The Honorable President of Israel, Mr. Shimon Peres,
Madam Speaker of the Knesset, Ms. Dalia Itzik,
The Honorable Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Ms. Dorit Beinish,
Head of the Opposition, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu,
Ministers of the Government of Israel,
Distinguished Ambassadors and Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Members of Knesset,
Benjamin Ze’ev Herzl, whose portrait is engraved on the walls of this house, wrote in his diary, at the conclusion of the First Zionist Congress in the town of Basel 110 years ago: "If I were to sum up the Basel Congress in one sentence, it would be this: in Basel, I founded the Jewish state. If I were to say this in public at this time, the response would be laughter from all sides. Perhaps in five years, or at most 50 years, everyone will recognize this."
Exactly 50 years later, on November 29, 1947, the family of nations recognized the right of the Jewish people to a nation-state in its ancient and longed-for homeland, the Land of Israel. Herzl’s vision had been realized and had become an overwhelming political reality.
At the outset, from this podium in the Knesset of Israel and on behalf of the Jewish people, I wish to express again our gratitude, which has no bounds, to the nations whose distinguished representatives raised their hands and their consciences for the proposed resolution in the UN Assembly 60 years ago. You, the ambassadors of those same countries here in Israel, are honored guests at this special session.
You, the representatives of noble nations, are witnesses to the great miracle of the Jewish people, which clawed its way out of the abyss of the Holocaust to the height of national rebirth. We did so against all odds and despite the dangers and threats; we realized the dream of generations and, with hard work and sacrifice, built a free, democratic and prosperous nation, one with many accomplishments, which stands at the global forefront in many fields. No other country has faced such formidable problems and challenges, surrounded by constant hostility and, despite it all, has recorded such impressive achievements. With one hand, it conducts the work of peace, while in the other, it holds the spear.
We are an ancient people. Our memory spans thousands of years of continuous hardship. However, at the end of the Sabbath on November 29, 60 years ago, the Jewish people experienced a time of joy and elation which was unmatched since the day of the destruction of the Temple 1,877 years previously.
Amos Oz brilliantly described this occasion in his book, A Tale of Love and Darkness:
“One after the other, he called the names of the final countries on the list… United Kingdom - abstains. Union of Soviet Socialist Republic - yes. United States - yes. Uruguay - yes. Venezuela - yes. Yemen - no. Yugoslavia - abstains.
"With that, the voice all at once became silent. And suddenly the silence of other worlds descended and froze the entire scene, a frightened silence, one portending disaster, the silence of a crowd holding its breath, a silence the likes of which I had never heard in my life, not before that night and not after.
"Until the thick, slightly hoarse voice returned to reverberate through the radio and summarize in a kind of rough dryness but filled with incipient joy: thirty-three in favor. Thirteen against. Ten abstentions and one country absent from the vote. The resolution is passed.
"Thus his voice was swallowed up by a roar which burst forth from the radio, grew and glided down from the galleries boisterously celebrating their joy in the auditorium in Lake Success, and after two or three seconds of astonishment, of jaws dropped as if in thirst and of eyes wide open, even our remote street at the border of Kerem Avraham in north Jerusalem shouted the first terrible yell with a sudden roar, which tore through the darkness and the buildings and the trees, splitting itself open, a shout not of joy.
It was nothing like the roaring of the crowds at the sports fields, nothing like any screaming by excited crowds, perhaps it was more like a shriek of horror and shock, a scream portending disaster, it was a cry to shake the stones, blood-curdling, as if all those who had died and all those who would die received a porthole through which to cry at the same time, and already within a moment it stopped, and after an instant the first horrible cry was replaced by a roar of happiness and a cacophony of harsh cries and ‘Am Israel Chai (the people of Israel live)’ and someone futilely attempted to start the crowd singing and women squealed and there was applause and ‘here in the land of our ancestors’ desire’, and the entire crowd began to slowly-slowly move around itself as if it were entirely stirred in a giant mixer and there was no more right and no more wrong.” These are the words of Amos Oz.
The United Nations is not known as an organization of charity and benevolence. It is an arena, frequently cynical, of selfish national interests. In November 1947, the Jewish people did not have anything to offer the representatives of the nations gathered to decide its fate. Therefore, the votes of all those who voted “yes” at the Assembly were conscientious and purely moral, and thus even more deserving of appreciation and respect. This vote will forever be etched in gold letters in the chronicles of Israel.
Madam Speaker, distinguished guests,
The enormous outpouring of spontaneous joy which filled the Jewish Yishuv in the Land of Israel upon hearing the results of the vote at Lake Success did not at the time reflect total agreement with the idea of partition. On the left and on the right of the Zionist movement, there were many fine people who wholeheartedly championed the complete homeland and could not accept its dismemberment and division. I grew up and was educated in a “Betar” family and learned the teachings of Jabotinsky, and my father Mordechai, may he rest in peace, who also had the privilege of serving in the Knesset of Israel, firmly objected to the partition plan, out of loyalty and sincere love for the entire land of Israel. I bow my head in humility and admiration for him and his memory as I say things which would have made him cringe - but I must say them: Ben-Gurion was right.
"Greater Israel" was and is a magnificent idea; however, after losing six million of our people, there was a need to come to terms with what could be achieved then, and to establish a state. This is the truth. Because the only choice left to us today, just as it was 60 years ago, is between a Jewish state in part of the Land of Israel and a bi-national state in all of the Land of Israel. This is the choice today as well - two states, Jewish and Palestinian. For there is no other way.
Despite all the doubts and fears, which I do not dismiss, and in spite of the fact that we will struggle and argue over the borders of the state - and we will preserve the status of Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel - we cannot overstate the importance of this position.
Our purpose today is not to settle accounts with our Palestinian neighbors or the Arab countries for rejecting the November 29 resolution and launching a war against us. However, it is important that we and the entire world remember the justness of the State of Israel. For at the fateful and decisive hour 60 years ago, we accepted the compromise of partition, while the opposing side refused and went to war. All that has happened here since then is the tragic consequence of the violent opposition to that partition which will never recur. I am not indifferent to the misfortunes of the Palestinians, despite the fact that they are the result of the wars they initiated and the many opportunities they missed.
With the signing of a peace agreement between us in the future - God willing - there is no doubt that Israel will play a serious role in the regional and international effort, and will contribute to the economic foundation of the Palestinian state and participate in international efforts to help rehabilitate refugees. We will do this willingly, not out of a sense of guilt, but rather from pure humanitarian motives and good neighborliness. This is a commitment and a promise.
In conclusion: Dr. Haim Weizmann, who made great contributions to the creation of a political foundation for the rebirth of Israel, once said, “No country is given on a silver platter.” This sentence served as a motto for the immortal poem by Natan Alterman, “Silver Platter”.
On this day, when the Knesset of sovereign Israel marks the 60th anniversary of the 29th of November, we will remember and honor all those who paved the way which brought the Jewish Yishuv in the Land of Israel to that great, historic hour: the pioneers, the settlers, the builders, the redeemers of the land, the underground fighters of the Hagana, the Irgun and Lehi, those who were led to the gallows, the illegal immigrants, the generations of fighters, the dreamers and all who made it a reality. They all deserve glory. They all deserve renown. Because of them we are here today.
I pray that together we will lead the State of Israel to the path of peace and security, and that the prophecy of Isaiah will be realized: "The product of righteousness shall be peace… My people will live in a peaceful domain and in secure dwellings and in tranquil resting places." (Isaiah 32:17-18)
May it be so.