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State visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories

Published on June 26, 2008
Speech by M. Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic, to the Knesset

Jerusalem, June 23, 2008

There is a deep friendship between Israel and France which has withstood all the turbulence of history for 60 years. This friendship is due not only to the vitality of the Jewish community of France and of the Francophone community in Israel, which form a bridge between our two countries. It is also due to something deeper. This friendship is due too to the way in which Judaism has influenced, nourished and enriched French culture, to the inspiration the founding fathers of Israel drew from the values of French universalism. It’s due to the close economic, scientific, cultural, technical and intellectual ties, and also quite simply the human ties which our two peoples naturally forged so well together.

I have come to renew this friendship solemnly on behalf of the French people, and I’m delighted to see the warmth and fraternal enthusiasm with which the Israeli people respond to it.

I would like to tell you that for me it’s deeply moving to be speaking here today in Jerusalem, the city holy to three faiths – to Jews, Christians and Muslims. I am well aware of the very great honour you pay the President of the French Republic by enabling him to address your Assembly, which symbolizes one of the most authentic democracies in the world, as I saw just a moment ago.

I would like to see it possible in all the world’s parliaments for a speaker to be interrupted in the name of freedom of expression. This is Israeli democracy. Ladies and gentlemen, members of the Knesset, through you, I would like to address all Israelis, Israelis whose ancestors hoped for centuries that one day that there would once again be a Jewish nation. A Jewish nation like all others, free, free at last to choose its fate, free at last to decide for itself.

I want to address the people of Israel, the so brave people of Israel, who have chosen democracy and freedom, and owe these to no one but themselves, to their courage, energy and intelligence. Had you not willed it, no one would have sought to do it for you. We should have the honesty and courage to recognize this. But through you I would like to address the whole Jewish people, the Jewish people who were without a land and political institutions for so long, but who share the same moral attitude, the same concept of life, the same tradition, the same faith, the same hope. The Jewish people, whom neither violence nor hate could make give up the universal values the prophets of Israel have taught all mankind.

No exile, no adversity could wrench the memory of the Promised Land from the hearts of the Jewish people. And after 19 centuries, every single one of these people, dispersed throughout the world, still said: "I am a Jew because, born of Israel and having lost her, I have felt her live again in me, more alive than myself."

On behalf of the French people I want to convey my friendship and respect to the great people of Israel who have fulfilled the promise which all Jews from the Dispersion have handed down from generation to generation to return to "the birthplace of the Jewish people where their spiritual, religious and national identity was shaped."

So 60 years ago, men and women whose character was formed through the worst trials of life proclaimed "the establishment of the Jewish State in the Land of Israel." Herzel said, "If you will it, it will be no legend." They willed it, and the rebirth of Israel ceased to be a legend and became a reality.

I want to express my admiration for these exceptional men and women who wanted a State which would guarantee "full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of religion, race or sex", "complete freedom of religion, conscience, education and culture" and "safeguard the Holy Places of all religions."

Yes, I want to express my respect for the idea that inspired them. The dream they pursued was great because it was nurtured by centuries of expectation and by the horror that could still be seen in the haunted look of those who survived the death camps.

Believers or not, every one of them that day could probably not stop themselves from remembering the words of the Bible which all Jews in the world have always taught their children: "The Lord said to Moses, ’Go up into this mountain of Ab’arim, and see the land which I have given to the people of Israel.’"

But the State of Israel isn’t only the fulfilment of a promise which has always been at the heart of the Jewish identity. The State of Israel isn’t only a return to Jewish roots. The State of Israel isn’t only the expression of nostalgia. The State of Israel isn’t only the temptation to revive a past that was dead. The State of Israel is a modern, forward-looking State. It’s a State – if you will allow a friend to say this – which is both national and geared to the universal.

Because the State of Israel doesn’t belong only to its citizens; it also belongs to all those in the world who see themselves as heirs to Judaism.

In the midst of adversity, they never stopped hoping for a better world. For them, it was first of all proof that this wasn’t a vain hope.

"I am at pains never to stress my [Jewish] heredity", said the great French historian Marc Bloch, "save when I find myself in the presence of an anti-Semite." To those who doubted the patriotism of Marc Bloch – the great scholar subsequently murdered by the Gestapo after being tortured – he replied simply, as so many others could have done, "(…) my great-grandfather was a serving soldier in 1793; my father was one of the defenders of Strasbourg in 1870. (…) I was brought up in the traditions of patriotism which found no more fervent champions than the Jews of the Alsatian exodus; and (…) France, from which many would expel me today (and may, for all I know, succeed in doing so), will remain, whatever happens, the one country with which my deepest emotions are inextricably bound up." Thus spoke that great Frenchman, great Jew, murdered by the Gestapo, who was a credit to the history of the French Republic.

There are still millions, millions of Jews today the world over who, like Marc Bloch, feel a carnal attachment to the land whose language and culture they have learned, whose air they have breathed from childhood. But their hearts can’t remain indifferent to the fate of Israel.

Because every Jew’s fate is linked to the fate of all Jews.

Because the fact that there is a such a resoundingly successful Jewish State in the world is a source of pride and dignity to every Jew.

Because each feels deep down that the State of Israel is the means by which the Jewish people can once again actively shape their own history instead of passively enduring it.

Because in Israel, Judaism isn’t defined in relation to anti-Semitism.

Because for every Jew, Israel is the home where they know they could take refuge were they one day to have the misfortune of finding they no longer had anywhere to go.

Because for all of them, Israel is the only place in the world where it’s certain that Jews will never be forced to wear a yellow star, where Jews won’t be prohibited from taking buses, going to the cinema and theatre, holding certain jobs, that they won’t be forced to live in Jewish districts or go to Jews-only restaurants, shops and schools.

The State of Israel is a response to the anguished question the young Anne Frank noted in her diary: "I hoped this country would become my homeland, I who am stateless; I’m still hoping."

It’s a response to the prayer of Rutka, the little Jewish Polish girl, who wanted to "spread out wings and fly high (…) to places where there are no ghettos."

The State of Israel also belongs to all mankind.

Because the values underpinning it are universal values. These are values of justice and law.

The State of Israel is a response to the injustice the Jewish people suffered for so long. And this injustice, I say here at this podium, is a challenge, a challenge issued to the universal conscience.

There’s no other State in the world which has built itself on so much pain and so much hope.

There’s no other State in the world whose very existence was from the outset so closely linked to the affirmation of an ideal of justice and a desire to live in peace.

There’s no State in the world other than yours which, from its birth, has aroused so much hope on the part of all those who had never stopped countering barbarity with the forces of the spirit.

No one can think of Israel without thinking of the history of the Jewish people. No one can think of Israel without remembering the pogroms, sealed trains and gas chambers. No one can think of Israel without thinking of Captain Dreyfus before his judges, of the women who died of typhus in the death camps and all the martyred children remembered at Yad Vashem.

But the history of the Jewish people is not just the chronicle of their misfortunes. The Jewish people did not sit back and suffer. They constantly countered the efforts of all who wanted to annihilate them with the force of their character, power of their thought, depth of their culture and vitality of their faith.

The Jewish people have not bequeathed the world only the memory of their suffering. They have also given it a treasure. A treasure of knowledge and humanity.

Where would world wisdom be without the prophets of Israel?

Where would philosophy be, and physics, literature and economics, without Jewish thinkers, scholars, artists and entrepreneurs the world over who have worked in every era, nation, culture and society? Where would the world be without Spinoza, and Freud and Einstein?

Israel is a country where everyone comes to graft on the common torso their own language, own culture, own sensibilities and own history, where everyone comes to give the best of themselves for the good of all. What you have achieved in 60 years is prodigious. Diversity, vitality, openness of thought, the force of creation inherent in Judaism, herein lies the secret of your success.

Judaism is the prophetic spirit that opens up the future, calls for progress and demands justice.

Judaism is a way of thinking moulded by a singular relationship to biblical texts, by centuries of commentary, interpretation and dialogue opening the mind to the whole range of possibilities, leading to the realization that there are neither definitive truths nor absolute meanings.

In the midst of every conceivable difficulty, the founders of the State of Israel fought with all the strength of their hearts and their arms for its survival. The French people have stood at your side from the moment of your birth. I have come to tell you that the French people will always stand at the State of Israel’s side whenever its existence is threatened. Because we can’t accept the threat to the existence of the State of Israel.

After what Europe experienced, after the slaughter of the Jews, we can’t tolerate anyone in the world saying he wants to wipe the State of Israel off the map. Today this threat has taken the form of terrorism. No people can live under the threat of terrorism. There are no grounds for terrorism. Terrorism can’t be justified. Terrorism has to be fought! France is fully engaged in the fight against terrorism and, Madame Speaker, when you urge me to say that terrorism could strike France, it has struck France. Yes, France is Israel’s friend, and France will always stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel when her security and existence are threatened. I have always thought this, I have always felt it in my heart of hearts and I will never compromise on this. And those who call scandalously for Israel’s destruction will always find France in their way, blocking the path.


So that things are clear and there is no ambiguity, I want to say that Iran’s military nuclear programme demands an extremely firm response by the entire international community. Israel must know that she is not alone! France is determined to pursue with her partners a policy of increasingly tough sanctions until there is a shift in position – if Tehran were to choose to comply with its international obligations. But I will say this forcefully: an Iran with nuclear weapons is unacceptable for my country!

Ladies and gentlemen,


You owe the truth to your friends, otherwise you aren’t a friend. The truth is that Israel’s security, on which France will never compromise, will be truly assured only when we see alongside her an independent, modern, democratic and viable Palestinian State. You see, ladies and gentlemen, I would be a poor friend of Israel if I thought that in this Israeli democracy a man couldn’t say what he feels deeply in his heart of hearts.

And so France, Israel’s friend – and intransigent when it comes to her security – considers herself the friend of the Palestinian people as well. France wants to tell the Palestinian people the truth. And the truth is that no one can hope to re-establish Palestinian people’s rights by denying the Israeli people theirs and calling for Israel’s destruction. The truth is that this endless conflict must end. The truth is that the violence must stop. The truth is that this hate, which sets peoples against other peoples, must be extinguished.

This is essential because the only winners from the violence and hatred are fanaticism, fundamentalism, racism and anti-Semitism. Peace must come because you have suffered too much. Peace must come because there have been too many deaths and too much pain. Because, basically, Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians share the same suffering and pain for your children.

We all know that the only solution lies in understanding and respect for the Other.

We all know that the future, your future and your neighbours’, can be built only on forgiveness, not vengeance.

We all know peace depends on the mutual recognition of everyone’s rights.

I am the representative of a country which has had to pardon its neighbours. I am the representative of a country which has had to become reconciled with its neighbours. In my home, my grandfather who brought me up, who was Jewish, never called the Germans Germans, and yet when General de Gaulle and Chancellor Adenauer told the French and Germans: "you have to become reconciled now, immediately", the French did so.

Like all peoples, the Israeli people have the right to live in security within recognized and guaranteed borders.

Like all peoples, the Palestinian people have the right to have a State and exercise their sovereignty within it.

Like all peoples, the Israeli people and the Palestinian people will live in peace the day they both feel that they have received justice and their relations are founded on the law and no longer on force.

Now, of course, this is easier to say for me, I’m not afraid when I fall asleep in my apartment at night. Of course, this is easier to say for me, I’m not afraid when I walk around, but, at the same time, these huge efforts you have made to build a democratic and powerful State, make them, make the same efforts to build the peace from which your children will benefit.


It’s true, there can’t be peace under the threat of terrorism. There can’t be mutual recognition when rockets daily fall on innocent victims. But people must have the courage to say, and I say it, without wanting to offend anyone, I say quite simply: there can’t be peace without a complete and immediate stop to all settlement activity. A proposal exists, supported by many members of your Knesset, for adopting an Act which would encourage the West Bank settlers to leave in return for compensation and relocation in Israel. I say one thing to you: create the conditions for the movement!

There can’t be peace if the Palestinians themselves don’t fight terrorism. It’s for the Palestinians to do this, everyone has to do their bit. But nor will there be peace, allow me to say this, if the Palestinians are prevented from moving around or living on their territory.

There can’t be peace without the resolution of the Palestinian refugees’ problem with due regard for Israel’s identity and destiny.

There can’t be peace, even though I know how painful this is, without recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of two States and guaranteed freedom of access to the Holy Places for all the religions.

There can’t be peace without a border negotiated on the basis of the 1967 agreement and exchanges of territory making it possible to build two viable States.

My dear friends, I want to tell you one thing. I have no authority to lecture you and I don’t want to do so. When things go badly for the State of Israel, you will see who your friends are and I am not someone who trembles when things go badly, but I want to tell you – since you have done me the honour of allowing me to address you – that I have come to talk to you from the heart and not simply as a politician. I have come to talk not about the next few days; I have to talk about the future and the future is that you are condemned to live side by side. The future is that you can’t change address just like that. The future is that one day peace will have to be made. The sooner you make peace, the better it will be for you and the world.

So my dear friends, a lot of these efforts will be difficult and painful, and I thank every one of the members of the Knesset for having had the courage to listen to what I had to say, when they liked it and when they liked it less. Making peace will be difficult and painful, but far less painful than all the blood spilt in an unending confrontation. Peace is painful, but let’s talk about war. On how many of your families has it taken its toll?

Walking around earlier, I saw how young your soldiers are, fine young people, but I also said to myself: would it not one day be better for them to start working life straightaway rather than have to defend their State’s identity and survival? And this will happen, not through any one else’s efforts, but only if you, Israelis and Palestinians, understand each other.

For 60 years, men and women of goodwill like your President, have tried to find the path of peace and some, like Yitzhak Rabin, have paid for it with their lives. But every one of their initiatives, every one of their gestures has brought progress. Peace has been made with Egypt and Jordan. Israel has withdrawn from the Sinai, Lebanon and Gaza. There’s no such thing as an unnecessary gesture in favour of peace, and perhaps we are nearer the goal since, now, everyone is talking to each other.


And since, for the past few days, violence seems to have been suspended in Gaza, I want to express the hope of the release of the soldier Gilad Shalit, kept hostage for nearly two years, and all the other prisoners.


Annapolis has revived the momentum for peace, a year of negotiations which may be decisive. Let’s not allow this hope of peace to slip away! I appreciate all the difficulties which still have to be overcome. But I tell you: peace is possible! It’s possible now! It’s what the vast majority, Israelis and Palestinians, want. Let’s not once again allow the flame of hope to falter.


France is bound to this region of the world by so many memories, France who loves and respects all the Middle East peoples wants to make her contribution to the peace. She is ready to organize in France any talks which could help achieve it: Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the Syrian-Israeli dialogue or the Israeli-Lebanese discussion which will have to resume, I hope some day soon.

On these three tracks of the peace process, France is ready to provide her guarantee, ready to mobilize her diplomatic efforts, her resources, her soldiers, as she is already doing, with other European partners, in South Lebanon. This is the spirit in which from 1 July she will exercise the European Union presidency, work to enhance relations between the EU and Israel and participate in the Quartet.

You can trust France. I am well aware that in Israel you heed the advice of those for whom you genuinely feel friendship and trust. And I am well aware that, in the past, you have sometimes wondered whether you could trust France. I ask you to trust us because we want to help you.

Once again, I have not come here to lecture you. It’s for the leaders of the people of Israel and the Palestinians to make peace. But you, the peace partners, have to know that you can count on Europe to help you move towards a final agreement: security for the two States, compensation and relocating of the refugees, support for the building of a State under the rule of law in Palestine and general economic and financial support for the peace.


With this in mind, France will do everything in her power to make a success of the Union for the Mediterranean project which she has proposed to all the peoples of Europe and the Mediterranean. And, to my knowledge, Israel is a Mediterranean people. The stakes are crucial since the aim is to offer a shared destiny to all these peoples.

On 13 July, the Paris summit for the Mediterranean will perhaps raise the hope that what separates us will one day end up becoming less strong than what unites us. It will express the common will to forge increasingly close ties of solidarity between all the peoples, thereby demonstrating that the old dream of the unity of the Mediterranean world isn’t dead, but on the contrary is sufficiently alive still to be able to arouse the world.

Israel, like the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon and Syria will find her place there alongside Egypt, Jordan and all the Arab Maghreb countries. So, my dear friends, perhaps we’ll be able to hope that one day the children of the Mediterranean will stop hating each other, since there is only hatred; and their children mustn’t from birth be taught the desire to avenge their fathers’ misfortunes.

This is also the spirit in which France will support all the regional economic development projects dear to President Shimon Peres. Yes, we need the Valley of Peace! What finer symbol of peace than this sharing of water, source of all life, between the three peoples of Israel, Palestine and Jordan?

For thousands of years the Middle East has seen the mixing and clashing of peoples who have given the whole of mankind what is the most noble in thought, finest in religion, and most important in knowledge. But in the Middle East, all the peoples, all of them, in their prayers, talk of love, justice and peace. In the Middle East, all the peoples love life. All are the children of Abraham. All have been bequeathed the Bible. And given all this, are we going to see the continuation of a thousand-year war?

Having drunk from the same source – because you have drunk from the same source – having so often shared the same history, the Middle East peoples have everything they need to understand and get along with each other. And this land for which they fight one another so desperately; this land which saw them born; this land where your dead lie; this land on which is etched the memory of your suffering and your joy and – excuse me for saying this – where you are so like each other; this land which we sense, looking at what has been achieved here, in Israel, could deliver so much through intelligence, labour and courage; this land, yours, could become a paradise for everyone and thanks to which poverty could be defeated if it weren’t so often ruined by war; this land, yours, which could be so fertile if everyone worked together instead of spilling on it the blood of the innocent, this land is so beautiful that it should unite the peoples instead of drawing them into conflict.


In their heart of hearts, thinking back over their history, their beliefs, their values, looking at this monument which two French artists are going to build in Jerusalem, this book of peace for the Peoples of the Book, in the city of the Book, one day soon, I am sure, the women and men of this magnificent land will find more reasons to talk to each other in order to make peace than to hate each other and go on confronting each other.

Jews, Christians or Muslims, they will remember the word of the Prophet Isaiah:

"I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

They shall not labour in vain, or bear children for calamity."

I want to tell you from the bottom of my heart, and it’s a dear and constant friend of Israel who tells you this: when you are strong, you must stretch out your hand, when you have trodden the path you have trodden for 60 years, triumphed in all the wars, then you have to be triumphant victors of peace, you have to want it more than all the others. You have to show the way. Let me tell you, from the bottom of my heart, that France won’t abandon you on this path, that she will be your friend, that France admires you, France respects you.

Long live France, Long live Israel. Long live peace for Israel and for Palestine which is a necessity for world peace. Thank you./.

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