Israelis cry for Peres, but no tears from Palestinians


Tel Aviv (AFP)

Israelis were united in mourning Wednesday after the death of 93-year-old former president Shimon Peres, the last of the state's founding fathers.

But while grief was widespread for Israelis, among Palestinians responses tended to be diametrically opposed after decades of hostility between them.

On the streets of major Palestinian cities, people labelled Peres a "war criminal" and accused him of "massacres".

In the centre of the Israeli commercial capital Tel Aviv, Liora Levy, an Israeli woman in her 50s, was in tears. She said she was going to work with a heavy heart.

"He was one of the best. It's a terrible day, a day of sorrow, a day of mourning," she said.

Radio and television programming was interrupted after the announcement early on Wednesday, switching between special editions and archive footage from the 1950s.

With the programmes Israelis immersed themselves in their history, a part of which disappears with Peres's passing.

But the mourning Israelis feel has not so far resulted in major gatherings or candle-lit vigils as happened after the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish extremist in 1995.

This was partly because Israelis felt prepared by multiple "false alarms" as Peres's health faltered in his final years, several people said.

- 'From heaven' -

"He was someone sent from heaven, a very, very great man who made us feel so good," said Kalman Belhassan, an octogenarian crossing Rabin Square in Tel Aviv.

In the same square, a teacher gave an impromptu class on Peres, who held almost every senior political position in Israel and won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize along with Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

He was active until the end of his life and had for his 93rd birthday joined the social media network Snapchat.

"In life I have had two examples: my father and Shimon Peres. He was a hero," yoga teacher Chemi Weber told AFP.

Weber is among potentially thousands of Israelis who plan to visit Jerusalem Thursday, where the coffin of the late president will be displayed at the Israeli parliament.

On Wednesday, Israelis did not want to speak ill of Peres but during his lifetime, like Rabin, he was the subject of much resentment from the nationalist right -- who loathed the Oslo peace accords the two men agreed with the Palestinians.

"I come from a rightwing family, so a completely different party than his, but I respected him. He is someone who did a lot for Israel," Emmanuel Kipnisch from Tel Aviv said.

- 'Go to hell' -

In contrast, in the Palestinian territories, good words about the former president were hard to find.

Hossam Qiblaoui, a 52-year-old trader, was typical of responses when he labelled Peres "a criminal, a butcher."

Tamer Daraghmeh, a 47-year-old in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority born of the Oslo Accords, accused Peres of being complicit in "many massacres. He made many widows and orphaned children."

Saber Farraj was angry Peres was being portrayed as "a man of peace," pointing out he was a key figure in Israel's undeclared nuclear programme.

"How can a man of peace kill children? Would a man of peace (build) nuclear weapons?"

"He got the Nobel Peace Prize but he was not a man of peace," Abdessalam al-Hau, who lives in Gaza, added.

"Let him go to hell," said Hossam al-Hajouj, also from the small enclave ravaged by three wars with Israel since 2008.

Sitting drinking tea, Mouayyed Odeh, a 28-year-old actor, however said there is "a truth we Palestinians have to recognise."

"No Arab leader until now has done for his country what Peres did for his," he said.

"He was one of the founders of what they call the state of Israel. Everything he did against the Palestinians he was convinced he was doing for his state and to settle permanently on this land."