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Former Israeli President Shimon Peres dead at 93

Sept. 28, 2016 4:24 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 29, 2016 1:11 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Former Israeli President Shimon Peres died early Wednesday at 93 years of age, after suffering a stroke two weeks earlier.

As one of Israel's most defining figures, Peres also served in a number of significant roles in politics and the military, as a two-time prime minister, minister of defense, and in 12 cabinet posts.

Following news of his passing, world leaders made tribute to Peres, lauding him as an instrumental “peacemaker” in the region, particularly for his involvement in the signing of the Oslo accords in 1994, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat.

However, Peres will be remembered by many for his leading role in the oppression of Palestinians, from the creation of the state of Israel and beyond.

Within hours of Peres’ death, US President Barack Obama said Americans were “in his debt because, having worked with every US president since John F Kennedy, no one did more over so many years as Shimon Peres to build the alliance between our two countries -- an unbreakable alliance that today is closer and stronger than it has ever been.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for his part commended Peres for “working tirelessly for a two-state solution that would enable Israel to live securely and harmoniously with the Palestinians and the wider region.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also tweeted in Arabic that "Shimon Peres' death is a heavy loss for all humanity and for peace in the region."

Critics, meanwhile, were quick to point out that Peres joined the Haganah paramilitary group after he and his family moved from Belarus to British Mandate of Palestine in 1930. The Haganah was one of the principal forces behind the Nakba, or catastrophe, that left around 750,000 Palestinians as refugees abroad and wiped out some 500 Palestinian villages.

He also played a key role in the establishment of the first illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank through vast land confiscations of privately owned Palestinian land, and became a fierce defender of the Israeli military’s multiple assaults and continued blockade on the Gaza Strip.

During his tenure as prime minister in 1996, Peres also ordered and oversaw the Qanaa massacre in Lebanon, in which the Israeli military killed and injured hundreds of civilians and UN peacekeepers.

Following the massacre, Israeli gunners told Israeli media that they had no regrets over killing more than 100 civilians, because the dead were "just a bunch of Arabs." Peres meanwhile was later quoted as saying that “everything was done according to clear logic and in a responsible way,” he that he was “at peace.”

In a livestreamed interview with Al Jazeera English, Ben White, a British writer, journalist, researcher, and activist specializing in Palestine and Israel, as well as a past contributor to Ma’an, challenged the narrative that framed Peres as a political hawk who later evolved into a peacemaker.

“His image as a man of peace and his image as a man who went from a ‘hawk’ to a ‘dove’ betrays a fundamental blind spot with regards to the experience of the Palestinians and others in the region under Israeli colonialism and the policies of displacement, exile, and occupation that Shimon Peres and others were instrumental in implementing.

“Those policies have been omitted and dismissed from the historical record today and on other occasions as well when other Israeli figures have passed away.”

Sami Abu Zuhri, spokesman for the Hamas movement -- the de facto leaders of the besieged Gaza Strip -- also reportedly told the Associated Press on Wednesday that "Shimon Peres was the last remaining Israeli official who founded the occupation, and his death is the end of a phase in the history of this occupation and the beginning of a new phase of weakness."

Later in his life, Peres become known for comments describing Palestinians as "self-victimizing,” and was quoted as saying: "For 60 years, I was the most controversial figure in the country, and suddenly I'm the most popular man in the land. Truth be told, I don't know when I was happier, then or now."
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