This is the Farewell Speech delivered by President Shimon Peres at the Knesset, Thursday 24 July, 2014, published at The Times of Israel in a translation provided by the President’s Residence.
I came to thank you for the privilege you granted me to serve our country and its people for the past seven years. There is no greater privilege. Thank you.
Israel, this small country, became a truly great state.
I know of no other country on the face of the earth or throughout history, which amazed and surprised so much.
Gathering in its people. Making its wilderness bloom. Resurrected from the ruins, surviving a terrible Holocaust. Fighting back in seven wars. Bringing a language back to life. Respecting its traditions and adopting modernity.
And at the same time building a country which continues to develop.
A country which possesses values and practices democracy.
A country without natural resources, which utilized instead the resourcefulness of its people. Our human resource is far more precious than wells of oil or mines of gold.
A country which was established upon a historical core and became an outstanding state in the new scientific world.
A country of song. A country of literature. A country which seeks peace day and night.
I leave the presidency without parting from my faith. I will continue to serve my country as a deep believer that Israel is an exemplary state.
We are a people that experienced unimaginable agony. And we are a people that reached the lofty heights of human achievement. We made great efforts. We paid a heavy price.
We will never forget our brothers and sisters who perished in the Holocaust. We will remember those who fell in battle, who brought new life to a redeemed people.
It is a great privilege to be a citizen among citizens who know toil and struggle. Who made a supreme effort and held on to determined hope until the first dew of our dawn.
We returned. We built. We fought. We prayed. Until we began to see contours that even surprised us. We are an ancient people who are getting older. We are a people, first and foremost, that rebuilds itself time and again.
Israel was born as a precedent and created precedents. Despite being small in number among the nations, our people carried a faith as great as any. The first to rebel against prejudice was Moses.
A nation that rebelled against Pharaoh. That smashed idols. That shattered illusions. A nation that walked through the desert to reach its home, its destiny.
We climbed the mountains and came down with the tablets, with the Ten Commandments which became the foundations upon which our nation was built and which were adopted by Western civilization.
We continue and will continue with this great legacy. There are still idols to be smashed, slaves to free, lives to save and justice to uphold. There is still a world to fix.
Even if we remain the minority among the nations. Even if we serve as a target for evil – we will not deviate from our moral heritage.
Challenges are not invited. They occur spontaneously. That is how the current challenge occurred. I did not imagine that in the last days of my presidency I would be called upon, once more, to comfort bereaved families. Tears in their eyes. And faith in their hearts.
I did not imagine that it would happen again, after we were hit with rockets which were intended to harm innocent civilians. And after we uncovered tunnels meant to kill, intended to penetrate into the heart of civilian communities and fire at mothers and children. We must alert the world to the madness of the terrorist threat.
Terrorism aims to spill our blood. And leads to blood being spilled among its people. Never has such a minority torn apart the fabric of whole societies. So cruelly sent children to serve as shields for its crimes.
Hamas has once again put hundreds of thousands of the citizens of Gaza in harm’s way, into a field of fire.
The terrorists have transformed Gaza, which is over 3000 years old, into a man-made tragedy.
We left Gaza of our own free will and even helped to rebuild it. Unfortunately, it was taken over by fanatical terrorists, who uprooted the structures for rehabilitation and wasted them on a machinery of terror and murder.
Israel is not the enemy of the people of Gaza. The opposite is true, Israel built the Erez Crossing to open a gateway to Gaza. We did not open fire. We returned fire when fired upon.
We fought the terrorists to bring peace to our people. They were also cruel to their own people, taking food away from babies to fund terror. They sowed death and they reaped death.
They forced their children to serve as human shields, and sent them into the fire. I say it again, I say it clearly, the Arabs are not our enemies. The policy of murder is the enemy. It is also the greatest danger to the Arab World.
Hamas fired but it cannot answer two simple questions. What is the reason for the fire? Gaza is not occupied, and when they don’t fire it is open.
Secondly, what do they want to achieve? You can accomplish things without fire and you lose them when you open fire. For 68 years terror has been harming its people. It has never been victorious. It brought only darkness to its people and destruction to its land.
Terror has no answers and does not draw the right conclusions. Israel will be victorious over terrorism because we search for peace and we are just in defense of our home.
Israel will win because of the IDF. Because of its excellent commanders and dedicated soldiers. There is no other army like the IDF. Its power is great. Its equipment is advanced. Its values are clear.
The country is proud of its army. The people love the army. The nation trusts it.
When I come to comfort, in these past days, those who had lost that which is dearest to them, I feel a sadness that has no comfort, but I also learn again the magnitude of our fallen. The fire cut short their lives and revealed their greatness. It lit up the depths of their personalities alongside the courage of their hearts.
Nobody had to explain a thing to them. They knew the reality. By themselves. They moved towards battle even before the call to the front lines came. They volunteered for dangerous missions and fought like lions. Fast but not reckless. They carried the legacy of our forefathers and the bravery of youth.
Their hearts were filled with love for their families, for their country, for their people.
The parents educated and the boys exceeded the expectations of the country.
I visited communities which had been bombed. Communities which created wonderful societies and plowed new fields.
I met the founders surrounded by fruit trees. And children who advocate for freedom and brotherhood. They are all aware of the danger. But convinced of our ability to overcome it.
Members of Knesset,
Allow me to say from upon this stage – there are none like them.
I will add, Israel’s strength is drawn from its unity. A unity of a nation which fights and builds. A nation of good citizens, who enlist when they are young and volunteer for reserve duty long after.
Israel is a nation that dwells alone. But we have friends. In America and in Europe, in Asia, in Australia and in Africa. I am grateful to them.
It is difficult to understand how across the world, in the streets and the squares, protesters come out in support of terrorists and condemn those who defend themselves. They hold signs aloft without providing an answer to terror. They encourage and incite violence.
It is also hard to fathom how a council which bears the words “human rights” in its name decided to establish a committee to investigate who is right. Is it the murderers or those who refuse to be murdered?
If the right to life is not the first right among human rights, what is the value of other rights? The terrorists try to restrict the freedom of air traffic. We must not submit to them. Governments must paralyze the terror and not suspend the flights. In countries governed by law, the sky should be open and the terrorists stopped.
Members of Knesset,
There is no place to doubt our victory. We know that no military victory will be enough. There is no permanent security without permanent peace. Just as there is no real peace without real security.
There is no chronological order when it comes to our founding principles.
In our search for peace, we must not forsake security. In our efforts to ensure our safety, we must not forgo the prospects for peace. A people which can win wars can also bring peace to its children. Even when peace seems to elude us, our reach is determined enough to grasp it. We have witnessed it in the past.
I remember when experts used to say that Egypt will never sign a peace treaty with us. That Jordan will never agree to peace with Israel before Syria does so. That there will never rise a camp against terror among the Palestinians. That never will Arab leaders raise their voices for peace and against terror, in their own language and not just in English, in Arab countries and not just in Europe. Arab leaders that condemn kidnappings and are open to land swaps. Arab leaders that are for two states while one of them is clearly the State of Israel which is a Jewish homeland in its nature and in its constitution.
There was never an expert that could have predicted that one day the Arab League, which engraved upon its flag the three “No’s” of Khartoum, would publish an initiative which refutes them all, and would instead suggest a proposal of its own for a path towards peace, not only between Israelis and Palestinians but with all Arab countries. Even if we cannot accept this proposal in its entirety, we cannot ignore its value.
As Ben Gurion said: “There are no experts for the future, only experts for the past.” Indeed, the future requires believers, not necessarily experts. The future is built. Not inherited from prophets. In order to secure the future of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, Israel adopted the solution based on two states for two peoples. A Jewish state – Israel. And an Arab state for the Palestinians.
This solution is accepted by a majority of the peoples of the world and by a majority of the Arab world.
Members of Knesset,
I have come to bid you farewell as a citizen, as a man whose dream is still alive. As a man who has learned from experience that the greatness of Israel’s reality is greater than the dream which begot it at its dawn.
I am taking leave of my position as President, but not from my duty as a citizen. I was a President who loved his people. As of now, I am a citizen in love with my people.
I will not give up my right to serve my people and my country. And I will continue to help build my country, with a deep belief that one day it will know peace. That Israel will uphold social justice and will raise its eyes to the realized dream of its prophets. That Israel will continue to be Jewish in its legacy and democratic in its practices. That it will safeguard freedom of speech and freedom of research.
That it will continue to excel in its scientific work on a global scale. That it will be a moral country. A country which will practice equality for all its citizens – Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze, Bedouins, and Circassians. So we promised in our Declaration of Independence. So we proclaimed in our book of laws. So we practiced upon the commands of our authorities.
The social vision of the prophet Amos, as the political vision of the prophet Isaiah, are our guiding lights. They commanded us to take social justice and world peace as guiding principles for our actions.
Israel was born on the foundations of its principles. Today it grows on the shoulders of science. There is no contradiction between the two and there shouldn’t be.
During my visits to the many unique and diverse corners of Israel, I entered each place with an explorer’s curiosity and returned with a heart full of pride.
I discovered everywhere, and every time, hardworking people, endless talent, wonderful children and surprises which cannot be described.
Therefore, as I leave my official position I will remain a citizen filled with hope.
Hope for a better future. Hope for peace. Hope that the dream of today will create an exemplary reality. When I return to meeting the beauty and strength of the State of Israel, I find myself shedding a tear. Maybe excited slightly more than my younger friends. Because throughout my years I witnessed the entire incredible journey, and the miracles of Israel.
Alongside David Ben Gurion I saw it fighting for its life. With few resources but endless dangers. And today, I see her standing strong. Secure. Flourishing. Successful in every field. I see my country promising an exciting future for our sons and daughters.
Friends, Reuven Rivlin, the next elected President of Israel,
I wish you success, that you should serve the nation in your own positive way, as you already do. With your great heart, with your face full of light, you already have what is expected from a president. I am sure you will succeed in your way and strengthen the future of the State of Israel
Members of Knesset,
The nature of parliamentary democracy is ongoing, passionate debate. This is democracy. This is how it should be. If I may, particularly in these days when we must stand united, in these difficult days in which the eyes of the nation are on its leaders, on you. Please – do not lessen the debate. It is the essence of democracy. And it must remain. But do it with mutual respect, with a sense of shared destiny and with great respect for the Israeli public, which is unlike any other. They deserve no less from their representatives.
Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.