In Independence Day address, Knesset speaker tells Oct. 7 hostages: We’re working every day to bring you home

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Addressing the hostages in Gaza during the official state ceremony marking the country’s 76th Independence Day, Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana declares, “The State of Israel was not there on October 7 in its full strength and power as we all expected it to be, but since then, it has been working every day to return you home to your families.”

“All of those serving in all the security forces of the State of Israel are fighting tirelessly for your release. All Israelis are looking forward to your return. All synagogues in Israel and in the Diaspora are praying for your peace. We will not despair and we will not give up — you, please, do not lose hope,” he appeals.

For a hundred generations the Jewish people “were a child without a home, a nation without a country,” but “we were privileged to be born into another world,” Ohana continues. “A world in which there is a state for the Jews, whose independence we celebrate tonight. A country that, even if we have arguments about its nature, whose existence is all of our good fortune.”

Turning to the current political situation, Ohana states that the last time the Independence Day ceremony was held without an audience was during the pandemic and just like during COVID-19, today another pandemic “threatens us — the plague of strife, polarization, and bigotry.”

But while Israelis were able to put away many of the political differences of the past year following October 7, “we have not yet completed the journey,” he says, insisting that “our enemies had hoped and still hope that the quarrel will intensify, until it will be an opportunity for them to unite and hit us with all their strength.”

But while internecine fighting led to the end of the Second Jewish Commonwealth, “this is not fate,” and “it is also possible that in the book of the chronicles of the Jewish people we will write — together — a new chapter, the chapter of unity.”

“We will have to shout less and listen more, even to our political opponents. These too proved that they are ready to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the Jewish and democratic State of Israel. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv will have to meet at the Shaar HaGay interchange,” he insists.

“These are fateful days for our future as a country and a people. We learned in the last year that for our small and threatened nation, unity is not a luxury. It is a basic need,” like air or water.

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