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Release No: 239-97
May 14, 1997

Remarks by Secretary Cohen On Israel's Independence Day -- May 12, 1997

U.S. Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

On Israel's Independence Day

Embassy of Israel

Washington, D.C.

May 12, 1997

Last month, I began a new friendship with Israel's Minister of Defense, Yitzhak Mordechai. To capture the spirit of the continuing relationship between our two nations, I quoted Oliver Wendell Holmes, Senior, when he said: A thought is often original, though you have uttered it 100 times.

I shared this quote with Minister Mordechai, because more than 100 times in the 49 years our countries have stood together we have uttered the thought that the United States is unshakably committed to the safety and security of Israel. But this thought always strikes the ear as original, for the times and the circumstances continue to change and progress as we work together to build peace and stability for Israel.

What has not changed is the Israeli-American friendship built on our common bonds, vested in our common values, and carried on by our common commitment to a just, lasting, comprehensive and secure Middle East peace.

My new friendship with Yitzhak is yet another flower rising from the roots that formed 11 minutes after Israel declared its independence, when the United States recognized her. The Washington Star newspaper called the U.S. action a wise decision and a heartening one. To Clark Clifford it was, everything this country should represent. But for Harry Truman, it was simply the right thing to do, because everyone else who's been dragged from his country has someplace to go back to. Or, as Golda Meir once remarked in explaining why Israelis fought with such ferocity and courage, It's simple, she said. We have nowhere else to go.

As I thought about how I might express my sentiments on Israel's Independence Day, I recalled a passage from the book Self Portrait of a Hero, the collected letters of Jonathan Netanyahu. In a letter to his brother Benjamin, Jonathan wrote, Don't forget: strength, justice and staunch resolution are on our side, and that's a great deal.

I thought also of a famous passage written by Thucydides almost 25 centuries ago, in which he describes the funeral oration of Pericles paying tribute to Athens. If you simply replace the word Athens with Israel, it is remarkable how true the words still ring, line after line. So in celebration of Israel's independence, let me pay tribute to my hosts and the state of Israel with these timeless words of Thucydides:

Fix your eyes on the greatness of Israel, as you have it before you day by day. Fall in love with her. And when you feel her greatness, remember that this greatness was won by those with courage, with knowledge of their duty, and with a sense of honor in action.

So they gave their bodies to the commonwealth and received, each for his own memory, praise that will never die, and with it the grandest of all sepulchers, not that in which their mortal bones are laid, but a home in the minds of men, where their glory remains fresh to stir to speech or action as the occasion comes by.

For the whole earth is the sepulcher of famous men, and their story is not graven only on stone over their native earth, but lives on far away, without visible symbol, woven into the stuff of other men's lives. For you now it remains to rival what they have done, and know the secret of happiness is freedom and the secret of freedom is a brave heart.

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