Now where is that photograph? It’s the one of me with Shimon Peres taken one evening years ago at a hotel in Atlanta. I was shivering in a vintage-inspired one-button spring coat, and my hair had been reluctantly restyled by the bitter wind blowing that February day.
I was a twenty-something executive who looked completely out of her element next to this giant of a politician. Peres, then Israel’s foreign minister, was in town at the invitation of my employer, the Southern Center for International Studies, to share his vision for an enduring road to peace in the Middle East.
He had recently won a Nobel Prize for forging the peace deal between Palestinians and Israelis. It was a prize he shared with Palestine’s Yasser Arafat and Israel’s Yitzhak Rabin. Then, 12 years later, Peres became Israel’s ninth president still making it his business to search for that ever elusive peace until he died of a massive stroke this past September.
He spent a lifetime trying to get the Palestinians and Israelis to agree on the terms of peace, the New York Time’s Thomas Friedman said in an interview with NPR: “In a region (the Middle East) that specialized in saying no, (he) was always trying to get to yes.” Peres himself once said that peace with the Palestinians is “the most possible impossibility.”
But Peres believed that peace could be achieved.
“His eye was always on the future of the country he loved,” wrote Peres’ former consul general, Alon Pinkas, in a New York Post opinion editorial. He once said, “In the end, you are as big as the fight you pick, so pick one that really matters, one that is worth living for.”
Evander Holyfield was also at the hotel that day. The then thirty-something Olympian boxer had retired from the sport a year before I saw him. Then, two years later, he defeated Mike Tyson in a rematch that cost Holyfield part of his ear. “I made $35 million that night,” Holyfield recalled in an interview with the Times. “People ask me if I was mad. Why be mad? I wish he had bitten the other one for another $35 million.”
He was still the champion after that fight. And, like Peres, a forgiving warrior: “I left people with something to think about when I forgave him.” The two men eventually became friends.
His eye was always on the future of the country he loved.
Alon Pinkas, former Israeli consul general
Now that last bit about being friends? That’s the payoff Peres had hoped for between the Israelis and Palestinians which unfortunately didn’t happen in his lifetime. “Shimon never saw his dream of peace fulfilled,” President Obama said in his eulogy at Peres’ funeral. “The region is going through a chaotic time. Threats are ever present. And yet he did not stop dreaming and working.”
Yet, in the midst of this chaotic time, Palestinian Authority President Abba attended the funeral. We have gotten so used to the idea that the majority of the Israelis and Palestinians don’t fraternize, that they don’t do neighborly things with each other.
I have no idea what they like to do but Abba’s attendance is a “yes” for you, Mr. Friedman, to add to the “for peace” column. And that “most possible impossibility” for peace just became a possibility.
As for the moment when I posed for the picture, I wondered what Holyfield, who is a preacher as well as a fighter, would have said to Peres if they had met that day?
In my mind, I can hear Holyfield, the preacher, say, “Peace be upon you.” And Peres probably would have responded just as he said at a peace gathering in the Vatican two years before he passed away: “And peace be within you.”
Peres’ tombstone was unveiled last fall at Mt. Herzl. But how do we actually say goodbye? By granting him his wish for a neighborly culture of peace.
Sarah Shapard served as director of communications and development for the Southern Center for International Studies in Atlanta and is now interim chief executive officer for nonprofit organizations in Chatham, Durham, Orange and Wake counties.