Meeting with Staff and Families of Consulate General Jerusalem

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Consulate General
April 8, 2013

MR. RATNEY: Thanks. Good afternoon, everybody. I told the Secretary that one of the great things about Jerusalem is the weather. But I forgot to mention the sandstorms. Sorry about that.

Look, thank you. Thank you all for coming. Welcome to my home. Welcome to my garden. I have to say, I’m always a little bit awed to think that this is where I live. This house, which is the little outpost of America here in the holy city of Jerusalem for the last hundred years, is where I live and where I get to work with this remarkable group of Americans and Israelis and Palestinians. I get to work with you all every day. And it always amazes me to think that we all, from different backgrounds and different nationalities and different religions, come together every day to work for a common mission. And I think that if everyone in this region lived that sort of life, we would all be living in peace right now.

So thank you. Thank you for all your outstanding work from our RSO section and our guards, to political and economic, to GSO and our facilities staff, to our consular section, to our colleagues in the U.S. Security Coordinator’s office, and to our friends in USAID, all one big, amazing team. And it makes me proud to work with you every day, and it makes me very proud to be able to introduce you today to our guest of honor here in Jerusalem.

This gentleman is a great man from a great state. It’s the state of Massachusetts that I call home, so it always gives me great pleasure to see him here. He’s somebody that knows very well the complexities of the work that we do here and the complexities of this region. He’s somebody who, as a U.S. Senator, worked tirelessly as an envoy for peace; he’s somebody who, now that he’s leading us at the U.S. Department of State, is continuing those efforts and that’s the reason he is here with us in Jerusalem today.

I think there’s very few people who know better than Secretary John Kerry the sorts of challenges that we all face and the sorts of opportunities and the kind of life that everyone in this region could live if it were a life of peace. So, Secretary Kerry, Mrs. Heinz-Kerry, please give a warm welcome to our guests today.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Let’s see if I can – I’m breaking this apart.

How are you? Thank you for standing around and waiting for a few minutes, and I apologize to everybody for being a little bit late. I’m learning that the bane of a Secretary’s existence is getting hung up on the telephone wherever you go. So I apologize, but I’m honored to be here with all of you. Marhaba, shalom, and it’s wonderful for me to share this incredible gathering of Foreign Service officers and civil servants and local employees, Palestinian, Israeli, people from third countries. So many of you have come together here in a common effort and I really want to thank you for it.

I just had the occasion of running down the line here and shaking hands with a number of people who have served 26 years, 27 years, 30 years, and I think everybody ought to put their hands together and applaud for Itzhak and Ibrahim, particularly who worked together – where are they? Raise your hands. (Applause.) Anyway. Back there. There he is. I got to meet them working in unity back there. That really tells the story of what is happening here. And as I listened to our wonderful Consul General – thank you, Michael, for your extraordinary job and for what you do. And Yael, where’d Yael, go? She’s here somewhere. There she is, hanging back there, a great deputy. Thank you very much for your leadership, all of you.

As you gather out here in this garden like this, I was listening to the birds sing, and you look at the light and you feel the peacefulness of this little enclave, and you obviously can’t help but say to yourself, “Why can’t we have this everywhere?” And I believe we can. I really believe that or I wouldn’t have taken on this job at the request of the President; I wouldn’t be back here for my multiple-whatever-umpteenth trip here as a Senator and Secretary, and for my third trip to the region as a Secretary already.

I have traveled throughout this region for a long time. I think I first came to Israel in 1986 and I spent a week traveling through the whole country. I climbed up Masada, and I floated upside down and backwards in the Dead Sea and got sulfur in every part of my body, and wasn’t too sure about what I was doing. And went up to the north, to Galilee, to a small community where young kids had to hide inside of shelters in order to be safe from Katyusha rockets. I’ve been up on the Golan Heights, and I have flown over every inch of the West Bank and seen the settlements from the air, traveled across the Allenby Bridge, you name it. I think I’ve had some exposure to life here. And what I’ve learned is that Palestinian, Israeli, visitors alike, all believe in the possibility of peace.

I’ll tell you something I learned a long time ago when I was a soldier, when I was fighting in a war in Vietnam. It just dawned on me, when you’re holding a gun and you’re pointing it at somebody that you’ve never met, you don’t know, and you’re in their country and you’re trying to figure out the forces that are at play, I’ve never met a child, two years old, two and a half, three years old, who hates. Children don’t hate. People are taught to hate. And what we need to do is undo that teaching, and get to a point where people begin to understand what the possibilities of life really are.

We have fought for those changes all over the world, my friends. I was involved early on in helping a fellow by the name of Gerry Adams come from Ireland to America, to help us begin a peace process that ultimately led to the Sunday – Good Friday and Sunday agreement. And we’re still struggling with that, obviously. President Clinton intervened in Bosnia and in the Balkans, and we managed to stop the killing and make some semblance of peace, and people are still struggling with that. And we’re still struggling in other parts of the world with conflicts that have gone on for too long, that are frozen in time: Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cyprus.

But the biggest of them all, the longest in many ways, the most complicated, the most vexing is right here where you are working. Now, I believe that if we can address the security needs of Israel – and they are real – and if we can address the state aspirations of the Palestinian people – and they are real – I believe that if we can get on a track where people are working in good faith to address the bottom-line concerns, it is possible to be able to make progress and make peace.

So I come to you today to encourage you, even as I thank you. I’m privileged to be accompanied by my wife, Teresa, who was born in Mozambique and worked at the UN for a while, and understands these challenges very, very significantly, and who’s been here with me a number of times before. And we both come here with a great sense of what’s possible. None of it is possible without your work. Every single day, every single one of you are – all of you, I’m about to promote you: You’re all ambassadors. You really are.

If you’re in the visa section in the Consul and you’re handing out visas, or if you’re out in the street working together, Israeli and Palestinian together, trying to address one of the concerns of the Consulate or of citizens, you are our ambassadors. You’re the face and the voice of our country, even those of you who are local citizens, who we couldn’t do any of this without your help. When I meet Itzhak, who has worked here 27 years or whatever it is, we couldn’t be doing this without him and without all of you or without his Palestinian counterpart. There’s no way, because we have to navigate very difficult circumstances. Some of you, sometimes, can’t even get to the event that you want to go to. Sometimes, events, I have learned, have been cancelled because people have had difficulty getting from the West Bank into Jerusalem or wherever the event may be.

So you work with great hindrances, great impediments, but nothing, nothing daunts your spirit. I thank you for that, on behalf of the President, on behalf of the American people. I met this young man here a moment ago. I asked him how old he is; he told me he was 11 years old. That’s how old I was when I first traveled abroad with my father, who was in the Foreign Service for a while. So I’m looking at this kid and saying, was I really that small, that young?

But the experiences you learn, the great exposure you get to people, culture, language, history, and most importantly, the opportunities to challenge – to solve a great challenge are unique. There are very few jobs where you can get up in the morning every single day and work on inspiration as well as on the return on investment on the job that you are working at. A lot of people would love to be as inspired and as lucky as you are, to work for a cause the way you do.

So we learned two days ago, tragically, that there can be great cost. We lost a young Foreign Service Officer, Anne Smedinghoff, in Afghanistan, who was just trying to deliver books, bring knowledge to people – books in their own language – in order to help them know about the possibilities of life. And some wanton terrorist, out of the blue, nameless and faceless and now lifeless, attacked this group of people and took five lives and wounded a bunch of people.

So we all know the risks, but we also know the rewards. And the rewards of helping somebody else to break out of oppression, helping somebody else to live a full life, helping somebody else know what their rights are and be able to exercise them, helping other people to become a country and a people, helping people, as in Israel, to be secure from terrorism and attack from outside – those are the great, great challenges which bring enormous reward.

So on behalf of President Obama, on behalf of every member of the State Department – I know sometimes you feel a little lonely here in Jerusalem at the ConGen – know that we are very, very aware of what goes on here and very grateful for what every single one of you does. So thank you. God bless you. Teresa and I want to get a chance to come down and say hello and take a few photos and hopefully get a hug or two from one of these kids, and we’ll have fun.

Thank you very much. God bless all. (Applause.)

PRN: 2013/ T03-03