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Yitzhak Rabin: Twenty Years Later

Yitzhak Rabin-Yasser Arafat -Oslo Accords-White House-US President Bill Clinton

Yitzhak Rabin shakes the hand of Yasser Arafat during the Oslo Accords (September 13, 1993) at the White House as US President Bill Clinton proudly looks on.

 “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.  They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”  (Isaiah 2:4)

As Israelis face the worst outbreak of violence in decades, they are solemnly marking the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin (March 1, 1922 – November 4, 1995).

Rabin took an historic step toward peace with the Palestinians by signing the Oslo Peace Accords in September 1993.  This Israeli prime minister shook hands with Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn while President Clinton looked on.

Oslo gave the Palestinians limited self-governance over parts of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and Gaza through the creation of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Not everyone was happy with the agreement or the other peace initiatives that Rabin was considering with Israel’s neighbors.  An Israeli ultranationalist named Yigal Amir assassinated Rabin with two bullets to his back on November 4, 1995 after a pro-peace rally in what is now Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square.

Five years later, the Palestinians launched the Second Intifada.  Today, many wonder if a third one is currently unfolding, making the dream of peace in Israel seems distant and elusive.

Yitzhak Rabin-funeral

Yitzhak Rabin’s family grieves at his funeral.  (GPO Photo by Tvika Israeli)

A First Generation Leader

Yitzhak Rabin, who served twice as prime minister of Israel, is an outstanding example of a military and political leader who can be considered a first generation Israeli—born in the Land when it was under the authority of Britain.

As a military leader, he helped to bring about a positive outcome when the nascent state was fighting for its existence in 1948.

Rabin served the Jewish state for 27 years as a soldier.  While still in his teens he joined the pre-state Palmach (Strike Force), the elite commando fighting force of the Haganah — the underground army that served the Yishuv (Jewish community) living in British Mandate Palestine from 1920 until 1948.

It was during Israel’s War of Independence that he reached the rank of the Palmach’s chief of operations.  With the formation of the Israel Defense Forces in late 1948, he joined and began to rise in the ranks.

Green Line-Armastice-Yitzhak Rabin

The Israeli delegation to the 1949 Armistice Agreements talks. From left to right: Commanders Yehoshafat Harkabi, Aryeh Simon, Yigael Yadin and Yitzhak Rabin.

During the 1948 war he commanded operations in Jerusalem and fought against the Egyptian army in the Negev.  Prior to this he had commanded the Harel Brigade, which was instrumental in opening up the road to Jerusalem that had been cut off by Arab forces, including the Jordanian British trained Arab Legion, who had surrounded Jerusalem.

He was also involved in the opening of the “Burma Road” which traversed the Judean hills, bypassing the Jordanian-controlled Latrun area in order to bring troops into and ultimately reclaim the capital city.

The Burma Road now runs through Yitzhak Rabin Park, located where Rabin’s Harel Brigade and other forces broke through the opposition forces and opened the road.

During the 50s, Rabin helped to shape training doctrine and led the IDF’s Operations Directorate from 1959 to 1963.

In 1964 he was appointed Chief of General Staff and, as such, led the IDF in its 1967 victory over the several invading Arab armies in Israel’s victorious Six-Day War.

As Chief of Staff in 1967, Rabin pushed for the preemptive strike that led to Israel’s swift victory over the Arab forces.

Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Yitzhak Rabin in the entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six Day War, with Moshe Dayan and Uzi Narkiss.  (Photo by Ilan Bruner)

Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Yitzhak Rabin in the entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six Day War, with Moshe Dayan and Uzi Narkiss.  (Photo by Ilan Bruner)

From 1968 to 1973 Rabin served as Israel’s ambassador in Washington and was appointed Prime Minister of Israel following the resignation of Golda Meir.

As Prime Minister, Rabin signed the Sinai Interim Agreement, which took a step toward Israel’s complete withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula.  He also ordered the raid on Entebbe in which 102 hostages were rescued, including 94 who were mainly Israeli passengers of the hijacked Air France Flight 139 and several of its crew members.

He stepped down as prime minister over controversy regarding an undisclosed US bank account in his wife’s name.

During much of the 1980s Rabin served as Israel’s minister of defense and was re-elected prime minister in 1992, promising to bring about peace with the Palestinians.  This led to the signing of several agreements as part of the Oslo Accords.

That same year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with Shimon Peres and PLO leader Yasser Arafat.

He also signed a peace treaty with King Hussein of Jordan.

In November of 1995 while in the process of negotiations with President Assad of Syria to return the Golan Heights, he was assassinated.

From right to left, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat receive the Nobel Peace Prize following the Oslo Accords.

From right to left, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat receive the Nobel Peace Prize following the Oslo Accords.

Remembering Rabin: 20 Years Later

Although today is the anniversary of the assassination according to the Gregorian calendar, Israel began remembrance on Cheshvan 12 (October 25), the anniversary according to the Hebrew calendar.

Since then there have been several events remembering Rabin and his legacy.  There has also been much analysis regarding where we are at today in terms of peace.  Some wonder if the peace movement is dead.

Rabin’s daughter, Dalia, was Deputy Minister of Defense from 2001 until 2002 while serving a four-year term in the Knesset.

She said at a memorial ceremony at Mount Herzl military cemetery last Monday, “There is no peace process.  We are facing terrorism.  Blood is being shed again.  I have no other country, and my country has changed.”

This memorial at Rabin Square marks the spot where Rabin fell.

This memorial at Rabin Square marks the spot where Rabin fell.

That same day at the president’s residence, President Reuvin Rivlin said, “As long as I am president, Yigal Amir will never be pardoned.  May my right hand wither if I ever sign a pardon for that damned man.”

Although Rivlin has acknowledged his disagreement with Rabin’s approach toward the Palestinians, which entailed the giving away of land, he warned against violence as eroding Israeli democracy.

“The killer broke down a fence maintained by generations of Jews, and he may have left it broken,” he said, referring to a Jewish belief that a life of truth, justice and peace among the many factions in Israel is best accomplished through nonviolence.  “It’s been 20 years since the murder, and we have to ask ourselves, ‘Are we doing enough to seal what was breached by the murderer?’”  (Times of Israel)

Rivlin stressed how important it is that Israel remember the loss of Rabin in a unified manner, “with all its camps, all its sectors, a day of self-examination for the Israeli people, a time of self-examination for Israeli democracy.”

Following the speech, Rabin was remembered with the singing of Shir LaShalom — Song For Peace.  The singers were backed by 18 children from the Yitzhak Rabin School in Ashdod, after singing the usual Hebrew stanzas, they added one in Arabic. 

President Reuven Rivlin, together with Israeli children, lights a memorial candle for Yitzhak Rabin.

President Reuven Rivlin, together with Israeli children, lights a memorial candle for Yitzhak Rabin.

Originally written for and sung by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Infantry Ensemble during the Israel-Egypt war, it has since become an anthem for the Israel peace movement, expressing the deep desires of the hearts of Israelis.

The last verse sums up that desire:

Don’t say the day will come.
Al tagidu yom yavo. | .אל תגידו יום יבוא

Bring the day about!
havi’u et hayom! | !הביאו את היום

For it is not a dream
ki lo khalom hu. | .כי לא חלום הוא

And in all the city squares,
uvekhol hakikarot, | ,ובכל הכיכרות

Cheer for peace!
hari’u lashalom! | !הריעו לשלום

Just minutes before being shot, Rabin had sung that song at the rally.  The bloodied lyrics were found in his pocket.

Netanyahu remembers Rabin.

Netanyahu remembers Rabin

At a Knesset event commemorating Rabin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described Rabin’s murder as “traumatic” for Israelis.  Even after 20 years, they are still trying to come to terms with it.

“This tragic event ripped open a hole in the heart of Israeli democracy, and we must close it up.  There are still those among us who deny the legitimacy of our democracy — that we make decisions in the ballot box, not in public squares or through the barrel of a gun,” said the prime minister.  (Arutz 7)

Netanyahu stressed that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and that “sometimes even a thriving democracy stands before a great test and crisis that threatens its ability to operate, its stability, and its values.”

Noting that none of the six prime ministers that have served since Rabin’s death have managed to actualize his vision of peace as outlined in the Oslo Accords, he said that an unwillingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and the ongoing teaching of Arab children to hate Jews, are the main causes for the failure.

Nevertheless, to help turn things around for the Palestinians, who have been terribly short-changed by their leaders, Netanyahu vowed to improve the Palestinian economy and to work toward a reduction of tensions, with or without Palestinian help.  (Arutz 7)

Rabin Square

Rabin Square

At a march held this year on the day prior to the Hebrew calendar anniversary date, one attendee, Hermine Antelman, 62, a behavior specialist formerly from Philadelphia said, “This is very important: the idea that we’re 20 years after the death of Yitzhak Rabin, who did [the] Oslo [peace accord with the Palestinians], and we haven’t gotten anywhere.  The last month of terror attacks, every side tries to up the ante. … It’s time to stop all of that.”  (Pulitzer Center)

Irit Ezra, 41, a designer from Tel Aviv, came to the event held at Rabin Square with her young daughter, Alma.  “I am against everything that happened, all the violence, and I do believe in peace and I do believe we have to talk and do something,” she said.  Will the situation improve?  “I’m afraid it won’t, which makes it more important, not for me, but for her,” she said, pointing to her daughter.

Rabin’s daughter, Dalia, in an interview with the Times of Israel said that Israel would have been a much better place if her father had lived; still, she is not sure if there could ever be peace with the Palestinians.

She said that Rabin had developed a certain trust with Arafat but was not naive about the process of peace — a process costing Israel blood.

“There would have been a stage where he would have decided: We’re in a phased process.  Let’s evaluate what we have achieved and what the price has been.  He wouldn’t have stopped Oslo, but he would have done what Oslo enabled him to do: to look at it as a process and assess whether it was working.

“So it’s hard to say what would have happened with the Palestinians.  Could this personal Rabin-Arafat connection have brought Arafat to decide to do more, to stop the terror?  And could it have increased the feeling that there is a chance for this process?”  she lamented.

We will never know.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Jordan's King Hussein sign the Washington Agreement on the White House lawn as US President Bill Clinton watches.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Jordan’s King Hussein sign the Washington Agreement on the White House lawn as US President Bill Clinton watches.

On Saturday, Dalia Rabin introduced former US president Bill Clinton, who fondly remembers Rabin, to the crowd of 100,000 at a non-partisan rally held in her father’s honor.

Calling the day on which the former prime minister was killed the worst of his presidency, Clinton urged Israelis to pursue Rabin’s legacy and not give up the dream of peace in the face of terror.

“Rabin’s legacy in one way is clear and untouchable,” Clinton told Israelis.  “He risked his life to create and defend Israel.  He spent his life serving Israel to advance your values and your interests.  And he gave his life so that you could live in peace.”

“What does it all amount to?  Now that is up to you,” he said.  “All of you now must decide when you leave here tonight … how to finish the last chapter of his story.”

“The next step in the magnificent story of Israel … the next step will be determined by whether you decide that Rabin was right, that you have to share your future with your neighbors, that you have to stand for peace, that the risk for peace isn’t as severe as the risk of walking away from it.  We are praying that you will make the right decision.”  (HaAretz) 

His speech was viewed by the entire country.

Yitzhak Rabin shares a laugh with US President Bill Clinton.

Yitzhak Rabin shares a laugh with US President Bill Clinton.

Though pursuing peace with the Palestinians is indeed necessary, Rabin’s legacy entails direct negotiations between Israel and other parties.

And Israel has shown that it can make lasting peace with willing states, such as with Egypt and Jordan.

The Palestinians have been a different story.

John Hayward of Breitbart News Network has noted that the 25-year-old Jewish law student/assassin could not find accomplices (beyond his own brother and a friend) to help him carry out his extremist murder plot.  Yet, many Palestinians have in effect become his accomplices through continued violence:

“The day after Bill Clinton delivered his message to the Rabin rally, another knife-wielding Palestinian was shot in self-defense by Israeli soldiers; a second Palestinian rammed his car into a group of Israeli pedestrians in the West Bank; and the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the Palestinian Authority for giving a state funeral, with full military honors, to two terrorists who knifed Israeli civilians,” writes Hayward.

The Palestinians have shown themselves most unwilling peace partners.

Although Arafat seemed to be a willing peace partner, he repeatedly told Muslim audiences that the peace process was a fraud intended to weaken Israel.

Although Arafat seemed to be a willing peace partner, he repeatedly told Muslim audiences that the peace process was a fraud intended to weaken Israel.

Rabin’s Legacy: From War to Peace

Dalia Rabin recalls her father having a balanced view of war and peace as both a soldier and civil leader: “In ‘67 he thought this war was necessary.  And the day after ’67, he writes in his biography, ‘Now I take off the uniform, and I’m going to Washington to turn the outcome of this war into peace.’”

To pursue her father’s dream of peace as a process, Dalia has invested many years into her role as Chair of the Yitzhak Rabin Center, which opened in 1997 to ensure that the vital lessons from Rabin’s life story “are actively remembered and used to shape an Israeli society and leadership dedicated to open dialogue, democratic value, Zionism and social cohesion.”

A focal point of the Center is the museum, walking visitors through the critical turning points in the life of Israel and Rabin.

The Center also conducts educational programs and workshops such as sensitivity training for 40,000 IDF soldiers to date.  It offers studies to pre-collegiate students in democracy and law, and hosts workshops on leadership, responsibility, pluralism, identity as a citizen and as a person living in the democratic nation of Israel, among other topics.

Dalia explained to the Times of Israel one program:

“We have been running a project at the center for the last seven years where we bring professors from the fields of political science, Middle East studies, and public administration from all over the United States, and it expanded to Chinese and European professors…. in order to deal with the ‘campus problem,’ the anti-Israel atmosphere on international campuses….  And up until a year ago, they used to meet with the entire top level of the Palestinian Authority.”

Delegations and individuals from around the world come to Israel to participate in many of the Center’s other programs, as well.

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