Shimon Peres Reflects on Working Toward Peace

The world into which I was born no longer exists, but I have been fortunate enough to be present at the birth of a new world-sometimes as an onlooker, sometimes as an active participant in the act of creation.

But even now I am not inclined to give up dreaming. Two dreams in particular take up much of my waking thoughts. One concerns the future of the Jewish people, the other the future of the Middle East.

In the new era the world has now entered upon, the wealth and power of nations depend more on the development of intellectual resources than on the possession of natural resources. Quality is the key criterion rather than quantity, universalism is superseding nationalism. All this poses new problems that nations and their leaders have not had to grapple with before. In the past, a nation's identity was molded from its people's special characteristics, the geography of its land, the unique properties of its language and culture. Today, science has no national identity, technology no homeland, information no passport. A country's intellectual standard is more significant than its size. The productivity of its arable land counts for more than its acreage.

Modern man speaks two languages: the language of verbal communication and the language of computers. National cultures and heritages must compete for man's attention with the mind-absorbing advances of universal science.

The Jewish people's challenge in today's world is to defend its unique heritage. This is no less demanding a task than was the previous national challenge-the physical defense of the homeland. Preserving the Hebrew language in the world of today and tomorrow is as much a strategic undertaking as guarding the borders has been until now. The test is how to ensure that our children remain Jewish-Jewish not merely by their ethnic origins but by their self-identity and sense of mission.

In history, Judaism has been far more successful than the Jews themselves. Jews were frequently persecuted, exiled, plundered, and murdered. The Jewish people remained small and weak, but the Jewish spirit went on from strength to strength. The Bible is to be found in hundreds of millions of homes throughout the monotheistic world.

The moral majesty of the Book of Books has been undefeated by the vicissitudes of history. On the contrary, time and again history has succumbed to the Bible's immortal ideas. The message that the one, invisible God created Man in his image, and that there are therefore no higher and lower order of man, has fused with the realization that morality is the highest form of wisdom-and perhaps of beauty and courage, too. It is that which distinguishes man from beast. Slings and arrows and gas chambers can annihilate men, but they cannot destroy human values, dignity, and freedom.

Jewish history presents an encouraging lesson for humankind. For nearly four thousand years, a small nation carried a great message. For part of this period, the nation dwelt on its own land; later, it wandered in exile. This small nation swam against the tides and was repeatedly beaten, banished, and downtrodden. There is no example in all of history-neither among the great empires nor among their colonies and dependencies-of a nation, after so long a saga of tragedy and misfortune, rising up again, shaking itself free, gathering together its dispersed remnants, and setting out anew on its national adventure, defeating doubters within and enemies without, reviving its land and its language, rebuilding its identity, and reaching toward new heights of distinction and excellence. The message of the Jewish people to mankind is that faith can triumph over all adversity.

The Jews are traditionally the People of the Book, but in today's world the book must fight to hold its own against the screen. The depth of the book must compete against the speed of the screen. Man's natural image, as portrayed in print, must vie with his made-up face as it appears on camera. The screen, of course, has clear advantages in this struggle: it is accessible, ubiquitous, absorbed without effort. It amuses and entertains us. But the screen, ultimately, distorts our image.

The conflicts [of the future] will be over the content of civilizations, not over the territory they occupy. Over many centuries, Jewish culture has lived on alien soil. Now, it has taken root again in its own soil. For the first time in history, some five million people speak Hebrew as their native language. That is both a lot and a little: a lot because there have never been so many Hebrew speakers before; but a little because a culture based on five million people can hardly withstand the pervasive, corrosive effects of the global television culture.

In the five decades of Israel's existence, our efforts have been focused on reestablishing our territorial center. In the future, we shall have to devote our main effort to reestablishing our spiritual center. The Jewish people is neither a nation nor a religion in the accepted sense of those terms. Its essence is a message rather than a political structure, a faith rather than an ecclesiastical hierarchy. The Jewish people and the Jewish religion are one and the same. Judaism-or Jewishness-is a fusion of belief, history, land, and language. Being Jewish means belonging to a people that is both a chosen people and a universal people. My greatest dream is that our children, like our forefathers, do not make do with the transient and the sham but continue to plow the historic Jewish furrow in the field of the human spirit. My hope is that Israel will become the center and source of our heritage, not merely a homeland for our people; that the Jewish people will not need to depend on others but will give of itself to others.

As for our region, the Middle East, Israel's role is to contribute to the region's great and sustained revival. It will be a Middle East without wars, without fronts, without enemies, without ballistic missiles, and without nuclear warheads. A Middle East in which people, goods, and services can move freely from place to place without the need for customs clearance and police licenses. A Middle East in which every believer will be free to pray in his own language, Arabic or Hebrew or Latin or whatever language he chooses, and in which his prayers will reach their destination without censorship, without interference, and without offending anyone. A Middle East in which nations strive for economic equality, but encourage cultural pluralism. A Middle East in which every young man and woman can attain a university education. A Middle East in which living standards are in no way inferior to those in the most advanced countries of the world. A Middle East in which waters flow to slake thirst, to make crops grow and deserts bloom, in which no hostile borders bring death, hunger, or despair on the peoples of the region. A Middle East of competition, not of domination. A Middle East in which men and women are their neighbors' allies, not their hostages. A Middle East that is not a killing field but a field of creativity and growth. A Middle East that honors its past history deeply in that it strives to add new, noble chapters to that history.



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