by Sheldon Richman
October 03, 2016
The death of former Israeli prime minister and president Shimon Peres (age 93), the last major figure of Israel’s founding generation, has brought an outpouring of tributes for a man who reputedly had, as President Obama put it in his eulogy, “the capacity to see all people as deserving of dignity and respect.”
Unfortunately, the Polish-born Peres’s life did not display such a capacity. Many Palestinians and Lebanese suffered and died because of him. Considering his prominent role in the founding of the self-declared State of the Jewish People, this should go without saying. Israel was established largely by Europeans on land from which three-quarters of a million Muslim and Christian Palestinian Arabs were expelled. Others were massacred by Zionist paramilitary forces, one of which Peres worked for. The year before Israel declared independence (1948) largely on Palestinian-owned land, Peres was put in charge of personnel and weapons acquisition for the paramilitary force called Haganah. This systematic ethnic cleansing is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe. Hundreds of former Arab villages were destroyed to make room for Jewish villages. Zionist and Israeli leaders were not shy about acknowledging this. In their view Jewish land had to be redeemed and restored to its rightful owner – the Jewish People – and the “exiled” had to be in-gathered, no matter the cost to others. This was the Zionist project.
As a member of the Labor Party, Peres also played important roles in creating Israel’s Mideast monopoly nuclear-weapons arsenal (unlike Iran it has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty and does not permit international inspections) and in building illegal Jewish-only settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank after the June 1967 war against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. Before that war, he helped administer military rule over the remaining Palestinian Arabs inside Israel. He also forged Israel’s military and nuclear alliance with apartheid South Africa.
In 1995 Peres, who maintained that the Palestinians had victimized themselves, became prime minister after Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish fanatic for entering into the Oslo Accords with the Palestine Liberation Organization. (Rabin, like some other Israeli leaders, feared a loss of a Jewish majority in Israel and so favored a rump Palestinian state in parts of the West Bank. Rabin, Peres, and Yasser Arafat won the Nobel Peace Prize for this dubious agreement.) In his campaign for prime minister a year later against Benjamin Netanyahu, Peres (who was also defense minister) sought to establish his hawkish credentials by launching a war against Lebanon (which Israel had devastated and occupied for nearly 20 years beginning in 1982). Peres named his war Operation Grapes of Wrath. According to veteran Middle East reporter Robert Fisk:
“The joint Nobel Peace Prize holder used as an excuse the firing of Katyusha rockets over the Lebanese border by the Hezbollah. In fact, their rockets were retaliation for the killing of a small Lebanese boy by a booby-trap bomb they suspected had been left by an Israeli patrol. It mattered not.
“A few days later, Israeli troops inside Lebanon came under attack close to Qana and retaliated by opening fire into the village. Their first shells hit a cemetery used by Hezbollah; the rest flew directly into the UN Fijian army camp where hundreds of civilians were sheltering. Peres announced that ‘we did not know that several hundred people were concentrated in that camp. It came to us as a bitter surprise.’
“It was a lie. The Israelis had occupied Qana for years after their 1982 invasion, they had video film of the camp, they were even flying a drone over the camp during the 1996 massacre – a fact they denied until a UN soldier gave me his video of the drone, frames from which we published in The Independent. The UN had repeatedly told Israel that the camp was packed with refugees.
“This was Peres’s contribution to Lebanese peace. He lost the election and probably never thought much more about Qana.”