Statement by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the Knesset Plenum

Jerusalem, 30 May 2001

Israel is currently in the midst of a difficult struggle against Palestinian terrorism and Hizballah provocative attacks under Syria’s auspices. We suffer losses. There is a battle on traffic routes. Arafat takes no preventive measures. The heads of the Palestinian Authority and its various organizations incite to take action against Israel. This is not an easy situation, but we have been through worse.

As you are aware, I have chosen to announce a unilateral cease-fire. Protecting the citizens of Israel is, of course, our duty, and we need to do everything in our power to secure the lives of Israeli citizens. The security forces are making tremendous efforts toward this end and I commend them for it.

I know that the tempers are flaring, and justifiably so. I see the terrible pain, and I watch in awe the heroic stand of the residents of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, their self-control and dedication to the land of Israel.

We are indebted to the residents who stand with the IDF on the front line, and I take this opportunity to convey my warmest wishes to the settlers.

I know that I am being attacked for my decision to announce a unilateral cease-fire. However, I declare that after viewing the entire picture and recognizing the responsibility resting on my shoulders, I felt compelled to do so. That is why I have decided to accept the Mitchell plan. This is not only a security battle. We are forced to confront and win a difficult and complex political diplomatic campaign. These facts affect my decisions and I will act accordingly. It takes patience. We must succeed in this diplomatic campaign and I believe that we are conducting it appropriately.

We must remember that we cannot constantly ask: "How much longer?" Sometimes it is necessary to stand and endure. Whoever asks every day "how much longer?" will lose. Sometimes it is necessary to know how to endure over time as we have done in the past.

But there is one aspect regarding which we must ask every day and all day: "How much longer?": Day after day we pay a heavy unnecessary price in bloodshed, brought about by negligence, vanity, arrogance and sub-standard work.

Israel is blessed with exceptional talent in all walks of life, but these skills are being lost in a sea of amateurish work, and ignorance.

I know it’s wrong to generalize. Our country also has exceptional things that can serve as an example for many nations around the world. However, we have to admit that there is negligence in planning, carrying out, reviewing and reporting. I believe that the public deserves to know. It is essential, but the public deserves to know the truth.

Look at the way we conduct ourselves on soccer fields, and the way we conduct ourselves on the roads. It is appalling to hear words of arrogance and haughtiness such as "laws are made to be broken". Laws are made to ensure orderly public life.

How often did we hear of people who returned from abroad, mocking the citizens of European or American countries, who act like ‘suckers’. They stand in line, always pay, even when there is no inspection or control. These citizens are often seen as ‘suckers’. We are the ‘suckers’ – not them. (I have not been able to find an accurate translation for the Hebrew term ‘freier’ in any other language.)

We have to restrain our will to scheme, make easy profits, and look for shortcuts to lengthy and complicated processes. There is no connection whatsoever between approval, planning, inspection and duration. The opposite is true.

And why did we only reach that realization now? Perhaps we were shaken by the terrible disaster in the Versailles Banquet Hall. This disaster could have been prevented. It was not destined to happen. Other disasters could also have been prevented.

Respect for our fellowman, professionalism, meticulousness, and punctiliousness can prevent tragic incidents in which people lose their lives.

These, however, are not accidents. They are the result of total disregard for the rules created for public safety and security. This kind of behavior has to be eradicated through education on the one hand, and heavy and deterring punishment on the other hand. If we wish to be members of the family of advanced nations, we have to conduct ourselves differently.

Therefore I proposed the establishment of a commission of inquiry. This commission is not directly intended for the investigation of the great disaster that occurred. It is rather intended to examine our conduct in public places. Be it on sports grounds, in carrying out orders, or abiding by laws. I expect this committee to study these issues in-depth. It should try to make a change in our lives, with special emphasis on the education system and schools – addressing both the issues of construction on the one hand and education on the other.

I hereby call on you to take charge. I personally intend to do that.

In front of us in the gallery are people who were called at the news of the disaster; policemen, home front command, those who carried out the sacred service of identifying the deceased. Not with us are hospital workers and the Magen David Adom Society, who did invaluable work.

I recognize the commander of the Unit for the Rescue of Casualties. I want to thank you all, including those who are not with us today, for performing these hallowed tasks, and for showing us that in times of need we are all united. Let us rather be united and solve these problems before the need arises.

I hereby extend my condolences to the families. I know that there is no remedy for a broken family. Those who are not a part of your families cannot feel the suffering, but we understand that pain.

On behalf of us all, I wish you a speedy recovery.

I reiterate: let us start behaving appropriately, let us do our duties, even if we have only come to that realization because of this terrible disaster. Let us do that.