There is no friendship deeper than one based on a shared vision.
In 2006, Shimon Peres established the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galillee, and became its first Minister. From there we were blessed with a decade full of encouragement and connection, continuing through his presidency and onward.
Peres was always a strong supporter of the Negev and Galilee. In 1944, encouraged by his mentor, David Ben Gurion, Peres led an illicit and dangerous expedition to the Negev. Back then, it was a closed military zone, guarded by British patrol – entry was only allowed with a rare permit. The group was made up of idealistic teenagers, a Palmach scout, a zoologist, and an archaeologist. The trip had been planned by the head of the Palmach, with a goal to strengthen the Jewish presence in the Negev, so as to include it in the future Jewish State. The group ended up being caught and arrested by a Bedouin camel patrol led by a British officer. They were taken to Be’er Sheva, then a small town, and given a two-week jail sentence. Peres, as the leader, landed a heavy fine (Gilbert, Martin: Israel: A History). The expedition’s rough ending, however, didn’t discourage Peres – he continued to believe in the importance of keeping a strong Negev and Galilee.
During his tenure in the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee, he stressed “the Israeli government has the obligation to develop and strengthen the Negev, and make sure that all of the residents have employment, education, and a high quality of life, just like the residents of the Center. This will bring an essential change among the Negev’s communities, following to the legacy of my teacher and rabbi, David Ben Gurion.”
In 2010, President Shimon Peres honored us with his presence at the cornerstone ceremony for our Gateway to the Negev, the new OR Movement HQ. We were young dreamers, we didn’t even have a shekel in our budget for the Negev Visitor Center – to which we had dedicated half the building. But he believed in us, and encouraged us. In a powerful moment, he stood up and said to all the people of OR “I am sure that you could recruit the entire USA to help, and you could shake up all of the State of Israel – don’t hesitate, do it!”
Dear Shimon Peres, we did. The Negev Visitor Center is now complete, and will be open to the public on Ben Gurion day, in two months. Today, we are proud to have a shared legacy where you chiseled the stones.