The article below is adapted from an address delivered by Israel’s ForeignMinister. Abba Eban, at the Stephen S. Wise Award Dinner of the American Jewish Congress held october 17th. Mr. Eban was cited “for distinguished achievement in advancing the dignity, freedom and security of the jewish people.”
Why have I received your approuval? The reason is that I have had, for many years, a story to tell and have told it everywhere in Israel’s name and in yours. It is a story the like of which has never been heard before – the story of the jewish people in this unforgettable generation.
The story opens on a note of agony, an agony so sharp that all recovery from it seemed inconceivable. For when Stephen Wise and his associates organised the life of the american jewish community, in the Second World War and in its aftermath, they faced such a volume of anguish and humiliation as no family of the humanrace had ever been called upon to endure. They stood before the stark horror of massacre and martyrdom in Europe. They were called upon to convey to mankind that out of the darkest depths of man’s divided nature there had sprung this catastrophe which left sixmillions of our people slaughtered in Europe.
But the next act in the History is one of transition, of Israel’s emergence into the international community. The people that had seemed to be battered beyond any capacity to show its vitality again, had emerged into its greatest era of identity and independence. The History of the jewish people in this generation will forever be dominated by this unparalleled transition from agony to triumph, from tragedy to consolation. The american jewish community has been not only a spectator, but a partner and an architect of this transition. Its organised institutions, with the American Jewish Congress as the very earliest link in the chain of development, have understood that devotion, Patriotism must be organised if they are to become effective in the life of our times.
We find the three major centers of jewish identity in full momentum. We find Israel embarking on the second generation of its independent life, solidly entrenched within its reigon, demonstrating its capacity to withstand the hostile forces which have implacably assailed its interests. We find american jews taking part both in the emergence of the United States to preeminence and responsibility in humandestiny and in the forefront of the processes which has brought Israel back into the community of nations.
We also find great stirrings in the third most populous center of jewish life. We find soviet jews throwing off the inhibitors and complexes of intimidation and proudly proclaiming their right and their unquenchable aspiraiton to join themselves with the main currents of jewish History. And we find the international echo to their cry for liberation becoming more audible than ever before. We find that the gates, although still shut too tight, are beginning to reveal a breach through which thousands have come out this year in order to join in the challenges of israeli life.
This, then, is the story of recuperation. What an immense dignity there is in this story, both in the suffering and in the deliverance.
I expect that what you want me to talk about is the israeli part of this story. Soon the twentyfifth anniversary will be celebrated and many will go back in Memory to the small beginnings out of which out society arose: that little community of 650.000, in some sense an elite community born out of the Democracy and the social Idealism of Europe. It has increased by more than 400% within the life of a single generaiton, a rate of unprecedented growth in History.
What are our fortunes in the next stage of challenge? The year that has passed since you last made your awards has been a year of affirmative development. It has for the first time in many months been a year of ceasefire. It has been a year in which we have not had, day by day, to fear a clash of arms which would involve the prospect of global escalation, for across one of the ceasefire lines, at the Suez Canal, the confrontation is not regional or provincial; it is between Israel and the armed presence of one of the major nuclearpowers. The soviet forces irresponsibly introduced into the Middle East have the intention and the effect of converting a regional tension into the possibility of global menace to all mankind. Israel forces the soviet forces on the Suez Canal, unaccompanied by any other military presence but, nevertheless, strong with the recent infusion of military aid from the United States, which has also undertaken commitments to the middle eastern equilibrium and to Israel’s security.
The past year has also seen the decline of extremist Radicalism. Do we not all remember how we were told last year that the terrorist groups and the air pirates were the revolutionary wave of the future, that they were irresistible, that they would soon take command of Jordan, that they would soon control all arab Governments until there would not be any possibility of arab decision from the intimidation of a doctrine so frenzied and extreme as to rule out any possibility of conciliation in the Middle East?
Well, they are resistible, they have been resisted. They have been resisted firstly in Israel, they have been resisted in Jordan, they have declined in Lebanon, and with this decline there has come a diminution of resonance. Their voices are less heard. I doubt whether Mr. Arafat, the leader of the Fatah, would even qualify for a front cover in Time Magazine this year, because nothing in contemporary Culture fails like failure.
There have been other evidences of progress. Across the open bridges of the Jordan 110.000 arabs from countries allegedly at war with Israel have come into the constructive contact of daily humanCommerce. This does not solve the basic problem of their civic and national identity, but the hundreds of thousands of humancontacts between israelis and arabs from hostile lands is an enormous investment in the Peace of the future, a convincing proof that israelis and arabs are not incompatible when they meet on the normal humanlevels of mutual interests and reciprocal recognition.
These are important gains. And yet, consoling as they are, they do not, of course, comfort us for the lack of Peace. The attainment of Peace must remain in the center of Israel’s aspirations. This is the case, whatever the prospects of its attainment, for if Israel is to be a jewish State, it cannot remove the vision of Peace either from its heart or from its vocabulary. The jewish mind has never conceived a more dynamic concept than the concept of men beating their swords into plowshares, the vision of a family of nations joined together in a convenant of Justice and Peace.
Peace, however, unlike security and unlike development, does not depend upon Israel’s will alone. And nobody can imagine that the recent statements of arab policies indicate that Peace is yet central in their minds. The last expression of arab policy comes in a joint communique signed in Moscow. The soviet-egyptian statement of last week, like all its predecessors, is notable for its total exclusion of three central ideas. It excludes any advice by the Soviet Union to Egypt to establish Peace with Israel. There is no suggestion that the issues of boundaries and withdrawal be decided by negotiation and agreement. And there is no effort to break out of deadlock into a new vision and a new hope by embarking on a rational negotiating procedure.
At the root of the deadlock, then, there lies the arab illusion that time works inevitably against Israel’s security and that in the course of years our nation, under the burdens created by the absence of Peace, will be strangled by the hostility surrounding it. Now this is an empty dream. Israel would prefer to flourish in Peace, but it is capable of flourishing in any case. Of course we would prefer a Peace negotiation tomorrow, even to the prospect of an indefinite continuation of the present situation. But if an authentic and sincere Peace is denied us by the policies or circumstances of our region we may still hope to grow within the attempted siege.
That is the story of the past four years of a great vitality bursting into Reality, even under the pressure of hostility. Four years after the War of 1967, Israel is larger in its population – 250.000 jews more than in 1967. Four years after the summer war, Israel is more productive in its Economy, far stronger in its military capacity and equipment, broader in the scope of its international connexions, more exposed to massive pilgrimage and tourism, more versatile in its economic and cultural links, and more confident in its general destiny than it was four years ago. If Israel was expected by its neighbours and adversaries to dwindle and languish, we have not been faithful to that scenario – we have not dwindled, we have not languished; we have endured and we have even flourished.
That is why I believe that the great dialogue between Israel and its friends on the effects of Time upon History should not lead us to panicstricken conclusions. If I am asked whether Time works against us, or for us, my answer is that Time does not do anything at all. It is what men do with Time that is decisive, and if Time is used, not in passive Fatalism but in the strong mobilisation of creative forces, then Time, even in the absence of Peace, can bring about every year the spectacle of an Israel, stronger, more solid and more stable than before.
That is why I believe that the arab States and the Soviet Union will not be able indefinitely to refuse any response to the diverse Peace options which Israel’s policy leaves open to them.
I have, as you know, been making a policy statement at the UN on Israel’s approach to the question of Peace and taking up with U.S. leaders the prospect of a first stage in the unfolding of a new peaceful pattern. We offer, in the first place, an arrangement for the Suez Canal. It is there that the conflict is global and not merely regional. Therefore, if we wish to defuse the conflict, it is there that the process should logically begin. We, therefore, offer an agreement which would separate the forces, which would give Egypt immense maritime advantages, which would give Egypt great civilian opportunities. Our only conditions are that these concessions be not exploited to the detriment of our physical security and our politicalrights. Such a settlement would not be the last word. It would accelerate and inspire progress towards further agreements and thus towards an overall settlement.
I, therefore, note that despite all the conflicts and differences and reservations, the Governments of Israel and Egypt are agreed that there should be further exploration of this prospect, and they both invite the United States to use its good offices to explore it. Therefore, we at least have a common objective and common modalities. Let there be intensified perseverance in the pursuit of a beginning which, if it is secured, would give an air of confidence and momentum to the Peacemaking efforts.
We would also be willing to hold detailed and concrete negotiations on an overall settlement. In discussions of secure boundaries, we would propose such modification of previous lines as is necessary for stable security and the avoidance of new Wars. I would plead with you never to be apologetic for a single moment about the fact that boundaries of Peace may be different from armistice lines. The object of statemanship is not to reconstruct the explosive dangers from which we emerged, but to build a new and more stable territorial and security structure in the Middle East.
Those who question the right of Israel to negotiate its boundaries are guilty of an alarming inconsistency. A few weeks ago, I entered the debating hall of the UN General Assembly to hear Mr. Gromyko with his usual vehemence express the following views: “One must take account of postwar Realities. One cannot reconstruct the vulnerabilities which countries endured before fighting. Nations which had been living under explosive threat for years cannot be asked to go back to the territories and conditions which symbolised that threat. They must have a new security system to be built by negotiation.”
I thought that we had made a very sudden breakthrough in Soviet policy, until I realised that he was speaking of the european security system. He was explaining why the Soviet Union had changed its boundaries quite properly in order to avoid the terror and the vulnerability of Nazism. It explained why the Soviet Union required secure and recognised boundaries with Finland and with Japan, because Leningrad could not be within 38 miles of the ferocious descendants of the vikings. It explained why the polish boundary couldn’t be the same as before the war because the object was to avoid wars and not simply to reconstruct the conditions for their explosion. He was explaining why, of course, you couldn’t bring back into Czechoslovakia the hundreds of thousands of sudeten german refugees who by their return would make the life of that State untenable.
It is only when we come to the Middle East that such considerations are deliberately overlooked. It is ridiculous to praise a european security system based on new negotiated agreements while condemning the Middle East for the explosive configurations which helped to make War inevitable. Israel does not have a policy of expansion or annexation, but it does have a policy of not reconstituting the kinds of conditions which, in June 1967 and the late days of May and early June, gave the world the horrifying spectacle of a nation on the verge of possible destruction.
Do not forget that four and onequarter years ago the prospect of Israel’s destruction was being seriously considered across the world. Therefore, it isn’t our policy again to stand under the threat of syrian guns, again to have Israel’s waterways potentially blocked, and thus War invited by hostile forces, to have cities, especially the most unified and unifying of all cities, divided in sacrilegious separation. Of course, we must do better than this.
Israel’s policy in the coming months is therefore to be devoted to clear objectives: The consolidation of a ceasefire; the exploration of a Suez Canal agreement which would improve the prospect of an overall Peacesettlement; the maintenance of a balance of strength, especially in the air.
The period between 1970 and 1971 was unexampled in Israel’s History in this regard. Israel had never received such a massive infusion of physical strength as that which poured into its veins and arteries between the summer of 1970 and the summer of 1971 through the assistance of the United States. But the essence of a salutary policy is in its continuity. Nobody who follows governmental and parliamentary expressions in this country can fail to see that the necessity of strengthening Israel’s balance of power has made great strides in opinion. This is the crux. With a weak Israel, the arab nations will never make Peace. With a strong Israel, they will eventually reconcile themselves, perhaps in the first case through reluctant inexorability, and later, in a more affirmative understanding of what can be gained by a peaceful order of relations in the Middle East.
And we will also continue to expound our Peaceoptions and to reinforce our international links. On this point, let me tell you that there is no word that less befits Israel’s international situation than the word “isolation.” The votes in multilateral agencies are a superficial and sometimes frivolous index of international Realities. Do not believe the idea of these parliamentary bodies expressing the conscience of the world.
The concrete Realities of a nation’s international position are to be found in the range of its direct diplomatic relations, in the scope of its Commerce, in its relationships with the main regional and continental organisations, in its role in international development, in the dimensions of its humanexchanges in pilgrimage, tourism, air and sea Communication, and in its ability to awaken solidarities and sympathies when its vital interests are at stake. In all these terms, Israel has a stronger international position than four or even two years ago. Its flag flies on embassies and delegations in 100 capitals. Its commerce takes it into the markets of 110 countries. Its relationships with the European Economic Community and the interamerican organisations is increasing. The demands upon its manpower and Experience by other developing States are reaching extraordinary proportions. The shopping list that was presented to me in a recent visit to eight african States was almost embarassing.
Therefore, let us not believe in the legend of attrition. Israel, of course, cannot live an isolated life. Sometimes I meet the representatives of friendly island Republics who tell me that they have no neighbours within 500 miles. They can see the wistful look of envy upon my face. But that is not Israel’s destiny. All the movement of action and thought and ideas flow across that crossroads where Israel stands. We must be united, therefore, by thousands of links with the outside world in order to survive, and these links are intact. This, too, is our vocation, to look after the interests of the jewish people, to protect is legacy, and to guarantee its future.
I can only tell you, in accepting this award, that it has been a moving Experience to express the lesson of jewish History to the world. Israel has meaning and authenticity only in the degree to which it embodies the principles and traditions of jewish Humanism. Separate Israel from the traditions of jewish Humanism, and it becomes simply another middle eastern State. Israel’s links with world Jewry are much more important in the spiritual and Moral sense than in the more familiar economic and financial aspects of our relationship, for Israel’s society faces problems for which jewish solutions must be found. By jewish solutions I mean solutions which reconcile high principle with pragmatic Reality and with a lucid sense of balance.
We have not yet found the reconciliation that we need between the claims of religious tradition and those of modern progress. We have not yet found a point of harmony between our citizens from eastern and western lands. We have still not overcome those tensions which arise in a developing society between employers and Labour, and perhaps now that the impact of external violence seems to be weaker we find all the discord and the dissent rising to the surface. But these are the pains of youthful growth and not of senile decadence. They are, above everything else, the index of our freedom.
But, of course, much in Israel is still imperfect, lacking in outer form and inner harmony, but the total impression is one of growth. Therefore, my main reflexion is that jewish History is an eternal celebration of resilience. A nation that has lived with tragedy and with triumph must come to terms with each, for the jewish doctrine of History places man in command of destiny and not in subjection to a preordained fate. According to our view of History, men are not the creatures of circumstances; circumstances are the creatures of men. Israel and the jewish people, therefore, are not yet affected by the nihilistic currents of contemporary life. For us, and especially for the youth amongst us, the important thing still is to build and not to destroy. In Israel, affirmation is still more important than protest. If we hold these values intact then the next decade may have no less nobility than the two that have gone before. But everything depends upon the partnership that is symbolised in this room.
And this is Israel’s message to the American Jewish Congress, and to the most powerful jewish community in the thousands of years in jewish History: our burdens are heavy, we cannot bear them alone. We can by our unaided effort ensure our security, but if you want us to go beyond this, not to be a Sparta concerned only with physical defense, but also to be Israel in the deepest term – that is to say, a society in full growth and development and creativity – then you must join your efforts to ours. You have joined your efforts to ours amidst all the triumphs and the ordeals and adversities of this year. Do not abandon us. Do not leave us alone. Stand with us constant, unflinching, indomitable, until the obstacles are surmounted and the task is done.