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Ehud Olmert Administration: Speech to Knesset On Violence in Lebanon and Gaza Strip

(July 17, 2006)

Madam Speaker,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Members of Knesset,

At the outset, I offer condolences, on my behalf and on behalf of the government, the Knesset and the entire nation, to the families of the victims – both civilian and IDF.  I also send best wishes for recovery to the wounded, and a huge embrace for the families of those kidnapped and the boys themselves. 

Over the past few weeks, our enemies have challenged the sovereignty of the State of Israel and the safety of its residents – first in the southern sector, then on the northern border, and deeper into the home front.

Israel did not seek these confrontations.  On the contrary.  We have done a lot to prevent them.  We returned to the borders of the State of Israel, recognized by the entire international community.  There were those who misconstrued our desire for peace – for us and our neighbors – as a sign of frailty.  Our enemies misinterpreted our willingness to exercise restraint as a sign of weakness. 

They were wrong!

Madam Speaker, Members of Knesset,

The State of Israel has no territorial conflict, neither on our southern border nor on our northern one.

In these two areas, we are sitting on the recognized international border – both vis-à-vis the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip, and in Lebanon.

We have no intention of interfering in their internal affairs.  On the contrary, stability and tranquility in Lebanon, free of the rule of foreign powers, and in the Palestinian Authority, are in Israel's interest.

We yearn for the day when peace will prevail between us, for the mutual benefit of our peoples from both sides of our common border.

The campaign we are engaged in these days is against the terror organizations operating from Lebanon and Gaza.  These organizations are nothing but "sub-contractors" operating under the inspiration, permission, instigation and financing of the terror-sponsoring and peace-rejecting regimes, on the Axis of Evil which stretches from Tehran to Damascus.

Lebanon has suffered heavily in the past, when it allowed foreign powers to gamble on its fate.

Iran and Syria still continue to meddle, from afar, in the affairs of Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority, through Hezbollah and the Hamas.

Even if last Wednesday's criminal attack against an IDF patrol was carried out without the consent of the Lebanese government and without the assistance of its military, this does not absolve it of full responsibility for the attack which emanated from its sovereign territory. Just as the fact that the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority opposes terrorism against Israel does not relieve him and the Palestinian Authority of their responsibility for the attack carried out from their territory against our soldiers in Kerem Shalom.  They are both fully responsible for the safety of our soldiers who were taken hostage.

Radical, terrorist and violent elements are sabotaging the life of the entire region and placing its stability at risk.  The region in which we live is threatened by these murderous terror groups.

It is a regional – as well as global – interest to take control and terminate their activity.

We can all see how the majority of the international community supports our battle against the terror organizations and our efforts to remove this threat of the Middle East.

We intend to do this.  We will continue to operate in full force until we achieve this.  On the Palestinian front, we will conduct a tireless battle until terror ceases, Gilad Shalit is returned home safely and the shooting of Qassam missiles stops.

And in Lebanon, we will insist on compliance with the terms stipulated long ago by the international community, as unequivocally expressed only yesterday in the resolution of the 8 leading countries of the world:
- The return of the hostages, Ehud (Udi) Goldwasser and Eldad Regev;
- A complete cease fire;
- Deployment of the Lebanese army in all of Southern Lebanon; 
- Expulsion of Hezbollah from the area, and fulfillment of United Nations Resolution 1559. 

We will not suspend our actions.

On both fronts we are exercising self-defense in the most basic and essential sense.  In both cases, it is a matter whose importance and significance go far beyond the size of the military units involved.

We are at a national moment of truth.  Will we consent to living under the threat of this Axis of Evil or will we mobilize our inner strength and show determination and equanimity?

Our answer is clear to every Israeli, and it echoes today throughout the entire region.

We will search every compound, target every terrorist who assists in attacking the citizens of Israel, and destroy every terrorist infrastructure, everywhere.  We will persist until Hezbollah and Hamas comply with those basic and decent things required of them by every civilized person.  Israel will not agree to live in the shadow of missiles or rockets against its residents.

Citizens of Israel,

There are moments in the life of a nation, when it is compelled to look directly into the face of reality and say: no more!

And I say to everyone: no more!
Israel will not be held hostage – not by terror gangs or by a terrorist authority or by any sovereign state.

In the life of a nation there are moments of transcendence, of purification, when political and sectarian disputes which separate us are replaced by a sense of mutual responsibility.  I highly value and appreciate the way the Opposition has been conducting itself in the Knesset these days.  The human competition and personal rivalries are dissolved and instead our feeling of mutual responsibility arises, our sense of partnership, and primarily, our eternal love for our people and our land.

This is such a moment!

All of us – Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and Circassians – now stand as one person, as one nation, subject together to the same hatred and malice, and fighting against it in consensus and partnership.   When missiles are launched at our residents and cities, our answer will be war with all the strength, determination, valor, sacrifice and dedication which characterize this nation.
There is nothing we want more than peace and good neighborly relations – in the east, north and south.  We seek peace, we pursue peace and we yearn for peace.  At the same time, there is nothing we reject more than an attempt to harm us and make us give up our right to live here, in our land, in security and peace.

On behalf of the people of Israel, on behalf of all the residents of the country, I came here today, Madam Speaker, to announce to the world: we seek neither war nor direct confrontation, but we will not be deterred from them when the need arises.  Only a nation that can defend its freedom truly deserves it.  We are entitled to our freedom, and when necessary, we know how to fight for it and defend it.

My fellow Members of Knesset,

The strength of the State of Israel relies on the strength and capability of the IDF.  This strength is the main guarantee to preserving and defending our lives on this land.  The best economic and human resources of Israeli society were invested in building this strength.

I want to extend from here my heartfelt gratitude – and that of the Government and the people of Israel – to the IDF soldiers and commanders, the security services, the Israel Police, the rescue forces, the firefighters and the other security forces.

I wish to read from the "Prayer for the Welfare of Soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces".  Millions of Jews – in Israel and the world – pray for the safety and success of those who defend our nation, from the Lebanese border to the desert, and from the Great Sea unto the approach of the Arava, on the land, in the air and on the sea.

“May the Almighty cause the enemies who rise up against us to be struck down before them.

May the Holy One, blessed be He, preserve and rescue our fighters from every trouble and distress and from every plague and illness, and may He send blessing and success in their every endeavor.

May He lead our enemies under our soldiers' sway and may He grant them salvation and crown them with victory”.

The strength of a nation is measured not only by its military capabilities.  The strength of a nation is measured by its welfare and morality, its strong and solid economy, its modern and developing market, its export of technologies and products for the most advanced world markets and its ground-breaking academic research.  In all these, each and every one of us has good reason to be proud.

But above all, the strength of a nation is measured in times of trial, when the home front becomes the front, when the citizens of the country show admirable fortitude, patience and stamina and allow it to operate against its enemies.

I had the privilege of witnessing these inner strengths in the years when I was Mayor of Jerusalem. For years, our capital was subject to the most murderous terror attacks.  The resilience, patience and restraint of the residents of Jerusalem and the entire citizens of Israel are exemplary.

I recall a conversation with Rudy Giuliani, who was Mayor of New York during the terror attacks of September 2001.  I called to offer encouragement to him and the residents of New York following the collapse of the Twin Towers, and he replied: "Ehud, if the New Yorkers can withstand it like the Jerusalemites do, then we will defeat terrorism".

Madam Speaker,
Ladies and gentlemen Members of Knesset,
Citizens of Israel,

Even in these days, hundreds of thousands of Israelis stand at the front line of fire, like soldiers in the battlefield, fighting for our life and honor.

It is clear to us that the circumstances imposed upon the residents compel us to address their special needs, in all aspects.  The government will lend immediate assistance, everywhere.

The government of Israel, under my leadership, derives strength from the stamina of the Israeli public.  We are a brave and determined nation.  I am proud today – perhaps more than ever before – to be an Israeli citizen.

Thanks to you, our enemies come up against a united nation, which fights together, shoulder to shoulder.  We do not surrender and we do not panic.  We believe in the justice of our cause, because there is no battle more just or moral than ours – a battle for the right to a peaceful and normal life, like any other human being, any other nation and any other state.

We fight for the right of children like Omer Pisachov, may his memory be blessed, a 7 year old from Nahariya, who wanted to visit his grandmother Yehudit Itzkovich, may her memory be blessed, and enjoy the Sabbath dinner she prepared;

We fight for the right of citizens like Shmuel Ben-Shimon, may his memory be blessed, a 41 year old from Yokne'am who left every morning for work in the railway garage in Haifa to support his wife Natalie and their small children;

We fight for the right of citizens like Monica Lerer, may her memory be blessed, a 50 year old from Nahariya, to drink coffee on the terrace in the country to which she immigrated from Argentina;

We fight for the right of girls like Ella Abukasis, may her memory be blessed, a 13 year old from Sderot, to play the flute and read books, as Ella enjoyed doing.

We fight for everything that everyone in the enlightened world takes for granted and never imagined that they would have to fight for – the right to a normal life.

It is a difficult battle! It may become even more difficult.  It is a painful test, and we may have to bear more suffering.  Such a battle is never easy.  It is strewn with pain and suffering, sacrifice, and casualties. 

But, we have no intention of giving up our desire to live a normal life.  We will not apologize for this desire, and we do not need anyone's approval to defend ourselves.

Citizens of Israel,

This is a difficult time of trial for all of us.

The State of Israel has withstood much more complex trials – and triumphed.

We have always known how to mobilize our inner strength, equanimity, wisdom and patience, in order to overcome our enemies.

Finally, I wish to speak on a more personal note to the families of Shalit, Goldwasser and Regev, the families of the soldiers who are held hostage by the Hamas and Hezbollah.

You, and mainly your children – our children – are always on my mind.

Last Wednesday, only five days ago, at 10:00 am, Aviva and Noam Shalit sat in my office. They, and I, want Gilad home more than anything.  While we were discussing the situation, I – and Aviva and Noam – received the painful news that Ehud (Udi) Goldwasser and Eldad Regev had been kidnapped.

On their departure, Noam and Aviva left a picture of Gilad, taken close to the date of his kidnapping.

Unfortunately, pictures of three boys now stand in my room.  Many times during the day I look in their faces, into their eyes, and embrace them in my heart.  I do not forget them for one minute.  They were there on our behalf and for our sake.  We will do everything and make every effort to bring them home.  We will do this, but not in a pattern that will encourage more kidnappings. 

There is almost no one who can understand the place you are in.  Even when we do not talk directly, I feel and hear what you want to say to me, and I embrace you with love, understanding and agreement.

The place I am in compels me, ultimately, to make fateful decisions, for life, and sometimes even for death.

I have no strength other than that which you have bestowed upon me.

I have no courage other than that which G-d, my faith in the justice of our cause and my sense of supreme responsibility, have instilled in me and have prepared me for these fateful moments.

Madam Speaker,

I see before me the kidnapped boys, those standing in the front line and in the line of fire, those brave and determined ones who are fighting today and who could – G-d forbid – be the target of tomorrow’s kidnapping.

We will defend all of them, on behalf of all of them we will fight, and with all of them before our eyes – the civilians in the line of fire, the kidnapped fighters and their families – we will continue, without hesitating, without capitulating and without fretting, until our goals are achieved.

I wish to conclude by reading an extract from Prophet Jeremiah:

“Thus said Hashem: a voice is heard on high, wailing, bitter weeping, Rachel weeps for her children; she refuses to be consoled for her children, for they are gone.

Thus said Hashem: restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears; for there is reward for your accomplishment – the word of Hashem – and they will return from the enemy’s land. 

There is hope for your future – the word of Hashem;

And your children will return to their land”.  

We will triumph!

Sources: Prime Minister’s Office