Unity is our past and unity must be our future

The Blue and White Party chairman at the AIPAC Policy Conference: 'The Western Wall is long enough to accommodate everyone'
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz addresses AIPAC's policy conference in Washington DC, March 25, 2019. (Jim Watson/AFP)
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz addresses AIPAC's policy conference in Washington DC, March 25, 2019. (Jim Watson/AFP)

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families whose homes were attacked by rockets this morning in Israel. The strong, resilient people of our nation, are attacked yet again, forced to live with constant reminders of our enemies’ hate and unwillingness for change. This hate, fueling a century old conflict, may be the only thing our enemies want to enhance, because this hate, this misery, is all they live for.

Our people live for hope! We live for the promise of a better future which we constantly build. Those that seek life are always stronger than those seeking death and I’m telling you, the leaders of Hamas, you will not change that. I will return to Israel, to stand and, if needed, to fight in defense of my people, our people.

One thing I know for sure: Israel will once again prevail.

* * *

Yes my friend, I am a soldier; That is who I am; That is what I do. I’ve fought in battles you’ve heard of, and in operations you never will. I commanded complex military operations and painful wars. I led commando units into enemy territory. I was the last Israeli soldier to proudly leave Lebanon in May 2000, after serving there for 22 years.

I’ve lost friends. I carry them with me, all the time, everywhere. I have devoted my life to the State of Israel and the Jewish people, and today, as the chair of the Blue and White Party, it is an extraordinary honor for me to be standing here before all of you.

* * *

Ladies and gentlemen, all of you are soldiers too — and let me tell you upfront what we are fighting for. Even though we have the best army, the best airforce in the world, the best fighters in the universe, even with this army, with this airforce, with our brave fighters; if we want hope, we must have unity. If we want security, we must have unity. Throughout history the only way we have won is by being united. Unity is our past and unity must be our future!

* * *

My first assignment as a combat soldier was to accompany and secure Egyptian President Anwar Sadat on his historic visit to Israel. Exactly 40 years ago tomorrow, and just 2,000 yards away at the White House. President Jimmy Carter, the prime minister of Israel, Menachem Begin, and the president of Egypt signed their historic peace agreement, showing us all that great and brave leadership changes history.

I have been a soldier on a mission to ensure Israel’s safety ever since. But I’m not like every other soldier. None of us is regular soldiers. We are Jewish soldiers. Our battle orders include the rules of engagement and the Ten Commandments. The computer code of the F-35 and the moral code of the prophets of Israel.

* * *

And it is the moral code of our nation, that led me on a secret mission, 28 years ago. As a young officer, I led my soldiers to Sudan, an enemy state. There, in the heart of the desert, we met the Jews of Ethiopia who had fled persecution and murder. Together, on military cargo planes, we came back home. The home they had never seen before but dreamed of their entire lives. The land of Israel!

Among the Jews who came from Ethiopia was a little girl. She was only 3 years old. Carried by her aunt as they crossed the desert, leaving half of her family behind. That girl is here today, Member of Knesset Pnina Tamano-Shata. A candidate for the Blue and White party. Pnina — I am so proud to have you in my party, and in this room with me today.

We were sent on that mission because the State of Israel has, and will always have, the moral duty to ensure that every Jew around the world is safe. If there is one Jew in danger, anywhere in the world, the mission is not over.

Today, I am telling you the mission is not yet over. I know that because earlier this year, when the “Tree of Life synagogue” in Pittsburgh was attacked, I like many of you, sat staring at the TV. Because we are Jewish, we will not stand idly by. We will not tolerate racism. We will not tolerate anti-Semitism.

* * *

In my wallet, I carry a black and white photograph of my mother, from Bergen Belsen on liberation day, still in the striped pajamas of the concentration camp. A few years ago I placed another photograph next to it. This one is in color. It is of my son, Nadav, dressed in the uniform of the Israel Defense Forces. It was taken the day he completed his Paratroopers training. Standing opposite him is an officer, older than him I must say, also in uniform. Me, as the chief of staff of Israel Defense Forces.

Between those two photographs lies the story of Israel. Three generations and three symbols: Terrible Bergen Belsen, the Western Wall, and the hope of a young strong and independent Israel.

But those photographs also teach us something else. They teach us that strength and power must come with high moral standards. They teach us that miracles do not happen on their own. We have to protect them. And we will protect them! And that is why, I say from this stage to the Iranian regime: Never again.

We will not allow you to establish yourselves in Syria. We will not allow you to develop a nuclear weapon. You know me well (and not because of my cell phone). On my watch, Iran will not become a regional power. And I will not hesitate to use force when needed.

I know that the children of Tehran, and the children of Jerusalem, are born free of hate. I know that the Iranian people are waiting for a new dawn — one I hope, we will all get to see in our lifetime. Therefore, I am telling you, let Hezbollah, Hamas, Al-Qaeda and ISIS know — We’ve met before on the battlefield. You know the result.

Therefore, I am telling you that the reality in the south, as we unfortunately saw today, where Israeli children spend their nights in bomb shelters, while the heads of Hamas celebrate must end now — and it will. The heads of Hamas had forgotten what happened to Ahmed Jabari — their chief of staff. They will get a personal reminder if they continue targeting our population, as will all terrorists.

We will maintain our military edge, we will firmly keep our security advantage, by air, by land, by sea, and even under the sea.

To those that would like to turn a new page: We will extend our hand in peace and we will strive for peace with any honest and willing Arab leader. With every future agreement we will not compromise on this: Jerusalem is, and will always be, Israel’s united and eternal capital. The Jordan Valley is, and always will remain, Israel’s eastern security border. The responsibility for security over the entire Land of Israel will remain in the hands of the IDF, and the IDF alone.

Not like other countries, we will never ask anyone to fight for us. We will never withdraw from the Golan Heights. Never.

* * *

However, as the former IDF chief of staff and a future leader of Israel, I know that the secret of our strength is based on our ability to stand together. Unity. That is the secret weapon of the Jewish nation. Our ability to stand united, should not be taken for granted.

In Bergen-Belsen no one asked, who is Reform and who is Conservative; who is Orthodox and who is secular. Before going into battle, I never checked to see who had a kippa under their helmet. The divisive dialogue tearing our strong nation apart may serve political purposes, but is shredding the fabric that holds us together.

As a proud owner of a red beret, worn by the liberators of the Kotel, I can tell you with confidence that the Western Wall is long enough to accommodate everyone. Everyone! There will be no radicals, from either side of the political map, ruling. There will be no “Kahanists” running our country. There will be no racists leading our state institutions. There will be no corruption leading our way. No corruption whatsoever! The leaders of Israel cannot be led by anything else other than the best interest of Israel and its people.

* * *

The people of the State of Israel are stronger than all of this. But we can’t do it alone. This is the time to recognize our strongest ally — the United States. You, the American people. Jews and non-Jews. The United States was the first nation to recognize the historic rebirth of the State of Israel in 1948, just 11 minutes after its establishment.

President Trump — a true partner and an ally of Israel. Thank you for recognizing Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish people, and for placing your embassy there. And thank you for recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. We are thankful for your strategic partnership.

And we want all of America, Republicans and Democrats, to move forward with us in the spirit of true bipartisanship that served so well in the past.

* * *

And so, my friends, I am a soldier, a proud soldier. And after a life fighting battles that you have heard of, and ones you never will, I am here on my next assignment: To put our people before everything, our security before everything, and our beautiful, vibrant, and strong State of Israel before everything!

Todah rabah!

Thank you all so very much.

The speech was delivered at the 2019 AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington DC. The text was slightly modified.

About the Author
Benjamin "Benny" Gantz is the head of the Israel Resilience party and was the 20th Chief of General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces.
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