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Ambassador’s Speech

Speech by His Excellency, Yuval Rotem, Israel’s Ambassador to Australia at the Yom Hazikaron Commemoration for Israel’s Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror 2009

Bereaved families, IDF disabled veterans and their families,
Dr Danny Lamm, President of the Zionist Council of Victoria,
Rabbanim, members of the Melbourne community, gathered respectfully here this evening,

On this Memorial Day for the fallen soldiers of the Israel Defence Force, we gather and remember, together with the entire Jewish people, in the memory of our beloved – friends, sons and daughters, the pioneers who sacrificed their lives in the struggle for the establishment of the State of Israel, the casualties of the wars, the heroes of the campaigns, together with the casualties of terror attacks, mishaps and accidents.

Once again we gather here today, because together we can find solace and the strength to carry on.

In the cemeteries our beloved are all the same. The long time buried and the recently departed. All stand at attention, tombs shining, equal, in unison.

Only the life story differs: father, son, brother, partner, loved one, friend.

The fallen, when preparing for battle, carried the weight of the establishment of the State of Israel and its continued existence on their shoulders, the hopes and prayers of the generation, in reality, the entire burden of Jewish history.

They did so at the time of the struggle of the establishment of the state in the resistance movement and taking their final breath at the hands of their tormentors on the gallows.

And in 1948, in the battles of the historic fortress of Latrun, overlooking Jerusalem, and the valley of Ayalon.

And in the heroic defence of Gush Etzion and Negba, Kfar Darom, Yad Mordecahi and Nitzanim, in the convoys of aid to the besieged city of Jerusalem, in the Galilee and the valley, in the Negev and along the coastal Philistia strip.

And in the operations, retaliatory strikes and the Sinai campaign:
In the liberation of Jerusalem, penetration battles and the storming of the Sinai desert, in Samaria and the Golan Heights – six days of glory.

In pursuits and daring raids and in the blazing days of Attrition.
And in the determined defence and the crucial crossing of the Suez Canal in the Yom Kippur War.
In the First Lebanon War and the subsequent campaign.
And in the skirmishes in between the wars, on land, in the skies and the seas, and the on- going gruelling campaign fought for the past 120 years against Arab and Palestinian terrorism, up until the “Cast Lead” operation in the Gaza Strip which ended several weeks ago.

This lengthy and unrelenting path of courage, of more than one hundred years, is scattered with names. Each name – an entire world stopped in its tracks. Behind every name is a home wrapped in sorrow, parents stature crippled, anguished widows and orphans, heartbroken, and preserving memories of life and endless longing.

For more than a century we have been trying to live in the holy land, to build a home, a place to rest our weary heads. For more than a century we have been fighting terror groups and armies. This is one long war. It just changes its title and epithet: once they were “bloody pogroms” then “Meoraot”, the bloody clashes between the Jews and the Arabs in Israel during the period of the British Mandate. Our detractors were initially called “fedayin” and in another period “terrorists”. Yet it has always been the same war, campaign or operation, part of the struggle for the right to return to the land of the patriarchs, to live in peace and quiet and in dignity.

More than twenty thousand rest in the mounds of earth of the State of Israel, a world made up mainly of men and also of heroic women resting under the rock.

The mourning over them will never ever cease.
Of those who had never given birth, too young to have had the chance to.
Of those who had never known a woman and left no legacy.
And the time passes we miss them even more.

And to those thousands of fallen soldiers, no tens of thousands children were born.
And the enduring grief is that of us all.

Bereaved families,
Each and every day of the year is a private day of remembrance for you.
Your personal and intimate memories do not wait for the official state remembrance ceremony to break out and flood the consciousness.
You do not require flags at half mast,
A sad trumpet blast or a prayer of “Yizkor” to relive the memory again.

We are well aware that we shall never fully comprehend –
We gather, at least once a year,
And silently salute
Salute those who passed on

But also salute you, the families
For your courage, for your stance, your daily struggle.
For your ability to get up in the morning,
For your ability to carry on with life.

Bereaved families, dear gathering,
The faith of the Jewish people is different to that of the any other nation in the history of humanity. We who had been murdered, humiliated, destroyed, our dignity trampled- finally we were victorious.

We established a sovereign state for the Jewish people while picking up the pieces of the destruction that remained after the Holocaust, while overcoming hostility and aggression. But we are a different people. So strange yet special. We are a people whose commemorative plaques do not depict victory. On our commemorative plaques- on all of them- the names of our fallen, the heroes, are engraved. The names of the pioneers- who established our state and the most recent fatalities in the struggle to ensure its existence.

Bereaved families,
You do not need to be told that war must not be the be all and end all, this heavy price which you are carrying on your shoulders. And since the decision time is nearing, action and clever diplomacy is required that would politically express the victory on the battle field. The various processes gather to some point of climax. Therefore, there will be no alternative. And as was the case after the great Arab revolt collapsed prompting the Baltimore plan, there is no avoiding the need to forge a new Israeli vision. As in the prelude to 1948 there was need to prepare for the establishment of the new state, and in doing so forging a determined nation aware of the struggles it faces, and the rationale for the conflict it must face. As was case then so now there is a need to reforge a nation that will recognise the rationale for its existence.

The time has come for a new Israel, which would validate the long arduous path it has taken- an Israel of moral values, an Israel of truth, Israel of talent, one which produces flour from the desolate land and bread from its science. An Israel that could act as an invitation for a Jewish future – a source of pride and hope. An Israel in which a desire for peace is once again the basic premise of the Jewish people’s identity card – an identity card which perceives the sanctity of life having greater importance than even the sanctity of the Sabbath.

We need to strike out institutionalised corruption and weed out the phenomenon from the roots, to halt the moral decay, to wage war on the malignant social divides, to design a just economic order, to instigate a revolution in education, to re-establish equality, quality and the pursuit of excellence as the corner stones of our lives. To set a blue print for Israel to once again become a functioning twentieth century state. As a Jewish-democratic state with a raison d’être, a rationale, for its continued existence.
And all this so that Israel can come to terms with the strategic challenges in its horizon.
We must strive to find the right balance of wisdom and political smarts, architecture and social structure, combining the utilisation and building of power. Power that is not measured in terms of the number of tanks and planes, but a power that brings together economic, technological and moral strength.

This combination will be fraught with difficulties, and pain. Israel knows no other way but the painful road.

Dear gathering,

Cast your memory at the past 7 years:
• The years of the second intifada which was brought to an end with  the “Defensive Shield” campaign of 2002.
• The difficult campaign of the second Lebanon war in 2006.
• The fighting against the Hamas in Operation “Cast Lead” in 2009

Dear gathering,
Remember these moments. This is how a nation’s moments of truth reveal themselves. This is what history in the making looks like. In such days our relationship with this magnificent and torturous land are processed. In these moments of truth our self worth is tested. Our willingness to wait for a neighbour to change his ways. To change from one who hates to one who loves, from a pursuer to one who pursues peace.

Let every enemy know and let its dispatchers know: there is no war that will be forced upon us that we will not win. The campaign on our way of life is a war on our existence. We will be victorious because we seek life. But our greatest triumph will not be in winning the war. The post war peace will be the true victory, our greatest, because peace, compassion and comradeship, these are the true essence of the Jewish people.

We have been forced so many times to wage the sword of war. We have never surrendered and never will. Our other hand will always be outstretched for peace and we will never stop extending it again and again. Until our paths of peace will disrupt their warring ways.

Bereaved families, dear gathering
There are two mountains in Jerusalem. Temple Mount and Mount Herzl.
Temple Mount exemplifies the noble Jewish spirit,
Mount Herzl expresses the determined Israeli spirit.
The embodiment of theses two mountains are illustrated today.
Our Temple Mount will never be a mountain of conflict and sectarianism, but a mountain of world peace and eternal love for our fellow man. As this is how Hashem himself describes his earthly residence among us “As my home,  a house of prayer will call all nations” a house of prayer not a house of conflict. To all nations and all believers.
And from Mount Herzl, the mountain of Israel’s spirit, where our finest are buried, its worthy that once again the Jewish Peace Prayer will be sung:
“May he grant peace, goodness, and blessing, life, charm, graciousness, kindness, and compassion upon us and upon all of Your people Israel.”