Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) delivered the following remarks on Israel, Iran, Iraq and the Middle East to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Forum held on March 2, 2007 in Chicago, Illinois.
"Thank you so much for your kind introduction and the invitation to meet with you this morning.
Last week, this event was described to me as a small gathering of friends. Looking at all of you here today; seeing so many of you who care about peace in this world; who care about a strong and lasting friendship between Israel and the United States, and who care about what’s on the next page of our shared futures, I think 'a small gathering of friends' fits this crowd just right.
I want to begin today by telling you a story.
The Holy Land
Back in January of 2006, I made my first trip to the Holy Land. It is a place unlike any other on this earth – a place filled with so much promise of what we truly can be as people; a place where we’ve learned how in a flash, violence and hatred and intolerance can turn that promise to rubble and send too many lives to their early graves.
Most will travel to the holy sites: the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Dome of the Rock or the Western Wall. They make a journey to be humbled before God. I too am blessed to have seen Israel this way, up close and on the ground.
But I am also fortunate to have seen Israel from the air.
On my journey that January day, I flew on an IDF helicopter to the border zone. The helicopter took us over the most troubled and dangerous areas and that narrow strip between the West Bank and the Mediterranean Sea.
At that height, I could see the hills and the terrain that generations have walked across. I could truly see how close everything is and why peace through security is the only way for Israel.
Our helicopter landed in the town of Kiryat Shmona on the border. What struck me first about the village was how familiar it looked.
The houses and streets looked like ones you might find in a suburb in America. I could imagine young children riding their bikes down the streets. I could imagine the sounds of their joyful play just like my own daughters. There were cars in the driveway. The shrubs were trimmed. The families were living their lives.
Hezbollah Violence in Israel
Then, I saw a house that had been hit with one of Hezbollah’s Katyusha rockets.
The family who lived in the house was lucky to be alive. They had been asleep in another part when the rocket hit. They described the explosion. They talked about the fire and the shrapnel. They spoke about what might have been if the rocket had come screaming into their home at another time when they weren’t asleep but sitting peacefully in the now destroyed part of the house.
It is an experience I keep close to my heart. Not because it is unique, but because we know that too many others have seen the same kind of destruction, have lost their loved ones to suicide bombers and live in fear of when the next attack might hit.
Just six months after I visited, Hezbollah launched four thousand rocket attacks just like the one that destroyed the home in Kiryat Shmona, and kidnapped Israeli service members. And we pray for all of the service members who have been kidnapped: Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev, and Ehud Goldwasser, and I met with his family this week. I offered to help in any way I can.
It is important to remember this history—that Israel had unilaterally withdrawn from Lebanon only to have Iran supply Hezbollah with thousands of rockets.
Our job is to never forget that the threat of violence is real.
Our job is to renew the United States’ efforts to help Israel achieve peace with its neighbors while remaining vigilant against those who do not share this vision.
Our job is to do more than lay out another road map; our job is to rebuild the road to real peace and lasting security throughout the region.
Israel: Our Strongest Ally in the Middle East
That effort begins with a clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel: our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy. That will always be my starting point.
And when we see all of the growing threats in the region: from Iran to Iraq to the resurgence of al-Qaeda to the reinvigoration of Hamas and Hezbollah, that loyalty and that friendship will guide me as we begin to lay the stones that will build the road that takes us from the current instability to lasting peace and security.
It won’t be easy. Some of those stones will be heavy and tough for the United States to carry. Others with be heavy and tough for Israel to carry. And even more will be difficult for the world. But together, we will begin again.
One of the heavy stones that currently rest at the United States’ feet is Iraq. Until we lift this burden from our foreign policy, we cannot rally the world to our values and vision.