Bennett urges unity as Israel marks Remembrance Day

The prime minister lamented that "our people carry on their bodies the scars of the gene of divisiveness from our ancestors."

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at the Yad Labanim Memorial Day ceremony in Jerusalem, May 3, 2022 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at the Yad Labanim Memorial Day ceremony in Jerusalem, May 3, 2022
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called for unity during a speech at Yad Labanim's Memorial Day ceremony in Jerusalem on Tuesday, saying "if, God forbid, our solidarity is broken, or we allow anger and hatred to grip us, then at that moment our enemies will take advantage of it to harm us."

Bennett began his speech by speaking about his experience as an IDF soldier in Lebanon in the 1990's, reminiscing about the soldiers who fought alongside him and fell in battle.

"That was the reality of our lives back then. Every few weeks we would hear about another encounter with casualties: in ambushes, breakthroughs and operations," said the prime minister. "We were there, in Lebanon, all of us together. Kibbutzniks with urbanites, secular people with religious people, Beersheba with Tel Aviv, right with left, Jews with non-Jews. The connection between us all was natural, something that did not even need to be discussed...Each risked his life for the other. We were brothers."

"There, in outposts in southern Lebanon, I fell in love with our wonderful nation. We all, in our hearts, fell in love. It was impossible not to. We were together," said Bennett. "Many of my friends stayed there. Youths. 19 or 20-year-olds who did not return. They will remain our brothers forever."

"I can not speak on their behalf, but I believe that, if they could, they would have requested from us: Continue to live together. Do not let disagreements tear you apart from within," added the prime minister.

 IDF soldiers place flags at graves on Mount Herzl ahead of Memorial Day, May, 2022 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) IDF soldiers place flags at graves on Mount Herzl ahead of Memorial Day, May, 2022 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Bennett stressed that Israel has a strong military and security establishment, but warned that "if, God forbid, our solidarity is broken, or we allow anger and hatred to grip us, then at that moment our enemies will take advantage of it to harm us." The prime minister added that "our people carry on their bodies the scars of the gene of divisiveness from our ancestors."

The prime minister referenced the history of the Jewish people and the first two Jewish kingdoms, saying "our State of Israel is the third time that there is a sovereign Jewish state here in the Land of Israel. The previous two times, we did not succeed in reaching the eighth decade in peace."

"This is the most important lesson in our history, and I do not tire of repeating it," stressed Bennett. "In the first instance, our first state, in the days of David and Solomon, [the state] survived 80 years as a united and sovereign kingdom. In the 81st year, because of internal conflicts, the country split in two, and we lost forever most of our people, the ten tribes."

"In the second instance, during the Second Temple period, the Hasmonean kingdom existed for about 77 years as a united and sovereign state. Towards the end of the period, there was again a severe internal conflict within us and it was the Jews themselves who invited the Romans inside Israel. We lost our independence and became a humiliated protectorate of the Romans," stated Bennett. "And we also lost this protectorate, at the end of the Second Temple. In the heat of purism and hostility, Jews burned each other's food reserves, inflicting defeat on themselves. What a terrible price we paid: 2,000 years in exile, because we succumbed to hatred between brothers."

The prime minister stressed that now "we have won a third chance," but added that "there will not be another chance."

"We are now in the eighth decade of the state, the decade we have not yet succeeded in as a united nation. We have been given an opportunity to correct the sin of our ancestral brotherly hatred and to get rid of the inclination of sectarianism that destroyed our people," said Bennett.

"Every day, I think of my friends, of my brothers in arms who have fallen. I think about them a lot, not just on Memorial Day. Sometimes, in a beautiful moment - a bat mitzvah for a friend's daughter, a trip in the Judean Hills, while driving when an old song is played on the radio, the image of those who were part of me, friends like my brothers, who will not return, comes to me."

"'I grieve for you, my brother Jonathan. You were most dear to me.' - these words from David's lament, and the nickname 'my brother' for his friend, accompany us to this day. From the dawn of Zionism, through the War of Independence, the wars of Israel to the present day, our best sons and daughters have fallen while guarding the existence of the State of Israel," said the prime minister.

"On this day we all embrace the families who have lost the most precious to them of all," said Bennett. "Out of the sanctity of this day, out of longing for those who are not with us, we swear to protect this home, which was their home, the home they sacrificed their lives for. May the souls of our fallen brothers be bound up in the bundle of life."