Photo: Flash90

Bennett: Israel is a Tree of Life

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett gave a special address at the national Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem during a state ceremony commemorating the annual Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of the Wars of Israel and Victims of Actions of Terrorism.

Following is the Israeli leader’s full address

“Dear mothers, fathers, children, partners,
Brothers in arms,
Sisters and brothers,
Members of bereaved families,
Citizens of Israel,

The Memorial Day for Israel’s Fallen Soldiers is a sacred day in Israel. Just a few moments ago, we all stood together as one, with one heart, for the chilling sound of the siren.

Silence. The silence of the thousands of soldiers who fell in Israel’s wars—who by fire and who by the sword, who in battle and who in war, who in training and who in an accident. And the memorial volume opens up by itself, and we remember their smile, their embrace, the last phone call.

We look around us and we see new faces, tormented faces. The faces of those who have unwillingly joined the large Israeli family of bereavement.

The courage of our fighters has been an integral part of us, going back to the bravery of our forefathers, through the dawn of Zionism, and through to today.

Nathan Elbaz was born in Morocco, and immigrated to Israel by himself. He joined the Givati Brigade in 1952. While disarming hand grenades in a tent on his base, he suddenly heard a click and understood that the pin of one of the grenades had come loose and that he had just three seconds to prevent a disaster. He immediately left the tent with the grenade in his hand and yelled at his friends to take cover. In the one second he had left, he understood that there was nowhere to throw the grenade without hurting anyone, so he wrapped his body around the grenade and ran away from his comrades. The grenade exploded.

Nathan Elbaz was killed saving his friends’ lives. Private Nathan Elbaz was awarded the Medal of Distinguished Service for his sacrifice.

Roi Klein was born in Ra’anana, not far from where I live. He joined the IDF and thrived in the Egoz Unit. He went on to study in yeshiva, went to university and then re-enlisted in the IDF. During the Second Lebanon War, he served as the deputy commander of the 51st Battalion of the Golani Brigade. During the heavy fighting in Bint Jbeil, a grenade was thrown at the forces under his command. In a fraction of a second, he threw himself over the grenade, laid on top of it and recited the Shema Yisrael prayer.

Roi Klein was killed saving his friends’ lives. Major Roi Klein was awarded the Medal of Courage for his sacrifice.

Fifty-two years separate Nathan Elbaz’s act of courage and that of Roi Klein. However, they are connected by a thread of self-sacrifice and Jewish heroism. Nathan Elbaz from Morocco and Roi Klein from Ra’anana may have had different backgrounds, but they shared the same love—their love for the Land of Israel, their love for the people of Israel, their love for the State of Israel.

Nathan Elbaz and Roi Klein, along with all our fallen soldiers, left behind testament. With their deaths, they commanded us to live together. Brothers and sisters, if we are not together, we simply will not exist. We cannot exist as warring tribes; only as one diverse but united nation.

Our brothers and sisters are buried in the soil of our country, and they deepen the roots of our bond to this place so that we can continue growing the Tree of Life here. It is a tree with many diverse branches, and its leaves are each different and beautiful. However, all the branches and all the leaves are connected to one trunk, to one tree. Together.

Our people long for unity. Mutual responsibility is deeply etched in our very souls. We see it in times of crisis. We see it on this day as well. More than a million and a half Israelis will visit military cemeteries on Memorial Day. This is a uniquely Israeli phenomenon.

This remarkable participation is testament to our commitment as a nation to our fallen, and to the mutual responsibility that flows in the veins of Israeli society. It is proof of the value of friendship and of the respect that we hold for those who sacrificed themselves for the country, for us. It is our oath, our covenant as a people. It is a declaration that on this Israeli journey—a journey of courage, of grief and pain, of dedication and strength—we are all partners. We are all together here, and we have one fate, one mission. An outsider could never understand this. But that is how we are—stubborn, determined, motivated. We have full conviction in our journey.

Whether on a mission in Nablus or stationed at an outpost in the north, when you meet your brothers in arms and fight alongside them, when you get to know one another, your souls bond. When you arrive at the induction center as a young recruit and meet other recruits whom you don’t know, you become brothers, fighters, family very quickly. You learn to act as a single body, ready to sacrifice yourself for the others, no matter where you grew up or how you thought this country, which is so very precious to all of us, should be shaped.

Citizens of Israel,

We are fighting a cruel and bloodthirsty enemy. Day after day, we are reminded of the fact that the journey is not yet over. Instead of building their lives and futures, our enemies do not relinquish their desire to destroy our lives.

But where are they and where are we? Our enemies wallow in poverty and a feeling of miserable victimhood; whereas we have built a flourishing, strong and optimistic country. Our response to our enemies is an iron wall of strength.

Violence and terrorism are not natural phenomena or a predestined fate that the State of Israel must accept. We will strike not only those who harm us directly, but also those who dispatch others to harm us. The era of granting immunity for the instigators of terrorism is over. The terrorists who carry out attacks are not the only ones who will pay a price, but also those who sent them, even if they are a thousand kilometers east of here.

Any regime that funds terrorism, arms terrorists or gives the order to carry out terrorist attacks will not be able to hide anymore in cowardice from afar. They have already begun to pay the price, which will only grow higher. Our enemies will be met with more initiative, more determination, more innovation. We are determined to face the next challenge—if we are forced to—more prepared and better trained, to surprise rather than be surprised and to strike the enemy a harsh and decisive blow.

We will continue to grow so much stronger that, eventually, our enemies will understand that their dream of destroying us is hopeless.

My friends,

We do not forget our missing and kidnapped citizens, and those who never returned from battle: Hadar Golin and Oron Shaul, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, and the rest of our MIAs. We were there, sending them in, and we are here to continue our commitment to bring them home. This is our charge and it is our commitment.

We also remember those who were wounded in body and in spirit, those who came home from war, but for whom the battle is still raging. We will continue to help the injured and disabled fighters of the IDF and the security organizations, both physically and mentally, in their daily struggle for lives of respect and safety.

Beloved families,

All the love we show you on this day is not enough to ease your pain. More than ever, we must strengthen the weave that ties us together into one nation, prove that we can act together not only on the battlefield, but in all spheres of life. Unity is the foundation of our strength.

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May those who love you be secure… For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’ For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your prosperity.”

May the memories of the fallen be blessed and engraved on our hearts forever.”