A great Statesman, a peace Giant and a genuine Father of the State of Israel
(*) by Giancarlo Elia Valori
I have been deeply upset by the news of Shimon Peres’ death. I was aware of his severe health conditions following the stroke of September 13 last. I had already been particularly worried for the heart attack of last January from which, however, he had recovered. Indeed, at the time, he replied to my affectionate message wishing him a prompt recovery by writing: “My dearest friend, thank you from the bottom of my improved heart for your kind and sincere words. I am fully regaining my health and I will always maintain my hope! Because it is said: He who has health, has hope; and he who has hope has everything”. Unfortunately that hope faded away last night due to kidney complications and today at 1.15 a.m. (Italian time) his heart has stopped beating. He has died at the age of 93 and now I feel I have lost a long-time sincere and fraternal friend, one of my dearest ones.
Who was Shimon Peres?
He was an idealist, a great statesman, a peace Giant, the last of the founding Fathers of Israel. He proudly was the international Flag of the Jewish State. Historical records show his long socio-political and ethical-cultural pathway characterized by his charisma, his tone of voice, his charming wisdom, his calmness and, especially, his way of being a true Leader. And now that he has passed away and has returned to the “Father’s House”, he stands out, like a rainbow, from Israel to the whole world, as a wonderful and sublime example touching the deepest feelings of human heart, in his endeavour to build a lasting peace among all peoples. In that search for common Good he was one of the major and tireless advocates of dialogue – together with the then Israeli Prime Minister and common friend, Yitzhar Rabin, and the Palestinian President Yasser Arafat – leading to the Oslo Accords in 1993, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1994. Those who had the good fortune of knowing Shimon Peres and listening his words – even for a few minutes – have never forgotten him. He was an exemplary man, with friendly, open-minded and simple manners. He shied away from any formalism and was unique for his humanity and style. He always sealed his actions with a sincere and warm embrace, but what was most striking in him were his strong personality, his wisdom, humility and great kindness. In every speech he delivered you could see the signs of what I would not hesitate to define a manifestation of goodness personified. In Israel he was a reference point: not only Heads of State, but also religious leaders, intellectuals, scientists and artists passing through Jerusalem never missed the opportunity of meeting with him, who always gave them additional reasons to hold him in high esteem.
The duty to cherish his memory
A few hours after his death, on the major social networks, the most important Heads of State and governments throughout the world paid a moving tribute to a man who has left his great mark in history, as if they were faced with an example, a model inspiring them to commit themselves to defending peace. Following this example, I also wanted to celebrate his enlightened and tenacious sense of commitment, together with the many memories which touch me deeply, such as his even-mindedness and his forward-looking vision, as well as the example, the courage and the teachings he daily showed for the noble cause of Israel and, above all, for peace in the Middle East, throughout his whole life. For me, in particular, those traits of his personality were also a strong and sound point of reference for friendship. The genuine one! He was a symbol of intellectual honesty and extreme consistency. Among the various moments of this close relationship I wish to recall the opening of the “Ben Gurion Centre” on March 3, 1993, at the Peking University (as President of the Chair of peace, security and international development at the Faculty of International Relations) where the then Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, said to me: “You have laid a solid and important bridge between Israel and China, and this historic event would have not been made possible without your vision and dedication”. Later, during one of our meetings, he renewed his gratitude to me both for “promoting friendship between China, Italy, Europe and Israel”, and for having focused the conference on his book “The New Middle East”, in honour of the “first Prime Minister of Israel and of a great dream of peace and harmony among Nations”. As a token of gratitude for my commitment and concrete support to the State of Israel, on November 16, 1995, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem decided to appoint me President of the “Chair for the study of peace and regional cooperation”, as well as Director of a specific degree course, in the faculty of Law, open both to Jewish and Arab students. That inauguration was the first official assignment of Shimon Peres as Prime Minister after Rabin’s assassination. I also wish to recall that on September 5, 2007, during his official visit to Italy as President of the State of Israel, before meeting the Italian highest-ranking institutional representatives he wanted to spend long time with me at The Westin Excelsior Hotel, where he was staying. I experienced many other significant moments with him, including the ceremony organized in Jerusalem on November 15, 1998, in memory of my mother, who had been awarded the Gold Medal for Civil Merit, during which a garden was dedicated to her. That ceremony was also attended by Lea Rabin, the former Prime Minister’s widow, and by the President of the World Jewish Agency, Avi Pazner. Equally important memories are his considerations expressed in the forewords of my publications. The most recent ones include: “Water Geopolitics – The Gold Rush of the New Millennium” and “Food Geopolitics – A Challenge for the Great Powers’, published by Rizzoli, which were kindled by the food for thought provided during the many conversations I had with my friend Shimon Peres for building a better world, characterized not only by peace and harmony, but also by progress and prosperity among peoples.
Also Pope Francis dwelt on these concepts and ideas on the occasion of the “World Youth Day” in Rio de Janeiro, with a view to drawing the world’s attention to social inequalities and poverty. These values, so dear to Shimon Peres, are a sound premise for building a future based on highly ethical principles. His teaching, through his generous ideas, his faith in the young people and his tolerant far-sightedness, have provided fertile ground for growing a plant having strong and deep roots.
Today this plant projects ever greater light on a wide range of initiatives, so that in every corner of the earth the real values of freedom, respect and tolerance can spread. As hoped by Shimon Peres, these are achievements to be defended in the exclusive interest of a people-oriented and humane civilization, capable of conceiving a culture of peace and justice, and making it the real treasure of developed, free and democratic peoples.
There is still much to be learnt from Shimon Peres’ teaching. And memories will not be enough. We will need our thoughts and our ability to adapt his stances and his values to the new situation facing the Middle East.
(*) Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is President of the merchant bank “La Centrale Finanziaria Generale SpA”. He holds important Chairs on “peace studies, security and international development” in major universities such as the New York Yeshiva University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Peking University, in which he is also “Full Professor” of economics and international politics”, as well as Director of the “Advisory Committee of the Institute for International Studies”. He is also Honorable of the Académie des Sciences of the Paris Institut de France.