World

Shimon Peres remembered as a visionary who worked tirelessly for Israel

Israelis waiting in line Thursday to pay their respects to Shimon Peres, their former prime minister and president, remembered him as a man who dedicated his life to the country and recruited friends and allies from around the world to his cause.

Former PM and president died Wednesday at the age of 93

Israeli member of parliament Yisrael Eichler prays besides the flag-draped coffin of former Israeli president Shimon Peres, as he lies in state at the Knesset plaza outside the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem. Politicians and the public came to pay their respects to the former leader Thursday. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

As Israelis gathered in the warm afternoon sun in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem Thursday, waiting in line to pay their respects to Shimon Peres, they exchanged stories of brief encounters with the man who spent more than 70 years serving his country.

Thousands came out to view Peres's casket, draped in the blue and white Israeli flag, as the body of the former prime minister and president lies in state in Knesset plaza outside Israel's parliament.

Peres died on Wednesday after suffering a massive stroke two weeks ago. He was 93.

"I was his bodyguard for a year," said Ariel Mazouz, who decided to take his son and daughter out of school for the day to travel to Jerusalem with his wife to pay their respects.

He dedicated his life to the people of Israel. He's a man of hope for us.- Ariel Mazouz, former bodyguard for Shimon Peres

"My strongest memory of him was his schedule. He used to work 24 hours a day. As a bodyguard, that upsets you a bit, because he used to work non-stop. He dedicated his life to the people of Israel. He's a man of hope for us."

Peres maintained a reputation of having limitless energy, even in his 90s, when he served as Israel's president. He saw the power of social media, attracting hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook and joining Snapchat to celebrate turning 93.

He served twice as Israel's prime minister, and in 1994, as foreign minister, shared the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in negotiating the Oslo peace accords with the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and then Israeli prime minister Yitzak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995.

Never stopped working for Israel

"[Peres] has a vision, and that's what I wanted to show my kids," said Michal Mazouz, as she stood next to her husband and son and daughter. "You don't always have to agree with his opinion and his politics, but you have to honour him because he didn't stop working for Israel until his last two days."

Some waiting in line to pay their respects shared their memories of meeting Peres, who served twice as Israel's prime minister as well as president and foreign minister. (Ariel Schalit/Associated Press)

Mazouz remembers Peres as a "very nice man" when she met him about a decade ago while serving as a press officer at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. She recalls a warm conversation the two shared in a make-up room of a television studio where Peres was giving an interview.

Peres, of course, had his critics. Some Israelis saw him as aloof, an intellectual who wore a suit and not a uniform. 

While he spent much of his life seeking peace with the Palestinians, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip there are few sharing positive memories of the former Israeli leader. Instead, he's remembered as an early supporter of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Ariel Mazouz was Peres's bodyguard for a year and said the politician was always working. He brought his family see him lying in state. (Samer Shalabi/CBC)

A man further down the line outside the Knesset recalled meeting Peres in a restaurant in small-town Israel about two decades ago. A group of students giggled about a visit Peres made to their school when he served as president.

"Israel has so many different kinds of people. I think Shimon Peres proved to us that we can all live together here — that it's possible," said Arielle Alcalay, 18.

Travelled abroad extensively

Peres made more than 60 trips abroad during his presidency, including several to Canada.

Tributes continue to pour in from world leaders, dignitaries and friends who knew Israel's elder statesmen for years. His state funeral will be held Friday, and leaders from around the world, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, are expected to attend.

I'll always remember him as a great friend and a brilliant visionary.- Charles Bronfman, Canadian billionaire

"I'll always remember him as a great friend and a brilliant visionary," said Charles Bronfman, a member of the prominent Jewish-Canadian family who used to own the Seagram's distillery empire.

"He was always a man with his eye on the future. A man who wanted make peace, not just with the Palestinians but all the Arab states and the surrounding countries."

Peres knew four generations of the billionaire Bronfman family.

Bronfman's father, Sam, met with a young Peres in 1947 in Canada, where Peres had traveled to try to secure weaponry for the what would soon become the state of Israel.

Shimon Peres: 'War unites, peace divides.'

6 years ago
Duration 1:11
Interview with Peter Mansbridge originally aired March 2006

Cannons from Canada

An international embargo blocked the sale of arms to Arab countries and Israel following the Second World War. Canada, the United States and Britain were in possession of everything from ammunition to machine guns after the war ended.

"Peres came to visit my father," Charles Bronfman told CBC News, "and asked him how he could procure for the just-about-to-be-born state of Israel, cannons, '25 pounders' they were called."

Charles Bronfman recalled how Peres came to see his father, Sam Bronfman, after the end of the Second World War and asked him for help procuring cannons for the nascent state of Israel. (Charles Bronfman)

Sam Bronfman drove Peres in his Cadillac from Montreal to Ottawa, where he arranged a meeting with C.D. Howe, known as the "minister of everything."

It went well for Peres, who convinced the Canadian government to sell him several of the portable artillery units.

"Howe cut the price in half. Instead of $2 million it was $1 million," Bronfman said. "And as they left and dad said to Peres, 'Well that's all very nice, where you going to get the money for these guns?' And Peres said, 'From you.' And dad was flabbergasted."

The elder Bronfman hastily arranged a dinner party, and the money was raised, and the cannons eventually got to Israel.

Bronfman says this first trip to Canada by Peres began what he calls a "very strong" relationship the Israeli statesman would build with Canadians over many decades.

"Shimon was always very, very fond of Canada," he said. "He was a visionary, a man who could talk to Pierre Trudeau, intellectual to intellectual. But he could also be a very fun guy."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Derek Stoffel

World News Editor

Derek Stoffel is a former Middle East correspondent, who covered the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and reported from Syria during the ongoing civil war. Based in Jerusalem for many years, he covered the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. He has also worked throughout Europe and the U.S., and reported on Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.

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