Words, Well-Rooted, Can Have Power Beyond Jerusalem

03/26/2013 11:56 am ET | Updated May 26, 2013

So quickly President Obama flew to the Middle East and back; excerpts from his speech in Jerusalem deserve a longer look.

On Shared Struggle:

I bring with me the support of the American people -- and the friendship that binds us together.

We know that here on earth we must bear our responsibilities in an imperfect world. That means accepting our measure of sacrifice and struggle. As Dr. Martin Luther King said on the day before he was killed, "I may not get there with you. But I want you to know that we, as a people, will get to the promised land." So just as Joshua carried on after Moses, the work goes on for all of you, the Joshua Generation, for justice and dignity; for opportunity and freedom.

For the Jewish people, the journey to the promise of the State of Israel wound through countless generations. That's why I believe that Israel is rooted not just in history and tradition, but also in a simple and profound idea -- the idea that people deserve to be free in a land of their own.
Together, we share a commitment to security for our citizens and the stability of the Middle East and North Africa.

On Diversity:

America is a nation of immigrants. America is strengthened by diversity. America is enriched by faith. We are governed not simply by men and women, but by laws. So in Israel, we see values that we share, even as we recognize what makes us different. That is an essential part of our bond.

I stand here mindful that for both our nations, these are complicated times. We have difficult issues to work through within our own countries, and we face dangers and upheaval around the world.
And that's why Israel has a right to expect Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist. And today, I want to tell you -- particularly the young people -- so that there's no mistake here, so long as there is a United States of America -- Atem lo levad. You are not alone.

About Peace:

First, peace is necessary. I believe that peace is the only path to true security. The only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine. That is true.

The only way to truly protect the Israeli people over the long term is through the absence of war. Peace will have to be made among peoples, not just governments.

Peace is also just. The Palestinian people's right to self-determination, their right to justice, must also be recognized. Put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.

There is an opportunity; there's a window. My third point: Peace is possible. I'm not saying it's guaranteed. I can't even say that it is more likely than not. I know it doesn't seem that way. There are always going to be reasons to avoid risk. There are costs for failure. There will always be extremists who provide an excuse not to act.

I know there must be something exhausting about endless talks about talks. I'm sure there's a temptation just to say, "Ah, enough. Let me focus on my small corner of the world and my family and my job and what I can control." But it's possible.

I ask you to think about what can be done to build trust between people. That's where peace begins -- not just in the plans of leaders, but in the hearts of people. Not just in some carefully designed process, but in the daily connections -- that sense of empathy that takes place among those who live together in this land and in this sacred city of Jerusalem. You must create the change that you want to see. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.

Look to a future in which Jews and Muslims and Christians can all live in peace and greater prosperity in this Holy Land. I am hopeful that we can draw upon what's best in ourselves to meet the challenges that will come; to win the battles for peace in the wake of so much war; and to do the work of repairing this world. That's your job. That's my job. That's the task of all of us.


President Obama went to Israel as the celebration of Passover nears and now Holy Week begins for Christians.

President Obama recalled the story from Hebrew Scriptures: It's a story of centuries of slavery, and years of wandering in the desert; a story of perseverance amidst persecution, and faith in God and the Torah. It's a story about finding freedom in your own land. But it's also a story that holds within it the universal human experience, with all of its suffering, but also all of its salvation.

It's a part of the three great religions -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam -- that trace their origins to Abraham, and see Jerusalem as sacred. And it's a story that's inspired communities across the globe, including me and my fellow Americans. To African Americans, the story of the Exodus was perhaps the central story, the most powerful image about emerging from the grip of bondage to reach for liberty and human dignity -- a tale that was carried from slavery through the Civil Rights Movement into today.

That story and President Obama's speech in Jerusalem need to be remembered during holy seasons and beyond. Whether or not his trip was a "success" may depend upon his words taking root in the Holy Land and beyond. A brief trip, but words at the airport brokering a telephone call, re-established diplomatic relationships between Israel and Turkey. Words have power.