June 28, 1967
Following the victory of the Six day war, IDF Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin was awarded an honorary doctoral degree by the Hebrew University. His acceptance speech was a symbolic act, delivered in the name of the entire IDF. The speech was given in the amphitheater of the newly liberated Hebrew University campus on Mount Scopus, that had been dormant behind enemy lines for 19 years, since the Israel War of Independence. For Rabin and for his comrades, the liberation of Jerusalem was the completion of unfinished business that had waited for 19 years, since the chance had been missed in 1948, the fulfillment of a silent pledge made by the men and women of that generation. In addition to the Hebrew University campus, the wailing wall and the Jewish quarter of the old city, vanquished and ethnically cleansed in 1948, the cemetery on the Mount of Olives, and all the other places that Israelis had gazed at from across barbed wire for 19 years, were finally under Jewish rule.
The speech was Rabin’s way of saying thank you to the soldiers of the IDF. He stressed that the degree was granted to the entire IDF, of which he was only a representative, to honor the spiritual values that had sustained them in the war.
For the generation of the Six day war and perhaps for all Israelis who remember that speech, it was in many respects high point of the achievement of Zionism, and of the reborn Jewish nation. In his speech, Rabin emphasized not victory but the cruelty of war, extending sympathy and empathy to the fallen enemy as well as to the families of our soldiers who had fallen in battle. He stressed that the marvelous heroism of our soldiers was due to their conviction that this was a just war and to their spiritual motivation, which served to sustain them against superior numbers of enemy soldiers armed with better weapons. The truth of this judgment was perhaps illustrated by the contrast with other wars, where the IDF performed less brilliantly despite superiority of arms. Rabin’s reference to spiritual values as more important than arms, and to faith in the morality of our cause, is reminiscent of a speech by David Ben-Gurion, an address to the Mapai Central Committee in January, 1948.
The speech was written under Rabin’s supervision and with his revisions, by the chief education officer of the IDF, Mordechai Bar-on, and was reworked by his staff. Rabin ordered Bar-on to stress the human aspects of the war, and to the dependence of victory on spiritual motives. The speech, which was remarkable for modesty, for absence of arrogance, and for sensitivity to the cost of war for Israel and the Arabs, became a symbol of the virtues worthy of the army and its soldiers.
To many, Yitzhak Rabin came to symbolize Zionism. Since then, new generations of Israelis forgot on the one hand, what the victory in Jerusalem had symbolized, and on the other, what Rabin had symbolized and what Rabin had fought for. One faction had never known East Jerusalem when it was inhabited by Jews and did not feel a historic connection with it. They did not understand why Israelis should be ruling a place that was clearly so alien. The graves on the Mount of Olives and the wailing wall meant nothing to them, as did the Hebrew University. The national attachment to Jerusalem, both because of its ancient connection with the Jewish people, and because of the many tragic events and the blood shed in trying to defend it, had little significance for them.
Another group had only a religious attachment to Jerusalem. The humanitarian aspects of Rabin’s legacy and of Zionism meant nothing to them. They did not understand what Rabin and his generation had done for the Jewish people. Those who still remembered and kept the faith, were intensely shocked when Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by religious fanatic Yigal Amir on November 4, 1995, for trying to make peace.
Introduction by Ami Isseroff
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
Mt Scopus Campus, 1967
Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister, Mr. President of the Hebrew University, Mr. Rector of the Hebrew University, Members of the Board of Governors, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I stand here before you, the leaders of our generation, in awe, in this ancient, glory filled place overlooking our eternal capital and looking upon the staging grounds of our nation’s earliest history.
You have chosen to do me the great honor of conferring upon me the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, along with a number of distinguished persons who are doubtless worthy of this honor. Permit me to say what is in my heart:
I see myself here as the representative of the thousands of officers and tens of thousands of soldiers who brought the victory of the Six Day War to the State of Israel; as the representative of the entire Israel Defense Forces.
It may be asked: why should the university have been moved to bestow the degree of honorary Doctor of Philosophy, upon a soldier in recognition of his war services? What have soldiers to do with the academic world, which stands for the life of civilization and culture? What have those who are professionally occupied with violence to do with spiritual values?
However, I see in this honor that you are sharing, through me, with my fellow soldiers, a profound appreciation of the special character of the Israel Defense Forces, which is itself an expression of the distinctiveness of the Jewish People as a whole.
The world has recognized that the Israeli Army is different from most other armies. Though its first task, that of maintaining security, is military, it also assumes numerous tasks directed to the ends of peace. These are not destructive, but constructive, and are undertaken with the object of strengthening the nation’s cultural and moral power.
Our work in the field of education is well known, and even received national recognition in 1966 when the army won the Israel Prize for Education. Nahal, which already combines military duties with work on the land, and the teachers in border villages who also contribute to social development and the like, are only a few examples of the unique nature of the Israel Defense Forces in this sphere.
Today, however, the university is conferring on us an honorary degree in recognition of the army’s moral and spiritual force as shown precisely in active combat. For we are all here in this place only by the heavy battle, from which, even though it was forced on us, we emerged with a victory which is already viewed as victorious. victorious.
War is intrinsically harsh and cruel, accompanied by much blood and tears. But the war we have just fought also brought forth marvelous examples of rare courage and heroism, side by side with the most moving expressions of brotherhood, comradeship and even spiritual greatness.
Anyone who has not seen a tank crew continue its attack even though its commander has been killed and its tank almost destroyed, who has not watched sappers risking their lives to extricate wounded comrades from a mine field, who has not witnessed the concern for a pilot who has fallen in enemy territory and the unremitting efforts made by the whole Air Force to rescue him, cannot know the meaning of devotion among comrades.
The nation was excited, and many even wept when they heard of the capture of the Old City. Our Sabra youth, and certainly our soldiers, have no taste for sentimentality and shrink from any public show of emotion. In this instance, however, the strain of battle and the anxiety which preceded it, joined with the sense of deliverance, the sense of standing at the very heart of Jewish history, to break the shell of hardness and diffidence, stirring up springs of feelings and spiritual discovery. The paratroopers who conquered the Wall leaned on its stones and wept. It was an act which in its symbolic meaning can have few parallels in the history of nations.
We in the army are not in the habit of speaking in high-flown language, but the revelation at that hour at the Temple Mount was greater that the constraints of habitual language, which brought forth is profound truth.
Moreover, the elation of victory has seized the whole nation. Yet among the soldiers themselves a curious phenomenon is to be observed increasingly. They cannot rejoice wholeheartedly. Their triumph is marred by grief and shock, and there are some who cannot rejoice at all. Those battling in the front lines saw with their own eyes not only the glory of victory, but also its cost — their comrades fallen beside them soaked in blood. I know that the terrible price the enemy paid has also profoundly affected many of our men. Perhaps the education and the experience of the Jewish people has never brought it to feel the joy of the conqueror and the victor, and therefore the matter is accepted with mixed feelings.
In the Six Day War there were manifestations of heroism beyond that of the single, daring assault in which a man thrusts himself forward almost without thinking. In many places there were long and desperate battles: in Rafah, in El-Arish, in Um-Kal Um-Kataf, in Jerusalem and on the Golan Heights. In these places, and in many others, our soldiers showed a heroism of the spirit and a courage of endurance which inspired feelings of wonder and exaltation in those who witnessed them.
There is much talk of the few against the many. In this war, perhaps for the first time, since the Arab invasions in the spring of 1948 and the battles of Negba and Degania, units of the Israel Defense Forces in every sector stood few against many. The significance of this is that relatively small groups of soldiers often encountered a sea of long, deep networks of fortifications, surrounded by hundreds and thousands of enemy troops, through which they had to cut and force their way for many long hours. They pressed on through a sea of dangerous, even when the momentum of the first charge, the exhilarating momentum, had dissolved, and all that remained to sustain them was their belief in our strength, with no alternative alternative, and in the goals of the war, and the summoning of every resource of spiritual strength to continue to fight to the finish.
Thus, our air force persisted and rained its blows on the enemy. Thus our armored forces broke through on all fronts; thus, our paratroops fought their way into Rafah and Jerusalem, our sappers cleaned minefields under enemy fire. The platoons that penetrated enemy lines reached their goal after hours of battle, while they pressed ever forward, while their comrades fell to the right and left of them and they continued forward – only forward! These platoons were carried by the power of moral and spiritual values, not by arms or battle technique.
We have always demanded the best of our young people for the Israel Defense Forces. When we said “HaTovim La Tayis” (“The Best for the Air Force”), and this expression became a concept, we were not referring only to technical skills and abilities. What we meant was that if our Air Force was to be capable of defeating the forces of four enemy states in a few short hours, they must have moral values and humanitarian values.
The pilots who hit the enemy aircraft with such accuracy that no one in the world understands how it was done and they seek technological explanations for it in the area of secret weapons; the armored troops who stood their ground and overcame the enemy even when their equipment was inferior; the soldiers in all the other branches of the IDF who withstood our enemies everywhere despite the superiority of their numbers and fortifications — what they all manifested was not only calmness and courage in battle but a strong faith in their righteousness, knowledge that only their personal, individual readiness to meet the greatest of dangers, could bring victory to their country and their families, that if the goal was not attained, it would spell annihilation.
Moreover, in every theater, our officers of all ranks were outstanding in their superiority to enemy officers. Their resourcefulness, their intelligence, their ability to improvise, their concern for their troops, and above all, their practice of leading their men into battle: these are not matters of technique or equipment. There is no reasonable explanation except in terms of their profound recognition of the morality of their war.
All these manifestations begin and end in the spirit. Our soldiers prevailed not because of iron but because of their consciousness of a supreme mission, because of their recognition of the justice of our cause, of deep love of their homeland, and because of their understanding of the difficult task laid upon them: to ensure the existence of our people in their homeland, and to maintain, even at the cost of their lives, the right of the Jewish people to live its life in our state, free, independent and in peace and tranquility.
This army, that I had the privilege of leading in this war, came from the people and will return to the people: a people which rises above itself in time of emergency, and prevails over all enemies by its moral and spiritual strength in times of trial.
As the representative of the Israel Defense Army and in the name of all the soldiers, , I accept your appreciation with pride.