KKL-JNF 9/11 Living Memorial – Jerusalem Park, Emek Arazim
Mr. Efi Stenzler, KKL-JNF World Chairman: Thank you and your colleagues for this beautiful memorial and for our partnership year after year in arranging this ceremony.
Dean of the diplomatic corps Ambassador Etoundi Essomba and Ambassadors; Family members of the victims of 9/11 First responders and all those who help victims of terror; Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Rachel Azaria; Ladies and gentlemen:
Thank you to all who have joined us here today. I extend a special welcome to the many young people who are with us — Israeli, American, and international youth from Young Judea and the Walworth Barbour American International School. Your presence here today is the very clearest testimony to our determination to create a better and more secure future for the next generation, even as we remember and honor the terrible losses we suffered thirteen years ago.
The images of that day will never leave us. The clearest of blue skies, befouled by giant fireballs and plumes of black smoke; towers of concrete crumbling into dust; families posting photos of missing loved ones; and a giant hole in the earth in Pennsylvania, as big as the hole in our hearts. But the stories of heroism also stay with us: friends and colleagues helping each other navigate stairwells filled with smoke, firefighters displaying uncommon bravery charging up those same stairwells to rescue those in peril, and a group of passengers heroically preventing the final intended blow, saving many hundreds of their fellow citizens’ lives. At work at the Capitol that day, I might have been among those they saved.
As we recount those black moments, and read the names of the victims carved into this evocative memorial, our hearts still ache for the lives that were cut short, and for the families ripped apart. Four months ago at the dedication of the 9/11 Museum in New York, President Obama invoked the “memory of nearly 3,000 innocent souls (among them 5 Israeli citizens) men and women and children of every race, every creed and every corner of the world.” He also recalled “a generation of service members – our 9/11 generation – who have served with honor in more than a decade of war. A nation that stands tall and united and unafraid – because no act of terror can match the strength or character of our country.”
So every year we come together, to honor those who fell, and those who served, the members of our larger American family whose destinies were touched by these acts of evil.
Today’s anniversary is a somber reminder that we still face threats of extremism and terrorism around the world. But it is also an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to work together with all civilized nations to confront these threats. Terror attacks are not only tragedies for the individuals and countries that are targeted; these attacks also aim to test our fortitude as free societies. We are determined to remain strong, to defend ourselves, and to never give in to fear. And while we know that force will at be times necessary, force alone will not guarantee the future we hope to build.
Israel, too, is painfully aware of what it means to live under the threat of terrorism. In the latest chapter of Israel’s decades-long struggle against terrorists, we watched time and again over the past two months as Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza willfully and indiscriminately launched thousands of rockets aimed at civilian populations in Israel. We saw Hamas attempt to infiltrate Israel through tunnels to attack civilian communities. And we saw the extent of Hamas’ investment in rockets, mortars, tunnels, and other offensive weapons at the expense of potential investments in infrastructure, jobs, education, and training. We can only imagine the tangible and positive impacts on the health, welfare, and lives of Gazans had Hamas invested in the people of Gaza instead of in the politics of hate and the instruments of terror.
No nation can accept living under the threat of such attacks, and Israel has every right, indeed every responsibility, to defend its citizens. The United States is proud to have supported the development and deployment of the Iron Dome defense system, which intercepted more than 700 rockets fired from Gaza during Operation Protective Edge. The success of Iron Dome and other defensive systems saved countless lives, reduced casualties, protected property, and reinforced the impressive strength and resiliency of the Israeli people during the conflict. We strongly support the ceasefire agreement, and hope that it will be made durable and sustainable, and that all sides will seize this opportunity for a long-term solution that ensures a secure and peaceful future for Palestinians and Israelis alike.
Americans and Israelis stand together today, facing critical challenges and reaffirming our mutual commitment to democracy and to the many values our nations and our peoples share. The principles of coexistence, tolerance, and inclusion, which define us, must continually be reinforced against those who act out of intolerance, out of extremism, and out of hate. Just as we must respond to violence and terror, we are determined to be tenacious in protecting our democratic way of life and institutions. Our resistance and our resilience are what violent extremists most fear, for their goal is to undermine open societies like ours. We will not allow them this victory. But we will ensure that we act within the frameworks of law and justice that our democratic institutions encompass.
Today, the criminal, terrorist group called ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) presents a threat to the region, and to the world. ISIL is a violent, criminal, terrorist organization that has slaughtered civilian populations and minorities, and whose maniacal methods are a threat to innocent civilians and to open and free societies. ISIL leaders have threatened the United States; they carried out the brutal beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen who studied international relations and counter-terrorism in Israel at the Inter-Disciplinary Center in Herzliya; in May an ISIL-associated terrorist shot and killed four people, including two Israeli citizens, at the Jewish Museum in Brussels.
Last night, President Obama described our strategy to combat this threat, directly with our own military power, by strengthening our partners in Iraq and in the moderate Syrian opposition, by conducting a comprehensive counter-terrorism campaign, as we have effectively in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, and by providing protection and humanitarian assistance to vulnerable civilian populations. To do all this, we are building a broad global coalition of like-minded nations, who will each contribute in their own way and act in concert against a common and brutal enemy. As Secretary of State John Kerry, who is in the region now to build this coalition, has said, “Extremists are defeated only when responsible nations and peoples unite to oppose them.” The goal is to denigrate, and, ultimately, destroy the organization known as ISIL. And make no mistake – we will achieve our goal.
In just two weeks, Jewish communities around the world will observe the high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is a time of reflection and renewal; it is a period that encourages us to choose life. The words of the prophet Jeremiah (29:11) can give us strength and optimism during this time:
כי אנוכי ידעתי את המחשבות אשר אנוכי חושב עליכם, נאם השם – מחשבות שלום ולא לרעה לתת לכם אחרית ותקוה.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to make you prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
It is in making the choice to defend life, to maintain our resolve and solidarity, and to preserve our values as freedom-loving democracies, that we join together to defeat terrorism and build a brighter future. Let us all wish for one another a peaceful Shana Tova – a good, happy, and safe new year.