Rabin's Honory Degree June 1967

Address by IDF Chief-of-Staff Lieut.-Gen. Yitzhak Rabin on Acceptance of Honorary Doctorate from Hebrew University

Jerusalem, Mt. Scopus, June 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 am filled with reverence as I stand here before the teachers of our generation in this ancient, magnificent place overlooking our eternal capital and the sacred sites 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. May I be allowed to speak the thoughts that are in my heart?

I consider myself to be here solely as the representative of the whole Israel Defense Forces: 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.

It may well be asked why the University should have been moved to bestow upon me 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? The answer, I think, is that in this honor which you have conferred through me upon my fellow soldiers you chose to express your 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 Israel Army is different from most other armies. Though its first task, that of maintaining security, is indeed 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 resources. Our work in the field of education is well known: it 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, also provides teachers for border villages, thus contributing to the social development. These are only a few examples of the special services of the Israel Defense Forces in this sphere.

Today, however, the University is conferring on us an honorary degree not for these things but 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 virtue that has astounded the world.

War is intrinsically harsh and cruel, and blood and tears are its companions. But the war we have just fought also brought forth marvelous examples of a rare courage and heroism, and 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 exalted and many 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 proceeded 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, a profound truth manifesting itself as if by lightning, overpowered customary constraints.

There is more to tell. The elation of victory had seized the whole nation. Yet among the soldiers themselves a curious phenomenon is to be observed. They cannot rejoice wholeheartedly. Their triumph is marred by grief and shock, and there are some who cannot rejoice at all. The men 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. And I know that the terrible price the enemy paid has also deeply moved many of our men. Is it because their teaching, not their experience, has ever habituated the Jewish people to exalt in conquest and victory that they receive them with such mixed feelings?

The heroism displayed in the Six Day War generally went far beyond that of the single, daring assault in which a man hurls himself forward almost without reflection. 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. We speak a great deal 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. Relatively small units entered long, deep networks of fortifications, surrounded by hundreds and thousands of enemy troops, through which they had to cut and cleave their way for many long hours. They pressed on, even when the exhilarating momentum of the first charge had passed, and all that was left to sustain them was their belief in our strength, in the absence of any alternative, and in the end for which the war was being fought, and the compelling need to summon up every resource of spiritual strength to continue to fight to the end. Thus our armoured forces broke through on all fronts, our paratroopers fought their way into Rafah and Jerusalem, our sappers cleaned minefields under enemy fire. The units which penetrated the enemy lines after hours of battle struggled on, refusing to stop, while their comrades fell to the right and to the left of them. These units were carried forward, not by arms or the techniques of war, but by the power of moral and spiritual values.

We have always insisted on having the best of our young people for the Israel Defense Forces. When we said "Ha-tovim la-tayis ("the best for the Air Force") and this became a standard for the whole army, 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 countries in a few short hours, it could do so only if it were sustained by moral and human values. Our airmen who struck the enemies' planes with such accuracy that no one understands how it was done and the world seeks to explain it technologically by reference to secret weapons; our armoured troops who stood their ground and overcame the enemy even when their equipment was inferior to his; our soldiers in all the several branches of the army who withstood our enemies everywhere despite the superiority of their numbers and fortifications: what they all showed was not only coolness and courage in battle but a passionate faith in the justice of their cause, the certain knowledge that only their personal, individual resistance against the greatest of dangers could save their country and their families, and that the alternative to victory was annihilation.

In every sector our commanders of all ranks proved themselves superior to those of the enemy. Their resourcefulness, their intelligence, their power of improvisation, their concern for their troops, and above all, their practice in leading their men into battle: these are not matters of technique or equipment. There is no intelligible explanation except one -- their profound conviction that the war they were fighting was a just one.

All these things have their origin in the spirit and end in the spirit. Our soldiers prevailed not by the strength of their weapons but by their sense of mission, by their consciousness of the justice of their cause, by a deep love of their country, and by their understanding of the heavy task laid upon them: to insure the existence of our people in their homeland, and to affirm, even at the cost of their lives, the right of the Jewish people to live its life in its own state, free, independent and in peace.

The army which I had the privilege of commanding through this war came from the people and returns to the people: a people which rises above itself in time of crisis and prevails over all enemies in the hour of trial by its moral and spiritual strength.

As representative of the Israel Defense Army and in the name of each and every one of its soldiers, I accept your appreciation with pride.