Knesset speech by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Jerusalem, 28 Janaury 2002

(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

Following are Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s remarks at a special session of the Knesset plenum on Monday, January 28, 2002, marking 53 years since the Knesset was established:

Knesset Speaker,
Honored Knesset,

It is no coincidence that we are celebrating 53 years since the Knesset – the heart and soul of Israeli democracy – was established, on Tu B’Shvat. More than anything, the planting holiday symbolizes our renewed connection with the soil of the land and the Jewish people’s full historic rights over the Land of Israel.

Every year, Israeli children go out to plant in the soil of the hills and the open terraces, dig holes for watering and place a stick to support the tender saplings from damage from nature and the harsh environment, and thus express a historical continuity of several thousand years. Those same terraces on the mountainside that we see today in Judea and Samaria, in the Binyamin area and in the Hebron hills, were built by our forefathers. As residents of the hills, only the Jews built terraces then for agriculture.

Thus, 53 years ago, in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, we planted the Knesset of Israel in the hard soil of the terraces and their environs, which was, on the whole, hostile to the fragile Israeli democracy. We planted this fragile sapling in the midst of a struggle for existence and a war for the home which we had come to and which we never, ever really left.

The Knesset was born in war and into a continuing security emergency, into hostility and economic, security and social challenges which created permanent tension between ‘the rule of law’ and ‘the rule of security’, and into a continuing struggle – with ups and downs – to preserve and defend the civil and human liberties to which we committed ourselves in the Declaration of Independence.

The Knesset’s holiday is the entire country’s holiday. This is the day of Israel’s victory as a fighting democracy characterized by a steadfast stand and struggle to realize the Jewish people’s historic rights in its country on the one hand, and the fight to realize civil rights and equality of opportunity as the Middle East’s only genuine democracy, on the other.

Israel is a pluralistic society with broad representation from the entire political spectrum, and the Knesset, to our pride, is perhaps the only place in which those who oppose it and those who love it, secular and religious, left and right, Jews, Druze, Bedouin and Arabs – all groups in the rich mosaic of rivalries and tensions – sit together to debate and discuss, occasionally, even if in strident tones, but always in the fervor of parliamentary dynamism and action. The Knesset is the pulsating heart of Israeli democracy.

The Knesset also gives expression to our common aspiration for peace, to our hand which is outstretched, and to our gates which are open, to all those who seek a genuine peace for generations. But our enemies will invariably be met with an iron wall, fortified and impregnable, a wall whose bricks are our faith in the justice of our cause, our commitment to democratic values and human freedom, and – above all – our determination and readiness to fight and defend these values, even if we are called upon to defend ourselves for a lengthy period. As David Ben-Gurion put it:

"If Israeli democracy wants to exist for a long time, it must be armed with the means to defend itself and with the operational tools so as to prevent minorities – and not only non-Jewish minorities, but Jewish minorities as well – from taking it over by force, whether from within or without."

Honored Knesset,

We are in the midst of a continuous struggle for our way of life and our rights as a people, in a war of terror that has been imposed on us. Since September 11th, this struggle has found its way to the doorstep of the free and democratic world. This is a war about our homes, about values, about a way of life that provides the only hope today for millions of people of different nationalities, who now stand on the precipice of a volcano of terrorist forces, and against the wickedness that threatens the stability and peace of the whole world.

On March 5, 1946, after the conclusion of the Second World War, Winston Churchill, then head of the opposition, gave his "Sinews of Peace" speech. His words are of value and significance to us, as well as to our friends and allies who share with us a common way and destiny, especially after the terrorist attacks in the United States. And these are his words:

"The dark ages may return, the Stone Age may return on the gleaming wings of science, and what might now shower immeasurable material blessings upon mankind, may even bring about its total destruction. Beware, I say; time may be short. Do not let us take the course of allowing events to drift along until it is too late. If there is to be a fraternal association of the kind I have described, with all the extra strength and security which both our countries can derive from it, let us make sure that that great fact is known to the world, and that it plays its part in steadying and stabilising the foundations of peace. There is the path of wisdom. Prevention is better than cure."

In this spirit I say a prayer and a blessing for the Knesset on its day of celebration: That we should know to find the correct balance between standing steadfast in the prevention of the dangers that lay waiting at our doorstep and legislative initiatives to foster democratic values, tolerance and unity in the spirit of the prophets of Israel and the heritage of the Jewish people.

Blessings to us all, Members of the Knesset, on this day of celebration.