My fellow Israelis, tonight I am speaking to you on the eve of the State of Israel’s second lockdown, and I ask you to open your heart to me and to what I have to say. I know that we have not done enough as a leadership to be worthy of your attention. You trusted us, and we let you down.
Tonight, I would like to say that I understand the feelings of confusion and uncertainty, the anxiety that many people are feeling. I understand and, first and foremost, want to apologize for that. On a personal level, I ask your forgiveness for my behavior here at [the President’s Residence] during the lockdown during [Passover].
I apologized for it in the past, and I am doing it again today. My loneliness is no more painful than the loneliness that many of you—who were so careful to follow the word and the spirit of the instructions—experience.
I also ask your forgiveness today at a national level. We are about to begin the new year and are finding it hard to make space for the festivity that is with us every year at this time. We have become used to living in a country that leads in every aspect of life, in a free and open society, and now find our movement severely restricted and fighting to maintain the routines that we took for granted. When the coronavirus burst into our lives, we thought it would be a tough battle, but we hoped for a swift victory and so we accepted the restrictions of social distancing with understanding, despite the costs it entails.
You paid a high price, a real price that has been with us for a long time—our synagogues were closed on [Passover], our mosques were closed during Ramadan, and until today I grieve when I think of the bereaved families who were unable to visit the graves of their loved ones on [Remembrance Day].
We celebrated with our families under great restrictions, we mourned our dead in a way unworthy of them, we lived our lives in a painful compromise in the belief that the country and its institutions would get us out of this crisis quickly.
You, the citizens of Israel, deserve a safety net that the country gives you. Decision-makers, government ministries, policy implementers, must work for you and only for you. To save lives, to reduce infection, to rescue the economy. I understand the feeling that none of these were done satisfactorily.
And now, today, my fellow Israelis, we are forced to pay the price again. It is a high price. I think of those with mental health issues in hostels, of soldiers, of parents in old-age homes. The announcement of the lockdown means that our ability to live together, to celebrate together, to mourn together, to pray together, to fulfill our most basic human needs together—all these are harmed. I am sharing these feelings with you, and at the same time, I would like us to raise our heads and believe.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, I have gone to where the battle is being fought and meeting with our sources of strength and power, in all their glory. I meet hospital heads, nurses, doctors, Magen David Adom and the rescue teams, the soldiers and officers, the scientists, the volunteers. I see from up close their ceaseless dedication and sacrifice to ensure public safety, to fight this rampant virus and for our sense of mutual responsibility in times of crisis. I have met those who care for you, my fellow Israelis, and are doing everything to win this battle, and I ask you—put your trust in them.
And from here, I want to say to the government of Israel—its leaders, ministers and advisers: the trust of the people is beyond value. We must do everything to restore personal, medical and economic confidence to our fellow citizens. This is a second chance, and we must take it because we will not, I fear, get a third one.
My dear ones, as well as taking care of your own safety, we must refrain from blaming other parts of the society as if one sector is “responsible” for spreading the disease. The State of Israel is blessed by its exceptional human diversity, and I believe with all my heart that it is an enormous advantage. Every group and community in our society plays a crucial role in our combined strength and in our ability to win this battle. We will not prevail through finger-pointing and toxic accusations. Only together.
We were destined to live together, to share the good years and the tough years, to build and to develop this land. When we are fighting corona, we are together—Jews and Arabs, secular, religious and ultra-Orthodox—in hospitals, schools and in charitable organizations. Together, we learn in times like this what partnership is, what mutual responsibility is, what Israeli hope is.
My fellow Israelis, you cannot beat [the coronavirus] alone, but no one can beat it without you. I believe in this people; I believe in our ability to prevail. I would like to ask you to believe in this people’s ability to prevail. This is the time to follow the instructions, to take care of yourselves and those dear to you, to join hands to help those around you in need of assistance. Because we have no other land, we have no other country, we have no other people and we have no other way.
May this be a healthy year, in body and in spirit. May the old year and its curses pass; may the new year and its blessings come. May it be so.
Reuven Rivlin is the president of Israel.