As I write this the TV replays scenes from that night again and again I can't shut it off, just like I couldn't in the days right after the murder. It's 30 days and we're mourning still. We talk about it every day and grapple with harsh facts: an unrepen tant murderer, student involvement in the bizarre assassination plot, and the "huge gaping hole with the cold seeping in" that Rabin has left, as described in granddaughter Noa's plaintive funeral eulogy.
"Israel is not the same nation," shocked Israelis repeated mantra-like following the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. As if saying it means that the assassination is an anomaly. It wasn't; the origins of the tragedy were clear as the writing on the wall. We all saw the slogans scrawled across Israel in recent years: Rabin is a traitor, Rabin is a murderer, Israel is OURS. At rallies, worse. Used to living with anger, we dismissed it. Since Rabin started making peace in the last three years there has been talk of a civil war. But we thought that democracy could absorb the anger.
In the end one image remains: a human body, well-traveled and worn, absorbing two slugs and collapsing on the pavement.
Maybe Rabin was the only one who wasn't angry he was busy working, bringing peace to his stubborn nation, knowing life is the most important value not land or religion or principle.
Rabin was a calm presence, yet he worked feverishly, as if racing the clock. Rabin knew there were attempts on his life, but chose not to wear the bullet proof gear, not to become a prisoner of fear. Rabin also took time for those he loved. In the weeks after his death there were hundreds of testimonials of how this man touched people personally. Not just the famous, like Clinton and King Hussein, who both tearfully called him a friend, but regular folks, who remember him emptying his own ashtrays, among school children, and trading encouraging jokes with a scientist from the former Soviet Union.
We can't reconcile the loss. The cold-blooded murder of a father and grandfa ther, a war hero and Nobel Peace Prize winner is not comprehensible.
In the six years I've been here I've seen the inspirational airlift of thousands of Ethiopian Jews to their promised land and I've seen their proud disappointment at the reality of life in a capitalistic westernized country with an inflexible religious institution. I've seen the massive Russian aliyah and the incredible variety of ways these people have tweaked the system and been tweaked. I've been through the Gulf War which was in retrospect relatively harmless for Israel but introduced horrifically frightening vocabulary: gas masks, sealed rooms, chemical warfare. I've seen city busses full of commuters explode at random and young Palestinian suicide bombers willing to give up their hopeless lives for direct access to the kingdom of heaven.
I've heard about the cruelty of the occupation and the suffering of the Palestinians. I've seen Israel end its occupation. I've seen Arafat arrive and the Hamas form a party for democratic elections.
I've seen handshakes no one ever believed would occur. I've seen peace.
And I saw our Prime Minister slain. Nothing I've seen affected the Israeli psyche like the assassination. Nothing knocked us so low, nothing made us feel worse as a nation. Rabin was like a member of the family, and many of us just couldn't stop crying. There was a profound sense of tragedy and loss.
Politically, Rabin was probably never stronger. He had unprecedented coopera tion with life-long political foe Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, which was instrumental in bringing peace. He brought young, intelligent Ehud Barak, the former IDF Chief of Staff, into his government signaling hope for the future. At the Finance Ministry, long-time friend Abraham Shochat presided over a strong Israel economy. Industry was flourishing and international ties were at an all time high.
But there were undercurrents of extreme dissatisfaction which opposition leader Bibi Netanyhu, exploited for personal political gain. Shown at a rally at which people were loudly chanting "Rabin is a Traitor", Bibi said, "Rabin is not a traitor. But Rabin is wrong. He is wrong." He did not decry the libel, he did not lecture on democracy. He carefully fanned the flames.
We knew there was anger, but we didn't - and still don't - know how deep it goes . For right or wrong, the two sides stopped talking because there seemed to be no common ground.
Bringing peace forced us to change our self image from strong and alone to
cooperative, from fearful and suspicious to trusting. One of my all-time favorite Rabin sentences was said in exasperation to those who just couldn't understand how Israel could talk to PLO Chairman Yassir Arafat. Rabin said again and again, "You don't make peace with friends." But for some Israelis this leap was impossible. Rabin made it, but many just couldn't. Netanyhu knew this and instead of educating he exploited the fear. With the definitions of Judaism and of Israel at odds, politicians increasingly spoke only to friendly crowds (they were regularly boo-ed out by hostile ones). Rabin ignored angry protesters or told them to "spin like propellers in the wind" and that "names can never hurt me". But hateful personal attacks week after week had to have hurt. Rabin's motivation for bringing peace was simple: economic benefits and as a grandfather, he truly didn't want Jonathan - or anyone - to go through the hell on the battlefield that he did. Rabin hoped that by the Fall '96 election, the benefits of peace would be so clear that people's fears would be assuaged.
The night he was killed was said to be one of the happiest days in his life. After three long years of working for peace on a slim majority and hearing only protesters vicious cries, 300,000 Israelis finally turned out to thank him and support the peace process.
Yigal Amir put an end to Rabin's life. Amir has elaborate justifications using Jewish texts and ancient laws. He also told the judge that God told him to do it. Amir's logic is that Rabin violated religious law and endangered the Jews by giving Jewish lands to non-Jews (i.e. enabling Palestinians to set up the Autonomy in the territories, part of "Larger Israel"). We are chilled by his apparent sanity. We are sickened by the self-satisfied smirk he wears in court. We are terrified by his literal adherence to ancient Jewish legislature, and his holding them higher than laws of the modern democracy he inhabits.
And each day another young, well-dressed university student is hauled into the police station for questioning. There is a whole gang who aided or knew about Amir's intentions and didn't stop him, but in fact encouraged and aided him. These kids are children of doctors and teachers, they're religiously observant, they study law at the university and the Torah under constant supervision of Rabbis. They "know" the one and only truth. And they are pissed off. They are angry with the secular for disregarding God, they are angry with the government for bargain ing away "their" land, they are angry that they have no voice in the Knesset.
Before, they painted slogans and plastered anti-peace stickers. They demonstrated. They shouted nasty slurs outside the Rabin's apartment every Friday afternoon. Some made death threats on politicians. Others organized secret and illegal gerrilla warfare camps.
And suddenly they planned a murder. Possibly while inside university walls, during a break from classes, sipping a cappuccino, backpack slung over the chair.
Following the murder, leaders from across the spectrum advise us to soul search and to unify. "Maybe I wasn't part of the solution", I want to shout, "but only one finger pulled the trigger". I'm trying to be tolerant, but I can't help looking into every religous face and silently asking 'Were you glad?' One religious father reported broken- heartedly that his young son said he didn't want to be religious anymore after Yigal Amir killed Rabin and used God to justify it. There is beauty in the age-old wisdom and rituals. But what Yigal Amir and friends did with it is a disgusting mockery of any true spirtuality.
Leah Rabin, whose grace and dignity during the past 30 days gave strength to all mourners, claimed she will never recover from the tragedy. But Leah charged the 'silent majority' to speak up now, too late for Yitzhak, but while there's still time to make a lasting peace for Israel. In her hours of deepest suffering, Leah may have instilled the nation with some sense of her husband's vision. Before, we knew he held it for us. Now we have to do it ourselves.
Amy Mindell, a former Michigander, is now a writer living in Israel with her husband Lior and their one-year-old daughter Allie Irene.
Return to the Index of Synapse 34, Winter Solstice 1995