Arguments at Beit Hanassi are rare.
In fact the last time there was one was nearly four years ago, when president Moshe Katsav held a media conference in which he tried to explain his side of the story in allegations of rape and other forms of sexual exploitation.
Gadi Sukenik, then a Channel 2 news anchor and reporter, got tired of the tirade and started shouting accusations, at which point Katsav lost his cool and began yelling that Channel 2 and the rest of the media were conducting a witch-hunt against him.
On Monday, just as President Shimon Peres was about to begin speaking at
a bar/bat mitzva ceremony for 70 youngsters who were direct or indirect
victims of terrorism, a man at the back at the room rose from his seat,
and in a loud, accusatory tone, asked Peres why he didn’t throw his
weight behind the effort to free abducted soldier Gilad Schalit.
Other people tried to quiet the man, saying that this was not the reason
they had come to Beit Hanassi, but the man’s anger did not subside
until Peres answered him in a calm voice, saying that the government was
doing everything it could, that Schalit’s release was being negotiated,
that he personally ached for the suffering to which Schalit and his
family were being subjected, and that he was in constant contact with
His interlocutor sat down without uttering another word.
The youngsters, together with parents and siblings, in some cases were
brought to Beit Hanassi by Avraham Salami, the founder and chairman of
Victims of Terrorism, which cares for widows, orphans, bereaved parents
and people disabled by acts of terrorism.
Among those who crowded into the reception hall were people who were maimed, blind or unable to walk without crutches.
Not everyone carried visible scars.
The children were less boisterous than is usual.
Tel Aviv-Jaffa Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, 73, who survived Buchenwald
as a child, told the youngsters and their families that not only are
Jews a special people, but even their celebrations are different. Most
people celebrate the completion of something – leaving school, getting
discharged from the army, going out on pension, “but we are a people who
celebrate not when we shed responsibility, but when we take on
responsibility,” he said, referring to the bar/bat mitzva ceremony.
Lau wished them complete mental and physical health and happiness.
“Our happiness cannot be complete because we are haunted by the past,”
said Gavriel Shemla, who eight years ago, at the age of five, was
severely injured in the Pessah massacre in the Park Hotel in Netanya,
where 30 people were killed and 140 were wounded when a terrorist blew
himself up in the packed dining hall on Seder night.
Shemla has undergone several rounds of surgery, with more in the offing.
Slightly built and looking younger than his years, Shemla, speaking on
behalf of all the youngsters, said that as much as they looked forward
to the future, they could not forget what had happened to them and their
loved ones. He asked everyone to stand for a minute’s silence for all
the men, women and children who have no future because they were
murdered by terrorists.
Shemla spoke of responsibility and commitment and concluded his remarks
with the wish that Schalit would soon return home safe and well.
It was this that may have sparked the outbreak by the man at the back of the room.
Peres declared that he could not add to anything that Shemla had said,
“not only because of what you said, but what you symbolize – the
It was his privilege, the president said, to speak in the name of the
nation, “and I tell you that the whole nation feels your pain and your
suffering and rejoices in your survival.”
Only people infused with hatred can do such hurtful things to the
innocent, Peres said. “We do not believe in hatred or terrorism but in
love thy neighbor as thyself and in he who saves a single life is as one
who saved the whole world.”
Over the centuries, said Peres, there were nations that sought to
destroy the Jewish people, and most of these have disappeared from the
map. “We have overcome and we shall overcome,” he said.