The full text of Peres' last speech to Congress
President Shimon Peres addressed Congress for the last time as Israel's president on Thursday. The outgoing president is also slated to receive a Congressional Gold Medal.
"I am humbled to stand here today in this Rotunda, in this great Pantheon of Democracy, the Congress of the United States.
Here, you give expression to the unbreakable spirit of the American people. It was first expressed 237 years ago when your forefathers signed a document whose words will echo for all time. "Among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Those words resonate with as much meaning today as they did when America’s first patriots wrote them. They have inspired generations of Americans to dream of a better America. And they have inspired peoples across the globe as well to dream for a better world.
Many people call me a dreamer. I suppose that’s why I have always felt at home here in America – the country that history has given the privilege to carry the dreams of humanity. My first dream was to be a shepherd on a kibbutz. This dream came true. At dawn, I watched the sheep in order not to lose one. At night, I watched the stars in order not to miss one. But the dreams of a young shepherd were interrupted when David Ben-Gurion, our George Washington, called me to serve the Jewish state that was then being born. I was 24 years old.
Yet he entrusted me with heavy responsibilities. He made me Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Defense. He charged me with securing our young nation’s ability to defend itself. I worked hard. I had little time to study. I didn’t know a word of English. After our War of Independence, Ben-Gurion suggested I go the United States to learn English. “Study the American dream.” He told me. So I did.
I learned that America is not a land for the idle. It is a home for the daring. The American dream is about hard work, a pioneering spirit and a can-do attitude. I learned that the two great bodies that sit under this iconic marble dome – the Senate and the House of Representatives – offered a tiny Israel, struggling for life, an unbelievable and unbreakable friendship. You helped Israel out of its loneliness.
You helped Israel overcome our small size in a tough neighborhood. You helped us maintain a resilient democracy, to become strong enough to take risks for peace. Whether through military assistance and security cooperation or through diplomatic and moral support, you sent our people a clear message: That we are not alone.
On behalf of all the people of Israel, I want to thank my friend and Israel’s friend, President Barack Obama, for standing by our side with an unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security.
I want to thank the American Congress, for your unwavering, bipartisan and generous support. Thank you for helping us weather so many storms, And for giving us confidence to meet challenges ahead.
Ladies and gentlemen, the challenges we face are considerable. Together, we must fight terrorism, advance peace, and prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. Like President Obama, Israel hopes that the issue of Iran will be resolved peacefully. And like President Obama, we believe that Iran should be judged by its actions not by words. The foundations of the Middle East are shaking as the artificial structures built by the previous empires is unraveling.
At the same time, the rules governing the world are being rewritten. Security and prosperity are no longer mainly national issues. They are now increasingly dependent on the global economy. And national security is now increasingly dependent on fighting global terrorism. Amidst all the kayos in the Middle East, it is easy to sink into despair. But I have seen too much in my life to lose hope. I have seen Israel defy the odds time and again. I have seen Israel defeat superior enemies on the battlefield and rescue hostages thousands of miles away from home. Israel has shown it can defend itself against those who sought our destruction. Israel did and will do everything in our power to bring home our three kidnapped boys – Naftali, Gilad and Eyal. I met with their parents. They had one request. They asked me to speak here on their behalf. To make your voices heard all over the world to help bring our boys home. To sound a call across the world against terror.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have seen the genius of Israelis make our typical Middle Eastern land bloom and turn Israel into a global center of technology. I learned that hi-tech can quench the world’s thirst for water and heal the planet. Can increase yields without increasing land. As the grandson of a Rabbi burnt alive with his entire community by the Nazis in a synagogue in Belarus in 1942 – I know that even the darkest hour cannot prevent a new dawn from arriving.
Ladies and gentlemen, today and together, we must tackle the two monumental challenges we face: Terrorism and poverty. Terror knows no borders and obeys no rules. It kills hundreds of thousands, and turns millions into refugees. We see it in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Libya, Sudan, Gaza and elsewhere. Terrorists act globally. Therefore, they should be fought globally. We must fight not only the acts of terrorism but the roots of terrorism. And not by military means alone. But by drying up their financial resources. By sanctioning their suppliers of arms. By delegitimizing their actions. By weaving a modern regional net that can catch terrorists and protect our populations. Terrorists spread danger over the entire region. The region must come together to stop them. The time is ripe to do so.
Religions can play a meaningful role in restoring tolerance and hope. Religion can never permit terrorists to hijack faith and perpetrate violence in the name of heaven. We need more voices like Pope Francis. We need rabbis, priests and imams to preach respect for God in heaven and life on earth.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is our duty to offer the young generation a vision more compelling more promising for the future. In the Middle East, the population grew 5 times over in the last 50 years. Its economy did not. Poverty soared. An era of science replaced the era of land. We experience it daily. Israel has little land, even less rain and no oil. But we became a start-up nation through hi-tech and hard work. I learned that the turmoil of today can provide a new hope for tomorrow. And my dream today is that the Middle East will become a start-up region. To make that happen, leaders in the region must do their share to open their societies. Because without free thinking there is no new thinking. And without openness there are no discoveries. Global companies should play a role helping the region become up to date and prepare for tomorrow. Two thirds of the Middle East population is under 25.
For some, that is a cause for concern. For me, it’s a source of hope. For business, it’s a great opportunity for investment both economically and socially. Global companies are aware that young people want a different future. They want free expression and self-expression. They want equal rights, including the equal right to be different.
Our two countries – Israel and America – also have a unique contribution to offer. We're not the same size but we share the same values and the same dreams. Our dreams keep us young. Our values keep us true. What Israel already learned from experience, we want to share with our neighbors.In my decades of having the privilege of serving Israel. I saw her become a thriving democracy. A diverse society. A leading defense force. And a cutting edge scientific community. Together we can help put the region on a more promising course. Through initiatives in health, education, agriculture, water, and science. I hope to dedicate myself to this work in the years ahead. As for America, it remains indispensable.
America is the greatest power in the world today. And the only great power in history that never tried to become an Empire. You became great not by taking but by giving. America is a force for good. A force for progress. A force for peace. The world is fortunate that America continues to lead it. 60 years ago, America looked to the moon to discover a distant land. Today, the United States is leading a major scientific effort to enter the brain. We are partners in this effort. May I say that in my judgment, there may be more to discover in the brain than on the moon.
Ladies and gentlemen, America and Israel should continue to work together to advance peace. Wars can be waged alone. Peace calls for a collective effort. Israel went through seven wars and attained two peace agreements. With Egypt – the largest Arab country. And Jordan – our longest shared border. I hope that we will be able to renew peace talks with the Palestinians soon. Israel does not intend to rule over other people. It stands against our values and heritage. Israel is committed to Tikkun Olam, bettering the world, and making peace with its neighbors.
President Abbas is clearly a partner for peace. He spoke bravely in Saudi Arabia, in Arabic, against the kidnapping, against terror, and for peace. But you cannot put fire and water in the same glass. Hamas is clearly not a partner for peace. Hamas fires rockets at our civilians. They oppose peace and support terror. Finding a way forward is hard but we must not lose hope. There is no better solution than two states for two peoples. A Jewish state – Israel. And an Arab state – Palestine. Peace between Israel and Palestine can forge a broader regional peace. A bridge should be built that will enable an Israeli peace initiative to meet the Arab peace initiative. I have lived long enough to see the impossible become possible. To skeptics, I can say: Believe me. Peace is the most possible impossibility. In one month, I will end my term as Israel’s ninth President. But I will never give up on the struggle to achieve peace.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I leave you today with one piece of advice. It is the advice of a boy who dreamed on a kibbutz who never imagined where his blessed life would take him. When Theodore Herzl said: "If you will it, it is no dream." He was right.
Looking back on the life of Israel, our dreams proved not to be too big, but too small. Because Israel achieved much more than I could have ever imagined. So I ask only one thing of the United States of America, this mighty nation of dreamers.
Don’t dream small. You are great. So dream big. And work to will those dreams into a new reality for you and all humanity. God bless you all. And God bless the United States of America.
God bless you all.
And God bless the United States of America."
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