(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was on Wednesday, November 21, 2001, awarded an honorary Doctorate at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Beer Sheva. Following is the text of his speech at the ceremony:
Minister of Foreign Affairs, President of the University, members of the academic staff, ladies and gentlemen,
Greetings to my fellow honorees, each one with their own unique contribution:
Gustav Levin, a man of education and scientific research, a pioneer in the field of knowledge, a teacher of generations of students,
Avraham Sarusi, who dedicated his life to the establishment of a deterrent power, one of the basic foundations of the strength of Israeli society,
Efraim Kishon, whose writings, plays and rich Hebrew language, portrayed the profile of the proud and just Israeli,
I feel humble as I stand before you today, to receive this honorary degree. Such an honor is usually bestowed upon those whose work is close to completion and they are now able to survey it in full. My government is only at the beginning of its path. The impact of its actions can only be judged in a few years time.
When I formed my government – the National Unity Government – I knew that we were facing numerous battles on several fronts, each one difficult and urgent. I knew then that the government would not be able to raise only one banner and postpone all other problems for a later date, as did previous governments.
The threat of terrorism is on our doorstep and we are expected to devise a new solution. Terrorism is attempting to instill fear in our hearts. In this, it has failed.
While we are willing to make painful compromises for peace, we will not make even the slightest compromise that will endanger Israel’s security.
This is a long and painful battle. It did not start yesterday and it will not end tomorrow. We, unfortunately, will continue to pay a heavy price for our desire to live in peace. Eventually we will triumph. We will triumph because we have justice on our side, because we will continue to seek and pursue peace, and at the same time we will continue to defend our lives, the lives of our children, and the safety of our homes. We will take chances, persevere and triumph.
The United States, our greatest friend and ally, and its courageous and determined leader, George W. Bush, is currently spearheading the war of the free world against terrorism. We share America’s commitment to the Tenet and Mitchell understandings, which specifically outline the roadmap toward our sought-after goal: peace and tranquility. The Secretary of State defined the one test of success: deeds and not words. And we will indeed insist upon complete quiet without any threat or harm to the people of Israel, as a pre-requisite for any negotiations, particularly any concessions.
Aside from the security problems, Israel is currently in an economic situation that can only be defined as a crisis situation. These are not merely hollow words. The global economic storms, simultaneously with the security difficulties, threaten to overturn the Israeli economic ship.
The economic results are not merely theoretical formulas. Economy is not only about numbers, it is about people – their lives, livelihood, hopes, however humble, for a better future for them and their children.
These people must always be foremost in our thoughts: the workers who earn no more than the price of a loaf of bread and are terrified of losing their jobs, the unemployed who have lost all hope, those in need of a helping, comforting hand. These phenomena can no longer be accepted as part of the daily routine.
Salary demands, strikes and sanctions are the legitimate right of every employee, but we have no way to accommodate their demands – not because we do not wish to give them, but because the coffers are empty.
Salary increases for high-level earners must stop. It is the leaders who must show the way. We, the State officials, must lead the process of freezing salaries for the high-level earners. Political legislation must stop, or at least be postponed to better times.
The bureaucratic delays in the implementation of projects must stop immediately. This is the time to take action, or to let the doers, primarily those of the private sector – take action.
These are trying times. One must admit however, that we have known even more difficult times in this country, and we have triumphed. Today especially, here in Be’er Sheva, the capital of the Negev, we remember the first leader, who was greater than all of us, David Ben Gurion.
Both I and my friend and partner Shimon Peres had the privilege of working directly with Ben Gurion. We watched closely how in times of fear and doubt, when trouble rocked the shaky boat of Independence, Ben Gurion had a solution to every problem – the establishment of Israel’s security forces, immigrant absorption and the great economic crisis, the coming into being of Israeli statehood, and encouragement of Hebrew culture and creation. Ben Gurion was the embodiment of active and involved leadership, which looked beyond the obstacles of today, into the future.
Nothing epitomizes the ideals of our generation’s greatest Jew, like the vision of the Negev.
For me the Negev is home. I love this land – its open spaces, its wonderful landscapes and the fascinating past embedded in its earth. I will always return to this place.
However, Ben Gurion built his home in the Negev not only because of his love for this land. The Negev was, in his mind’s eye, the focus of the realization of our future in the entire Land of Israel.
Today, we still have time restrictions, and Ben Gurion’s vision has not yet been realized. We have traveled a long and difficult journey. The threats we face today are nothing like those of the past. However, we are stronger, we are advanced, and we have more resources and oportunities. We have accomplished much in the country, and in the Negev. We have built homes for our children and grandchildren. We have planted trees and we eat the fruits they bear. Still, we have a long way ahead of us. The vision of the blossoming Negev is still calling us and waiting for its full realization.
The blossoming Negev will be the land of peace. The Negev has always been a bridge between cultures – here Israel and the Arab countries can meet at the shores of the Red Sea, extract the treasures of the Dead Sea, and develop the Mediterranean coastline in Rafiah, Gaza and Ashkelon.
The blossoming Negev will be an example of co-existence between the Jewish and the Bedouin residents. We must take every possible step to assist the Bedouin, to give them equal rights and duties in our State, to be part of the splendid mosaic that makes up the State of Israel and the Negev.
The blossoming Negev will be the home of a rich industry that will be established along the shores of the Dead Sea and Ramat Hovav and Be’er Sheva, which will have to expand to further locations, that will offer a decent livelihood to many, and will be the center of production and exports of our main natural source, the Jewish mind.
The blossoming Negev will be a center for learning and education, and its nucleus is this wonderful university, that you head, Avishai; [Braverman] the colleges and centers of learning, from the College of Sha’ar Hanegev to the branch of Ben Gurion University in Eilat.
Particularly in this area – the blossoming Negev – we can cast aside all our daily disagreements, and unite together. All our tribes, our different sectors and backgrounds – a broad national consensus.
The wild Negev panorama, the dry land and the cliffs, the craters and sand, the acacia trees, the juniper trees, will continue to be a source of magical inspiration, a bond between a magnificent past to no less a magnificent future.
Here in the Negev, a place where every beginning can be a new beginning, primarily, we can build the core from which inspiration and momentum can be drawn throughout Israel. Israel will not fertilize the Negev – the Negev will fertilize us, all of us.
Therefore, we have decided that in order to tackle our present problems, we must not neglect building a future in the Negev.
We have already reached decisions concerning our infrastructure and we are beginning to accomplish things. I am working to hasten the paving of the Trans-Israel Highway – the link between the Negev and other parts of the country. I have issued instructions to open a rail-line to Dimona, and when completed, a track will be laid to Be’er Sheva, a project which was initiated when I was Minister of National Infrastructures. I also issued instructions to start the planning of another train line for Ashkelon-Sderot-Netivot-Ofakim- Be’er Sheva. We will allocate other resources towards the development of the infrastructure to shorten distances, improve the capabilities of the Negev, and help Israel to flourish. We have also been active in the field of education. On Monday I gave instructions to commence this great enterprise to build 5000 classrooms, for Jews and Bedouins in the Negev.
We will continue to breathe new life into the Negev. We will establish new settlements along the lower part of the Hevron hills, along the sands of Halutza, in Ramat Hanegev and in the desert. We will continue to build in the city centers, in Be’er Sheva, Eilat and the surrounding cities, from Mitzpe Ramon to Kiryat Gat, and from Dimona to Sderot.
I stand before you, as the head of the Ministerial Committee on Negev Matters. I call on all those seated here, people of the Negev and guests, not to give in to our trying and stressful daily routine, which is sown with tears and wrath. We must not judge the future by the present. Join us in shaping the future of Israeli society here in the Negev, from which we will eventually see the light.