Washington (EJP) --- Israeli President Shimon Peres received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest honour, from US President Barack Obama at the White House on Wednesday. Below is his speech in full to assembled dignitaries.
I was profoundly moved by your decision to award me the Presidential Medal of Freedom. To receive it is an honor. And to receive it from you, Mr. President, in the presence of my dear family, is a privilege that I shall cherish forever.It is a testament to the historic friendship between our two nations.
When I was really young, the founder of the State of Israel, David Ben Gurion, called me to work with him. For sixty-five years, inspired by his leadership, I gathered strength for my country. Pursued peace for my people. I learned that public service is a privilege that must be based on morality.
I receive this honor today on behalf of the People of Israel. They are the true recipients of this honor. With this moving gesture, you are paying tribute to the generations upon generations of Jews who dreamed of, and fought for, a State of their own. A state that would give them shelter. A state that they could defend.
You are honoring the pioneers who built homes on barren mountains, on shifting sands. Fighters who sacrificed their lives for their country. On their behalf, I thank America for days of concern, for sleepless nights, caring for our safety, for our future.
Tonight, Mr. President, you kindly invited outstanding personalities whose commitment to Israel is nothing less than heroic. I offer them the eternal gratitude of my people.
Present here is Dalia Rabin, the daughter of my partner, the unforgettable, Yitzhak Rabin, who gave his life for peace.
You have pledged a lasting friendship for Israel. You stated that Israel’s security is "sacrosanct." So you pledged. So you acted. As a great leader, as a genuine friend.
Israel admires the United States, for being; A land of the free. A home of the brave. A nation of generosity. A world without the United States and her values would have been chaotic.
Moses began the journey to freedom by demanding "Let my people go." The prophet Isaiah promised: "Nation will not take up sword against nation." A biblical promise became a grand American reality.
When the Liberty Bell rang in Philadelphia, it resonated throughout the world. A tired world was surprised to witness, contrary to its experience, a great nation growing greater by giving, not by taking. By making generosity the wisdom of policy, and freedom as its heart. Freedom from oppression and persecution. Freedom from violence and evil. Freedom from discrimination and ignorance. Liberty that does not fear liberty. Liberty that does not interfere with the liberty of others. You introduced a constitution, based on balance, not on force.
Liberty is the soul of the Jewish heritage. We didn’t give up our values, even when facing furnaces and gas chambers. We lived as Jews, we died as Jews, and rose again as free Jews. Israel did not survive merely to be a passing shadow in history, but as a new Genesis, a start-up nation.
We were faced with the worst in humanity. But also experienced the best in humanity.
When we discovered that we were short of land and water, we realized that we had a priceless resource: the courageous, undefeatable human spirit. We invested in knowledge and turned our attention to the ever-growing promise of science.
Unlike land and water, science cannot be conquered by armies or won by wars. In fact, if applied rightly, science can make wars unnecessary. Science provided Israel with unexpected economic growth. It enabled us to absorb millions of immigrants. Science has enabled us to build an agriculture that is ten times the normal yield. It has enabled us to build an effective defense against armies ten-times greater. Brave soldiers and sophisticated tools brought us victory. But, we remained the people of the book.
Yes, my friends, Israel is the living proof that democracy means progress. Science means growth. Literature and arts means enrichment. Israel today is an innovative, pluralistic society, where Jews, Christians and Muslims live together in peace. It is not yet perfect, but it is an example of what can be.
We are now witnessing the departure of one age and the arrival of a new one. The agricultural age lasted 10,000 years. The scientific age is still fresh. Yet in the last fifty years, the scientific age has achieved more than in the previous 10.000 years. This new age has brought new challenges, and new dangers. It generated a global economy, but not a global government. It gave birth to the horrors of global terrorism, without global control.
The danger is today concentrated in Iran. The Iranian people are not our enemy. It is the present leadership that became a threat. It turned Iran into a danger to world peace. It is a leadership that aims to rule the Middle East. Spreading terror all over the world. They are trying to build a nuclear bomb. They bring darkness to a world longing for light.
We have a solemn responsibility to our own people, to our friends throughout the world, to posterity. The Iranian threat must be stopped. It cannot be delayed. Mr. President, you worked hard to build a world coalition to meet this immediate threat. You started, rightly, with economic sanctions. You made it clear, rightly again, that all options are on the table. Clearly, we support it.
Extremists are using the conflict with the Palestinians to cover their true ambitions. The majority of people are tired of war. In many homes, families still mourn the loss of their loved ones.
I believe that Peace with the Palestinians is more urgent than ever before. It is necessary. It is crucial. It is possible. A delay may worsen its chances.
I remember that 19 years ago, on the lawn outside this house, President Clinton helped us initiate the peace process. Since then, Israelis and Palestinians have come a long way together, but still, hard work remains ahead.
Israel and the Palestinians are ripe today to restart. A firm basis already exists. A solution of two national states: A Jewish state – Israel. An Arab state – Palestine.
The Palestinians are our closest neighbors. I believe they may become our closest friends. Peace with the Palestinians will open ports of peace all around the Mediterranean.
The duty of leaders is to pursue freedom ceaselessly, even in the face of hostility. Even in the face of doubt and disappointment. Just imagine what could be.
Now the young Arab generation has opened its eyes and stood up against oppression, poverty, and corruption. They seek freedom. They understand that freedom begins at home. I pray for their success. It may become a success for all.
My vision is an Israel living in full, genuine peace, joining with all the people of the Middle East, former enemies and new friends alike. Jerusalem becoming the capital of peace. An Israel that is a scientific center, open to all, serving all. A green Israel in an increasingly green Middle East. My vision is an Israel whose moral call is old as the Ten Commandments tablets and whose imagination is as new as a digital tablet.
Together, our old and modern vision can help bring Tikkun Olam. I believe that in the coming decade, Israel will be a center of the latest developments in brain research. As the secrets of the human brain are revealed, people may improve their capacity to choose between right and wrong. In the absence of global government, the prospect of self-government can contribute to world peace.
My greatest hope is that a dawn will rise where every man and woman, Israeli or Palestinian, Syrian or Lebanese, young people, wherever they are, will wake up and be able to say to themselves: "I am free to be free."