From left: Sam Edelman, coordinator of the Modern Jewish and
Israel Studies Program, Shimon Peres, former prime minister of
Israel, and Carol Edelman Honors Program and Sociology and
Social work. Sam Edelman was instrumental in bringing Peres to
Campus. (photo courtesy of Jim Jessee)
Peres, a 1994 Nobel Peace Prize winner for his role in the Oslo Peace Accords, brought his message of hope and peace to Chico on March 18 as a Presidential Lecturer. Introduced as "one of the greatest statesmen of the century" by President Manuel A. Esteban, Peres spoke of the way the changing world both elicits and makes possible a changing response.
Peres pointed to examples from the last ten to fifteen years in which seemingly insurmountable problems and conflicts moved toward peaceful resolutions: the dissolution of communist Russia, the disassembling of South Africa's apartheid, the progress toward peace in Ireland between Catholics and Protestants, and the present efforts toward peace between Christians and Moslems in Bosnia. These breakthroughs in reason and democracy, Peres said, are evidence of a changing world, a world unimaginable just a decade ago, a world in which peace between Israel and Palestine is possible.
Of the USSR, Peres said, "It took communists to destroy communism." The giant world power with its endless resources, rich army, and extensive secret police system collapsed without interference or revolution.
Of South Africa, Peres said that the forgiveness and reconcilation that have taken place are a surprising and welcome contrast to the recrimination and torture that were feared. He asked a South African if it were because of Nelson Mandela that the transition from white rule was so peaceful. "Not alone," was the reply. "Each of us is a Nelson Mandela in our own heart."
"What is the common denominator of these changes?" asked Peres. "What are the secrets? Is it just a matter of accident? What has moved us out of the thousands of years of history written in the red ink, the bloodshed of wars, bloodshed, killing, winning and losing?"
"In my judgment," Peres said, "those changes represent a major departure in human annals, a divorce from the norm of history and an entrance into an entirely new epoch." Today, the common denominator is a world of globalization and privatization.
"We have moved from a world of borders to a world of horizons," said Peres. "When you try to arrive at the horizon, you discover there is another one, another one, another oneendless."
"We have moved from an existence based on territory to a progress dependent on science and technology, from an economy of land to an economy of brains," said Peres. In a world of land, there are necessarily borders, and they must be defended and protected. In a world of science, technology, and communication, there are no borders. The changes brought about by television, electronics, and the Internet have resulted in a globalization and privatization that are changes in nature, not just in kind.
The globalization of the economy has resulted in increasing privatization as the market is less dependent on national governments and more dependent on international cooperation. But Peres emphasized that globalization and privatization bring with them their own problems. For example, he said, for many countries, everything that makes money goes to private hands and everything that costs moneysocial security, education, welfare servesremains in the hands of the government. The result is that most governments are running deficits, and most companies are making money.
Globalization also brings with it dangers that have no respect for bordersdrugs, pollution, missiles, and terrorism. Such problems become international problems and require international cooperation and solutions.
"We in the Middle East," Peres emphasized, "are trying to draw new conclusions. We cannot live like we used to live." Israel conquered land as the result of winning wars initiated by others, but the land, said Peres, should not be kept. He spoke of the 4,000 years of Jewish history which supports his belief: "Never in our history did we dominate another people. We thought that this was morally wrong."
Peres discussed the need for negotiation, and the contradiction in the edict that one must negotiate from a position of strength. "The problem is when you are becoming strong, you often forget to negotiateyou like your strengths and you like the results of those strengths."
Peres believes that the time has come to reorganize relations in the Middle East so that bloodshed and animosity give way to cooperation to introduce a market economy based in science. He sees the way to peace as proper employment of young people as producers of information and innovation, not as producers of bombs.
Getting to peace requires difficult negotiations. Peres did not downplay the difficulty of such compromise. "In war, you do not have an alternative to victory; in peace, there is no alternative to compromise. And then you discover a double difficulty: you face the difficulty of meeting your former enemy whom you have described as the devil himself, and you have educated your children to look upon them as an impossible group of people."
To illustrate this, Peres described, with some humor, the moment on the White House lawn when Yitzhak Rabin was to shake Arafat's hand. He visibly recoiled, but shook, then turned to Peres and said, "Now it is your turn." The compromise is not always easy, nor is it always even accepted as the right thing to do.
Often the decisions of the negotiators are heavily questioned by some people, which is extremely difficult for leaders in a democracy. People ask, he said, "Why are you giving back land? How can we trust them? How can you put the fortunes of your land in their hands?" There is no alternative, however, said Peres, but to move forward.
Certainly war is no alternative. Five wars between Israel and the Arabs have killed many people and resolved nothing. Peres stated that a sixth war would simply call for the sacrifice of more lives without bringing peace closer.
Israelis and Palestinians must live side by side as good neighbors, believes Peres. "I feel we have to help the Palestinians to build a state of their own. If Israel wants to have a hundred percent security, then we have to provide them with a hundred percent freedom," said Peres. To make that possible, Palestine must be a modern, educated, prosperous, and democratic state. The aim is to cooperate in a progression toward equal opportunity, with the simple philosophy, said Peres, that the better the Palestinian state, the better neighbors Israel will have.
Peres concluded his talk with a story of a rabbi and his students discussing how to tell when the night ends and the day begins.
One student said, "When we can distinguish from afar between a goat and a lamb, the night is over, the day begun." Another student said, "Well, when you can distinguish between an olive tree and a fig tree, the night is over, the day begun." The rabbi kept silent, and the students turned to him and asked, "Rabbi, what is your indication?" He looked at them and answered, "When you meet a woman, whether black or white, and you say, `You are my sister'; when you meet a man, whether rich or poor, and you say, `You are my brother,' then, the night is over, the day begun.'"
NOTE: Shimon Peres's visit was co-sponsored by CSU, Chico, Chico Performances, AS. Programming, Butte College, Chico Area Interfaith Council, Koret, AT&T, and Diamond W. Western Wear.