JPEG - 14.4 kb

Thank you Professor Reichman, for that introduction. You are a visionary and practical man. You established an amazing organization. When Ron Lauder told me about your plans, he told me to wait and see how you would mobilize to create a national and international forum every year that would shape patterns of thinking and refresh them. My friend Uzi Arad joined you and worked alongside you to help do this, and our friend Professor Rubenstein is doing so now. I think you have proven over the years that one can think better and dream realistically. That is actually what Herzl was saying in that quote you just mentioned.

We share a common dream – to reach peace with our neighbors. There is good reason for me to hope, realistically, that in the next several weeks we will renew the peace process with the Palestinians without any preconditions. For some time, I have said that the international community has learned to recognize that Israel wants and is ready to renew the peace process. Since the moment that recognition was internalized, central players in the international arena have begun to accept the practical feasibility of such a step.

There is a saying: it takes two to tango. In the Middle East, sometimes it takes three to tango, or at least to start to tango. Later, I suppose, we will be able to continue on as two.

I hope there is a willingness on the Palestinian side – not only to build up the Palestinian economy and Palestinian institutions, but to begin to build the peace itself. The only way to achieve a peace agreement is to begin conducting negotiations towards a peace agreement. If this willingness really does exist now, we will see a renewal of the process in the next several weeks.

I know that one of my predecessors, Ariel Sharon, spoke from this podium about disengagement. Today I would like to speak not of disengagement, but rather of engagement: engagement with our heritage, with Zionism, with our past and with our future here in the land of our forefathers, which is also the land of our children and our grandchildren.

You are dealing with our people’s fate because it is clear today that the fate of the Jewish people is the fate of the Jewish state. There is no demographic or practical existence for the Jewish people without a Jewish state. This doesn’t mean that the Jewish state does not face tremendous challenges, but our existence, our future, is here. The greatest change that came with the establishment of the Jewish state was that Jews became more than just a collection of individuals, communities and fragments of communities. They became a sovereign collective in their own territory. Our ability as a collective to determine our own destiny is what grants us the tools to shape our future – no longer as a ruled people, defeated and persecuted, but as a proud people with a magnificent country and one which always aspires to serve as “a light unto the nations.”

In order to continue ruling our own destiny, we must establish our collective ability in three main fields – in security, the economy and education. I do not intend to expand on the security field today, other than to say that we must continue nurturing and strengthening our military force. The weak do not survive in the geographically difficult space we live in, nor is peace made with the weak. The State of Israel is strong and can guarantee both our existence and peace with our neighbors. However, I want to be clear: our security needs can and will increase over the next decade, and even over the next two decades.

We are entering another world, one in which the aggressor has certain advantages. He can launch projectiles – not even missiles, just pieces of metal with a primitive engine, fuel and explosives – and for us to strike down this flying ball of metal, we have to make a huge investment. Sometimes, under such conditions, the aggressor has an advantage and we must work hard in order to negate that advantage. It is in our power to do so, but it will cost a great deal.

Security demands a strong economy. A strong economy provides strong security. Without a strong economy, we cannot meet the State of Israel’s security needs in the next decade, or our education needs, or our health needs or our need to fight crime and drugs and the plague of alcohol. All this demands money. Where will the money come from? It will only come from economic growth. There is no other source to fund these needs, and it will take billions.

Increased taxation is not the solution: it will only shrink our tax revenues. There is no better way than growing our GNP by 4% or 5% per annum over many years, as we experienced over the past decade. There is no better way to finance our security needs.

Can an economy that approaches a per capita income of $30,000 continue to grow year after year at the rate of 5% per annum? I believe it can. The way to ensure this is to constantly free up the economy. As long as there are limitations and competition in the economy, as long as our taxation levels are not the lowest or among the lowest in the world, we will have engines for growth. By freeing up the economy and reducing our tax rates, we are constantly growing and will receive tax revenues that will allow us to finance our existential needs, as well as our future ones.

In the coming weeks, we will present the government with a number of initiatives. First: a national transportation plan that will connect the entire country through a network of trains and roads and help people be mobile. Second: a revolutionary reform in planning and construction that will allow entrepreneurs to build in the north, the south, the center of the country, here in Herzliya – everywhere. It will no longer take years; it may take months. Plans won’t have to go through clerks or nerve-wracking procedures; a great proportion of the process will be done on the internet. Then the approvals will arrive, some automatically, and one just needs to report them.

We have already begun the planning and construction reform, the national transportation network and the freeing up of land, and have laid the groundwork to them. All these plans encourage growth, as will other plans I will detail in the next year. Strengthening the economy is an integral part of these plans. I want to clarify that the State of Israel is already considered a regional economic powerhouse, and in my vision, we will establish and fortify our position as a global technological powerhouse.

This is a necessary condition, but it is not enough, because a strong army and a strong economy are not enough of a guarantee for our existence here if we are not committed to being here from the outset. This, distinguished guests, can only be created through one thing – through education.

Education is the melting pot in which our national strength is forged. It has two parts: acquiring the tools and knowledge to deepen our children’s capabilities; and excellence – getting the most from each child and giving him the ability to learn math, to learn English, to learn computers, to learn science, to know how to compose a sentence, to put words together, express himself. All these abilities are essential, and they are what the Minister of Education is working so hard for. I spoke about this with Dov Lautman many times, as well as with many others. This is a central issue, but it is not the main thrust of my comments here tonight.

Tonight, I refer to something even more basic. I am talking about educating children about the values connected to our identity and heritage, teaching children to know our people’s history, educating young people and adults to deepen our ties to one another and to this place.

I believe that this education starts, first and foremost, in the Book of Books – in the Bible – a subject that is close to my heart these days. It starts there. It moves through the history of our people: the Second Temple, the Middle Ages, the Enlightenment, leaving the ghettos, the rise of Zionism, the modern era, the wars fought for Israel’s existence – the history of Zionism and of Israel. A people must know its past in order to ensure its future.

There is a well-known story about Napoleon. One day, he passed by a synagogue on Tisha B’Av and he heard the weeping of the worshippers. He asked what they were crying about, and the Jews told him: “We are weeping because our Temple was destroyed.” He asked: “How can it be that I heard nothing about this?” He liked knowing what was going on. He wasn’t really interested, but he would have received a report. So the worshippers told him: “Sir, it happened more than 1,700 years ago.” And he told them: “A people capable of remembering its past so clearly has a guaranteed future.” But the opposite is also true. Yigal Alon said so. He said that a people that doesn’t remember its past, its present is uncertain and its future is unclear.

In other words, our existence depends not only on a weapons system, our military strength, the strength of our economy, our innovation, our exports, or on all these forces that are indeed essential. It depends, first and foremost, on the knowledge and national sentiment we as parents bestow on our children, and as a state to its education system. It depends on our culture; it depends on our cultural heroes; it depends on our ability to explain the justness of our path and demonstrate our affinity for our land – first to ourselves and then to others.

We must remind ourselves that if our feeling of serving a higher purpose dissipates, if our sources of spiritual strength grow weak, then – as Yigal Alon said – our future will also be unclear. It will happen if our young generation is not committed to our people and our country; if they do not love the pioneering spirit, if they do not travel our country, if they do not want to mobilize and sacrifice – then our future is truly unclear.

Every year at this Conference, we exchange thoughts and ideas about our vision, and we are accustomed to aspiring to obtain all the “luxuries”. We want economic abundance and social justice and cultural richness and a groundbreaking spirit of excellence in the sciences, in medicine, in technology, in the business sector. But this culture, the culture of opulence – we have in great measure achieved it. But alongside this is a great challenge of which I would like to speak today.

That challenge is to not get carried away by the illusion that we – each and every one of us – is allowed to become preoccupied solely with self-development. There are a great many talented young people here, and they are being taught to think, quite justifiably, that they are cosmopolitans. But they cannot be just cosmopolitans. A great many of them are taught in surroundings of cultural shallowness, of diluted knowledge and spirituality – and this dilutes and weakens the national strength we have spoken of here today. We have guests here from overseas. I know you know that this problem is not unique to Israel. It affects many other peoples and nations. But nowhere is it more critical than in the State of Israel, because no other country faces the challenges and the threats that we face. Therefore, we must find the balance between integrating into the world at large and maintaining our identity and our uniqueness.

I travel the country and I meet students who have chosen to leave their comfortable urban lives. Like the pioneers of our past, they establish communities in the Negev and the Galilee. They are part of all sorts of very exciting projects and initiatives. I meet teenagers who, right before they begin their military service, decide to contribute an extra year of their lives to assist underprivileged communities or to strengthen youth movements. We are going to expand this program so that it will include all sectors of Israeli society and allow everyone – from the ultra-orthodox public to the Arab public – to contribute to their communities. I see wonderful, even exciting, young people in the pre-army preparation academies. They are caring and sensitive, wrestling with the question, “how can we be Zionists in 2010?” But I honestly must tell you that this is a very small group of young people, and we must – we simply must – get a much broader group of young people interested in our Zionist heritage and continually encourage them to identify with the people of Israel and the Land of Israel. I want to tell you that the simplest and most original way of doing so is to connect these young people to our homeland through their feet – through becoming familiar with the country, travelling the country. But it is not certain that if one travels the country, one becomes attached to our heritage.

Several months ago, I visited the Lachish Region. I saw a large mound. In this case, the mound was one of the few I had not already seen during my army service. I told the motorcade to turn around. We made a u-turn, and they said to me: “Mr. Prime Minister, you cannot climb that hill. We didn’t make security arrangements there.” I answered: “But there’s no problem. You know why? Because there’s no one here!” It was Tel Lachish, one of the most dramatic places in the history of the Jewish people. Carvings of it were found in Iraq and this mound was subject to the siege of Lachish that is described in the Bible – and there was no one there. After some time, a group of Russian tour guides arrived. I was there for almost an hour, and not one veteran Israeli came.

Several years before that I was a chaperone on a trip for one of my children, on the way to the Atlit detention camp at night. At night, they do field exercises on the path to the detention camp. We were on a gravel path along the shoreline, and suddenly I saw a house, a structure, near the water. I left the group and walked over there, and I saw a house – a single structure, a single room near the water – about to crumble. I asked what it was. I was told: “That is the house where Aaron Aaronson and the NILI underground signaled the British.” I always thought they signaled them from the Carmel, but clearly they couldn’t because the Turks would have seen the signals from the shore. However, from the water line they could signal to them and they did. This is a part of our magnificent history, without which we would never have freed our country. It helped the British take control and free the Land of Israel. It opened up the way to Zionism.

Here are examples from both our ancient and our recent past, two sites that one would simply pass by, not see, not know about. No one visits them. We are going to change that. At the end of next month, on Tel Hai Day, I intend to present the government with a work plan that will reverse the neglect of heritage sites. We initiated a national plan to rehabilitate and strengthen infrastructure at heritage sites. I call it the “Heritage Plan.” We are going to preserve tourist sites, archaeological sites, historic buildings and museums. We will also preserve less physical and tangible infrastructure, such as archives, photographs, films, books, songs and music. We will make all these available to the general public. We will utilize new technologies and free up these works so that they are accessible to every boy and girl in Israel, every house, every family, every citizen.

I want you to think about a family outing with your children or grandchildren at one of these sites. I am not telling you not to go to the movies or to a bar. That’s alright; you can do those things, but add in this layer and understand the deeper meaning behind it. I speak from experience. Think about a father and son visiting a Jewish historic site, about the profound significance of transmitting the legacy exactly as commanded in the Bible: “And tell your son.” The plan of which I speak will be financed with government funds and will be spread out over five years. It will encompass a broad range of activities, projects, organizations, authorities and the education and information system – and it is only the first stage. Our commitment is to breathing new life into the Israeli experience. I am talking about rehabilitating those same assets that tell the story of the people of Israel and the Land of Israel; the story of the Jewish settlement; our artistic assets; our nostalgic spirit and memory. A significant portion of those assets are being destroyed or disappearing, and we will take them and preserve them, and fortify them and we will explain them in a way that is accessible to an audience, in simple and clear language. And all this will be integrated into the education system that serves the children of Israel.

We recently learned in a study that the teenagers who are highly motivated to serve in the military are those who have travelled the country extensively. The example I like to give, which is a highly successful one, is the Israel Trail. It has been a tremendous success. Within a decade, the project’s founders have succeeded in transforming this trail into a desirable destination, one that attracts a huge number of young people and not-so-young people. By travelling the Trail, they become familiar with the country and connect to it. According to the plan I will present to the government, we will, within five years, inaugurate two additional trails alongside the Israel Trail. One is the historic Land of Israel trail, which will connect between dozens of ancient archaeological sites. Within our tiny piece of land, there are 30,000 ancient sites, 800 of which have clear national importance. Sadly, only 50 of those sites are open to the public, and even they are not in great shape. That is going to change on a huge scale. The second trail will be the “Israel Experience” trail. This trail will include the treasures of our country, and will serve as a living Land of Israel museum. It will connect between dozens of stops celebrating the history of the Jewish Yishuv [the Jewish population before the establishment of the State of Israel]. It will include historic buildings, settlement sites, small museums, memorial sites and personal stories – all of which are part of our Zionist heritage.

I know people will ask: “This is the topic you chose to speak of here, at a discussion about our national strength?” My answer is yes. Sometimes small steps lead to great things. I want to give you an example of two steps similar to what I have just described that changed our people’s history. I was recently in London. I visited the basement of the Palestine Exploration Fund. It was established in 1860 by Queen Victoria in order to map and scientifically explore the Land of Israel. Queen Victoria sent two men here. One was named Claude R. Conder, who was the head of the expedition. The second was a 21-year-old second lieutenant named Kitchener, who would in time become the 1st Earl Kitchener. Together, they began to map the country, including this place. They made wonderful, accurate topographical maps, and found all the ancient places and reinstated their names. They came armed with all the most advanced measuring tools of the 19th century and with the Bible. The PEF is responsible for some of what we now know. For example, they brought Warren here, and he found Warren’s Shaft and many other ancient sites in Jerusalem and across the Land of Israel.

This fired up the imaginations of the both the aristocracy and common people in Britain. You have no idea what an effect it had. It made them think that perhaps the Land of Israel wasn’t an abstract place. This land is concrete, and maybe it could be revived, be brought back to life, if the original people who lived there could return to it. That started people talking. It took several decades to happen.

The second project, also a modest project, was one that fired the imaginations of young Jews. It was Baron Rothschild’s project. He established villages at several sites after the PEF had been here, from Rosh Pina to Petah Tikva. These new communities revived the ancient land though not on a huge scale; there were only several thousand people living there. However, this action ignited a blaze. One of the people who was carried away by this blaze was a young Jew who came here in 1898 – Benjamin Zeev Herzl. He visited, using – by the way – the PEF maps. He visited all these places and understood what was here, and much more. He dared to dream about what could be. These two blazes are what ignited the greatest empire to rule the world and the new prophet of the Jewish people and many other young Jews – these two blazes merged together and became Zionism.

I won’t tell you that we don’t have tremendous tasks to undertake in all the important fields. We do have them, and we will undertake them. But we will do so only if we are committed to our past in order to ensure our future. Therefore, in light of the plans I laid out today, I hope you will invite me back here in five more years; invite Tzvi Hauser – he is in charge of implementing all this. Our purpose today is to reignite the flame, to introduce a new spirit into the blaze of our lives and reconnect with this land – our land – the unique and singular Land of Israel.

Thank you.