The Liberty Medal Ncc Logo

SHIMON PERES

Acceptance Speech


Shimon Peres
Former Prime Minister of the State of Israel

July 4, 1996
Independence Hall
Philadelphia, PA


Mayor Rendell and Ambassador Tarawneh (of Jordan), distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.


Thank you for deeming me worthy to receive The Liberty Medal, and to share this honor with so esteemed a personality as His Majesty King Hussein, with whom, for more than 20 years, we have worked to build peace between our peoples and to bring a comprehensive peace to the entire Middle East.


Nine years ago, the King and I met privately at the home of Lady and Lord Mishkon in London; we sat together for eight hours and reached an agreement. The Lady served dinner herself, since the domestics had been given the day off, to ensure secrecy. When we finished eating, the King suggested that we wash the dishes but Lady Mishkon would not hear of it. Our meeting did not remain secret and our agreement was never implemented. It took another seven years before we could finally, openly, sign a peace agreement. I wonder what might have happened had the Lady permitted us to wash the dishes.


King Hussein and the Hashemite Kingdom represent a glorious heritage that dates back to the early days of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula. They exemplify religious tolerance, and a capacity to overcome the enmities of the past so as to establish a formidable bridge over turbulent waters, a bridge built of determined faith that gives hope to the peoples living on both sides of the Jordan.


Ladies and Gentlemen,
For us, this medal symbolizes liberty from war. It is aptly awarded in Philadelphia – the cradle of American liberty. In this city, we feel, history blessed the New World, indeed the whole world. Philadelphia founded by William Penn, became a haven for people persecuted for their religious beliefs, and it has become a symbol of liberty for the entire world. Ever since the representatives of the Second Continental Congress approved the United States’ Declaration of Independence, 220 years ago, the world has breathed the fresh air of liberty. The chimes of the Liberty Bell resounded not only in the nascent American nation, but throughout a tired world yearning to hear them. This great promise still resides in the hearts of those denied their liberty and it must continue to echo until the meaning of Philadelphia literally “brotherly love” in Greek is victorious.


The United States is the story of rebellion against the arbitrary use of power. It is the story of a determined journey from the shores of servitude to the ports of justice and equality as set down in the Scriptures, values that gave birth to the monotheistic faiths.


The struggle for liberty is still the most urgent priority of our times. Liberty from oppression, liberty from violence, liberty from evil, liberty from discrimination, liberty from poverty, liberty from ignorance, liberty from the fear of liberty, liberty from any restriction that does not conflict with the liberty of others. Liberty is not a neutral concept. It is a declaration of war against the base instincts not only in the hearts of others, but in our own hearts as well.
The Talmud tells the story of a man who approaches two great sages, Shamai and Hillel, requesting that they teach him the entire Torah – Jewish Law – while standing on one leg. Shamai, impatient, kicks him out. Hillel enlightened, summarizes the Torah in a single sentence: “That which you would hate done to yourself, don’t do unto others.”


The great teacher Rabbi Akiva phrased the same idea like this: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Preventing hatred of your fellow man, and extending love to him, are the two sides of true liberty. Liberty is not merely individualism, but also a social commitment, the creation of a system of social values which respects human life and safeguards human dignity.


The United States, Europe’s rebellious daughter, became a nation of free people founded on astute, wise constitutional principles designed to defend and cull the benefits of liberty in its authentic form. The historical sensation of the United States derives from more than the mere discovery of a new continent. It stems from the creation of a new human identity.

 

Indeed, far more than being a major continent, it is primarily a major constitution. Its constitution established a historic alternative built on balance more than power, and therefore is equipped to withstand the earthquakes which strike us. This constitution became an ethical and legal strength that facilitated a leadership able to combine moral wisdom with scientific openness. It created a new opportunity for millions of people world wide. The American Dream brought the world a new dawn.


The entire world, and especially my people, the Jewish people, owe a huge debt to the United States, which at the most chilling moment of human annals, placed itself at the forefront of the Allies, to beat off the Nazi beast. American sons and daughters went off to that war, and sacrificed their lives, not to accumulate assets but to safeguard values. By doing so, America saved the world from physical, moral, and cultural ruin. The Jews were selected by the Nazis as their first and prime target. My people could not flee this Holocaust, and paid dearly. But their spirit won out. The United States served as the emissary of history and the divine.

 

Today, too, the United States stands as the guardian of human liberty and as an invitation to peace for the entire world. An invitation whose value today scales new heights, given the bright hopes and the dark fears of our time.


Science and technology which have become the main source of man’s power and wealth are the source of a new hope. A hope without borders. Science needs no passport. Technology does not have to go through customs. Information does not stop at silk or iron curtains. One can learn, research, invent and create without heed to location, origin, skin color, or state borders. The world has become an open-air amphitheater in which intelligence displays its foremost potential.


Yet something similar has happened to the dangerous menaces: fundamentalism, extremist nationalism, murderous terrorism – they don’t obey signals, “Stop! Border ahead.” They appear in the hearts of nations, in the center of countries, uninvited, without crossing borders. And so we are going from a world of hostilities and borders, to one of dangers without borders.


The new weaponry has accelerated this change. Missiles are unimpressed by natural obstacles, border demarcations or man-made fortifications. Their trajectory is ballistic, not territorial. With non-conventional weapons, the danger is unquantifiable; conventional defenses are ineffective.


Man and his values hold the key to our opportunities and the dangers facing us. It is clear that today it takes moral strength to prevent wars, just as once it took military strength to win them. In wars, things are relatively straightforward. One needs to recruit one’s entire people to fight to the death against another people. Making peace is more complex. You need to persuade your own people to take risks to achieve agreement with another people in new and unfamiliar territory.


The Middle East has grown accustomed to living amid hostility – with red and black colors. But even though we savored the taste of military victories, we set forth, with the assistance of the United States, to create peacemaking opportunities. The partners must include the enemies of yesterday and those still hesitant today. All should know in their hearts that fundamentalism, and terrorism it breeds, are the enemies of us all, making no distinction between us. These complete or partial understandings must be established without uniforms, without flags, without fanfare – solely on the basis of the need to enter the 21st century without bloodshed.


Can a coalition of peace be built? Peacemaking is not a function of drawing up hypothetical peace plans; it is a process of seeking partners, or creating partners, for peace. The raw material consists of the enemies of yesterday. The ongoing suspicions, the natural fears, the demonization of the other side make this process terribly difficult. I recall how hard it was to persuade ourselves to shake hands with Yasser Arafat. When we signed the agreement with the Palestinians on the White House lawn, the late Prime Minister was first to shake hands with Arafat. I saw reluctance in his face. Then he whispered in my ear, “Now it’s your turn”, as though we were going through a perilous operation. Yet the handshake enabled us to begin a dialogue that eventually liberated us from ruling over the Palestinians, and the Palestinians from being ruled by us.


It also removed the final obstacle to full and open peace with Jordan. It enabled us to achieve a unique peace. Under this accord, we returned territory to Jordan and delineated permanent land and sea borders. We agreed that the border would serve not as a divide but as an opportunity for union. Instead of erecting a barbed wire fence and laying minefields, we agreed to turn the Arava, which spreads out between the Red and the Dead Sea, into a great joint venture. A venture to include hotels, desalination plants, industrial and tourism parks. Hothouses and high-tech plants, joint seaports and airports. The runaway of a joint airport to be built 10 miles north of the Red Sea will be constructed just across the Jordanian side. The terminal will be built on the border itself. Travelers will be able to enter Israel or Jordan. The border will not divide people; people will be able to cross the divide as though it does not exist.


For me, this was the realization of a dream planted when I visited Venice and saw how the shops and workshops on the bridge over the canals transformed the city from isolated islands into a connected whole. The first opportunity I had to implement this concept was when, as minister of defense, I toured along the Lebanese border, where crowds of refugees pleaded for medical assistance and jobs. We decided to erect at the border itself medical centers and employment offices. We called it the “Good Fence,” and the border became quieter than before. The Jordan-Israel experiment is a greater challenge. It shows that a border can spread peace, not just prevent invasion. Plans have been drawn up, goals set, feasibility studies commissioned and the horizon has taken a brighter hue.


If all goes well, and I believe it will, a model of peace without borders will be created. A model of cooperation born of free will, without either side seeking to control the other, without the hegemony of one people over another. Peace requires cooperation among nations. Peace cannot lead a bachelor life – it must get engaged for a lifetime commitment. As a bird cannot take off on one wing, and a man who wants to express his feelings cannot clap with one hand, so peace needs two wings to take off, two hands to endure.


A great deal of work lies ahead. The old Middle East has begun to disappear, but refuses to recede. The new Middle East has begun to arrive, but has not developed fully. The fundamentalists greet it with swords drawn, the conservatives with sour faces. The former have not yet learned the limits of swordplay. The latter still believe that their financial sustenance will continue to come from a sugar daddy, rather than a new economic structure, from a market economy that every nation can adopt. We are living, therefore, in an old landscape which needs to adapt to a new climate.


Ladies and Gentlemen:
Throughout this arduous journey, throughout the efforts to overcome fears and suspicions throughout the negotiation of obstacles and mines – through all these, we were not, and could not, be alone. The United States of America, its President, its administration, Congress, the media and first and foremost the American people, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with peace, helping us to move it forward. We are grateful for that. We are proud that the United States made peace an American interest, a moral value. “And the battle bow shall be cut off; he shall speak peace to the nations,” Zecharia said (Chapter IX, Verse 10).


Permit me to add that, throughout this journey, at times of joy and at times of grief, William Jefferson Clinton, the President of the United States, stood with us in the ongoing effort to make peace. In the tough war against terrorism, in the grueling attempt to build an infrastructure for a new reality; the President was there. Always ready. Always finding the time. Always mobilized for the mission, the first soldier leading the peace camp. My personal gratitude, the gratitude of my people, the gratitude of those who seek peace, goes out to him.


With real humility, I accept this medal because it underlines a deep commitment to the enterprise of peacemaking. An enterprise which has many partners, but foremost among them, my senior partner, Yitzhak Rabin, who paid with his life but did not abandon his path. He was murdered. His mission will continue.


I would also like to express my thanks to Professor Martin Meyerson and the Committee he heads for choosing to highlight the peace process occurring in the historic region where man discovered an invisible God in the heavens and now seeks a visible, feasible peace on earth.