WASHINGTON – President Shimon Peres was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Wednesday – the highest civilian award the United States government can bestow upon an individual.
In a gala dinner held in Washington in Peres' honor, US President Barack Obama praised the Israeli president's legacy and efforts on behalf of peace.
"The United States is fortunate to have many allies and partners around the world. Of course, one of our strongest allies, and one of our closest friends, is the State of Israel.
"And no individual has done so much over so many years to build our alliance and bring our two nations closer as the leader we honor tonight – our friend, Shimon Peres."
"Shimon knows the necessity of strength. As Ben-Gurion said, 'an Israel capable of defending herself – which cannot be destroyed – can bring peace nearer.' And so he's worked with every American President since John F. Kennedy. And it’s why I’ve worked with Prime Minister Netanyahu to ensure that the security cooperation between the United States and Israel is closer and stronger than it has ever been. Because the security of the State of Israel is non-negotiable. And the bonds between us are unbreakable.
'One of our strongest allies.' Peres (L) and Obama (Photo: AFP)
"And yet, Shimon knows that a nation’s security depends, not just on the strength of its arms, but upon the righteousness of its deeds – its moral compass," the president continued.
"He knows, as Scripture teaches, that we must not only seek peace, we must pursue it. And so it has been the cause of his life – peace, security and dignity, for Israelis and Palestinians and all Israel’s Arab neighbors," Obama said.
'Awards honors all Israelis'
Accepting the award, Peres said he was profoundly moved by the honor, adding that it was "a testament to the historic friendship" between Israel and the US.
"I receive this honor today on behalf of the People of Israel. They are the true recipients of this honor. With this moving gesture, you are paying tribute to generations upon generations of Jews who dreamed of, and fought for, a State of their own.
"You are honoring the pioneers who built homes on barren mountains, on shifting sands. Fighters who sacrificed their lives for their country. On their behalf, I thank America for days of concern, for sleepless nights, caring for our safety, for our future," Peres said.
'Israel admires the United States' (Photo: Reuters)
"Mr. President, You have pledged a lasting friendship for Israel. You stated that Israel’s security is 'sacrosanct. So you pledged. So you acted. As a great leader, as a genuine friend.
"Israel admires the United States, for being a land of the free, a home of the brave, a nation of generosity. A world without the United States and her values would have been chaotic.
"My vision is an Israel living in full, genuine peace, joining with all the people of the Middle East, former enemies and new friends alike, with Jerusalem becoming the capital of peace," Peres continued.
"My vision is an Israel whose moral call is old as the Ten Commandments tablets and whose imagination is as new as a digital tablet. Together, our ancient and modern vision can help bring Tikkun Olam.
"Dear friends, my greatest hope is that a dawn will rise where every man and woman, Israeli or Palestinian, Syrian or Lebanese, young people, wherever they are, will wake up and be able to say to themselves: 'I am free to be free. Amen."
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