Shimon Peres was born on August 2, 1923 (some sources say August 16, 1923), in Wieniawa, Poland (now Vishniev, Belarus). In 1997, he became acting prime minister when Yitzhak Rabin stepped down. Peres was elected the Prime Minister of Israel under its National Unity Government in 1984. In 1994 he co-won a Nobel Peace prize for negotiating the Oslo Accords with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. He was elected president of Israel in 2007 and retired from his role in 2014.
Shimon Peres was born August 2, 1923 in Weinlawa, Poland, (now Vishniev, Belarus). His family was committed to Zionism and as anti-Semitic violence escalated in central Europe in the 1930s, they migrated to then British-controlled Palestine when Shimon was 11. His family members who remained in Europe were murdered by the Nazis.
Shimon Peres grew up in Tel Aviv and joined a socialist youth group, the Hanoar Haoved or Working Youth. At age 15, he attended Ben Shermen Agricultural School and later joined an armed underground movement, Haganah, to counter Arab sniper attacks. The Zionist military organization was under the direction of David Ben-Gurion, who became Peres’ political mentor. In 1945, Peres married Sonia Gellman whom he met at Ben Shermen. The couple would go on to have three children.
After World War II, the nation of Israel fought for independence from Great Britain. The British ceded the territory over to the United Nations, which partitioned the area into an Arab and Jewish state in 1947. The following year, Ben-Gurion proclaimed the state of Israel and seven Arab states immediately declared war on the new republic. Shimon Peres was assigned several posts including military intelligence, arms procurement and even the fledgling Israeli Navy.
From 1952 to 1965, Shimon Peres moved up the political ladder. While serving as Defense Minister in 1956, he masterminded the Sinai Campaign during the Suez Crisis. It was during this time that Peres and Ben-Gurion secretly began development on Israeli’s nuclear program. In 1965, Peres left the Mapai Labor Party and in 1968, with Ben-Gurion, formed the Israel Labor Party. From 1969 until 1977, Peres served as minister of immigration, helping develop settlements in the occupied territories. From 1977-1981, he served as head of the Labor Party and was twice defeated for prime minister by Menachem Begin, of the opposition Likud Party. In 1984, Peres formed a power sharing arrangement with Likud’s head, Yitzhak Shamir, serving as prime minister for two years. He also served as Minister of Finance, focusing on Israel’s failing economy and helped reduce the annual inflation rate from 400% to 16%.
The Quest for Peace
In 1986, Shimon Peres served as Foreign Minister. During this time, he had started secret talks with Jordan’s King Hussein, hoping an agreement to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir rejected the agreement, a bitter disappointment for Peres. In 1992, the Labor Party returned to power with Yitzhak Rabin as Prime Minister. Peres was Foreign Minister and over the next two years, he achieved his two greatest diplomatic successes, the Oslo Agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization and a peace treaty with Jordan. For his work on the Oslo Agreement, Peres shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, head of the PLO.
In 1995, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated and Shimon Peres took over as Prime Minister. During this time he pushed the peace process further, despite numerous terrorist attacks by Palestinian militants against Israeli civilians. He lost a reelection bid in 1996 and the following year, resigned from the Labor Party to form the Peres Center for Peace. At the turn of the millennium, Peres once again served as Minister of Foreign Affairs in a National Unity government and as chair of the Labor Party in 2003. He lost the chairmanship in 2005 and shocked everyone by supporting his old political rival, Ariel Sharon, now head of the Kadima Party. Peres believed the new party was the best chance for lasting peace with the Palestinians.
In June 2007, Shimon Peres was elected President of Israel, at age 84, receiving the ultimate recognition for his lifelong service. He resigned his seat in the Knesset, ending the longest parliamentary career in his country’s history. In June 2012, Peres was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama for his “meritorious contributions to world peace.” Peres completed his term as president in July 2014.
On September 13, 2016, Shimon Peres suffered a serious stroke and was put into a medically induced coma. He died on September 28, 2016 at the age of 93.
In quotes | World leaders pay tribute to Shimon Peres (1923 – 2016)
US President Barack Obama
“There are few people who we share this world with who change the course of human history, not just through their role in human events, but because they expand our moral imagination and force us to expect more of ourselves. My friend Shimon was one of those people.”
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
“It is true that Shimon Peres was a great statesman. He was the noblest of soldiers, a born leader, a uniquely talented diplomat, an inspiring speaker and a relentless campaigner. But, more significantly than any of those things, Shimon Peres was the greatest living example of an unshakable belief in the pursuit of peace against all odds.”
French President Francois Hollande
“Shimon Peres now belongs to history, which was his companion during his long life. With the death of Shimon Peres, Israel has lost one of its most illustrious statesmen, and peace one of its most ardent defenders.”
Former US president Bill Clinton
“The Middle East has lost a fervent advocate for peace and reconciliation and for a future where all the children of Abraham build a better tomorrow.”
Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair
“Shimon Peres was a political giant, a statesman who will rank as one of the foremost of this era or any era, and someone I loved deeply.”