No other country has faced the dangers and paid the price for its existence as
Israel has, President Shimon Peres said Wednesday in Brussels. He then asked a
rhetorical question of the country’s legion of European critics: “How would you
behave were you in our place?”
Peres’s remarks came during a meeting with
parliamentarians from Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Finland who are
friendly to Israel, as he attended the opening at the European Parliament of a
traveling exhibition to mark the 70th anniversary of the rescue of Bulgarian
Jewry from the Nazis’ clutches.
“Israel was established 65 years ago, and
since then has gone through seven wars – I don’t know another country that has
withstood that degree of danger and paid such a high price in life,” he
Repeating what he has said on numerous occasions in the past, Peres
called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a “man of peace,” and said
that Israel yearns for peace with its neighbors. “We signed peace treaties with
Egypt and Jordan, and gave back considerable territories,” he said.
president said peace was still possible and that the gaps between the sides were
“We tried to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians on
the basis of two states for two peoples, and we left Gaza and uprooted 8,000
residents,” he said.
Regarding the Iranian threat, Peres said that while
he respected the Iranian people, the Iranian leadership was funding Hezbollah
and training terrorist organizations that were carrying out terrorist attacks
around the world, including Europe.
Peres said Iran is not threatened by
the world, but does not respect international agreements and is itself
threatening world peace.
The Bulgarian Jewry exhibition, which was a
joint venture of the Republic of Bulgaria and Yad Vashem, was initially
displayed in the UNESCO building in Paris on International Holocaust Remembrance
Day in January.
Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev and Foreign Minister
Nikolay Mladenov also attended the opening ceremony.
Mladenov said his
country, which had demonstrated courage in the past in saving Jews, will not
blanch today in the face of terror and will call it by its name.
referring specifically to Hezbollah’s involvement in the bombing of a tour bus
in the Bulgarian resort town of Burgas in July of last year, which resulted in
the deaths of five Israeli tourists and the Bulgarian bus
Mladenov was hopeful that all the member states of the EU would
realize the importance of recognizing Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and
would act accordingly.
If this happens, Hezbollah will find it
increasingly difficult to raise funds in Europe, which will cause its activities
to be severely hampered.
Peres, in his meetings with European leaders in
Brussels, Paris and Strasbourg over the next week, will also be pressing this
issue as well as concerns over the Iranian nuclear threat and the dangers posed
by Syria’s chemical arsenal, and will emphasize the fact that both Hezbollah and
Syria are strongly backed by Iran.
With regard to Bulgaria, Peres noted
that it has a warm place in the hearts of Israelis because of its courage,
integrity and humanity.
He expressed deep regret that what happened in
Bulgaria had not been emulated in Greece and Macedonia whose Jewish communities
all but disappeared at the hands of the Nazis.
Peres also praised Europe
for its ability to unite after a millennium of wars and hatred.
Tuesday, Peres and the crown prince of Belgium recognized 11 families who risked
their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
Peres and Prince Phillipe
bestowed the decorations of the Righteous Among the Nations on the 11 Belgian
“On behalf of the State of Israel and the Jewish people, I
thank you from the depths of my heart,” the president told the families,
emphasizing there were not many like them. “The Righteous Among the Nations
brought light into the world, and exhibited bravery and courage in the face of
the atrocities of the Holocaust.”
Holocaust survivors from around the
world were among those attending the ceremony along with Jewish organizational
leaders, government ministers, lawmakers and the heads of faith communities in
Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Didier Reynders said the
lessons of the Holocaust will be taught to future generations and that the
Righteous Among the Nations showed that even in the darkest times, when lives
are in danger, it is possible to say no to cooperation with cruelty.
the past year, Belgium accepted responsibility for its involvement in the fate
of the Jews during the Holocaust and saw a museum inaugurated in the city of
Mechelen, from where trains departed to the Auschwitz death camp.JTA
contributed to this report.