There is a picture not widely known by Israelis, but one that was chosen by the Saudi- owned Al-Sharq al-Awsat for its coverage of Shimon Peres’s death. In it, the president is surrounded by five blackmasked, armed border policemen, while he himself points a large gun. Peres is clearly enjoying himself in the 2011 photograph and grins broadly, something that no doubt disturbs Arab viewers who associate the Border Police with the killing of Palestinians.
Above the picture is the headline, “Passing of the father of the Israeli nuclear [bomb], and the hero of the trilateral aggression against Egypt and the Qana massacre.”
Perceived as a hero in Israel and revered as the last founding father of the country, Peres is seen quite differently through Arab eyes. Media coverage of his death in the Arab world generally depicts him as anything but a peacemaker, linking him to the 1948 Nakba, or catastrophe of Palestinian displacement, highlighting the 1996 shelling of a UN compound at Qana in southern Lebanon, where refugees were seeking shelter, that took place under his watch as prime minister, stressing his role in the building of the Dimona nuclear reactor and dismissing him as someone who spoke a lot about peace but did little to achieve it.
The negative coverage shows just how out of step Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was with Arab opinion on this issue when he sent a condolence letter to Peres’s family praising him and voicing sadness over death. If the media are any indication, any Arab leader or ambassador who comes to Friday’s funeral will be going against the grain. He may gain points in Washington, but it will alienate many at home, who, if anything, are resentful over the way the world is lionizing Peres.
“This butcher did what he did and the world applauded,” wrote someone in a talkback response to Al-Jazeera.net’s coverage, who wrote under the name Kamel al-Qadi.
Another talkbacker, who identified himself as Muhammad Ben Yunes, termed the funeral “a golden opportunity for the Arab Zionists to make pilgrimage to Israel and show their affiliations. We will see who has the courage to stay away. He who sends a representative is as if he attended himself. There is no giving of condolences to your enemies.”
Al-Sharq al-Awsat correspondent Nazir Majali, writing from Tel Aviv, gave voice to the widespread Arab sense that the world is misrepresenting Peres.
“Despite what is known about Peres internationally, that he was a man of peace wanting to build a new Middle East, his history includes many points in which he flowed with the Israeli warlike policy or led it by himself, such as transforming Israel into a nuclear armed state, building its vast military arsenal, implementing the tripartite aggression against Egypt in 1956 and implementing the Qana massacre in southern Lebanon in 1996.”
Peres, the article continued “defended this role by saying he wanted to build a strong Israel, so it could make peace.”
A biographical sketch on Al-Jazeera.net also sought to highlight perceived international hypocrisy about Peres’s legacy, terming him “the butcher of Qana who was crowned with the Nobel Peace Prize.”
It described Peres as a “former member of the Hagana gang responsible for a number of massacres of Palestinians and Arabs.”
In Amman, Jordan Times columnist Daoud Kuttab gave a more nuanced assessment.
“Both Rabin and Peres were hardened Israeli Zionists committed to the need for a ‘Jewish state,’ and [they] had little problems with the way their decisions affected the Palestinians,” he wrote.
“Peres focused a lot on the appearances of peace rather than its reality. His attack on Lebanon after he became prime minister in 1995, following Rabin’s assassination, was one of his biggest mistakes,” Kuttab added. He wrote that the Qana shelling, in which nearly a hundred civilians were killed, may have cost Peres the 1996 election, as Arab Israeli voters punished him by casting blank ballots.
“Peres was a smart, internationally respected Israeli Zionist leader,” Kuttab concluded.
“His high point was the Oslo Accords, but for most Palestinians he was always able to talk about peace but never able to bring peace about.”
Several of the talk-backs on Al-Jazeera.net credited Peres with serving his own people, something they said Arab leaders were failing to do. “I ask God to provide us with a Muslim as sincere to his people as he [Peres] was to his people,” wrote someone who identified himself as Abdul- Salam Abu Suseyn.
Another talkbacker, who wrote under the name Abu Hakim Felestin, wrote that Peres “was a criminal butcher, but he served his people and his Zionist-Jewish belief with all his power, while the leaders of our nation betray the nation externally and internally and deceive one another while disavowing their religion and beliefs for pennies and seats [of power].”
The London-based, Saudi- owned Al-Hayat newspaper termed Peres “the ‘hawk’ who became a ‘dove.’” Correspondent Muhammad Yunis, writing from Ramallah, noted that Peres was awarded the Nobel Prize for the Oslo Accords, but added that “it was an agreement that didn’t result in any progress on the ground.”
Many politicians remember Peres as “a failed peacemaker,” Yunis wrote.
The article explained that Peres’s death confronted the Palestinian leadership with a dilemma, since “any expression of sadness would stir up the anger of the Palestinian street, while ignoring the death would bring negative political reactions” and be used by the Israeli government against the Palestinian leadership.
“What made it even more difficult is that Peres, who was among the founders of the Israeli state on the ruins of the Palestinian people who were expelled into exile in refugee camps, became a dove of peace in comparison to the newer leadership of Israel, [who are] affiliated with the right-wing tendency that doesn’t believe in minimal conditions for resolving the conflict, like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu” and his ministers, the article said.
Pressure mounted further on the Palestinian leadership when it became clear that US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Britain’s Prince Charles and other luminaries had indicated they would attend the funeral. “Long hours passed before the Palestinian presidency announced that President Abbas sent a condolence letter to the family,” Yunis wrote.
Abbas’s letter praised Peres as being a partner to “the peace of the brave,” along with Rabin and Yasser Arafat.
But Yunis stressed that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza don’t see the Oslo Accords as having been a brave step. He wrote that the “Palestinian masses,” who found that the Oslo Accords brought “more settlements, more Judaization of Jerusalem, more land theft and more movement restrictions,” expressed themselves on Facebook more freely about Peres than the Palestinian Authority officials.
Al-Hayat quoted Fatin Farhat, whom it described as a known cultural personality in Ramallah, as writing on her page, “It’s regrettable that Peres and Sharon died before they could be tried for war crimes, regrettable and unjust.”