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Home Page  >>  Editoriale


"You have built a mighty democracy that will endure forever and can always count on the United States of America to be at your side."

Data: 0000-00-00

President George W. Bush gave this speech to the Knesset onMay 15, 2008.


2:55 P.M. (Local) THE PRESIDENT: President Peres and Mr.Prime Minister, Madam Speaker, thank very much for hosting this specialsession. President Beinish, Leader of the Opposition Netanyahu, Ministers,members of the Knesset, distinguished guests: Shalom. Laura and I are thrilledto be back in Israel. We have been deeply moved by the celebrations of the pasttwo days. And this afternoon, I am honored to stand before one of the world'sgreat democratic assemblies and convey the wishes of the American people withthese words: Yom Ha'atzmaut Sameach. (Applause.)

It is a rare privilege for the American President to speakto the Knesset. (Laughter.) Although the Prime Minister told me there issomething even rarer -- to have just one person in this chamber speaking at atime. (Laughter.) My only regret is that one of Israel's greatest leaders isnot here to share this moment. He is a warrior for the ages, a man of peace, afriend. The prayers of the American people are with Ariel Sharon. (Applause.)

We gather to mark a momentous occasion. Sixty years ago inTel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel's independence, founded on the"natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate."What followed was more than the establishment of a new country. It was theredemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David -- ahomeland for the chosen people Eretz Yisrael.

Eleven minutes later, on the orders of President HarryTruman, the United States was proud to be the first nation to recognizeIsrael's independence. And on this landmark anniversary, America is proud to beIsrael's closest ally and best friend in the world.

The alliance between our governments is unbreakable, yet thesource of our friendship runs deeper than any treaty. It is grounded in theshared spirit of our people, the bonds of the Book, the ties of the soul. WhenWilliam Bradford stepped off the Mayflower in 1620, he quoted the words ofJeremiah: "Come let us declare in Zion the word of God." The foundersof my country saw a new promised land and bestowed upon their towns names likeBethlehem and New Canaan. And in time, many Americans became passionateadvocates for a Jewish state.

Centuries of suffering and sacrifice would pass before thedream was fulfilled. The Jewish people endured the agony of the pogroms, thetragedy of the Great War, and the horror of the Holocaust -- what Elie Wieselcalled "the kingdom of the night." Soulless men took away lives andbroke apart families. Yet they could not take away the spirit of the Jewishpeople, and they could not break the promise of God. (Applause.) When news ofIsrael's freedom finally arrived, Golda Meir, a fearless woman raised inWisconsin, could summon only tears. She later said: "For two thousandyears we have waited for our deliverance. Now that it is here it is so greatand wonderful that it surpasses human words."

The joy of independence was tempered by the outbreak ofbattle, a struggle that has continued for six decades. Yet in spite of theviolence, in defiance of the threats, Israel has built a thriving democracy inthe heart of the Holy Land. You have welcomed immigrants from the four cornersof the Earth. You have forged a free and modern society based on the love ofliberty, a passion for justice, and a respect for human dignity. You haveworked tirelessly for peace. You have fought valiantly for freedom.

My country's admiration for Israel does not end there. WhenAmericans look at Israel, we see a pioneer spirit that worked an agriculturalmiracle and now leads a high-tech revolution. We see world-class universitiesand a global leader in business and innovation and the arts. We see a resourcemore valuable than oil or gold: the talent and determination of a free peoplewho refuse to let any obstacle stand in the way of their destiny.

I have been fortunate to see the character of Israel upclose. I have touched the Western Wall, seen the sun reflected in the Sea ofGalilee, I have prayed at Yad Vashem. And earlier today, I visited Masada, aninspiring monument to courage and sacrifice. At this historic site, Israelisoldiers swear an oath: "Masada shall never fall again." Citizens ofIsrael: Masada shall never fall again, and America will be at your side.

This anniversary is a time to reflect on the past. It's alsoan opportunity to look to the future. As we go forward, our alliance will beguided by clear principles -- shared convictions rooted in moral clarity andunswayed by popularity polls or the shifting opinions of international elites.

We believe in the matchless value of every man, woman, andchild. So we insist that the people of Israel have the right to a decent,normal, and peaceful life, just like the citizens of every other nation.(Applause.)

We believe that democracy is the only way to ensure humanrights. So we consider it a source of shame that the United Nations routinelypasses more human rights resolutions against the freest democracy in the MiddleEast than any other nation in the world. (Applause.)

We believe that religious liberty is fundamental to acivilized society. So we condemn anti-Semitism in all forms -- whether by thosewho openly question Israel's right to exist, or by others who quietly excusethem.

We believe that free people should strive and sacrifice forpeace. So we applaud the courageous choices Israeli's leaders have made. Wealso believe that nations have a right to defend themselves and that no nationshould ever be forced to negotiate with killers pledged to its destruction.(Applause.)

We believe that targeting innocent lives to achievepolitical objectives is always and everywhere wrong. So we stand togetheragainst terror and extremism, and we will never let down our guard or lose ourresolve. (Applause.)

The fight against terror and extremism is the definingchallenge of our time. It is more than a clash of arms. It is a clash ofvisions, a great ideological struggle. On the one side are those who defend theideals of justice and dignity with the power of reason and truth. On the otherside are those who pursue a narrow vision of cruelty and control by committingmurder, inciting fear, and spreading lies.

This struggle is waged with the technology of the 21stcentury, but at its core it is an ancient battle between good and evil. Thekillers claim the mantle of Islam, but they are not religious men. No one whoprays to the God of Abraham could strap a suicide vest to an innocent child, orblow up guiltless guests at a Passover Seder, or fly planes into officebuildings filled with unsuspecting workers. In truth, the men who carry outthese savage acts serve no higher goal than their own desire for power. Theyaccept no God before themselves. And they reserve a special hatred for the mostardent defenders of liberty, including Americans and Israelis.

And that is why the founding charter of Hamas calls for the"elimination" of Israel. And that is why the followers of Hezbollahchant "Death to Israel, Death to America!" That is why Osama binLaden teaches that "the killing of Jews and Americans is one of thebiggest duties." And that is why the President of Iran dreams of returningthe Middle East to the Middle Ages and calls for Israel to be wiped off themap.

There are good and decent people who cannot fathom thedarkness in these men and try to explain away their words. It's natural, but itis deadly wrong. As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemnresponsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen theconsequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And thatis a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.

Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with theterrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them theyhave been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazitanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: "Lord, ifI could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided." Wehave an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement,which has been repeatedly discredited by history. (Applause.)

Some people suggest if the United States would just breakties with Israel, all our problems in the Middle East would go away. This is atired argument that buys into the propaganda of the enemies of peace, andAmerica utterly rejects it. Israel's population may be just over 7 million. Butwhen you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong, because theUnited States of America stands with you. (Applause.)

America stands with you in breaking up terrorist networksand denying the extremists sanctuary. America stands with you in firmlyopposing Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions. Permitting the world's leadingsponsor of terror to possess the world's deadliest weapons would be anunforgivable betrayal for future generations. For the sake of peace, the worldmust not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. (Applause.)

Ultimately, to prevail in this struggle, we must offer analternative to the ideology of the extremists by extending our vision ofjustice and tolerance and freedom and hope. These values are the self-evidentright of all people, of all religions, in all the world because they are a giftfrom the Almighty God. Securing these rights is also the surest way to securepeace. Leaders who are accountable to their people will not pursue endlessconfrontation and bloodshed. Young people with a place in their society and avoice in their future are less likely to search for meaning in radicalism.Societies where citizens can express their conscience and worship their Godwill not export violence, they will be partners in peace.

The fundamental insight, that freedom yields peace, is thegreat lesson of the 20th century. Now our task is to apply it to the 21st.Nowhere is this work more urgent than here in the Middle East. We must standwith the reformers working to break the old patterns of tyranny and despair. Wemust give voice to millions of ordinary people who dream of a better life in afree society. We must confront the moral relativism that views all forms ofgovernment as equally acceptable and thereby consigns whole societies toslavery. Above all, we must have faith in our values and ourselves andconfidently pursue the expansion of liberty as the path to a peaceful future.

That future will be a dramatic departure from the MiddleEast of today. So as we mark 60 years from Israel's founding, let us try toenvision the region 60 years from now. This vision is not going to arriveeasily or overnight; it will encounter violent resistance. But if we and futurePresidents and future Knessets maintain our resolve and have faith in ourideals, here is the Middle East that we can see:

Israel will be celebrating the 120th anniversary as one ofthe world's great democracies, a secure and flourishing homeland for the Jewishpeople. The Palestinian people will have the homeland they have long dreamed ofand deserved -- a democratic state that is governed by law, and respects humanrights, and rejects terror. From Cairo to Riyadh to Baghdad and Beirut, peoplewill live in free and independent societies, where a desire for peace isreinforced by ties of diplomacy and tourism and trade. Iran and Syria will bepeaceful nations, with today's oppression a distant memory and where people arefree to speak their minds and develop their God-given talents. Al Qaeda andHezbollah and Hamas will be defeated, as Muslims across the region recognizethe emptiness of the terrorists' vision and the injustice of their cause.

Overall, the Middle East will be characterized by a newperiod of tolerance and integration. And this doesn't mean that Israel and itsneighbors will be best of friends. But when leaders across the region answer totheir people, they will focus their energies on schools and jobs, not on rocketattacks and suicide bombings. With this change, Israel will open a new hopefulchapter in which its people can live a normal life, and the dream of Herzl andthe founders of 1948 can be fully and finally realized.

This is a bold vision, and some will say it can never beachieved. But think about what we have witnessed in our own time. When Europewas destroying itself through total war and genocide, it was difficult toenvision a continent that six decades later would be free and at peace. WhenJapanese pilots were flying suicide missions into American battleships, itseemed impossible that six decades later Japan would be a democracy, a lynchpinof security in Asia, and one of America's closest friends. And when waves ofrefugees arrived here in the desert with nothing, surrounded by hostile armies,it was almost unimaginable that Israel would grow into one of the freest andmost successful nations on the earth.

Yet each one of these transformations took place. And a futureof transformation is possible in the Middle East, so long as a new generationof leaders has the courage to defeat the enemies of freedom, to make the hardchoices necessary for peace, and stand firm on the solid rock of universalvalues.

Sixty years ago, on the eve of Israel's independence, thelast British soldiers departing Jerusalem stopped at a building in the Jewishquarter of the Old City. An officer knocked on the door and met a senior rabbi.The officer presented him with a short iron bar -- the key to the Zion Gate --and said it was the first time in 18 centuries that a key to the gates ofJerusalem had belonged to a Jew. His hands trembling, the rabbi offered aprayer of thanksgiving to God, "Who had granted us life and permitted us toreach this day." Then he turned to the officer, and uttered the words Jewshad awaited for so long: "I accept this key in the name of mypeople."

Over the past six decades, the Jewish people have established a state that would make that humble rabbi proud. You have raised amodern society in the Promised Land, a light unto the nations that preservesthe legacy of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. And you have built a mightydemocracy that will endure forever and can always count on the United States ofAmerica to be at your side. God bless. (Applause.)


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