“Peace does not come easy. We must work with all our might until it is achieved, and achieved quickly. Even if it calls for sacrifice and compromise. The Palestinians are our neighbors. We pray that soon we will live in mutual respect and good neighborliness”. The words pronounced by the President of the State of Israel Shimon Peres from the podium inside the Vatican gardens, praying for the peace in the Middle East alongside Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Pope Francis were broadcasted all over the world.
Jorge Bergoglio’s initiative to invite the two leaders together with three delegations representing the world’s three great monotheistic religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam –was extensively covered by Italian, Israeli as well as international media (and part of the Jewish delegations were also several Italian Jewish leaders, among them the President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities Renzo Gattegna, the President of Rome Jewish Community Riccardo Pacifici, and the Chief Rabbi of Florence Joseph Levi).
However, only few weeks before the expiration of his seven years mandate as Israeli President, Peres’ visit to Italy is also the occasion for a last official visit to an old and dear friend and colleague: the President of Italy Giorgio Napolitano.
Both of them former members of the Socialist International, Napolitano and Peres also share a place in the oldest current serving heads of state Top Five, being the almost 91 years old Israeli president the oldest, with Napolitano coming in fourth place.
During his visit Peres has conferred Napolitano the “Itur Nesi Medinat Israel” (Presidential Medal of Distinction), an honor so far given only to 18 people “who have made an outstanding contribution to the State of Israel or to humanity, through their talents, services, or in any other form.”
The medal was designed by Yossi Matityahu and it represents the combination of two elements, the North Star and the menorah. “In my design, the North Star serves as the eternal flame in the menorah, thus symbolizing that the true direction is the direction (goal) leading by the menorah. In addition, the lines of the constellation incorporate the stems of the menorah and constitute its base. The combination of the two motifs forms the necessary dialog between creation in the Land of Israel and universal trends” reads Matityahu’s explanation.
During his hours in Italy, Peres has also scheduled to meet the Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini and the President of the Italian Senate Pietro Grasso.