“An Indelible Pain”: IDC Herzliya Yom HaZikaron Ceremony 2017
Prof. Uriel Reichman, President and Founder of IDC Herzliya, spoke:
“I want to take you back in time, almost fifty years ago, to the first days of June 1967.
My paratroop battalion, a reserve battalion, is parked in the orchards near Ramle and is waiting, with the whole country. The radio from Cairo threatens that the end of the Jewish state is near and tens of thousands of Egyptian soldiers march through the streets of Cairo, roaring and promising a bitter end to all of us. Tanks and artillery flow into Sinai, the Egyptians block the Straits of Tiran and passage to Eilat while sending commando battalions to reinforce the Jordanian army in Latrun. An Egyptian general takes command of the Jordanian force in Jerusalem and the war drums are heard from Damascus as well.
Imagine, if you can, the State of Israel in 1967: only 19 years old, less than 2.5 million Jews, in economic distress and under an effective Arab boycott, slowly recovering from the massive waves of immigration. The wait, which involves the extensive mobilization of all who can, paralyzes the economy. Israel is politically isolated and the atmosphere in Israel is difficult, saturated with an existential threat reminiscent of the eve of the War of Independence. Then, it was clear to all that the goal of the war about to break out was to wipe the State of Israel off the earth.
And this you should know: The Six-Day War was a defensive war. There was no war of conquest. The desire to destroy the existence of Israel continues. Hezbollah and Hamas declare this, including Iran and ISIS. This desire is heard every day, and not only in the Middle East. It continues to sound 50 years after the Six Day War, after wars and intifadas, countless operations and more than 5,000 casualties.
Therefore, the first and most important lesson we learn from the events of the past 50 years is that we must not weaken. We must always remain ready to protect our physical existence, at any cost. But that is not the only lesson.
The Six-Day War was supposed to bring peace. The hopes in Israel were to realize the Zionist vision of peace with our neighbors, based on compromises in the territories. But this had already been decided by the Arab League (at the Khartoum conference) not to recognize Israel, not to negotiate with it, nor make peace with it.
Seven years passed. When the Yom Kippur War broke out, my younger brother, Gad, was 22 years old and was about to fly abroad for the first time in his life. When he heard the sirens he was not called to enlist. In his “Susita” car, Gad chased the war, from camp to camp, until the gathering point to the east of the Sea of Galilee.
The tanks that came down from the Golan unloaded the bodies of the dead and the shortage of fighting men put him in the tank, in civilian clothes, as a signaler. He fought for six hours. Near the Yahudiya, his tank turret was hit and his commander was badly wounded. Gad rescued him and returned to the tank, apparently in order to inform about the wounded. A machine gun from a Syrian tank, a few meters away, tore Gad’s body.
When the Yom Kippur War broke out, I was busy writing my doctorate at the University of Chicago. I had only enough money to buy a flight ticket from Chicago to New York. The Israeli consulate told me that I was not needed because the war would end as quickly as the six days war, but I borrowed money from a relative and bought a ticket to Israel. At Kennedy Airport I was literally fighting hundreds of reserve soldiers to board a flight to Israel.
The following night, at the foot of the Golan Heights, with the sounds of battle and the radio transmissions announcing more and more casualties, I was asked: “Why did you return?” I came back because of a basic and sacred principle, according to which the blood of one in Israel is no more precious than that of his comrade. Like my brother Gad, I also knew that in such moments we all share responsibility, and our ability to manage the events depends on our resilience.
The victory in the Six-Day War was also achieved that way. It was not achieved by divine intervention but by the ascension of the air force, the strength of armor and the sacrifice of warriors. Many of my soldiers and good comrades from the paratroopers gave their lives in battles on Ammunition Hill, Jerusalem and the Old City. Others in the Golan Heights and in the south.
Sacrifice and unity of fate live within us. We remember our graduates, Lt. Col. Emmanuel Moreno, one of the greatest fighters in the modern era who was killed in the Second Lebanon War, and Lieutenant Colonel Amotz Greenberg, who was killed at the entrance to a Hamas assault tunnel at Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha; Lieutenant Colonel Dolev Keidar, who was called to engage Hamas in the attack in Nir Am, and Major Tsafrir Bar-Or, who was killed during “Protective Edge”, in Sajaiya. We also mourn Major Amichai Itkis, an air force pilot who was killed in a training plane crash in the Great Crater.
The words “Sacrifice of Blood” carry an additional meaning for us when we recall the memory of Roy Avisaf, a law student who was murdered by terrorists while on vacation in the Sinai and Steven Sotloff, a graduate of our International School, who was executed by ISIS in front of the cameras.
They were part of us. The students at IDC are different people with different backgrounds, views and aspirations, all of them lovers of the state and the nation’s best builders. All left behind a void, and an indelible heartache.
To you, who are here today, I would like to remind you that IDC Herzliya was established in order to train Israel’s future leadership. You must be steadfast in defending our existence and carry the message of humanity to all”.