PM Olmert’s Speech at the Event Honoring Local Authorities in Acre
Photo by GPO 

My friend, Minister Roni Bar-On,

Adi Adler, Chairman of the Center for Local Government and Mayor of Carmiel,

Hosting Mayor, Mayor of Acre, Shimon Lankri,

Raanan Dinur, an enterprising man whose work during the war was extraordinary.  Most of the time he was in the north, determining new work patterns – which will become the basis for the functioning of civilian systems during crises, and who worked – as usual – with great diligence and humility.  Well done, Raanan.

My friend, Rafi Peled, former Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office, who was called upon to mobilize, and toured the north for long days and nights in order to assist the mayors.  Thank you Rafi.

My friend, Shimon Katznelson, Chairman of the Mifal Hapayis Administration,

My friend, Shaul Mizrahi, Chairman of the Company for the Economy,

My friends, mayors from around the country, from the north, the center and the south,

My dear friends,

First, I must tell you that for me, standing here in this place has always profoundly moved me.  Since I can remember, I grew up with the wonderful myth about this place, Acre Prison, where the Irgun fighters broke through its gates on May 4, ’47, in an attempt to liberate their friends, who were prisoners here.

As the child of a revisionist, Betar family, and as a son of Jabotinsky’s teachings, this was an inseparable part of the stories which were told, but it also carried special weight.  The Irgun fighters came to this place on the 4th of May, ’47 from where I was born, Shoni Fortress, near Binyamina, and we – the children of Jabotinsky’s teachings and of Shoni – always viewed with immense pride the fact that these brave fighters who arrived here came from our hometown.  There is an execution room, the gallows and the room which was erected in memory of those executed in Acre.  I am proud of the fact that the Government of Israel provided significant financial assistance to the rehabilitation of this special place where Hagana, Irgun and Lehi fighters were imprisoned side-by-side, and even today, above and beyond any past disagreements, everyone works together to preserve the legacy of the fortress of Acre Prison in order to instill it in the coming generations so that they know that Israel’s wars began many years ago.  I want to thank you, my friend Mayor Shimon Lankri, for the important work you and your municipality do in this place, and we will continue to assist you in preserving the wonderful legacy of Acre Prison.

I am pleased to be here this evening, in this place, to take part in this special event.

In three more days, a new year will begin.  We are at the start of the month of Tishrei, a month of holidays, and of course the Days of Awe.  At the end of the next Sabbath, the holiday celebrated by the Muslims, Ramadan, will begin.  Thus it happens that our must sacred holidays and the most sacred of the Muslim holidays traverse each other, and remind us of a meeting which is so unique, and which is an inseparable part of the reality of life here in Israel.

As it is said, we are in a period of soul searching, inspection, self-criticism and public criticism, even if we disagree by a certain measure in the Israeli public as to the nature in which this criticism should be conducted, there is no argument between us that all it should take place.

My Government and I believe that there should be soul searching and that it must be thorough, serious and constructive.  And so it shall be.

It is precisely during these days of soul searching that we should especially mention everything that is not controversial and should not be criticized.  In this context, we must praise the unique Israeli spirit of mutual responsibility and commitment, which is the basis for this evening.

“This nation is likened to the dust,” is written in the Midrash, “and is likened to the stars.  When we go down – we go down to the dust.  And when we go up – we reach the stars.”  We have a tendency every once in a while to castigate ourselves and put ourselves into a melancholy mood.  However, there are situations like those we experienced over the past few months, which create highs of elation, of internal unity, of great pride and tremendous love, of unparalleled solidarity, and I am certain that many of you can be proud of them.

The responsiveness and good will demonstrated during the recent period of fighting exceeded expectations and preconceived notions.  This gives a deep, meaningful and genuine depth to what we always say: “All Israel are friends,” and “All Jews are responsible for one another”.

You, the heads of various local authorities in Israel, prove the tradition of mutual responsibility, which knows no limits and brings people together – a tradition which preserved the unity of the people of Israel throughout history.  This is the secret to the strength of this people, who throughout history faced such situations of endless hardship and helped them overcome, primarily when it could preserve our internal unity.

As was already said here, “Each one helps the other/Saying to his fellow, ‘Take courage!’”, said the prophet Isaiah.  What was an exceptional case and which aroused such great hopes in the expressions of mutual responsibility of the past few months was the fact that this solidarity crossed religious and sectarian lines.  Jewish communities embraced Druze and Arab communities – and a Circassian community like Kfar Kama and an Arab community from the triangle like Kfar Kassem – also participated in this tremendous campaign.

This is solidarity which creates a united society.  Well done to all of you.

Sixty-five communities – cities, towns, local authorities, local councils – from the center to Eilat – shared what they could with the communities in the north, and mobilized to provide assistance to their fellow authorities at their own initiative and good will.

This assistance spanned every possible divide.  There was no relevance to party membership.  There was no link to composition of population or socio-economic level.  The assistance was provided as assistance from one brother to another during an hour of need.

All the authorities here with us tonight hosted families from communities in the north in resident’s homes and public structures; they all took care to provide the newcomers with food and necessary equipment; they all organized trips for their guests; they all integrated the children in local summer camps; and even gave psychological assistance to those who needed it.

There were also original and unique initiatives for the communities.  There is no need for me to mention all these.  Perhaps I will give just one example of this spirit of volunteerism: there were communities which mobilized volunteers and sent them north to carry out agricultural work in the fields where the residents could not go, thereby saving their crops.

There were those who sent volunteers to the bomb shelters to assist and provide rest and relaxation to those residents who were trapped in the shelters for many long weeks and were greatly distressed.

There was one city which sent a truck with mineral water for distribution in the shelters.  There were many more incidents of mutual commitment, mutual responsibility and great partnership.

The Alliance of “Twin Cities in Israel” which we sign today, is meant to institutionalize what was born so spontaneously during wartime, in order to transform it into a permanent infrastructure of mutual relations for communities across the country.  We believe that the development of relations will benefit these local residents and the authorities themselves.  However, there are not always twins who are identical and equal in size, but this is still an alliance of brothers, in which each of the sides can contribute to his fellow man.

This is not a marriage contract in the accepted understanding of a marriage between partners, but rather a joining based on good will, good spirit, comradeship and partnership which enriches all who are part of it.  From here on, it will grow stronger.

The Prime Minister’s Office, together with the Center for Local Government, are partners to this initiative, together with the Ministry of Interior and its dynamic, energetic and resolute minister.

In coordination with the Minister of Interior, we decided to establish a special fund of joint enterprises, which will provide a sum of NIS 15 million for encouraging joint projects and communities taking part in this framework of the Alliance of Twin Cities.

Beyond the funds earmarked for joint projects, we intend to invest approximately NIS 2.8 billion from next year’s budget to strengthening the north and the city of Haifa.  I repeat: two billion and 800 million shekels!

This sum also includes existing budgets which will be diverted to benefit the north, and a special budget approved during the Government meeting, in the amount of NIS 1.5 billion, which will be invested in its entirety in the north, and which is above and beyond all other budgets.

Together with donations from the Jewish people, which were obtained in large part because of the drive and leadership of Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres, we will obtain an additional investment in the north and Haifa of over NIS 4 billion.  And this sum, it must be emphasized, does not include the funds for compensation and rehabilitation which will be paid by the property tax authority – and certainly not private investments.

Funds from property tax for physical rehabilitation may reach approximately NIS 5 billion.  The NIS 4 billion that we are discussing is in addition to the NIS 5 billion.  We are speaking of an investment approaching NIS 10 billion for Haifa and the north, and is, of course, as we said, derived from additional budgets.

The north was not neglected during the war, and now it will get all the assistance and nurturing it deserves.

I want to thank you all, mayors and heads of local authorities from the north and across the country – for everything you did and what you will do.  I want to congratulate all those who worked to organize this wonderful, festive and exciting evening.  I again thank you, the mayor of Acre for your efforts.  I want to thank the Prime Minister’s Office and those sections I am not directly responsible for because Raanan supervises them; to you, Raanan; to Yael Nachmias who helped organize the evening; to Chana Hacohen of the Information Department of the Ministry of Education, which produced this exciting and impressive evening – an evening which provides us all with hope – and I wish to say a personal word to you, or perhaps I will take this opportunity to tell anyone who can hear us.

On the eve of this New Year, I think we can say that it is true that we have more than a few problems, we have more than a few hardships, we have more than a few difficulties, and we have discovered how many failures we have to face and remedy.  We must fix them and change them, and I promise you that we will make every effort and use all our power, all the force of the government of the State of Israel in order to fix these difficulties so that the State of Israel is ready for every scenario of threat and for every danger it will have to face in the future.

However, I think we can also say that with all the difficulties and all the hardships and all the pain, we also have a wonderful country.  We have an amazing country.  We have a country of tremendous accomplishments of which we can be proud.  It is true that sometimes, in hours of hardship, we tend to lose perspective.  We are fortunate that sometimes people arrive from outside, who can see us perhaps better than we see ourselves.  Over the last two days, we had here with us one of the richest people in the world, perhaps the largest and most important investor in the world, Warren Buffet, who invested $4 billion in the State of Israel.  He came to visit us yesterday, and he spontaneously told me, happily, with enthusiasm and with excitement, “You have an incredible country, you have an amazing economy, you have industry unparalleled anywhere in the world.  I am going back to the United States, and I will go from place to place telling people what a wonderful country the State of Israel is”. 

And believe me, we have a wonderful country; we can be proud of it.  It is time to stand up straight, raise our heads high and say, “Thank G-d we have this country.  We will do everything to preserve it, to defend it, to build it, to strengthen it.  We will do everything so that every resident of Israel will have a better year, one which is more peaceful, tranquil, happier and safer”.

May you have a Shana Tova.