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Ehud Olmert Administration: Remarks at Meeting with Heads of Local Authorities During War

(July 31, 2006)

The fighting continues. There is no cease fire and there will be no cease fire. The IDF is fighting in the air, sea and land, and at this very moment, the IDF is advancing in the south of Lebanon to destroy the terrorist infrastructures there.

Mr. Minister, the honorable Chairman of the Center of Local Authorities, Mayor of Karmiel, which is at the front line of this campaign, my friend Adi Eldar, my friends and partners, heads of local councils in the State of Israel,

Citizens of Israel,

Israel continues to fight.

This campaign began exactly 20 days ago, when the Hizbullah terrorist organization attacked Israeli soldiers on Israeli territory, killed eight, kidnapped two - Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev - and began launching a barrage of missiles against our northern communities.

When the campaign began, I said it was not going to be easy. We knew then, my fellow ministers and I, that it would be difficult and even painful, sometimes very painful. We said that we would have to show a great deal of ingenuity and patience in order to reach all terrorists, locate all their hiding places and strike against all their missile launchers. We said that we would pay the heaviest price of all - in human life - and in the loss of property, loss of peace, loss of the daily routine and sometimes, for a brief period, even loss of a zest for life.

We knew and we decided that there was no way other than a harsh, comprehensive and uncompromising response. We could not let the terror state, built by Hizbullah across our northern border, continue to gain strength. We could not let them amass more missiles, more rockets and more deadly weapons.

Had we gritted out teeth and shown restraint, the day would come - and it would not be far - when the barrage of rockets and missiles would cause you, primarily the residents of the north, irreparable damage.

We decided to fight back, and we will finish this war when the threat is removed, when our kidnapped soldiers - Udi Goldwasser, Eldad Regev and Gilad Shalit - and their fellow fighters return home in peace and when you can live safely in your homes, on the streets of your cities and towns and in your workplaces.

These days, I think a lot about our young soldiers, our courageous fighters, and about you, their parents, brothers, sisters, children and friends.

I think about Roi Klein, deputy commander of the Golani Brigade 51st battalion. Roi, who was leading his fighters, jumped on the grenade thrown at them, absorbed the force of the explosion on his body and saved the lives of his fighters. He still had the chance to murmur "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One" and asked the signal operator to report his death. This is how he died. His small children, Gilad and Yoav, and his wife Sarah, remained orphaned.

I think about Roi, and my soul cannot find peace. I think of Yiftah Schreier, Amihai Merhavia, Tom Farkash, Ran Kochva, Tzvika Luft, Vorkenach Adega, Yotam Gilboa, Yonatan Hadassi and the rest of their brave friends - 33 in number since the beginning of this campaign - and of their families, whose lives will never again return to what they were just a few days ago. I think of the endless pain and never-ending longing, of Gilad and Yoav who will never have a chance to know their heroic father, of Yarden, Yiftach's twin brother, and of Amihai's brothers and sisters, and I pray that we will be worthy of their sacrifice.

I think of all their friends who survived these fierce battles, their commanders and the spirit which beats in them and pushes them forward.

I think about Doa Abbas from Mrar, aged 15, who was sitting at home reading a book when the missile penetrated her room. I think about Andre Zelinsky from Naharia who was stepping out of the shelter for just one minute to get his daughter some warm clothes, and suffered a direct hit.

I think about Rafi Hazan from Haifa, who got married only two months ago.

I think about Robin Nitzo who drove to Tzfat to be with his frightened children in these difficult moments.

And I think about all the other citizens - 18 in number - the fighters of the home front who lost their lives in this battle.

In our daily routine, we are so occupied with the day-to-day troubles that we often fail to understand what a remarkable and unique nation we are, what a deep sense of mutual responsibility and endless love we have for our magnificent people and land.

I pray that the same spirit of solidarity and brotherhood, of volunteering and mutual aid, which sweeps our nation at this time, will not fade away and disappear when the battles subside, when we return to our routine and to dealing with the day-to-day challenges.

Citizens of Israel,
My friends, heads of local authorities,

The alarm sirens which are heard day and night across the north echo throughout the entire country and gradually spread throughout the world. Many identify with our struggle and support our most simple and natural demand to be a free nation in our land! From here I wish to convey a message to everyone: we are determined to win this battle. We are paying a heavy price, an endlessly painful price in human life, disruption of the life routine, loss of personal security and massive destruction of private and public property, but we are not willing to forfeit our right to a simple life, a life free of terror, free of constant turmoil, threat, fanaticism and hatred.

We are not willing to give up our right to a normal life - like any other nation, like any other society, anywhere.

Not everyone identifies with us. More than a few criticize us and express reservations with our battle. We seek neither conflict nor confrontation, but it is our right to tell all those who attack us: none of you would ever acquiesce to such murderous attacks against your citizens. I do not want to tell you what you would have done if you had been in our place.

I will only say that the State of Israel sanctifies the most fundamental moral values, which are carved in our ancient Jewish tradition - and in our blood which was spilled - and we do not need any nation or any country to teach us these principles. We do not pursue innocent civilians, we do not fight against the Lebanese people and we do not seek to topple their government. We are fighting against reckless terrorists, and we will not stop fighting them until we remove them from our border.

I deeply regret the civilians - adults and children - who were killed in Kafr Qana. We did not seek to harm them, we did not want their death. They were not our enemies and they were not the target of our aircraft.

I wish to appeal to the citizens of Lebanon:

Again you are being led by murderous terrorists into a reality of destruction and devastation. Just when a new chapter began in your country, with new spirits of freedom and democracy, you were taken hostage by the Hizbullah organization of murderers. This organization does not fight the war of the people of Lebanon. There is no cause for conflict between us and Lebanon. There is no territorial dispute and no ideological “abyss” between us. We and you need to want the same thing - the right to a simple, quiet and safe life.

Hizbullah is serving the interests of other nations, primarily Syria and Iran. These countries spread venom. They cultivate hatred, fanaticism, radicalism and insatiable lust to destroy those who live according to other norms of ethics and culture.

You, residents of Lebanon, even those who are angry with us and our army for the massive damage inflicted upon you as a result of this war - a war which you did not want and which most of you had no part or interest in - know very well that your enemy is not the State of Israel, but rather Sheikh Nasrallah and his ilk, who were ready to sacrifice the lives of so many of you in order to serve the interests of a foreign country.

See for yourselves how many Arab-Muslim countries distance themselves from Hizbullah and join the majority of world nations which denounce this terrorist organization and justify Israel's right to self-defense. Was all this worth it? Is this what you would have chosen had the decision been in your hands?

Citizens of Lebanon, we regret the pain caused to so many of you, the fact that you had to flee your homes and places of residence and the unintentional harm to innocents, but we do not apologize for it.

We want to coexist with you in calm and tranquility, and, with God's help, also in peace. But we will not give up - not even for a moment - our right to protect the State of Israel and defend our lives, and we will not apologize to those who dare to question Israel’s right to exist.

The founder of the State of Israel, David Ben Gurion, said at the Temporary State Council in 1948: "while we have never despaired of the human conscience and never ceased - and will never cease - from demanding from the world what is rightfully ours, based on law and justice, we must always memorize to ourselves, day and night, that our existence - our freedom, our future - depend first and foremost on ourselves, our efforts, our abilities and our will".

Dear heads of local authorities,

You are the long arm of the central government of Israel, and at the same time, the direct representatives of all the citizens of Israel, particularly those currently on the civilian front line, who are the target of Hizbullah's vicious missile attacks in the north, who suffer losses in life, and who are under the constant threat of Kassam rockets in the south.

You, heads of councils, currently face one of the most difficult trials of leadership. These days, the public which you are leading needs a responsible, supportive and sensible leadership - as the one you demonstrate.

These days, the local government in Israel is the central backbone of the home front. You are close to the public, you are well familiar with your residents, their homes, the systems addressing their hardship. You, who reach every corner of the city, every street which is bombed and every deserted house, assist every citizen in distress, provide a hot meal to the hungry and a bed and blanket to the needy - you are the key to the fortitude of Israeli society at this time of trial. You are withstanding this test - which you stumbled upon unintentionally - in an impressive manner.

You, heads of authorities and residents of the north, added a new dimension to the term "deterrence resulting from the fortitude of the home front". Our spirit cannot be broken by attacks against our cities, because we are a stubborn nation.

The Government of Israel, in all its branches - ministers, directors and officials - is with you and behind you day and night in order to help you formulate an answer, in real time, to the acute problems created as a result of the war. We will not stop.

We will compensate workers, employees and freelancers from the north in order to minimize, to the best possible extent, the economic damage. We will assist council heads in dealing with the consequences of the war, particularly on the day when this campaign is over and we return to our routine. We will make certain that the workers get their salaries and that indirect damages inflicted upon so many residents will be fairly covered. We will initiate special funds, in cooperation with the banking system, to support small and medium businesses which need return capital. We have already transferred 50 million NIS to northern authorities, and we have decided - the Minister of Finance, the Minister of the Interior and myself - to transfer a second emergency grant in the amount of 100 million NIS in order to enable the management of these cities at this time of emergency.

I want to thank the hundreds of volunteers, organizations, institutes, authorities and business sector bodies which work day and night to assist the residents of the north. Many Jewish communities from around the world support and assist the residents of the north. The spirit of volunteering warms my heart, when I see people of good means, and even less privileged people, who are willing to contribute to the citizens at the front line.

Since the war in Lebanon began, we reached substantial and important achievements. The achievements are substantial. Hizbullah does not look today as it did 20 days ago - threatening, arrogant and dangerous. They suffered a major blow and it will take them a long time - if ever - to recuperate. We expelled Hizbullah from its positions along the border with Israel and removed this immediate threat. Never again will we agree that Hizbullah return to these posts and continue to threaten to kidnap soldiers or directly fire at our northern communities.

We succeeded in damaging the organization's long-range missile system deep inside Lebanon, and we will continue to do that. We destroyed Hizbullah's command and control systems, as well as its headquarters, and damaged its infrastructures. Hizbullah's military bases and compounds in Beirut, Baalbek and other places no longer look the same.

The array of Katyushas spread in south Lebanon was severely damaged. We succeeded in locating and striking the smuggling of ammunition from Syria to the Hizbullah, which continues at this very moment, and we will continue to do this. We will no longer tolerate the transfer of weapons to Hizbullah and we will not allow the organization to regain its capabilities.

The organization's leadership is hiding, it operates in the dark, in fear for its life, and we will continue to pursue it, any place, any time. It is a leadership under pressure, engaged in a web of lies and manipulations designed to conceal the true reality.

The organization and its leader are isolated in both the Lebanese and Arab arenas. He is no longer perceived as representing the armed struggle against  Israel or as the defender of Lebanon, but rather as the one who caused the destruction of Lebanon and its residents and who acted irresponsibly and irrationally.

The international backing which Israel enjoys in this current operation is also unprecedented, as manifested in the G-8 statement. The international community stands united alongside Israel in its battle against Hizbullah and supports the attack and ultimate dismantling of the organization.

For the first time, conditions have been created to begin implementation of UN Resolution 1559, which calls for the disarming of Hizbullah, its expulsion from the border and the deployment of the Lebanese army along the border. The international community stands ready to take concrete steps to implement this resolution by dispatching an international army to deploy along the border with Israel and at the Lebanon-Syria border crossings and to operate effectively to dismantle the organization's military capabilities.

This is almost a one time opportunity to change the rules of the game in Lebanon. Much work is still ahead, on both the military and political levels, and we will not stop until we have achieved the sought after results. We will not stop!

We will invest maximum effort in order to make certain that the reality which existed in Lebanon on the eve of the operation never recurs.

Citizens of Israel,

The campaign has not yet been completed. There are still many days of fighting ahead of us. Missiles and rockets will continue to land, and hours of fear, uncertainty and yes - even pain, tears and blood, are still expected.

We will not give up and we will not stop. We will continue to fight until we achieve the objectives and goals which we set for ourselves, and until we bring peace, calm and tranquility to our land.

As Nathan Alterman wrote:

"A time will come when peace again prevails all around us,
When walls and barriers are broken,
We will return to our labor: fields to harvest"

Thank you.

Sources: Ministry of Foreign Affairs