Twenty years ago today, on November 4, 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzkhak Rabin was assassinated at 9:30 pm just after addressing a peace rally in support of the Oslo Accords at the Kings of Israel Square in front of Tel Aviv City Hall.
The assassin, an Israeli religious ultranationalist terrorist named Yigal Amir, strenuously opposed Rabin’s peace initiative and particularly the signing of the Oslo Accords.
The assassination of Rabin, who also served as Defense Minister, was the culmination of Israeli right-wing dissent over the Oslo peace process which proposed to set into motion an eventual resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.Despite his own extensive service in the Israeli military, Rabin was disparaged personally by right-wing conservatives and Likud party leaders who perceived Oslo as a project to forfeit the occupied territories and the Jewish settlements established on them (against international law) starting in 1967.
The religious right wing believed that withdrawing from any “Jewish” land was heresy. Rallies, organized partially by Likud, became increasingly extreme in tone. Likud leader (and current prime minister) Benjamin Netanyahu accused Rabin’s government of being “removed from Jewish tradition…and Jewish values.” Netanyahu addressed protesters of the Oslo movement at rallies where posters portrayed Rabin in a Nazi SS uniform or as the target in the cross-hairs of a sniper. Rabin accused Netanyahu of provoking violence, a charge which Netanyahu strenuously denied.
Yigal Amir, a religious school graduate and far-right law student at Bar-Ilan University, felt that an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank would deny Jews their “biblical heritage which they had reclaimed by establishing settlements.” Amir believed that Rabin was endangering Jewish lives, and interpreted traditional Jewish law to justify eliminating him. Amir planned this assassination for two years.
Prime Minister Rabin, over half the members of the the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, and over half the population of Israel believed exactly the opposite – that the Oslo Accords would on the contrary save Jewish lives and end the seemingly intractable dispute. No one’s life was in imminent danger. Rabin had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, alongside Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, precisely for their efforts toward creating the Oslo Accords.
Yigal Amir had been under surveillance by the Israeli internal security service (Shin Bet), but the agent monitoring him had concluded that Amir posed no threat to the Prime Minister’s life.
After the rally, Rabin walked down the city hall steps toward his car, at which time Amir fired three shots at Rabin with a Beretta semi-automatic pistol. He was immediately subdued by Rabin’s bodyguards and arrested with the murder weapon. The third shot missed Rabin and slightly wounded security guard Yoram Rubin.
Rabin was rushed to nearby Ichilov Hospital, where he died on the operating table within 40 minutesfrom blood loss and a punctured lung. His death was announced immediately.
In Rabin’s pocket, a blood-stained sheet of paper was found with the lyrics to the well-known Israeli song “Shir LaShalom” (“Song for Peace”), which had just been sung at the rally. The lyrics emphasize the impossibility of bringing a dead person back to life and, therefore, the need for peace.
Rabin’s funeral took place the day after the assassination, at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, where Rabin was buried. Hundreds of world leaders attended, including about 80 heads of state, among them President Bill Clinton, United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, with whom Rabin had been negotiating.
In the aftermath…
Amir was sentenced to prison for the rest of his life.
A national memorial day for Rabin is set on the date of his death according to the Hebrew calendar.Kings of Israel Square was later renamed Rabin Square in his honor. Many other streets and public buildings around the country were named for Rabin as well.
In March 1996, the Shamgar Commission issued its final report on the assassination. It was critical of Shin Bet for putting the Prime Minister at risk and ignoring threats to his life from Jewish extremists.
The assassination of Rabin was a shock to the Israeli public, from which the country has never recovered. Although loud alarms had sounded as to the danger of hateful rhetoric in public discourse, the killing confirmed just how murderous the religious nationalists could be. Over time, flaws in the Oslo Accords were magnified by the essential unwillingness of the Israeli State to come to terms with Palestinian autonomy and independence. Numerous proposals for peace – such as the Geneva Accord, drawn up by a joint blue-ribbon committee of leading Israeli and Palestinian thinkers, or the Saudi proposal for a just resolution, which would leave the State of Israel in place with Arab state recognition, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempt to develop a peace plan -have been rejected by Jerusalem.
The politics of the current Israeli government under Netanyahu – adamantly opposed to a final border adjustment with Palestine, shamelessly flouting world opinion in favor of the most militarist and chauvinist policies at home and in the region, and beholden to the most fascist-minded of the settler movement – are not so far removed from Yigal Amir’s views.
Israel’s peace movement struggles to maintain hope. Many believe that Israel is incapable of saving itself. It is evident that the pressure for change, indeed for Israel to survive at all in any democratic form, must come from outside the country, from Israel’s friends and economic partners. A few days ago, at the 20th anniversary commemoration in Tel Aviv, Bill Clinton spoke to a crowd of thousands, saying, “The next step will be determined by whether you decide that Yitzhak Rabin was right, that you have to share the future with your neighbors…that the risks for peace are not as severe as the risk of walking away from it.”
American citizens have a vital role to play every time we go to the polls to elect our representatives and political leaders.
Adapted from Wikipedia and other sources.
Photo: The monument at the site of the assassination: Solomon ibn Gabirol Street between the Tel Aviv City Hall and the main city park. The monument’s broken rocks symbolize the political earthquake that the assassination represents.