Address by Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni at the Knesset on the IDF operation in the Gaza Strip
Since this past Saturday morning, Israel has been fighting the terrorist rule of Hamas in the Gaza Strip in order to change the security situation in Israel - the situation in which the citizens of the western Negev and the entire State of Israel have been exposed to incessant bombing out of Gaza. These are days of ordeal, responsibility and considered judgment, and not days for criticism, factionalism and politics.
Esteemed Members of Knesset, these days the world is divided between moderates and extremists, between those who believe in live-and-let-live and those who try to impose their beliefs upon others, between people who wish to live in peace and people for whom hate, incitement, terror and violence are their daily routine, the basis for educating their children, and the voices emanating from some of their mosques.
These are the days when every individual in the region and in the world has to choose a side. And the sides have changed. No longer is it Israel on one side and the Arab world on the other. No longer is it a choice between the political process and hope, or a war on terror. Israel chose its side the day it was established; the Jewish people chose its side during its thousands of years of existence, and the prayer for peace is the voice sounded in the synagogues.
There is one thing I am unwilling to accept. Choosing peace does not mean surrendering to the radical and terrorist elements. And while fighting terror, it is forbidden to abandon the political process and hope. Choosing peace and life is part of the war on terror and extremism. And Israel’s side, the right side, is the side of all those who want to advance the peace process based on the idea of two states and everyone who understands that we need to fight against our common enemies.
Let no one make the mistake of thinking that our values, our aspirations for peace, and our commitment to democracy will prevent us from doing what we must do in order to protect each and every Israeli citizen. Israel is making it plain yet again today that its desire for peace is not a sign of weakness. Israel is proving that it has the ability, the will and the social and political cohesiveness to defend itself against those seeking to inflict harm upon it.
Many voices are making themselves heard throughout the world today in English, French and Arabic, and, in a clear, strong voice, we are telling them all the truth that is not broadcast on television in the Arab world - and this is the truth that needs to be voiced from this podium to the entire world.
The true conflict is between the extremist elements and the moderates in the region. Hamas is an extremist Islamic organization that does not represent any of the Palestinian people’s aspirations, but rather is ruling them for its own ends and purposes. Hamas does not recognize the existence of Israel or Israel’s right to exist here. It lives off fear and hate. Hamas receives support from Iran and Syria, in the form of money, weapons, and training. Hamas is a terrorist organization.
Israel is on the right side. We made a strategic decision to advance the peace process with those who have chosen the same side as us and wish to promote the idea of two states. We immediately made it clear that we can only succeed if at the same time we all take a stand against the terror and hate that Hamas represents.
When we made the decision to leave Gaza in order to disengage ourselves from responsibility for what was happening there and to create an opportunity for peace, we clarified at the time that Israel is not leaving the key to its life and security in the hands of whoever will be in charge there.
Hamas, which is ruling Gaza, refuses to accept the three conditions of recognizing Israel, renouncing terror, and accepting previous agreements. We will not accept the use of any similar language when it comes to Hamas and Israel. We are responsible for our security. Israel’s approach to security cannot be put off to later. We retained the capability to respond, and that is exactly what we are doing today.
Israel has been under attack from Gaza for the past eight years. We did everything we could to prevent a deterioration of the situation. We agreed to the calm that was immediately violated by Hamas when it refused to advance the release of Gilad Shalit, continued to arm itself, and continued firing. The calm was violated by Hamas. Hamas is the party responsible for violating the calm; and whoever has given Hamas support, assistance and refuge is today paying the price.
Israel is entitled to defend itself against any attempt to harm its sovereignty, the well-being of its residents and the security of its citizens. Israel’s actions fulfill its basic right to self defense. Hamas is a terrorist organization – and we are treating it as such.
Israel is acting against Hamas and not against the Palestinian population. Israel would like to reiterate to anyone with complaints about the population, to redirect them to the party directly responsible for the population’s situation – Hamas, which is holding the population hostage.
Israel has done everything possible to avoid the moment at which it would be forced to take action, but that moment finally came. We will make the most of it, in order to change the equation.
Israel is waging a struggle, but this struggle is not Israel’s alone. Israel is standing on the frontlines of the Western world’s war against terror, and we expect support for doing the right thing and fighting the war of the entire free world.
It is true: the pictures broadcast on television all over the world are provoking harsh public opinion against Israel. Unfortunately, some of the world’s decision makers are swayed by public opinion and the media, even though they know what is true and what is not, and how they would act in a similar situation.
From this podium, I call upon the world’s leaders, and particularly those from the Arab world – those who understand that the threat does not come from Israel but from the radical elements in the world, headed by Iran; those who know what Hamas really is; those who know that Hamas is a problem for the entire Palestinian people and not just Israel’s problem. They know that as long as Hamas rules in Gaza, Gaza cannot be part of a Palestinian state. They know that the road to peace passes through the war on terror, extremism, hate and incitement, which means a war against Hamas and those like Hamas.
It is the leader’s responsibility to make choices. Leadership has the power and the responsibility to do what is right, even if runs counter to public opinion, and this is the test of what is right.
This is also a test of the leadership of the Arab public in Israel. You are leading the Arab population here on a thin rope. The thin line between what is allowed and what is forbidden must not be crossed - between legitimate and illegitimate, between right and wrong. Each of you must choose a side, and the choice is not between Arab and Jew. The right side is the State of Israel along with all the moderate elements in the region, including the lion’s share of the Palestinian public and the Arab world. Then there is the side of terror and extremism. There is no middle ground.
Yesterday I was in Sderot with the foreign ambassadors, and the mayor told them a story that I would like to share with you as well. Schoolchildren who wanted to prove their rabbi wrong held a butterfly in their hands and asked him if it was alive or dead. If he said alive, they would crush it; if he said dead, they would open their hands and set it free. Upon being asked, the rabbi responded, “It is in your hands. If you wish, it will live. If you wish, it will die.”
Israel knows how to rally together when it is fighting for its own. A country must protect all its citizens. On the way here, I heard that Hamas has announced that the man killed by the rocket strike in Ashkelon was a Zionist, although he was actually an Israeli Arab. They don’t make that distinction.
We have conducted ourselves with unsurpassed restraint. We grinded our teeth, bit our lips, unturned every stone, to prevent the need for widespread action. However, our responsibility is to the safety of our children, their right to walk to school and kindergarten. Living quietly is the right of every person on this earth. This parliament, like this entire nation, needs to be united and to send out our thanks to the IDF, to the members of Israel Security Agency, and to all those fighting and protecting the home front. The home front that has become the front line in recent years, and to which we must restore peace of mind.