President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu traveled to Sde Boker on Tuesday to honor the memory of Israel’s founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion on the 39th anniversary of his death.

The president and the prime minister were in Sde Boker immediately following a number of Color Red alerts signifying the arrival in the area of rockets from Gaza. It was public knowledge that the two men would be attending the memorial ceremony.

Peres could not refrain from addressing the situation in which the residents of the South find themselves, especially because it was Ben-Gurion’s dream to settle the region and make the Negev green.

Peres praised the courage and the stoicism of the residents of the South in their ability to endure the missiles fired by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups supported by Iran. “They seek to break our spirit,” he said.

“They want the mothers of Israel to know no rest. They [the terrorists] are the ones who are escalating the conflict and then complain about the heat of the fire.”

Israel is targeting the terrorist criminals, he said, and is doing its utmost to avoid harming innocent civilians – and not for the first time.

From the first day that Ben-Gurion served as prime minister, Peres recalled, he was fired on even before he could taste the joy of statehood. At its very genesis, the State of Israel had a war thrust upon it.

But Israel’s morality, even in its nascent state, rose above the assault, he said.

“Ben-Gurion fashioned the quality of our forces, the quality of the individual and the bravery of the soldier,” he said.

From the dawn of statehood, said Peres, Ben-Gurion put security and peace as the highest priorities. He saw service in the army as a mission. Under his leadership the IDF developed new weapons and defense systems capable of meeting the challenges of the future. He used to say of the IDF: “I don’t know if this is the best army in the world, but I don’t know of any better.”

As defense minister, said Peres, Ben-Gurion was responsible for the establishment of defense industries, including Israel Aircraft Industries (today Israel Aerospace Industries), putting extraordinary emphasis on research and development.

He knew even then how much the nation depended on innovation and entrepreneurship.

Looking back at Israel’s military achievements, Peres was confident that just as Israel has emerged triumphant from all the wars in which it was engaged, it will also triumph over terrorism. He underscored how much the nation owes to the IDF, to the Mossad, to the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), to the police and to the rescue forces.

In the War of Independence, Israel fought to guarantee the birth of the state, he said.

“Today we fight in order to ensure that mothers can raise their children in safety and security.”

Peres expressed sorrow for the suffering of Gazan civilians, and declared that this could have been avoided had the terrorist organizations desisted from firing on Israel. Israel did not start the hostilities, he stressed, and Israel will never agree to be a passive target.

Yet despite the belligerence to which Israel is subjected, Peres has not lost his dream for peace, a dream that he inherited from Ben-Gurion who said that he would not want to be the person who at any time rejected a chance for peace between Jews and Arabs. Even at the risk of failure, he would not cease in his quest for peace, Ben-Gurion said.

Netanyahu said that among the projectiles intercepted by the Iron Dome were several long-range rockets capable of reaching the heart of Israel.

Like Peres, the prime minister was full of praise and admiration for the people of the South who have had the psychological stamina to withstand the constant rocket attacks from Gaza.

Netanyahu added that inasmuch as the IDF is making every effort to refrain from harming innocent civilians, this is becoming an increasingly difficult mission, because Hamas is storing its weapons in sensitive places such as schools, hospitals and mosques. Under these circumstances, it is almost impossible to avoid hitting women and children when targeting weapon caches.

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