President George W. Bush stands with Dalia Itzik, Speaker of the Knesset, and
George W. Bush gave an address of extraordinary eloquence before the Knesset in
“You have raised a modern society in the Promised Land, a light unto the nations that preserves the legacy of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. And you have built a mighty democracy that will endure forever and can always count on the
There was a paragraph in Bush’s address today that I want to show, with the assistance of Amos Oz, was neither hyperbole nor mere rhetoric, but literal truth. Here is the paragraph:
Centuries of suffering and sacrifice would pass before the dream was fulfilled. The Jewish people endured the agony of the pogroms, the tragedy of the Great War, and the horror of the Holocaust -- what Elie Wiesel called "the kingdom of the night." Soulless men took away lives and broke apart families. Yet they could not take away the spirit of the Jewish people, and they could not break the promise of God. (Applause.) When news of
In Amoz Oz’s autobiographical masterpiece, “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” he recalls the night in Jerusalem when, as a young boy, he watched his erudite, professorial father and his protective mother listening on the radio to the UN vote as it was happening in New York, with a two-thirds majority necessary to approve a Jewish and Arab state in the last territory of the British Mandate:
Right up to the moment of the actual vote it was hard to foresee the outcome. Pressures and temptations, threats and intrigues and even bribes managed to sway the crucial votes of three or four little republics in Latin America and the
On Saturday morning, they said, the General Assembly would convene at a place called
“The name Lake Success,” Father remarked, “is the opposite of the
. . .[T]he fateful meeting due to take place that afternoon at Lake Success would start here only in the evening, because of the time difference between New York and Jerusalem, or perhaps because Jerusalem was such an out-of-the-way place, so far from the great world, over the hills and far away, that everything that happened out there only reached us faintly, and always after a delay. The vote, they worked out, would be taken when it was very late in Jerusalem, close to midnight, an hour when this child ought to be long since tucked in bed, because we have to get up for school in the morning. . .
After midnight, toward the end of the vote, I woke up. My bed was underneath the window that looked out on the street, so all I had to do was kneel and peer through the slats of the shutters. I shivered.
Like a frightening dream, crowds of shadows stood massed together silently by the yellow light of the street lamp, in our yard, in the neighboring yards, on balconies, in the roadway, like a vast assembly of ghosts. Hundreds of people not uttering a sound, neighbors, acquaintances, and strangers, some in their nightclothes and others in jacket and tie, occasional men in hats or caps, some women bareheaded, others in dressing gowns with scarves around their heads, some of them carrying sleepy children on their shoulders, and on the edge of the crowd I noticed here and there an elderly woman sitting on a stool or a very old man who had been brought out into the street with his chair.
The whole crowd seemed to have been turned to stone in that frightening night silence, as if they were not real people but hundreds of dark silhouettes painted onto the canvas of the flickering darkness. As though they had died on their feet. Not a word was heard, not a cough or a footstep. No mosquito hummed. Only the deep, rough voice of the American presenter blaring from the radio, which was set at full volume and made the night air tremble, or it may have been the voice of the president of the Assembly, the Brazilian Oswaldo Aranha. One after another he read out the names of the last countries on the list, in English alphabetical order, followed by the reply of their representative:
At that the voice suddenly stopped, and an otherworldly silence descended and froze the scene, a terrified, panic-stricken silence, a silence of hundreds of people holding their breath, such as I have never heard in my life either before or after that night.
Then the thick, slightly hoarse voice came back, shaking the air as it summed up with a rough dryness brimming with excitement: Thirty-three for. Thirteen against. Ten abstentions and one country absent form the vote. The resolution is approved.
His voice was swallowed up in a roar that burst from the radio, overflowing from the galleries in the hall at Lake Success, and after a couple more seconds of shock and disbelief, of lips parted as though in thirst and eyes wide open, our faraway street on the edge of Kerem Avraham in northern Jerusalem also roared all at once in a first terrifying shout that tore through the darkness and the buildings and the trees, piercing itself, not a shout of joy, nothing like the shouts of spectators in sports grounds or excited rioting crowds, perhaps more like a scream of horror and bewilderment, a cataclysmic shout, a shout that could shift rocks, that could freeze your blood, as though all the dead who had ever died here and all those still to die had received a brief window to shout, and the next moment the scream of horror was replaced by roars of joy and a medley of hoarse cries and “The Jewish People Lives” and somebody trying to sing Hatikvah and women shrieking and clapping and “Here in the Land Our Fathers Loved,” and the whole crowd started to revolve slowly around itself as though it were being stirred in a huge cement mixer and there were no more restraints, and I jumped into my trousers but didn’t bother with a shirt or sweater and shot out our door, and some neighbor or stranger picked me up so I wouldn’t be trampled underfoot, and I was passed from hand to hand until I landed on my father’s shoulders near our front gate. My father and mother were standing there hugging one another like two children lost in the woods, as I had never seen them before or since, and for a moment I was between them inside their hug and a moment later I was back on Father’s shoulders and my very cultured, polite father was standing there shouting at the top of his voice, not words or wordplay or Zionist slogans, not even cries of joy, but one long naked shout like before words were invented.
Others were singing now, everyone was singing, but my father, who couldn’t sing and didn’t know the words of the popular songs, did not stop but went on with his long shout to the end of his lungs aaaahhh, and when he ran out of breath, he inhaled like a drowning man and went on shouting, this man who wanted to be a famous professor and deserved to become one, but now he was all just aaahhhh.
That was the moment that George W. Bush tapped into today, with his eloquent summary of the moment that “surpasses human words.”
As he stood before the Knesset, as the representative of the country whose president ten presidents ago recognized the new, recreated state 11 seconds after it was declared, George W. Bush stood also as the representative of a country of an “almost chosen people” (in Lincoln’s immortal phrase) -- and he put into words, as close as words can come, the true alliance of hope and change in the world.
President George W. Bush receives a standing ovation by members of the Knesset Thursday, May 15, 2008, in
President George W. Bush acknowledges Dalia Itzik, Speaker of the Knesset, as he visits the Israeli parliament Thursday, May 15, 2008, in