A delegation of at least 20 Israeli-Arab council heads arrived at the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa on Sunday to pay a shiva call to the family of the late Shimon Peres, two days after his funeral in Jerusalem was boycotted by the 13-member Joint (Arab) List party, which claims to represent Israel’s Arab community.
Peres passed away early Wednesday at the age of 93, two weeks after suffering a massive stroke. His funeral Friday was attended by dozens of heads of state, including US President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Francois Hollande and others. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other Fatah officials, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry were also present.
The Joint List party announced Thursday that its members would not participate in the funeral, citing a “complicated” history.
“We came here in the name of the Arab community and in the name of all of the Israeli-Arab regional councils to participate in the mourning of Shimon Peres and to express our condolences to the family, may his memory be a blessing,” said Mazen Ghanem, the mayor of Sakhnin and chairman of the Arab Councils Forum, adding that the Joint List’s boycott of the funeral did not represent Israeli-Arabs.
“Those who boycotted [the funeral] did so of their own accord and not in the name of the Arab community,” Ghanem said Sunday.
“There are people who make history. Shimon Peres believed in peace and equality and the [Peres] center says everything about this giant of a man. We are here in the name of the Arab community,” he said.
“Today, we need [Peres] more than ever”, Ghanem told Ynet, adding that he hopes other Israeli leaders follow Peres’s vision for peace.
Naim Shibli, the head of the Shibli Regional Council at the foot of Mt. Tabor, said “Peres was a great man, a man of peace, and a man who could envision 1,000 years into the future,” and criticized the members of the Joint List for boycotting the funeral.
“They should come here and mourn the loss with the family,” he said.
Other heads of local councils from communities in Israel’s north and south also praised Peres as a peace-seeker and a leader who has done great things for his country and his people.
Nizar Alimi, an adviser to Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog, said he was “embarrassed by the Joint List MKs who receive their paychecks from the State of Israel and didn’t come to pay their respects.”
Alimi called them a “disgrace” and said that they had “betrayed their constituents and are cut off from their constituency.”
He singled out the Balad party, one of the four Arab-majority parties that make up the Joint List faction, for its “extremist line taking over the party” and warned that it “will bring about a new Nakba against the Israeli-Arabs.” Nakba is the Arabic word for “catastrophe” and is the term Arabs and Palestinians use to refer to the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 after the War of Independence in which thousands of Arabs fled or were forcibly displaced from their homes and communities.
Peres’s daughter Tsvia Walden thanked the delegation members for coming, calling them “brave people.”
“There are those who believe that we can’t live here together, but we can. Without you, we wouldn’t be able to live here. We all believe in a better future,” she said.
Since Saturday evening, hundreds of Israelis arrived at the center to answer the Peres family’s shiva call. Hundreds more flocked to the grave at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem to pay tribute to the last of the country’s founding fathers.
The center was adorned with pictures from Peres’s life. Visitors were invited to walk around and explore the former president’s work. Many approached the family to speak with them. Attendees included US Ambassador Dan Shapiro and Supreme Court Chief Justice Miriam Naor, United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni and former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo.
On Friday night, the head of the Joint List, Knesset Member Ayman Odeh, defended the unanimous decision of his party members not to attend the funeral, saying it was a “national day of mourning in which I have no place; not in the narrative, not in the symbols that exclude me, not in the stories of Peres as a man who built up Israel’s defenses.”
“On the personal and human level, I feel the pain [of Peres’s passing], but not on the national level,” Odeh said.
Peres led Israel through some of its most defining moments: creating what is believed to be a nuclear arsenal in the 1950s; disentangling its troops from Lebanon and rescuing its economy from triple-digit inflation in the 1980s; and guiding a skeptical nation into peace talks with the Palestinians in the 1990s.
In 1994, he shared a Nobel Peace Prize with former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for negotiating an interim peace accord with the Palestinians.