Peres as leader and prime ministerial candidate.

Failure in the initial phases of the Yom Kippur War, together with corruption scandals, had undermined Labour. May 1977 saw the party suffer its first electoral defeat in 30 years of political hegemony to Menachem Begin's right-wing Likud party. Peres now had the arduous task of re-building his shattered party.

In the indecisive 1984 elections, Labour under Peres won the largest share of seats in the Knesset but lacked the majority needed to form a government on its own. Forced to invite Likud into a government of national unity, Peres agreed a power-sharing arrangement with Yitzhak Shamir, Likud's leader after Begin's 1983 resignation.

Peres was to be Prime Minister for the first half of a 50-month term, with Shamir as Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. The roles would be reversed for the second 25-month period.

Peres was a successful Prime Minister. He assumed power with inflation running at 400 per cent annually but, in a bold campaign that included securing wage freezes from the unions, price controls from industry, and massive cuts from every department of government, he managed to reduce annual inflation dramatically to manageable levels of 16 per cent.

As Prime Minister, Peres also presided over the withdrawal of Israeli troops from most of Lebanon into a narrow security zone in southern Lebanon, and accomplished the airlift of thousand of Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

At the end of his short term as Prime Minister, he resisted calls to break his agreement with the Likud party and handed over the reins of power to Shamir, serving in the National Unity government for the next two years as Foreign Minister. Similar indecisive elections in 1988 produced another coalition government led by Likud, with Peres as Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. In 1990 he led Labour out of this coalition.

In February 1992, in the first primary election ever held by a major Israeli party, Peres lost the leadership to Rabin. But with Labour victory in the June general election, he was brought into the cabinet as Foreign Minister.

Determined to promote peace with Israel's enemies, Peres became the architect of the historic 1993 Oslo Peace accords with the Palestinians. For this achievement, Peres shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Rabin and Yasser Arafat.

On November 4, 1995, Peres and Prime Minister Rabin stood side by side on a podium at a peace rally in the main square of Tel Aviv. When they left, Rabin was shot by an Israeli extremist opposed to the peace process.

In a moving testimony, given in a television documentary, 'The Fifty Years' War', Peres described how he bid farewell to his assassinated political rival:"I went to the room where Rabin was lying on the bed. His body was covered with a sheet up to his shoulders. On his face was an expression of peace - and an ironical sort of a smile, a special smile. I kissed his forehead and said goodbye."

Peres was once again called to serve as Prime Minister. But wishing to get a new mandate from the public so he could boldly pursue the peace process, he called for new general election. A wave of terrorist attacks by Palestinian suicide bombers undermined him and he lost to Benjamin Netanyahu in February 1996.

Peres served another year as Labour Party chairman, resigning in 1997 to found the Peres Centre for Peace, a non-partisan, non-governmental organisation dedicated to the promotion of peace in the Middle East.

In Ehud Barak's 1999 Labour government, Peres served as Minister of Regional Co-operation. In March 2001 he was appointed Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister in the National Unity government headed by Likud leader, Ariel Sharon. Labour left the coalition in October 2002. After suffering another electoral defeat in 2003, Labour again called on Peres to serve as chairman, a post he kept until unseated in 2005 by Amir Peretz.

In November 2005, Peres caused shock by his announcement that he was quitting the party to support Ariel Sharon, who had himself recently left Likud to found a new centrist party, Kadima. Peres explained that the new party would have the best chance of achieving the long-sought peace settlement with the Arabs.

Early in 2007, Peres was nominated by Kadima to run in that year’s presidential election. Headed by Sharon's successor Ehud Olmert, Kadima won the election and Peres was invited to serve as vice-Prime Minister and Minister for the Development of the Negev and Galilee. He was sworn into office on July 15 of that year for a seven-year term. This made him the ninth president of Israel from 2007-2014.

Peres was an avid reader and wrote several books, including The Next Step (1965), David's Sling (1970), And Now Tomorrow (1978), From These Men (1979), Entebbe Diary (1991), The New Middle East (1993) and Battling for Peace (1995).

Despite his age, Peres maintained an active public schedule, mostly through his NGO the Peres Centre for Peace, which promotes closer ties between Israel and the Palestinians.

He married Sonya Gelman in 1945. They had two daughters and a son.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive