In a posthumous publication, the eminent former Israeli leader delivers a heartfelt appeal to the best in the Israeli Jewish character.
Although he was an early proponent of a vigorous Israeli defense system, aviation industry, and Dimona nuclear reactor, Peres (Ben-Gurion, 2011, etc.), who died in 2016, was known in his later career as a peace seeker. In this nonpolemical book, he candidly addresses this contradiction (“it was not me that changed; it was the situation that changed”). Born in 1923 in Poland, where, as a boy, the dream of Zionism caught his imagination, Peres was particularly inspired by the wisdom of his revered grandfather, who told the 11-year-old when he emigrated, “Promise me you’ll always remain Jewish.” A member of Ben Shemen Youth Village, farming on the frontier and also having to defend it from attack, Peres was caught up in the youth movement’s debates of how the country should operate politically, and he became a young leader, catching the eye of the legendary David Ben-Gurion. The author actively campaigned for statehood, and that meant having to prepare for a war against the Arabs. “What good is the birth of a new state,” Ben-Gurion’s logic ran, “if it’s immediately strangled in its crib?” Peres was appointed to transform the Haganah (later to become the Israel Defense Forces), and he comically depicts how he purchased arms directly from Czechoslovakia, then France, before the U.S. became a military supplier. Regarding the building of Dimona, the author cites Israeli policy of “nuclear ambiguity” as the effective deterrent in their enemies’ “belief that they could overpower us.” While Peres offers a self-glorying depiction of his role in the disastrous 1956 Suez Crisis, his desire to make peace with the Palestinians was sincere (he won the Nobel Peace Prize along with Yitzak Rabin and Yasser Arafat), and his drive to render the country a land of high-tech startups was truly visionary. Ultimately, Peres champions Israel as an immigrant nation strengthened by its “culture of chutzpah.”
A brief but poignant work of memoir and history.