Jerusalem, June 20, 2002
(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Thursday morning, June 20, 2002, addressed the 34th Zionist Congress at Binyanei Hauma in Jerusalem. Following is the transcript of his address:
Honorable Chairman of the Zionist Federation,
My Brothers and Sisters,
First and foremost, I would like to welcome all the participants of the 34th Zionist Congress. You have come to us in Jerusalem, the eternal capital of our people for 3000 years, during three very difficult for the capital’s residents. Painful blows have landed upon us, in the Gilo neighborhood on Tuesday and yesterday at French Hill. Precisely for this reason, this assembly has great symbolic meaning – particularly at this moment. It is a very impressive demonstration of Jewish unity encompassing the world. It is a message to all the Diaspora of Israel that our people is steadfast, rooted in its homeland and bearing the strength of the people to stand as one against every challenge – and emerge victorious.
On Tuesday morning, I was on my way to you when I received that terrible message.
I have said in the past there is no moment more cursed in a Prime Minister’s term of office than the moment when the phone rings or the note is passed into the meeting bringing the tidings of Job. That is the worst and loneliest moment of all.
When the difficult tidings come, the air is silent, names are whispered and pictures circulate, a 15 year old girl smiling on her way to a "fun day" at her school, a father of five on his way to work, a bus driver who switched with his friend so that the latter could manage to see the football match, a wounded boy laying his sister to rest.
Since the age of 17, I have stood in the service of the Jewish people. I have passed the most terrible fields of destruction, I have beheld the scenes of the terrors of war, I have held the hand of comrades bleeding to death, I have closed the eyes of the fallen – and I have never seen anything so horrific as what I saw on Tuesday in Jerusalem, the horror of crushed bodies, dismembered and wallowing in blood – the horror of victims whose despicable murderer tried to rob them not only of their lives, but also of their dignity.
This is a time of emergency for our people. Over the past 21 months, Israel has been subject to a severe terror offensive, while another wave of wretched hatred of Israel is surging around the world, the criminal expression of which can be seen in attacks on synagogues, community centers and Jews in many countries. It is not by chance that anti-Semitism is finding a parallel expression in the terror offensive in Israel and attacks on Jews in the Diaspora.. The unity of the Jewish people and the shared destiny linking Israel and the Diaspora are not subject to division. But there is a deep fundamental difference between the attacks and pogroms which the Jewish people knew before the advent of Zionism and the State of Israel, and the pitched struggle today: The Jewish people is no longer a homeless orphan, no longer helpless and no longer dependent of the kindness of strangers. The great Zionist journey will continue and attain its objectives, and, as has been proven time and time again – no obstacle will stand in its way.
This is not the first terror offensive that we have known in the Land of Israel since the start of Jewish settlement. In fact, this is just one more wave in a campaign that has continued more than 120 years. The difference is the fact that this time, behind the terror and murder activities, stands a terrorist Palestinian authority, by an axis of global terror, Teheran-Damascus-Bin Laden.
Israel will not stop, even at the height of this campaign, to search for paths to peace with its neighbors. But one iron rule must be set if we desire to live in this region: The destruction of terror and the complete cessation of violence and incitement are the preconditions for any possibility of achieving peace, and on this we will insist with all our strength.
The State of Israel maintains extensive foreign relations with most of the nations of the world. We have important and loyal friends in the free world, and especially deep and strong is our relationship with the United States of America. This is a relationship based on common values, on long tradition, and on political, economic, military and strategic interests and considerations as well.
However, we have already known, in the past, highs and lows in our relations with great powers and important countries against the background of political differences of opinion and conflict of interests.
Only one factor in the State of Israel’s system of relations is a given, well known, permanent, unconditional and self-evident: Israel-Diaspora relations. This is a pact between brothers, there is none stronger, and it has withstood many tests.
When it was necessary to bring 50,000 Yemenite Jews to Israel all at once, "on eagles’ wings," and hundreds of thousands of North African Jews and 130,000 Jews from Iraq; when it was necessary to find channels to the Jews of silence and preserve the flame of Jewish existence, underground, behind the Iron Curtain; when it became necessary to create pressure and noise in world public opinion on behalf of the refuseniks and Prisoners of Zion; when the hoped-for historical turning point took place and the gates were opened to the aliyah of 1,000,000 from the CIS; when it was necessary to immediately prepare for the spiritual and physical absorption of the welcomed mass surge of immigrants; when the historic opportunity to rescue the Ethiopian Jewish community occurred; and when the Jewish heart was called on to correct social distress by rehabilitating neighborhoods; in all of these and in thousands of initiatives and challenges in which the State of Israel raised the banner and in which Jewish unity was tested – the Jewish people, in all the lands of its dispersion, met the test with honor.
Even in these days, despite all problems and difficulties, I am witness to the Jewish response to the challenge of aliyah from Argentina. Personally, I see aliyah from Argentina at this time, and aliyah in general, as a holy mission, first on the national list of priorities. I am devoting maximum time and attention to this.
The brave connection between the Jewish people in the Land of Israel and our brothers overseas is a strong mutual link. The State of Israel has enabled Jews around the world to hold their heads up high and saved the Jewish people from crumbling after the Holocaust. Today, Israel is the Jewish axis, anchor and center of existence. Israel accepts upon itself the responsibility for the fate of Jews around the world.
I am sure that you are well acquainted with the common mission before us: Fortifying the existence of the Jewish people, assuring its future and strengthening the younger generation’s sense of identity. The tools that we have to anchor and instill Jewish identity, pride and belonging in our children are mainly educational.
Study of the Hebrew language, connecting with the sources, a knowledge of the rich Jewish history, familiarity with the heritage of revival and heroism, and a deep, living link to the State of Israel – all of these are the tools with which we will fulfill our mission. And above all, first and foremost, aliyah to Israel.
Through all the years of exile, Jews prayed facing the east, vowing, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning." [Psalm 137:5] Regrettably, when we were fortunate enough, and the State of Israel was established and the country’s gates were opened to aliyah – some of us forgot the oath. The blame for this not only falls on those who did not make aliyah but on Israeli governments – some more, some less – which accepted this reality.
I know that there are those among you to whom these remarks might sound harsh, but for me, these are remarks that are spoken from the heart. If I had the time for it, I would go to the Jewish communities of the world, and meet with the masses of Jews, with one message on my lips: Make aliyah to Israel, make aliyah to Israel. I believe that the day will come when I will yet do this.
Aliyah is the quintessential Zionist step, it is the most moral step, it is the most correct step.
My friends, participants of the Zionist Congress,
This week, we will read the Torah portion of "Balak." This Shabbat, in every synagogue in Israel and around the world, Jews will read the verse [Numbers 23:24]: "Behold a people that rises up as a lioness, and as a lion does he lift himself up."
The Zionist Congress will conclude today and you will return, each person to his home. What will you tell your families? What will you tell your children?
Tell them about the advanced research and scientific projects and about the best universities in the world. Tell them about a flourishing country and the coming to life of the desert. Tell them about Israelis’ daily heroism and about our security forces standing fast. Tell them about the 15 year old girl who will never see another day.
Tell them that you saw our land – and it is crying and bleeding; tell them that you met our people – and they are standing up heroically.
Tell them that our people has risen as a lioness and is lifting itself up like a lion.
Thank you very much.