President Shimon Peres is spending his final days in office paying condolence calls to families whose loved ones have fallen in battle
in Operation Preventive Edge.
This was not the way in which he had planned to wind up his career as a public servant, but when duty called, Peres felt that he had no option.
Early in the morning on Monday, he visited the home of the Roval family in Holon. From there he proceeded to the Greenberg family in Hod Hasharon and from there to the Barak family in Herzliya.
Peres embraced the mourners, especially the children of Major (Res) Amotz Greenberg.
But he also embraced the parents of 20-year-old paratrooper Bnaya Rubel and 20-year-old St. Sgt. Eitan Barak with the warmth and compassion that each might receive from a relative or a very close friend.
Peres has been deeply affected by the losses sustained by the Israel Defense Forces, and is pained by them almost as if they were his own personal losses.
Peres spent time sitting with the families and their friends, listening to stories about the soldiers who died before they could realize even a fraction of their dreams.
In each home he explained that as President he had come to express the gratitude and pride of the nation in the sons of the nation who gave their lives in defense of the nation.
He also spoke of the importance of the operation, saying that Israel has no alternative, and must triumph over Hamas in order to prevent a series of massacres of communities bordering Gaza, should terrorists succeed in penetrating Israel via the tunnels.
Peres cited the example of terrorists entering Kibbutz Sufa last week with the aim of slaughtering as many people as possible. Fortunately they were intercepted before they could carry out their plan.
Peres reiterated that Israel is interested in peace not war, but that Hamas had provided no choice.
Relating to scenes of dead civilians in Gaza who had been killed when Israel retaliated against the barrage of rocket fire, Peres said that the pictures were terrible and that Israel had no desire for further bloodshed, but emphasized that only Hamas can stop it by agreeing to a permanent ceasefire. Hamas is responsible, he charged. Israel agreed to the ceasefire proposed by Egypt. Hamas did not.
Peres said that the condolence calls were indescribably painful because in nearly every case it was a young boy willing to pay with his life to prevent further bloodshed on both sides of the border.
In the Rubel family home, Peres learned that the young Staff Sergeant had been named after a valiant Biblical character who had slain a lion in a pit as well as two lion-like men. He had been one of the heroes of King David, and when Bnaya Rubel was born, his parents also wanted him to be a hero – “but not like this” they told Peres through their tears. Bnaya loved his country, they said as they spoke of his commitment to serving it.
“He was a hero and a leader," they said.
Peres could barely contain his emotions in the Greenberg home. He hugged the widow Sagit Greenberg and each of her three children Lihi, Ori and Shira, cupping the face of 12-year-old Ori in his hands.
"I heard you speak yesterday at your father's funeral”, Peres told him. “I could hear your father through your voice, full of love and dedication. You represent the third generation of the values which strengthen the State of Israel."
He told the Greenberg children that their father was a hero who risked his life and fought like a lion. On behalf of the nation, he saluted him. Were it not for Amotz Greenberg and his fellow soldiers, and the IDF detecting the tunnels, said Peres, Israel would have paid a much higher price than that which the battle has cost. Sagit Greenberg told Peres: ”I knew one doesn’t go into combat in the reserves. I knew that Amotz had already passed the age some time ago, but that he would be the first to leave the house and to go to his soldiers in Gaza – and that’s what he did.”
“I know that your love will never die” replied Peres. “We will always remember him, because with his death, he left us with hope.”
The president’s visit was a bitter-sweet moment for the Barak family. “I always wanted to meet you Mr. President, but I never thought it would be under circumstances like this” said Eitan’s father David Barak, who did not let go of the president’s hand until Peres was ready to leave.
“Eitan could connect to everyone” said his father. “He liked everyone, and he was modest and sensitive.”
Peres responded that he was proud to sit with Eitan’s family, and he was proud of their wonderful son who had been an unstoppable hero.
Peres took on the emotionally draining task of visiting bereaved families in order to remove some of the pressure from incoming President Reuven Rivlin whose inauguration will take place on Thursday.
Peres said that it was unfair for Rivlin to begin his term as president with such a heavy emotional load.
After visiting the families Peres said that he had encountered the full strength of Israel and had no doubt that she would emerge victorious from this latest challenge to her existence.