How Shimon Peres and Israel Grew Up Together

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Shimon Peres, the Israeli leader who died Tuesday at 93, could — like so many of his colleagues — trace his own history alongside that of his country.

Born in 1923, he was a quarter-century older than the state of Israel. In his earliest appearance in the pages of TIME, when he was a young director of the Defense Ministry in 1957, he was worried when and whether Israel would reach a population of 5 million; that population is now over 8 million.

As the nation grew, so did his career, through a variety of ministry portfolios, several turns as Prime Minister and eventually the presidency.

In 1977, when he became leader of Israel’s Labor Party, TIME explained how he got there:

Born in Poland, Peres was taken to Palestine at eleven. While still in high school, he joined the Haganah, the famed underground Jewish self-defense organization. In his early 20s, he persuaded the Histadrut youth movement to support David Ben-Gurion. The statesman soon began to groom Peres for a political career. Wearying of desk jobs in the newly established Ministry of Defense, Peres took off for a brief vacation in the U.S. in 1950. He learned English in three months and took advanced courses in philosophy and economics at New York City’s New School for Social Research, New York University and Harvard.

When Peres, at 29, returned to Israel in 1952, Premier Ben-Gurion appointed him to top posts in the Defense Ministry. For the next 13 years, he played the key role in organizing the Israeli Defense Forces, developed the nation’s arms industry and nuclear-research program. He traveled abroad constantly to purchase arms and conduct delicate military negotiations. Peres quickly acquired a reputation as a canny, effective and realistic bargainer. His great coup came in 1955, when he brought off the Franco-Israeli military alliance, involving more than $1 billion in arms purchases from France that made possible the Israeli victories in 1956 and 1967.

Later elected to the Knesset under Ben-Gurion’s patronage, Peres built a political power base that reinforced his strong position among the military.

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But in the years that followed, he would come to believe that the world was changing faster than he was.

Though he was “widely regarded as a hawk,” the 1977 story noted, he was beginning to take a more moderate approach to the world. Decades later, in his most recent major interview with TIME, he took issue with that idea. That perception that he had gone “from hawk to dove” was a misconception, he said — “I didn’t change. I think the situation has changed” — and he was dedicated to continuing to see Israeli’s evolution through for as long as he could, which he did until the end of his life.

“The things that were done belong to the past,” he said. “I’m mainly occupied with the things that can and should be done tomorrow.”

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