Somewhere in there, between the platitudes, the protocol, the love, and the home spun stories told at Shimon Peres’ funeral Friday, a close friend of the deceased, Israel’s preeminent writer Amos Oz, stood up, in a short sleeve shirt and open collar, a yellow kippa to his head, and asked, in plain language, what was perhaps the most poignant and pressing question of the day:
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Where were the “brave leaders” who were needed now to stand up, be counted, and make peace a reality, Oz asked, standing beside the flag draped coffin and looking out into an audience that included Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, both in the front row, but sitting apart.
United States President Barack Obama, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, and long rows of leaders from 70 countries around the world, all in well-tailored dark suits, also sat there listening intently to the former kibbutznik's question, which came at them with a split second delay, over earphones and via simultaneous translation.
“Where are Shimon Peres’ successors?” Oz repeated, adjusting the string holding his dark glasses and turning a page of his speech.
While Oz did not mention Abbas directly – that was left to Obama, who gave the concluding eulogy of the ceremony – Oz was the first of the speakers, and the only one from amongst the Israelis, to turn and address the Palestinians at all.
“There are those who say peace is not possible, but not only is it possible it is essential and it is inevitable – if only because we are not going anywhere,” said the writer, who has been a voice for the peace camp in this country and outside it for over 50 years. “We have nowhere to go – and the Palestinian are not going anywhere either. They also have nowhere to go.”
The solution Oz then offered up sounded so easy, so obvious — an echo of the words, and attitudes, that have come to represent the very friend he was there to eulogize.
“The Israelis and the Palestinians are not suddenly going to come together and become one happy family. We can’t all jump into bed together and go on a honeymoon,” Oz stated. “So we have no choice but to turn this house into two apartments and divide it into a two-family home.”
“Deep in our hearts, almost everyone, on all sides, knows this truth,” Oz said. “But where are the brave leaders who will stand up now to lead us forward? Where are Peres’ successors?”
Harkening back 42 years, Oz told of the day his friendship with Peres began, at Kibbutz Hulda, at the entrance to the dining hall. Oz was a passionate reporter and young writer then; Peres, already a seasoned politician, and, at the time, a “hawk in the land of hawks,” as Oz put it. The two stayed up until midnight arguing – about the future of the country, and about the settlements, which Peres supported and enabled in the early years.
Peres’ ability to change and shift over the years from hawk to dove was one of the qualities Oz most admired about him, he said. “There was a secret I uncovered about Peres, a secret bigger than Dimona and bigger than those early days of Oslo talks,” Oz said, making reference to both the open secret of the nuclear military facility at Dimona – which Peres was instrumental in building - and the secretly negotiated peace agreement, which Peres was again instrumental in, and which won him the Nobel Peace prize.
“I discovered Peres’ innocence,” said Oz, and clarified: “ Not the kind of innocence that is the opposite of intelligence, or sophistication His was innocence that belongs to an incorrigible dreamer.”
Oz went on to praise Peres for the two sides of his personality that usually don’t and can’t mix in one person—namely a respect for the realities of the world, but also a burning impulse to change those realities, and an even rarer ability to change oneself.
“Only someone who lives in both those realms can pave the way,” said Oz. “There were those who made fun of him – but that is often the case when it comes to the people who try to forge new paths and are ahead of their time. It’s like that in science in literature, and in politics.”
So, Peres was a dreamer, yes, said Oz, but he was more than a dreamer. He was a dreamer who made things happen. As Clinton nodded in seeming agreement Oz compared Peres to the biblical Joseph who saw “most of his dreams come true.”
“It’s true, he stumbled,” admitted Oz, in conclusion, “ but when he did its because he was looking up at the stars.”