NEAR EAST REPORT AIPAC'S BIWEEKLY ON AMERICAN MIDDLE EAST POLICY
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke about the importance of Israel to the Jewish people. He encouraged tourists to visit historical sites throughout the country.
Netanyahu Emphasizes Jewish Link to Israel
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered the keynote address at the annual Herzliya Conference earlier this month. He focused much of his speech on the importance of the Land of Israel to the Jewish people. He also shared his vision for boosting tourism throughout the country.
We share a common dream—to reach peace with our neighbors. There is good reason for me to hope, realistically, that in the next several weeks we will renew the peace process with the Palestinians without any preconditions. For some time, I have said that the international community has learned to recognize that Israel wants and is ready to renew the peace process. Since the moment that recognition was internalized, central players in the international arena have begun to accept the practical feasibility of such a step.
There is a saying: it takes two to tango. In the Middle East, sometimes it takes three to tango, or at least to start to tango. Later, I suppose, we will be able to continue on as two.
I hope there is a willingness on the Palestinian side—not only to build up the Palestinian economy and Palestinian institutions, but to begin to build the peace itself. The only way to achieve a peace agreement is to begin conducting negotiations towards a peace agreement. If this willingness really does exist now, we will see a renewal of the process in the next several weeks.
I know that one of my predecessors, Ariel Sharon, spoke from this podium about disengagement. Today I would like to speak not of disengagement, but rather of engagement: engagement with our heritage, with Zionism, with our past and with our future here in the land of our forefathers, which is also the land of our children and our grandchildren.
You are dealing with our people's fate because it is clear today that the fate of the Jewish people is the fate of the Jewish state. There is no demographic or practical existence for the Jewish people without a Jewish state. This doesn't mean that the Jewish state does not face tremendous challenges, but our existence, our future, is here. The greatest change that came with the establishment of the Jewish state was that Jews became more than just a collection of individuals, communities and fragments of communities. They became a sovereign collective in their own territory. Our ability as a collective to determine our own destiny is what grants us the tools to shape our future—no longer as a ruled people, defeated and persecuted, but as a proud people with a magnificent country and one which always aspires to serve as "a light unto the nations." BACK TO TOP
Tonight, I refer to something even more basic. I am talking about educating children about the values connected to our identity and heritage, teaching children to know our people's history, educating young people and adults to deepen our ties to one another and to this place.
I believe that this education starts, first and foremost, in the Book of Books—in the Bible—a subject that is close to my heart these days. It starts there. It moves through the history of our people: the Second Temple, the Middle Ages, the Enlightenment, leaving the ghettos, the rise of Zionism, the modern era, the wars fought for Israel's existence—the history of Zionism and of Israel. A people must know its past in order to ensure its future.
There is a well-known story about Napoleon. One day, he passed by a synagogue on Tisha B'Av and he heard the weeping of the worshippers. He asked what they were crying about, and the Jews told him: —We are weeping because our Temple was destroyed." He asked: "How can it be that I heard nothing about this?" He liked knowing what was going on. He wasn't really interested, but he would have received a report. So the worshippers told him: "Sir, it happened more than 1,700 years ago.— And he told them: "A people capable of remembering its past so clearly has a guaranteed future." But the opposite is also true. Yigal Alon said so. He said that a people that doesn't remember its past, its present is uncertain and its future is unclear.
In other words, our existence depends not only on a weapons system, our military strength, the strength of our economy, our innovation, our exports, or on all these forces that are indeed essential. It depends, first and foremost, on the knowledge and national sentiment we as parents bestow on our children, and as a state to its education system. It depends on our culture; it depends on our cultural heroes; it depends on our ability to explain the justness of our path and demonstrate our affinity for our land—first to ourselves and then to others.
Several months ago, I visited the Lachish Region. I saw a large mound. In this case, the mound was one of the few I had not already seen during my army service. I told the motorcade to turn around. We made a u-turn, and they said to me: "Mr. Prime Minister, you cannot climb that hill. We didn't make security arrangements there." I answered: "But there's no problem. You know why? Because there's no one here!" It was Tel Lachish, one of the most dramatic places in the history of the Jewish people. Carvings of it were found in Iraq and this mound was subject to the siege of Lachish that is described in the Bible—and there was no one there. After some time, a group of Russian tour guides arrived. I was there for almost an hour, and not one veteran Israeli came.
Several years before that I was a chaperone on a trip for one of my children, on the way to the Atlit detention camp at night. At night, they do field exercises on the path to the detention camp. We were on a gravel path along the shoreline, and suddenly I saw a house, a structure, near the water. I left the group and walked over there, and I saw a house—a single structure, a single room near the water—about to crumble. I asked what it was. I was told: "That is the house where Aaron Aaronson and the NILI underground signaled the British." I always thought they signaled them from the Carmel, but clearly they couldn't because the Turks would have seen the signals from the shore. However, from the water line they could signal to them and they did. This is a part of our magnificent history, without which we would never have freed our country. It helped the British take control and free the Land of Israel. It opened up the way to Zionism. BACK TO TOP
I know people will ask: "This is the topic you chose to speak of here, at a discussion about our national strength?" My answer is yes. Sometimes small steps lead to great things. I want to give you an example of two steps similar to what I have just described that changed our people's history. I was recently in London. I visited the basement of the Palestine Exploration Fund. It was established in 1860 by Queen Victoria in order to map and scientifically explore the Land of Israel. Queen Victoria sent two men here. One was named Claude R. Conder, who was the head of the expedition. The second was a 21-year-old second lieutenant named Kitchener, who would in time become the 1st Earl Kitchener. Together, they began to map the country, including this place. They made wonderful, accurate topographical maps, and found all the ancient places and reinstated their names. They came armed with all the most advanced measuring tools of the 19th century and with the Bible. The PEF is responsible for some of what we now know. For example, they brought Warren here, and he found Warren's Shaft and many other ancient sites in Jerusalem and across the Land of Israel.
This fired up the imaginations of the both the aristocracy and common people in Britain. You have no idea what an effect it had. It made them think that perhaps the Land of Israel wasn't an abstract place. This land is concrete, and maybe it could be revived, be brought back to life, if the original people who lived there could return to it. That started people talking. It took several decades to happen.
The second project, also a modest project, was one that fired the imaginations of young Jews. It was Baron Rothschild's project. He established villages at several sites after the PEF had been here, from Rosh Pina to Petah Tikva. These new communities revived the ancient land though not on a huge scale; there were only several thousand people living there. However, this action ignited a blaze. One of the people who was carried away by this blaze was a young Jew who came here in 1898—Benjamin Zeev Herzl. He visited, using—by the way—the PEF maps. He visited all these places and understood what was here, and much more. He dared to dream about what could be. These two blazes are what ignited the greatest empire to rule the world and the new prophet of the Jewish people and many other young Jews—these two blazes merged together and became Zionism.
I won't tell you that we don't have tremendous tasks to undertake in all the important fields. We do have them, and we will undertake them. But we will do so only if we are committed to our past in order to ensure our future. Therefore, in light of the plans I laid out today, I hope you will invite me back here in five more years; invite Tzvi Hauser—he is in charge of implementing all this. Our purpose today is to reignite the flame, to introduce a new spirit into the blaze of our lives and reconnect with this land—our land—the unique and singular Land of Israel. BACK TO TOP