Former Israeli PM thanks St. Louis for support

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Shimon Peres, Israel’s deputy prime minister, and the only Israeli to have served in governments going all the way back to Israel’s founding in l948, expressed “the deep appreciation of the people of Israel to the Jewish community of St. Louis, and Jewish communities throughout the United States for their generous support of Israel’s emergency needs” in the aftermath of the recent war in Lebanon.

Peres spent Monday in St. Louis to support local fundraising efforts for the State of Israel, and answered a wide range of questions from local media at a news conference at the Ritz Carlton. Peres, who previously served as Israel’s prime minister and practically every major cabinet position during his long career, was introduced to local media by Dr. Heschel Raskas, president of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, who thanked Peres for traveling to St. Louis to help raise funds for the Jewish Federation’s Israel Emergency Campaign.

The Jewish Federation has set a goal of $2.5 million for the Israel Emergency Campaign, of which $2.25 million has been raised to date for humanitarian and social services for all Israelis, Jewish, Arab and Druze, whose lives were disrupted by the war in Lebanon between Israel and the Hezbollah terrorist group.

“We do not ask Americans to fight our wars for us,” Peres said. “Israel is a small country only sixty years old, and yet we have already fought six wars. We deeply appreciate the support provided Israel by the United States government, and we also appreciate the support provided by the American Jewish community, including that of St. Louis.”

Peres was to fly to Detroit for another round of fundraising before going to New York for the meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations, and returning to the State of Israel to celebrate Rosh Hashanah.

“The most recent war in Lebanon was different from the others,” Peres told the news conference. “This war was started by terrorists, Hezbollah, equipped with modern weapons. Over 4,000 rockets were fired into our cities in the northern and central parts of our country. It was a war which was more ballistic than territorial, and it was a war led by an extremist Muslim minority whose goal is to conquer the world and turn into an Islamic hegemonic power.”

Peres said the war “was a very tough time for us in Israel. People were driven from their homes, many of which were destroyed. A million acres of trees and crops were burned in our arid climate from the rockets. We must replant those trees and crops, repair or replace the housing units and places of business. We must find employment for those whose places of business and employment were destroyed. It is in these areas that we come to call upon the Jewish communities in St. Louis, Detroit and elsewhere for their financial assistance, which is greatly appreciated.”

Peres said the northern part of Israel would receive the “lion’s share” of the financial assistance, since it was hardest hit by the relentless attacks by Hezbollah Katyusha rockets, which killed scores of Israelis and wounded thousands more.

“The Galilee is a very beautiful, lush area, which attracts tourism not only for its beauty but for its holiness to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. We need to restore the area as a major priority, along with the damage in Haifa and elsewhere.”

Peres said that as many as 600,000 Israelis were displaced from their homes during the 34 days of fighting in Lebanon, when Hezbollah rockets rained down on Haifa, Nazereth and other cities and towns.

“Iran is a major source of nearly all the problems in our region,” said Peres. “The Iranians support Hezbollah and their goal is to become the hegemonic dominant power in the region. Iran is a rapidly growing country, with 30 million in l980 and over 70 million people now. Iran’s support of terrorism and seeking of a nuclear weapon threaten the entire region and keep the focus off of the regime’s failure to provide for the needs of its growing population. There is much unemployment and widespread dissatisfaction in Iran.”

Asked if Hezbollah was likely to spark another war in the region, Peres said, “I don’t think they’d have the taste for it. We estimate that of the 2,500 Hezbollah fighters in the south of Lebanon, over 600 were killed and 1,000 wounded. The Lebanese people are also asking why they started the war which destroyed their homes, and using the $l50 million they receive from Iran to buy l2,000 rockets instead of peaceful activities.”

Peres also attacked critics of Israel who have said the nation’s response to the Hezbollah kidnapping of Israeli soldiers across the border was “disproportionate.

“What is proportionate about 4,000 rockets being fired into our cities?” Peres said. “What if Cuba fired 4,000 missiles at the United States? Israel did not fire missiles; it destroyed Hezbollah rocket launchers.”

Peres, the last major Israeli official to have served with Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion back in l948 was asked if he was more optimistic or pessimistic now than he was in l948 after Israel proclaimed its independence and faced its War of Independence.

“To me, being optimistic is about how we live our lives. We have continued to live our lives and to look forward more than backward since l948; as we approach the Jewish New Year, I remain optimistic and wish everyone here a Shana Tova, a Happy New Year!”