Childhood & Early Life
He was born on August 2, 1923, as Szymon Perski in Wiszniew, Poland in the family of Yitzhak Perski and Sara Perski. His father was an affluent timber merchant and his mother worked as a librarian.
He was raised at the house of his grandfather, Rabbi Zvi Meltzer who educated him and taught him Talmud. His grandfather had a great influence in his early life.
His father moved to Tel Aviv in 1932 and the family joined his father in 1934. In Tel Aviv he studied in ‘Balfour Elementary School’ and ‘Balfour High School’ and later at ‘Geula Gymnasium’. Thereafter, he attended Ben Shemen agricultural school.
For many years he stayed in Kibbutz Geva. He was a co-founder of Kibbutz Alumot.
In 1941 he became the Secretary of a ‘Labor Zionist’ youth movement called the ‘Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed’.
After coming back to Alumot he became secretary of the Kibbutz and led life as a shepherd and dairy farmer.
The ‘Holocaust’ massacre during the reign of the Nazis claimed lives of all his relatives living in Wiszniew in 1941.
When he was twenty he became one of the twelve elected members of the ‘Working and Learning Youth’ national secretariat of which only two including him were ‘Mapai’ party supporters. He led the movement after three years and went on to win a majority.
He was inducted in the secretariat of ‘Mapai’ by its head David Ben-Gurion.
He led an illegal quest encompassing a group of teenagers, an archaeologist, a zoologist and a Palmach scout to the restricted military zone at Negev in 1944. While the idea of the expedition was that of Yitzhak Sadeh, the Palmach head, it was funded by David Ben-Gurion. However, a British officer leading a Bedouin camel patrol arrested the group and interned them in a local jail in Beersheba for two weeks, Shimon Peres had to pay additional fine.
He and Moshe Dayan were made the youth delegates in the 1946 ‘Mapai’ delegation to the ‘Zionist Congress’.
He enlisted in the ‘Haganah’, a Jewish paramilitary organisation in 1947 and was delegated with the responsibility of arm purchase and personnel management.
In early 1950s he served as the director of the delegation of Defence Ministry in the US. There he attended ‘The New School’ and the ‘New York University’ and learnt English, philosophy and economics. He also attended ‘Harvard University’ to study advanced management.
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He became the Deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Defense in 1952 and in 1953 he was appointed Director-General of the Ministry of Defense by the then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. He was the youngest person to serve in the post and held it till 1959. His responsibilities included initiating strategic alliances and purchase of arms.
Through his negotiation Israel successfully signed up a tri-national agreement with the UK and France, obtained advanced Dassault Mirage III French jet fighter and set up the ‘Dimona’ nuclear reactor.
Since 1954 he participated in planning of the 1956 Suez War with the UK and France in the capacity of Director-General of the Ministry of Defense of Israel and visited Paris a few times in this pursuit.
When Israel resolved to go to war against Egypt by 1956, France evolved as the closest partner of Israel in the Middle East. The UK and France strategized with Israel, in its war against Egypt, to achieve their objective of taking control of the Suez Canal through a pre-planned mid-war intervention thus placing it under Anglo-French management. Their plan however failed following severe adverse response from USSR and the US.
In 1959 he was elected as a member of the Knesset representing ‘Mapai’ party and became the Deputy Defense Minister, a position he held till 1965.
In 1965 he left ‘Mapai’ party along with David Ben-Gurion, who formed ‘Rafi’ party. He became secretary general of the new party.
Thereafter, ‘Mapai’, ‘Rafi’ and ‘Ahdut HaAvoda’ merged on January 23, 1968 to form the ’Israeli Labor Party’.
He held several ministerial positions including Minister of Immigrant Absorption in 1969, Minister of Transportation and Communications from 1970 to 1974 and Information Minister in 1974. After a brief period he became the Minister of Defense in 1974 and held the post till 1977.
He became the leader of the party before the 1977 elections. When the then Prime Minister Rabin resigned following a scandal, Peres served as acting Prime Minister from April 22, 1977 to June 21, 1977.
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He was made the chairman of the party following its defeat in the 1977 elections, a post he held till 1992.
In 1984 a ‘National Unity Government’ was formed where he became the Prime Minister of Israel for two non-consecutive terms in a rotation arrangement with Yitzhak Shamir, leader of the ‘Likud’ party.
He remained Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1986 to 1988 and thereafter Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance till 1990.
The ‘Israeli Labor Party’ made a comeback in the 1992 elections and Peres once again became the Minister of Foreign Affairs. The ‘Treaty of Peace’ with Jordan was signed in October 1994.
He became Prime Minister of Israel for the second time in November 1995 following assassination of Yitzhak Rabin on November 4 that year. He held the post till June 18, 1996.
‘The Peres Center for Peace’ that aims to create a foundation of peace between the people of the Middle East and advocates for social and economic development was founded by him in 1996.
He was a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee member at the Knesset from 1996 to 1999.
From July 1999 to March 2001 he remained the Minister of Regional Cooperation and thereafter served as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in the National Unity government till October 2002.
He left ’Israeli Labor Party’ and joined a newly formed ‘Kadima’ party on November 30, 2005 to support Ariel Sharon.
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He became Minister for the Development of the Negev and Galillee and also Vice Prime Minister in May 2006 after ‘Kadima’ won the elections and Ariel Sharon became Prime Minister of Israel.
The Knesset elected him as the 9th President of Israel on June 13, 2007. He took charge from July 15, 2007 and held the position till July 24, 2014.
Queen Elizabeth II conferred upon him the honorary ‘Knight Grand Cross’ of the ‘Order of St Michael and St George’ in November 2008.
In June 2012 President of United States, Barack Obama conferred upon him the ‘Presidential Medal of Freedom’.
He has written eleven books including ‘The Next Step’ (1965), ‘The New Middle East’ (1993), ‘For the Future of Israel’ (1998) and ‘Ben Gurion: A Political Life’ (2011).
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Sonya Gelman in May 1945. She chose to keep away from public eye.
On January 20, 2011, she succumbed to heart failure in her home in Tel Aviv.
His daughter Dr. Tsvia ("Tsiki") Valdan and two sons Yoni Peres and Nehemia ("Chemi") Peres are all accomplished personalities in their respective fields.
Shimon Peres died on 28 September 2016 after suffering a massive stroke two weeks ago.