While Israeli and international media remember Shimon Peres as the architect of the Oslo Peace Process and Israel’s foremost statesman, Arab coverage of the former president's death on Wednesday was largely negative, describing him as a war criminal, a key contributor to the settlement project, and the founder of Israel’s security industry.
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The former leader's death received little coverage in Arabic media. Since the announcement of his passing on Wednesday morning came after most newspapers went to print, much of the commentary on his legacy appeared on news websites and on social media.
Arab allies of Israel, such as Jordanian King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, did not send their condolences to Israel by Wednesday afternoon. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas issued a short statement on the official news agency WAFA, expressing his “sorrow and sadness” for “a partner in forging the peace of the brave.”
International Arab media was less cordial.
“Peres: the butcher of Qana who won the Nobel [prize] for peace,” read the headline of Peres’ obituary on the Arabic website of al-Jazeera, a news channel broadcasting from Qatar. The report referred to the Israeli army's artillery strike on the southern Lebanese village of Qana in April 1996, during Operation Grapes of Wrath, which killed over 100 civilians who had taken refuge in a UN compound. Peres, prime minister at the time, said he did not know there were civilians in the building.
“Peres, a former member of the Haganah gang [the Israeli paramilitary group that preceded the Israeli army before the establishment of Israel], served as Israeli prime minister on three occasions. He is considered to be responsible for a number of crimes against Palestinians and Arabs, most famously the first Qana massacre in Southern Lebanon in April 1996,” read the second paragraph of the obituary.
In English too, AJ+ posted a video on Facebook asking whether Peres was really a man of peace.
As-Safir, a Lebanese daily affiliated with Hezbollah, also described Peres as “the butcher of Qana” in its headline, focusing in the article on his role in enabling the first Israeli settlements in the West Bank during his term as defense minister the 1970s, when he was “among the hawks of the Labor Party.”
Egyptian site al-Youm as-Sabi’ dedicated an entire article to the “engineer of genocide against Arabs,” from the 1956 Suez Crisis onward. Al-Masry al-Youm, a popular Egyptian daily, dubbed Peres “the architect of the tripartite aggression on Egypt” in its obituary headline, using the Arab term for the Suez Crisis.
The website of Sada el-Balad, an Egyptian news channel, commented on the coincidence of Shimon Peres and former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser sharing the same day of death, 46 years apart.
“The two avowed enemies, who met on the battlefield once in their life, were united by fortune to die on the same date. Their eternal rivalry in this world has ended,” read the article.
In Palestinian media, coverage of Peres depended on the outlet’s view of peace and normalization with Israel. While pro-Palestinian Authority newspapers such as al-Quds ran informative and objective obituaries, pro-Hamas sites were manifestly negative, using his memory to criticize “treacherous” Arab leaders.
The headline on the pro-Hamas website Safa reads, "Factions in Gaza: Peres' death is the beginning of the end of Israel."
Shehab News Agency, a Gaza-based Facebook page, displayed photos of Peres shaking hands with current and deceased Arab leaders including Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas, Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah II of Jordan. “Former Zionist President Shimon Peres meets with Arab leaders in gatherings of normalization and compromise,” read the caption. Quds News Network, another anti-PA Facebook outlet, featured Peres shaking hands with Abbas along with the hashtag “condolences to the butcher.”
Meanwhile, on Twitter, Peres’ legacy was heatedly debated.
“The Zionist Shimon Peres dies. Born in Poland, he carried out countless crimes against the Palestinian people over the past 70 years. His death will not be mourned,” tweeted Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a political science professor from the United Arab Emirates to his 101,000 followers.
Examining the long list of dignitaries expected to attend Peres’ funeral, Palestinian commentator Yasser Zaatreh chimed in: “If it’s true that the Pope will attend Peres’ funeral, this is a completely immoral stance,” he told his 683,000 followers (It was later announced that the Pope would not be attending). “What has he contributed to peace, even according to the logic of those who accept Israel as a legitimate state?”