ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF
ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF: ISRAEL NEWS
PM Netanyahu’s Speech at the State Memorial Service for the Late David Ben-Gurion
Source: PMO, 11-10-13
יום ראשון ז’ כסלו תשע”ד
Photo by GPO
David Ben-Gurion died 40 years ago, just one month after the end of the Yom Kippur War. The depression and despondency experienced by the people of Israel at the time mingled with grief over the death of the bold and active leader, who navigated the path of the Zionist enterprise with dedication from its most decisive moment.
It was at that low point after the Yom Kippur War that we well remembered what we were taught by Ben-Gurion – the return of the people of Israel to their land involved dealing with difficulties and complex challenges and it was not our fate or our destiny to give up, but rather to emerge victorious and ensure the existence of the people of Israel in their land forever.
“In establishing the country”, wrote Ben-Gurion, “we ascended a steep mountain. We do not have the option anymore of standing still – either we will roll down to the abyss or we will advance and climb the mountain to the pinnacle”. Throughout his entire life, Ben-Gurion aspired to climb to the pinnacle, and he called on us to follow in his footsteps.
He dedicated 73 of his 87 years to advancing Zionist goals, since the age of 14 when he founded an organization with his friends in Poland to encourage immigration to Israel and to learn Hebrew. Until his last days, he continued working towards the Zionist ideal.
I think that the Declaration of Independence and the establishment of the state – these were the crowning glory of his life’s work, but he did a great deal both before and after that. Let us remember his determined leadership of the people at other fateful crossroads which were no less crucial to our existence. He made fateful decisions related to administering the State and military systems during the War of Independence to emerge victorious; he bore the responsibility for and took the initiative to establish the IDF and fortify its strength against our enemies.
In a speech he gave in 1956 before senior IDF officers, which was only published decades later, Ben-Gurion said, “In the circle of the Middle East, if we are not strong enough to face all our neighbors’ armies, we may be obliterated from the face of the Earth, but we also live in the circle of the world and nothing is decided only by the forces in the Middle East”. Of course he was right on both points – we must fortify our strength as it guarantees our existence. It is what differentiates our fate from that of our people during the generations that preceded us.
At the same time, we look around us and see the international reality, in which we must also operate. But in this regard too Ben-Gurion added something: despite the importance he attributed to the deeds and words of nations, he said that at the end of the day, what matters is what the Jewish state will do. He expressed it a little differently – I am paraphrasing him – and he was right.
In this regard, for example, when he made his most fateful decision, the nations – including our closest friends – objected, but he determined that in this case, what was important was what the Jewish state would do before it was a state – so that it could be a state: to recruit others as much as possible at fateful crossroads, to act as needed in accordance with what was important, what was necessary, what was critical for the Jewish state, to ensure its future and existence.
Ben-Gurion believed in extending a hand in peace to the Arab countries, to all our neighbors, parallel with putting together a powerful deterrent force – again, combining our inner strength with a broad perspective. This combination was noticeable in other areas as well – by declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel and strengthening its status through mass immigration; by instilling a perception of nationhood – which must continually be strengthened against sectionalism; by working against harming institutions on which the state was dependent for its very existence, including the legal and law enforcement systems; by strengthening the values of the pioneer spirit, while providing a personal example when he decided to settle here, at Sde Boker, and help in making the Negev flourish.
In each of these aspects, our first Prime Minister was like a ladder planted on the ground with his head reaching the heavens. I quote this because I read it in the weekly Torah portion yesterday. He was a founding father who stood at the heart of the centers of activity, a man of vision who could foresee the future. He believed we would be reborn only if we took advantage of new technologies and science, while at the same time, he understood that this rebirth would have no value if it was not based on our people’s origins, Jewish origins – particularly the foundation of the Torah. He was right in this as well.
In the 40 years since his passing, we continued to fortify our strength, to build our country, to absorb immigrants from around the world, to develop our economy, to reach significant achievements in the fields of education, culture and science. We fulfill his command to strengthen the spiritual component of our national existence.
We ensure that every boy and girl – at least we are working towards this – that every child in Israel connects with our historic and cultural roots and study the Torah, but this did not emerge from thin air. Rather it rests on the physical and spiritual foundations of the vision laid by David Ben-Gurion.
If I had to pick one fundamental principle of his doctrine, a principle that guides me and the members of my government, I would choose these words: “The fate of Zionism will be determined in Zion”. As a sovereign people, we have the right and the duty to defend ourselves and our existence by ourselves. The lesson we learned from Jewish history, especially from the Holocaust, but not only from the Holocaust, is that we will never again be helpless and under the threat of destruction.
What did Ben-Gurion think is the fundamental cause of the Israeli-Arab conflict? He understood that at the heart of the conflict stood the Arab world’s refusal to recognize the existence of a Jewish-Zionist state in the Land of Israel. I can tell you that certain things have changed since then, at least partially, when we signed the peace agreements with Egypt and with Jordan, but many of the Muslim countries, the Arab countries, still refuse to make peace with us, and Iran even threatens us with destruction. However, there is another change as a result of what is happening in the region – and a great many things are happening in the region: there is a crumbling of the systems in the Arab world, and attention should be paid to this because many of the Arab countries, even the most important among them, see eye to eye with the State of Israel on the issue of Iran’s nuclear armament. And I think the leading powers in the world should pay attention to this: if Israel and Arab countries agree about something, that is important. It is no small thing. This indicates an important change in a pivotal field, and it may indicate other things as well.
We are interested in advancing peaceful relations with our Palestinian neighbors, together with the Arab countries, but this all depends on one thing – it depends on many things but at the end of the day it depends on one thing: on Israel’s strength, which has been increasing from Ben-Gurion’s time until today. This is in concert with our neighbors’ understanding – all our neighbors immediate and distant – that Israel will stand up to any party that threatens it with destruction. Israel will react strongly and painfully against anyone who places our security to the test. We do this every week, if not every day.
For the past several months, we have been conducting negotiations with the Palestinians on a number of disputed issues, while being uncompromising with regard to Israel’s essential interests. In every negotiation, there are compromises, and there will be compromises, but mutual ones. However, there are some things we cannot compromise on because they are the foundations on which we stand. We are conducting negotiations with integrity and fairness, but we will not rush them. We are negotiating in accordance with the mutuality shown by the other side.
If I may express my personal hope, I hope for a Palestinian Ben-Gurion to stand before us: one who will give the “Beirzeit” speech to his people; who will declare an end to the conflict in its profoundest meaning – not a recognition of the fact of the State of Israel’s existence, but rather of its right to exist, or of the right of existence for a nation-state for the Jewish people; who will educate his people to peace even if it takes a generation – a process that does not start with statements to foreign leaders, but rather statements in Arabic, in the Palestinian Arab press, in schools – truly standing behind these statements as we truly believe that we need to coexist in peace with our Palestinian neighbors, accepting the principle of two nation-states. This is difficult to say; it is not an easy thing. It was not easy for me either; it cannot be easy for either side. It demands standing up; it demands courage. We wish for someone who will call on his people to adopt the idea that we have spoken of today – both the President and I: we say two nation-states. This is a condition and it cannot be avoided. It requires courage, both on our side and on theirs. I hope a leader on the Palestinian side as brave as David Ben-Gurion will stand up, educate his people to peace and abandon once and for all the hopes and expectations that a Jewish state will dissolve with time, whether through violence, terror or any other way.
My friends, David Ben-Gurion’s doctrine is relevant in many other fields as well. Again in this week’s Torah portion we read, “And you shall spread out powerfully westward, eastward, northward and southward” – I will not refer to westward or eastward, but will refer to northward and southward. We are spreading northward and southward. At a later date, we will hold a Cabinet Meeting in the Galilee, but today we held it here, at this symbolic place, in order to spread southward. We are working to realize David Ben-Gurion’s vision in a manner that combines many of the things he believed in: vision, technology, science. To this I also add roads, trains, fixing the bureaucracy related to lands. Goodness gracious, it never ends, but it is essential.
Moving the IDF bases to the south: this is vital and it is exciting. The cyber headquarters at the university that you, MK Braverman, worked so hard to establish. I mention you as a typical Ben-Gurionite at Ben-Gurion University. I add what I believe in.
I believe that if we invest in government infrastructure and take the components of our national security and add to them 40 kilos in market power, 40 tons, the Negev will flourish. It already is; the change is tremendous. And I promise you here and now, the next decade will lead to tremendous benefits, and I promise you, Shimon, in this decade the population here will not be 8%, which is something that has been fairly static. That’s about to change – 8% of the total population, there is going to be a tremendous change here.
The critical mass of the genius of our people, the enterprise our people exhibits, the open territory here, the space, the sun, the climate which is becoming a positive force – all these are merging together to again – actually for the first time – realize Ben-Gurion’s vision regarding transforming the Negev and Beer Sheva and its surroundings into a region to which the entire world will pay attention, especially with regard to technology and cyber.
I take this opportunity to thank my fellow ministers who are helping in this matter. Today we spoke of incremental steps, but mostly of revolutionary steps that will change what once was and cancel out the simplistic consensus that says that the strong are in the center and the weak are on the periphery. This will be completely erased. And I am convinced that if Ben-Gurion were here with us today, his heart would be filled with pride. He would urge us to buckle down, to implement and work tirelessly as long as the path stretches in front of us, as long as there is much work to be done, but we will do it and faster than you think.
I am convinced that Ben-Gurion would be extremely proud. We will continue to work in the coming years inspired by his vision and his legacy – until they are fully realized.
May the memories of David Ben-Gurion and his wife Paula be blessed and engraved in the heart of the nation forever.