'I realized the schoolgirls are the courageous ones'

Congressman Thomas Suozzi speaks about his visit to Israel during the intifada.

Arutz Sheva Staff,

Martin Oliner and Thomas Suozzi
Martin Oliner and Thomas Suozzi
Eliran Baruch

Speaking at the US Capitol at a special event marking the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem's liberation and unification, Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-NY) spoke of his moving spiritual experience in Israel during the "Second Intifada" terror war of 2002.

Suozzi was flanked by Martin Oliner, President of the Center for Unity and of Religious Zionists of America. This is the text of his speech:

Bruchim Habaim!... Before I came here, I gave a one-minute speech on the floor of the House of Representatives, where I introduced a bill – House Resolution 328 – celebrating the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. It was co-sponsored by a Republican from Florida, Francis Rooney, who happens to be the former ambassador to the Vatican under George Bush's administration. I purposely asked him to do it and I'm very happy that he did.

I want to read one thing that I quoted on the floor.

For centuries, the Jewish people yearned to pray at the Western Wall, the only remaining connection to the Great Temple destroyed in 70 AD, a cry that infused their daily prayers. Fifty years ago, in 1967, this mere hope became a reality, when Jerusalem was finally reunified, at the conclusion of the Six Day War.

Of that precious moment, Yitzchak Rabin recounted: "We stood among a tangle of rugged battle weary men, who were unable to believe their eyes or restrain their emotions. Their eyes were moist with tears. Their speech incoherent. The overwhelming desire was to cling to the wall; to hold on to that great moment as long as possible."

I think that the emotion that is reflected in that quote in one that so many of us feel. We all share the joy of the celebration of this 50th anniversary. I want you to know that I'm 100% on the team, I'll do whatever I can to be a strong defender of Israel, through thick and thin. I'll just ask Marty what he wants me to do.

I'll tell you a quick story and then I'll leave you because you've had so many speeches. The first time I went to Israel was in October of 2002 during the Second Intifada after the massacre in Hevron. And I went with the JCRC, and of course it was a very educational trip. We went to Yad Vashem, of course, very moving. I read Victor Frankel's book, Man in Search of Meaning, when I was in High School. And we met with the US Ambassador to Israel at the time.

We met with Shimon Peres of blessed memory, who explained to me his view of the two-state solution. We met with Sharon's public relations guy at the time, a former general, Raanan Gissin. We visited a university and talked about making the desert bloom, and they were just talking about software then which is now such an important part of the world's economy.

We went to the Hadassah Hospital where they showed us the skin bank, where skin was stored for when people were burned in terrorist attacks. They could replace the skin. It was an incredibly moving academic policy oriented trip. And then we went to the Western Wall to say a prayer. Now as a boy who went to St. Patrick's boy School, Chaminade All Boys' Catholic School, Boston College Jesuit University and Fordham Law School, another Jesuit university, this was a pretty big deal for me. And I hadn't been thinking this way. I'd been thinking about politics and government and policy, and all of a sudden I realized, this is where Jesus walked.

So now this became a very spiritual experience for me. And we went over to the Church of the Holy Sephulcre and said a prayer there, we went back to the King David Hotel. Nobody was at the hotel. The hotel was completely vacant because of what was going on during the intifada. And I said, I have to go to Mass at the Church of the Holy Sephulcre, because if I go home and tell my mother I was in Jerusalem and I didn't go to church, I'm going to get in a lot of trouble.

They said, "Well we, have these armed guards, we have the schedule, we drove around in a bus with chicken wire – it's not on the schedule." So I had to sneak out to go to Mass at 7 o'clock the next morning, without the armed guards. We went to Mass, one other guy came with me. And I was so proud of myself, I said oh, I'm so courageous, that I would go without my armed guards, that I would go do this thing to be a good Catholic boy like this.

And I was so full of myself and I walked outside and I saw the little girls getting on the bus to go to school that morning. And I realized that these are the courageous people. The people who lived in Israel, at the time, 60 years. And they are the ones who made the desert bloom, who have kept the rule of law, who have kept democracy, who have fostered tolerance, and who are our best ally in the entire region. From that day forward I decided I would always do what I could to help the state of Israel.