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Seeking Peace, Pursuing Justice

Seek peace...and pursue it : Psalm 34:15

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Israel Solidarity Rally

Washington, DC
April 15, 2002

This is the transcript of the speech delivered by Rabbi Michael Melchior, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Israel.

Talk Delivered by Rabbi Michael Melchior
:

The war, which we the people of Israel are fighting, this war, which has been forced upon us, is different from the wars we have fought before, not just for Israel, not just for America, but for the world at large. This is a war for our homes and our families, for the basic right to live without fear in our land, without terrorists seeking to attack our future. It's a war about our children in pizza bars and discotheques and school buses. It's a war about our freedom, being able to celebrate it at a Pesach Seder.

But it also more than that: it is a war for civilization. What is civilization? Civilization is the recognition that certain values -- human life, truth, tolerance, love of parents for children -- are sacrosanct; that no goal or political objective can justify violating them. Today we face an enemy that has declared civilization its enemy, and there is no value, however sacred, that the scores of fundamental terrorism has not trampled underfoot. Ambulances, which should be protecting the sick, become vehicles for terrorists and bombs. Mosques and churches, places of worship and contemplation become fortresses for terrorist killers who shoot from their shelter. The U.N. conference in Durbin, intended to combat racism and slavery, not only does nothing to help the oppressed, but hosts the most anti- Semitic diatribes since the Second World War.

The dark forces of national and religious fundamentalism, which have been unleashed, are not limited to our region. This is a vital struggle -- not just for Israel, but for free countries across the world. If this evil triumphs in our region, it will know no borders. Palestinian terrorism already claims the copyrights on other heinous acts that have spread throughout the areas of conflict, including hijackings and the placing of children in the line of fire. There's no doubt that if this fundamentalist, suicidal terrorism is not defeated, and decisively, we will see it threatening free societies around the world.

We did not choose to fight this dreadful war; to the contrary. The last Israeli government made far-reaching peace proposals recognizing that without secure borders for the Palestinians, there can be no secure borders for Israel. Without dignity for the Palestinian people, there can be no true dignity for Israelis. And without peace for the Palestinians, there can be none for Israel.

And these truths hold still today. We are not fighting the Palestinian people; we continue to respect their aspirations to independence. And still today, if the Palestinian leadership is ready to choose peace and progress, they will find that no people want peace or is prepared to sacrifice more for it than Israel.

But that is not the leadership we have seen. We have seen a leadership, which at the peak of the peace process not only rejected Israel's proposals but responded with a wave of brutal violence that has continued and escalated to this day. We have seen a leader who funds acts of terror and talks of throwing the Jews into the sea, while his wife just this week has declared her ambition for a child to grow up to become a suicide terrorist.

So why do we still hope for peace? We are fighting a war that has given us no choice. It is crucial that we win this war, but it's just as crucial how we win. In ancient times the children of Israel will carry the hold ark containing the Ten Commandments in front of them into battle, as a reminder that however bloody the fighting, there were rules and values that still must be respected. Today, in a battle in which our enemy is prepared to stoop to any level, we have to respect our values while still fighting for them.

This is the hardest challenge: to maintain a semblance of humanity in the midst of a conflict. Never has it been so hard to find the balance between protecting the lives of innocent Israelis threatened by terrorism and violence and the Palestinian civilians living in those areas from where acts of terror are emanating. Never has it been so hard to find a way of ensuring security while recognizing the humanity of the Palestinians living under our control, to weigh the risk that striking at terror today could increase their motivation for a terrorist act tomorrow. These are the questions with which Israel, its army and its civilians grapple every day.

And so we should, just as we should feel the anguish at the terrible loss of civilian life also amongst the Palestinians, which is also a "chillul ha-shem," a desecration of God's name, notwithstanding the justice of our fight. And even if our answers to these questions are not always right -- and indeed, in many cases, there are no right answers -- we are asking the right questions. While our opponents ask how to kill as many civilians as possible, we ask how we can limit the loss to civilian life. While they ask how to inflame the passions of the Arab world, we ask how we might get back to the negotiation table.

And ultimately, this is the reason that there can be no moral equivalence between our efforts to defend our civilians and the heinous attempts of Palestinian terrorists to destroy them. Can it be that so much of the world which sees this moral equivalence is wrong and that we are right? Indeed, it can. In recent weeks in the Arab world there's reported yet again age-old blood libels against Jews and in the millions reprinted the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion. These lies across the generations have led to countless pogroms and to the greatest crime the world has ever known. But they also served us as a reminder to every Jew and decent person that the world could be wrong. It could accuse Jews of inconceivable atrocities, and yet we would know within ourselves where the truth lies.

Today we see anti-Semitism spreading once again like a plague, with attacks throughout Europe raising the painful specters of the last century, in Antwerp, in Paris, in Lyon, in Tunis, in Strasbourg, in Kiev, as well as in Los Angeles and Toronto just over the last week. It falls to us to bear witness that tolerating such incidents will not make them go away. Governments that deny anti-Semitic attacks or fail to address them are only inviting anti-Semites to turn up the volume. Anti-Semitism, like terrorism, breeds in those places where there is no courage to confront it.

Today, when across the world we see a coalition of hatred which knows no borders, it becomes more important than ever to harness a coalition of civilizations which almost must know no borders. This coalition must include Palestinians and Israelis, Christians, Muslims and Jews, indeed every believer in the future of democracy and decency. There is no alternative. Otherwise, everything turns back to darkness and chaos. The United States, with its moral force, must lead this coalition for democracy and peace and against terror and hatred.

This is a coalition in which there is no neutrality. As President Bush has taught us, there are only the defenders of freedom, those who are helping, either actively or passively, to undermine it. This is a vital cause and a holy one. The Torah portion of -- (phrase in Hebrew) describes the Biblical laws of kedooshah, holiness. The climax of these laws, the peak of holiness is remarkable. It is the simple commandment -- (phrase in Hebrew) -- "Love your neighbor because he is as yourself." This is Jew holiness. We will never accept those who pervert this holiness, who subscribe to a doctrine of "Kill your neighbor with yourself." Let us never forget, it is always the victim, never the murderers, never the "shaheeds" who are the holy ones. This fight seems overwhelming, a raging sea of violence ready to engulf us, and many of us have moments of despair. But our people from its earliest days have found ways of crossing such seas. I pray and truly believe that if we keep sight of the values for which we are fighting, we will cross this sea as well and reach the land of which we have so long dreamed, the land of peace.

Thank you very much.