Address by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres
at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg

September 3, 2002

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Colleagues and Friends,

The Lord led Adam through the Garden of Eden and said to him: "…all I created – I created for you. Beware lest you spoil and destroy my world, for if you will spoil it, there is no one to repair it after you." (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13)

We are here to repair. So this week the world’s eyes are again focused on South Africa, the country that was once torn by strife and bloodshed, but chose to embark on a different course: instead of revenge, reconciliation; instead of apartheid, togetherness – following in the path of Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. Today, there is a new South Africa, led inspiringly by the great President Mbeki, demonstrating that as we study the past, we are able to learn that the future can be changed.

The environment in the Middle East stands confused in the face of the political arrogance that has taken hold of it. For our wide blue skies, deep blue seas and generous sun, were witness to the greatest events and achievements of days past:

  • the emergence of faith in one god;
  • the birth of cultures and civilizations;
  • the roots of technology and science.

    This very region is at present sadly in arrear as a result of conflicts that can be resolved, and poverty-generated neglect, that can be overcome.

    The polemics that rage in the region undermine dialogue, and the terror that has washed over it has given birth to distrust. As a result, the desert is eroding the fertile soil and the conflicts prevent the water from flowing along its natural and logical course.

    The region is in need of a renewed dialogue. And the real dialogue must not only focus on the goals – that are becoming increasingly clearer – but also on the ways of attaining them. We have more or less an agreed map of peace. We have to clear the road map from needless dangers. Terror will accomplish nothing.

    The agreed-upon borders may end the conflict. A new horizon may cater to needs that know no borders: in health, irrigation, tourism, transportation, communication, technology and the environment itself.

    At home, we clasp our national passports, but to Johannesburg, we have come carrying global identity cards.

    Therefore, to act, we need not wait for peace agreements to be signed. Regional development can afford no delay. Moreover, as the jury of history is yet to return a verdict on the question: "which is the more potent agent of change: political agreements or regional cooperation," I suggest investing in cooperation as a peace-building tool. Therefore, I wish to make reference to a number of initial globally-endorsed, regionally-based projects that can produce a transformation:

    1. Establish a virtual regional pharmacy, that would secure the supply of medical drugs at a price affordable to all.
    2. Plant, over a decade, a billion trees, to effect a change in the climate of the region (Israel alone planted 200 million trees in the last years).
    3. Build a water conduit between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea, to save the Dead Sea from death.
    4. Establish a regional water bank, that will facilitate planning and technological application processes for water production, water recycling, water transportation and water usage conservation in water usage.
    5. Develop a regional IT system, that will serve as an infrastructure for: distant learning; distant medicine; and academic centers of research.

    The Middle East has enshrined its place in world history as the center of innovation – spiritually, culturally and otherwise. Let our generation be the first to generate re-generation.

    A while back, and to my pleasant surprise, a Moslem educator from South Africa told the following Jewish story (that I did not know) at a UNESCO gathering:

    A rabbi posed to his students the following important question: "When does night end and day begins?" One student replied: "When from afar you can distinguish between a goat and a sheep, the night is over." Another student said: "When you can see the difference between an olive tree and a fig tree, the day has begun."

    They awaited the reply of the rabbi, who finally spoke: "When you see a woman, either black or white, you tell her, ‘You are my sister.’ When you see a man, either rich or poor, you tell him, ‘You are my brother.’ This is when the night has ended and a new day has dawned."

     Address by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg-3-Sep-2002
     Address by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg-3-Sep-2002
    Israeli website – World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg 2002