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October 6, 2016 8:21 am

The Epitaph of Shimon Peres

avatar by Bernard-Henri Lévy

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Israeli President Shimon Peres. Photo: wiki commons.

Israeli President Shimon Peres. Photo: wiki commons.

“Man is a beggar when he thinks, and a prince when he dreams.”

I do not know if Shimon Peres was fond of Hölderlin’s poetry.

And it may seem incongruous to place, side-by-side, the Swabian poet obsessed with the Greek gods and the hero of Haganah, born in the forests of Poland and haunted to the end of his life by the specter of the destruction of the Jews.

But that is the phrase I had in mind as his friends from around the world gathered in Jerusalem, crowded around the modest grave in which the last of Israel’s founders was to be buried.

No doubt it is the word “prince” that draws me to the line from Hölderlin.

It was the air of a princely funeral permeating this corner of the national cemetery on Mount Herzl, where the country’s greatest leaders are interred.

And it was the spectacle of all of the crowned heads and heads of state — Barack Obama, François Hollande, King Felipe VI of Spain and Prince Charles of Britain — whom I saw gathered around his remains and who, when he was alive, whether in power or not, had viewed him as the wisest and noblest among them. His was a mysterious grace that often led peers to address the man they knew simply as “Shimon,” with the deference of a disciple questioning his rabbi.

But I also have the phrase in mind because of what it says about dreams.

It is because of the idea — an idea shared, I believe, by Shimon — of dreaming as the loftiest and most fecund of man’s faculties.

Deeply steeped in Jewish faith, Shimon was, of course, well versed in the Bible and the Talmud. As such, he believed that at the summit of the spiral of life reigned wisdom or prophecy, depending on one’s nature.

And he was, of course, a politician; and more than that a military leader; and, greater still, a strategist — that is, a leader who (in contrast to Yitzhak Rabin, for example) would calculate rather than strike, and time his punches rather than just throw them; a leader who, above all, had the wisdom to forge Israel’s army before others threw it into battle. More Gideon than Joab, more Joshua than Abner, he was one of those inspired generals that the Bible describes as practicing the art of signs before that of power. And that Shimon naturally tended to place a high value on deliberation, ruse and stratagem.

All of that is true.

But there also was in him the belief that, in the mental palace of a man of his sort, in its halls and chambers so replete with the art of warfare and the treasures of the Midrash, pride of place nevertheless went to the faculty — the power — that he called dreaming.

I remember him last year in Kiev at the Yalta European Strategy conference, where, as in past years, he rubbed elbows with some of the peer-disciples who, at his funeral, with yarmulkes covering their heads, bid him a deeply moving farewell.

In Kiev, our host, Victor Pinchuk, asked Shimon from the podium to reveal the source of his unalterable youthfulness.

Shimon laughed.

He laughed the deep biblical laugh that overcame old Abraham upon hearing of the imminent birth of a child and the boundless adventures that would follow.

He burst into that hearty laughter steeped in the hiddush of unceasing Talmudic invention — just as the all-but-immortal body of Achilles was dipped, as the story goes, in the Styx — a laughter that is also the laughter of God as He played with the Leviathan.

Eventually Shimon answered: “It’s very simple. The sign of great age is contemplating the dreams that one has fulfilled. The measure of youth, by contrast, is the number of those still to come true.”

An extraordinary response, when you think about it.

Measuring the success of a life more on its promises than on its successes. Astonishing.

But the most astonishing of all was his way of saying to the masters of the world who had come to soak up his wisdom that a man who does not dream is a beggar, irremediably lacking, poor in mind and soul — and that no amount of intelligence is worthwhile unless it is propelled by a dream.

The dream of peace with the Palestinians.

The dream of an exemplary Israel that would no longer stand apart from the nations but would light their way with its exceptional qualities.

The dream of an Israel small in territory but great in (and great because of) its spiritual values.

The dream — a passing fancy? — of deserts enlivened by a deluge of computers such as he had imagined 30 years ago in a strange book that he coauthored with his friend Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber and that I published.

Or, finally, the dream of a union between that biblical knowledge of which he was one of the last Israeli leaders to master the subtleties and that artificial, electronic and hyper-technical intelligence to which his latter-day companions, the young geeks of the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa, initiated him.

Those are the dreams that enabled Shimon to remain, at the age of 93, a young Zionist.

They are what kept him true, to the end, to the precept of Nachman of Breslov: “It is forbidden to be old.”

The death of Shimon Peres is not merely that of a “great man.” For many great men die every day without any consequence, except perhaps, as Rashi said, one more revolution of the great wheel of mourning in the world. No, Shimon’s death is the death of one of our last dreamers, of a statesman who, because he remembered that his country was born from a dream, could imbue it with the splendor and grace of that dream. His is the death of a dreaming prince who knew that, in the midst of the storm, the dream is not the braid and piping of politics, but the cloth itself.

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  • The Arab-Palestinian Terror and Violence must be stopped at all costs, no holds barred and zero tolerance r4
    Israel and the Jewish people must stand United against the evil terror and violence. This is no time to be selfish and score political points on the dead bodies of Jewish souls.
    Shimon Peres unauthorized actions and delusional dreams sacrificed hundreds of Jewish lives and will continue to cause terror and violence in Israel.

    The situation today and since the Oslo Accord initiated by Shimon Pres; with terror attacks on a daily basis is no different than July 2014 when Hamas – a recognized terrorist organization firing thousands of missiles against Israel’s population centers, which it keeps sporadic firing until today October 2016. Mahmmoud Abbas’s organization the Fattah is no different, they just conceal their activities, while they incite violence.
    These are very difficult days. The escalating Arab violence and attack after attack carried out by Arab savage knife wielders and inhuman vehicular use and knifing as a weapon of terror are again putting to a test the spiritual strength and resolve of the Israeli people. Our enemies, both foreign and domestic, should know that we will never lose our will to live as a free people in our homeland, NEVER AGAIN, because we have no other home in the world. Israel is the only Jewish country for over 4000 years. We must defend it no matter what, damn the torpedoes, no holds barred and zero tolerance.
    The Arab countries have terrorized and expelled over a million Jewish families and their children who now reside in Israel. Jews who are not willing to grasp a sword will not be able to hold onto life, we will not let a Holocaust decimate us. We will not give up and we will not capitulate or cower to terror, threats and intimidation, because this is our mission in life. Weakness is not leadership and endless fruitless concessions that increase terror and violence do not constitute a vision.
    While we preach and pursue peace and coexistence, the Arabs are pursuing terror, death and violence. They, the Arabs clearly state in no ambiguous terms that they want to kill the Jews and destroy Israel.
    The Israeli government must send a clear and determined message and act with all the force necessary to put the murderous violence to a halt. This is war, and we have no choice but to win at all costs, if we want to live and prosper. “Let us all as a unified nation go up at once, and possess it; for we are well equipped and able to overcome it.”
    We have turned a desert into a flourishing country; we can and will defend our homeland at all costs.
    Chanukah, the holiday celebrating the Liberation of Jerusalem is a few months away. Chanukah is a time of renewal. Significantly outnumbered, the Maccabee’s succeeded against great odds by combining strategy, devotion to God and a willingness to sacrifice themselves in their unified battle against both assimilation and religious persecution. They returned to rededicate the ransacked and desecrated temple in Jerusalem with renewed faith and hope for the future. Today is no different, The Jewish nation is fighting for its survival, let us follow in the footsteps of our ancestors and with faith and perseverance we shall triumph.
    YJ Draiman

  • Re: Israel – To whom it may concern in Europe, Asia, Far East, South America, the US and elsewhere r10

    Re: Israel – To whom it may concern in Europe, Asia, Far East, South America, the US and elsewhere r10

    We are tired of hearing that withdrawal from Judea and Samaria which is Jewish land will bring peace. We know and you know that it would bring another Gaza a terrorist entity. So stop saying it and promoting this deceptive and delusional fallacy. Past experience has proven that concessions, appeasement and land for peace only increased terror, violence and more conflict and hostilities.

    We are tired of hearing that land beyond the Green Line is ‘Arab-Palestinian land’. The Green Line is simply an armistice line that has no political significance. You know this too. The 1919 Faisal Weizmann Agreement and The The San Remo Treaty of 1920 Granted the Mandate for Palestine to the Jewish people, confirmed by the 1920 Treaty of Sevres and Lausanne, the same Allied powers also established 21 Arab States and one Jewish State – The Arabs are not willing to give up any part of the 21 Arab States with over 12 million sq. km. and the Jews are not willing to give up any part of the Jewish State which encompasses all of The Land of Israel aka Palestine about 120,000 sq. km.

    We are tired of hearing about the “Arab-Palestinian people.” They are no different from the Arabs of Syria or Egypt, from which most of their ancestors migrated in the last 150 years or so most of them illegally. There is no Arab-Palestinian language or religion, and until very recently they considered themselves simply ‘Arabs’. Their culture is almost entirely defined by their opposition to the Jewish State. Teaching hate, violence and terror to their children and honoring terrorists. There never was an Arab-Palestinian State or people in History. The Arab Palestinians have a State in Jordan which is about 80% of the land originally allocated to the Jewish people under the San Remo Treaty of 1920 and confirmed by the 1920 Treaty of Sevres and Lausanne.

    We are tired of hearing that “the Arab-Palestinians deserve a state.” We are the remaining indigenous here, not them, and their behavior entitles them more to a trial at The Hague than to a State. The Arab- Palestinians have a State it is called Jordan which was carved out of Jewish allocated land in 1922, in violation of the treaty of 1920 and other Agreements.
    And they certainly do not deserve our Jewish State, west of the Jordan river, which is the only State they want. They already took about 80% of Jewish allocated land which is Jordan, expelled the Jews and confiscated their assets and prohibited Jews from owning property and or residing in Jordan. The Jordan state is a country that never existed in history before WWI. Israel against better judgment also gave them the Gaza Strip which they use to attack Israel.

    We are tired of hearing about ‘The Occupation’, it is “Liberated Jewish Land”. As Minister Naftali Bennett said the other day, you can’t be an occupier in your own land. The Arabs are the occupiers, Greater Israel has been a Jewish territory for about 4,000 years even if it was temporarily conquered and occupied by various nations over the centuries.

    We are tired of hearing that “settlements are illegal under international law.” They are not. The San Remo Treaty of 1920 and the Mandate terms, explicitly stated that Jewish people can reside anywhere in the Mandate for Palestine, those terms have not been abrogated and are set in perpetuity. It allocated The Palestine Mandate for the Jewish people. It does not state it is allocated to any other people and confirmed by the 1920 Treaty of Sevres and Lausanne.

    We are tired of hearing that “settlement construction is an obstacle to peace.” Arab rejectionism, destruction, violence, terrorism and suicide bombing is the reason there is no peace. When the Arab-Palestinians teach and preach hate, suicide bombing, terror and destruction to their children, this is definitely not a road to peace and coexistence.
    By the way, we are pro-peace. We are just not pro-suicide and self destruction.

    We are tired of hearing about the 5 million (or whatever ridiculous number there are alleged to be) ‘Arab-Palestinian refugees’ or the ‘Arab-Palestinian Diaspora’. There were about 600,000 Arabs in Israel 300,000 that left their homes in 1948, mostly of their own volition and at the urging of the 5 Arab invading armies, more or less at the same time as the over a million Jewish families and their children were terrorized and expelled from Arab countries, of which the Arabs confiscated all their assets, personal, businesses, homes and Real Estate over 120,000 sq, km. – 75,000 sq. miles (which is 6 times the size of Israel) valued in the trillions of dollars. We resettled ours million refugees that the Arabs expelled, with limited land and resources — resettle yours (on the land and homes you confiscated from the Jewish people and or Jordan), the 21 Arab states have more land and resources. The Arab dis-information and deception must be ignored and countered.

    We are tired of hearing anything from anyone associated with the U.N. The U.N. is a parasitic, fraudulent and criminal enterprise dominated by our mortal enemies. The U.N. cannot create states, it can only recommend and so can other nations only recommend and not create a state that never existed before in history. If they want an Arab-Palestinian state, it already exists, it is Jordan which has taken about 80% of Jewish allocated historical land. They also have the land the Arabs Countries confiscated from the expelled million Jewish people which is 6 times the size of Israel (120,000 sq. km. or 75,000 sq. miles).

    We are tired of stupid post-colonialist rhetoric. We are not ‘colonists’ and Arabs do not have the right to murder us in the name of ‘resistance’ or beheading Jewish Rabbi’s in Jerusalem’s Har Nof Synagogue, stabbing and car jamming. Talking this way reveals you as moral imbeciles. They train their children to be suicide bombers and terrorists. The Arabs are the colonialists, they have colonized the whole Middle East, expelled the Jews and now the Christians, and they will complete the take over Europe soon, and proceed to the U.S. and Canada etc.
    You can not recognize a state and people that never existed and that has no borders, no single government, and no economy. They are not trusted by the Arab states either. Kuwait expelled over 400,000 Arab-Palestinians.

    We know we can not depend on any kind of security guarantee from anyone except the Israel Defense Forces. So stop being insulted because we do not trust you. And do not ask us to give up any nuclear weapons we might or might not have or any other method and technology that could help protect us.

    If you hate us so much, give us back all our Medical technology that saved your lives. Give us back all our technology development that helped you advance economically and the list goes on and on.

    We know that the left-wing parties in Israel are bankrupt of ideas. We are not going to vote for them, no matter how much you would like us to. So do not bother trying to influence our election. We will only vote for a government that protects its people and cares about the Jewish heritage, more than it cares for world opinion.

    Don’t believe what you read in Ha’aretz newspaper, they represent a minority that has no allegiance to the Jewish heritage.

    Jerusalem, undivided, is the capital of the Jewish State of Israel. Get used to it, because you can not change it, the Jewish temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem. It was never a Capital of any other nation.

    The Arabs killed the Jews in Medina aka Yathrib which was a Jewish city for thousands of years.

    Ordinary Israelis who care about their safety, security, heritage and ancestry.

    YJ Draiman

    No Jew has the right to yield the rights of the Jewish People in Israel –
    David Ben Gurion
    (David Ben-Gurion was the first Prime Minister of Israel and widely hailed as the State’s main founder).
    “No Jew has the right to yield the rights of the Jewish People in Israel.
    No Jew has the authority to do so.
    No Jewish body has the authority to do so.
    Not even the entire Jewish People alive today has the right to yield any part of Israel.
    It is the right of the Jewish People over the generations, a right that under no conditions can be cancelled.
    Even if Jews during a specific period proclaim they are relinquishing this right, they have neither the power nor the authority to deny it to future generations.
    No concession of this type is binding or obligates the Jewish People. Our right to the country – the entire country – exists as an eternal right, and we shall not yield this historic right until its full and complete redemption is realized.”
    (David Ben Gurion, Zionist Congress, Basel, Switzerland, 1937.)
    “No country in the world exists today by virtue of its ‘right’.
    All countries exist today by virtue of their ability to defend themselves against those who seek their destruction.”

  • Pinchas Baram

    wishful thinking, hope springs eternal, pious fool– are phrases that come to mind when thinking of Peres and his dreams. another is, it takes two to tango– Peres, out there on the dancing floor, spinning around…but he had no Arab partner, in fact Arabs mocked him.

    Israel was born from dreams, but the revived desert and swamps of Palestine/Eretz Yisrael were not as stubborn as the arab and moslem mindset, which generation after generation has been filled with hate, vengeance and victimhood.

  • avrumeleh

    We really have to distinguish between dreams and irresponsible, unrealistic flights of fancy. This epitaph attempts to make the failure to realize Peres’s dream the fault of Israel. “Oh, if Israel had only done more to meet the aspirations of her Palestinian neighbors!” This is not a dream. This is a foolish, dangerous illogical fantasy that plays right into the hands of Israel’s enemies. This is why Obama and his ilk attended
    Peres’s funeral. They were not showing respect for Israel’s loss of a formative leader. They were paying homage to the cynical concept of the “two state solution” that Peres symbolized for them. They, despite every reality, continue to embrace what they call a dream but what would inevitably be Israel’s nightmare. That’s the Palestinians’s dream.

  • rebmoish

    Feh…too close to Shabbat to say more.

  • len

    “Man is a beggar when he thinks and a Prince when he dreams ” certainly a Peres type opinion when it comes to Israel ,however I adhere to Winston Churchill’s saying “Facts are better than dreams “.When it comes to Israel dreamers need to learn the real facts on the ground to figure out how to proceed with their dreams. I don’t think President Peres ever convinced the Israeli public that his dreams could one day be reality. Thus he became the Prince of only dreams. He did not have the support of the Israeli public when it came to his dreams because the Israeli public knew that only the Israeli nation would suffer the “dreams” of such Princes!