Chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz
To this holy place, a remnant of our Temple, our fighting sons, the first paratroopers came, and touched the stones of the Western Wall, in the midst of the Six Day War.
Facing armies from Egypt, Syria and Jordan, Israel stood on her own. Isolated and united. Kibbutz members and yeshiva students. Religious and secular. Druse, Muslim, Circassian, and Christian. City-dwellers and those from the countryside. Sephardim and Ashkenazim. Left and right. The heavy fighting did not differentiate between them. The enemy’s bullets, that wounded their comrades in bloody battles, could not differentiate between our sons.
When the paratroopers touched the stones of the Kotel (Wall), at the end of those brutal battles, in the alleys of Jerusalem and the Old City, everyone congregated here. In this plaza. The said "Kaddish" in unison, loudly and painfully. After years of silence and desolation the Kotel again heard prayers that have accompanied our people for generations.
And immediately, at the conclusion of their prayers, the tired soldiers sang "HaTikvah" – the song of longing of the Jewish people to the land of their forefathers – in the same loud and painful voice. The prayer is thousands of years old, the anthem is a hundred years old. Ancient and new, sacred and profane merged into the new Jewish Israeli essence. A thrilling encounter between history and redemption.
In the military cemeteries our sons are in their final resting place. Side by side. They, who made you – beloved ones – as one family. Big and especially significant. A family in whose merit, and children’s merit – who are no more, we could unite as a nation. To gather as a nation. To be built as a nation. Fortunately, in the face of dwindling numbers stood the greatness of our sons.
We didn’t seek war. It was imposed upon us. But when we were attacked, we didn’t have the possibility to lose, even one war. And when we won, we returned to seek peace. We were sober then and we remained prepared today. And in any situation we will not give up the chance of full peace, real peace. And if one opportunity fails, we will look for a new one.
In our region today we are hearing the Arab voice that calls for liberation from the yoke of oppression. For democracy in the region. We wish them well in their efforts. As a nation that has tasted freedom, utilized what science has to offer, have been successful in producing abundance from scarcity, we believe that any nation that frees itself from bondage and adopts knowledge – can make something out of nothing.
I am here to tell you today that Israel is as strong as ever. We were the first in the world to have an "Iron Dome" that can stop missiles. We have the ability to fly to the heights of space, to dive to the depths of the ocean, and to create a viewing eye not only on our borders but also onto new vistas. Wars broke out because the attackers were not aware of Israel’s hidden strength. Today, as well, I suggest to those that are looking for war – do not make the same mistake again. Do not overlook our hidden abilities.
Israel’s strength lies in her justness. We are prepared to physically defend our land, and morally to defend our heritage. The Israeli spirit has a talent to overcome any situation and to prepare for tomorrow. Our sons fell in defense of our land and our values as one.
From the founding of the State of Israel until today, in my various positions, I comfort bereaved families. Every visit to a bereaved family is a deep experience. Before I arrive I learn about the personal bravery of the soldier and the battle which took his life. In their home the photo albums are opened, and together with the family, I follow page after page how their daughters and sons grew, from the cradle to the battle.
The families come from all parts of the country; from Degania until Nahal Oz, from Metullah until Eilat. And from all corners of the earth, from Marrakesh to Bucharest, from Azerbijan to Yemen. In their hearts there is an intense love for the nation and a commitment to renew the land of the forefathers as a birthplace of the children. An ancient birthplace in a new land.
I see the young men and women, their eyes glowing, full of life and beauty, free and restrained. The house is filled anew with pain. I learned about the mother, the father, the history of the family. The whole family goes from being a biography to becoming history. I saw the fountain from which our greatest sons are drawn. The fountain of Torah and bravery.
As we reach the last pages – unjustly last pages – my heart cries with the family who wasn’t able to reveal their full pride on their sons. Their greatness was fully revealed only after their fall. In their death their full lives are revealed – the depth of their personality and the richness of their abilities.
In a family home I learn about two generations. The one that raised and the one that was raised. I understand again the secret of Israel’s survival, from the exodus from Egypt until our arrival in our destination land. The depths of bereavement is as the depths of the loss and never goes away. It begins with the start of the day and does not stop when night falls. Year after year, every echo of a step on a staircase is as if he is about to return. But as the days pass it becomes clear to us that they will not return.
These are the young men that returned life to our people and strength to our land. Their lives were cut as they were about to begin. They will live on forever in the chronicles of our people.
The day will come and the hostility will pass and we will live as neighbors among neighbors. And on that day we will know that they not only defended our lives but also paved the way for peace. They are heroes of war and carriers of peace alike.
We embrace the IDF, our beloved army, those that serve and those who have fallen. We will not rest and will not be silent until all our kidnapped and missing soldiers return home. We will not rest and will not be silent until we see Gilad Shalit here, with us, healthy and whole.
At my age I remember hard days and threatening crises. I firmly believe that our spirit has never been broken. We were justified. What seemed like an impossible dream in the first days, is today an amazing reality that is beyond imagination.
I often wonder if we could ask David Ben Gurion if now is the time to dream again. To dream big. He would have responded that the previous dream was too small. Reality has overtaken it. Now is the time to dream again.
We salute you, dear families, that raised true heroes in whose merit we can dream big today. In Israel, to build momentum, to pursue peace. May their memories be for a blessing.