Monday, November 13, 2017

In the Aftermath of a Murder

Michael J. Cooper, in place of Annamaria on Monday

This past November 4th marked the 22nd anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, and a time to remember his unfinished quest for peace.  Rabin had spent his entire adult life in the service of Israel's security, but he came to believe that only peace between Israel and her neighbors would guarantee that security.  He died trying to make that vision a reality.
“I decided to kill him, to neutralize him politically,” calmly stated the Orthodox Jew who murdered Yitzhak Rabin, according to a recently released interview. When asked if he regretted killing the Prime Minister, he said, “Heaven forbid! I don't regret it.”

Rabin now occupies a grave in the national cemetery on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem next to his wife Leah. Surrounded by cedar and pine trees, their graves are marked by two curving, almost intertwining headstones – his black, hers white.

I had visited the cemetery in the late summer of 1966 soon after I arrived in Israel. It was new then. I remember the oppressive heat and light, the newly- planted trees offering little shade. At that time, about nine months before the 1967 War, Rabin was commander of the Israeli Army. Now he is buried there, where the air is cool, and the trees have grown tall.

Three years ago, I visited the gravesite the day after Vice President Joe Biden had come to pay his respects to the assassinated Prime Minister. Representing the Obama administration, Biden hoped to revive the moribund peace process – the process that Rabin championed. Accompanied by Rabin’s adult children, Yuval and Dalia, the vice president laid a wreath of red and white flowers on the grave. A banner on the wreath read, “The cause of peace for which you fought has become our own.”

When I sat the the gravesite the next day as the wind keened through the trees, I could almost hear the three gunshots that ended Rabin’s life. Looking at the headstones, I thought of the passage in the Babylonian Talmud; “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world.” I thought about the extent of that destruction and closed my eyes, feeling the weight of that loss – what might have been.

Since Trump became president last year, it has often seemed that the new administration rejects the cause of peace.  In response, some among the hawks in Israel depicted Trump’s victory as a “miracle” prompted by divine intervention.

There are, of course two ways of looking at Rabin's legacy, two sides to the story:
On one side there is an extremist Israel characterized by a combination of jingoistic nationalism and religious conservatism, by ethnocentrism and xenophobia, by intolerance of dissent and disrespect for basic democratic principles. Many in this camp in Israel are motivated by a messianic vision, which hinges on the establishment of a Greater Israel that is defined both by borders and by Jewish law. Many in this camp believed that Rabin betrayed the vision of the Greater Israel.  They celebrated his death.
On the other side, there are Israelis who supported Rabin's efforts, realizing that genuine security is best achieved through peace agreements, and that a peace agreement with the Palestinians is vital for Israel if it is to maintain its character as a democracy and a Jewish state. This Israel sanctifies life over land, puts peace and security before settlements, and yearns for Israel to be a respectable member of the family of nations.
The current status quo in the absence of peace comes at a terrible price, and the dead are filling up Mount Herzl cemetery as well as cemeteries in the Arab world.  The murder of Yitzhak Rabin is a murder that keeps on killing—killing Arabs and Jews, killing peace, killing hope, and with collateral hatred, killing innocent people around the world—from London to San Bernardino, from Bombay to New York.
Counter to that is Rabin’s vision of peace, which was shared by over 60% of both Israelis and Palestinians at the time.  On the night of November 4, 1995, as the peace process in the form of “Oslo II” was moving forward, there was a massive rally in support of peace in Tel Aviv, lighting up the night sky. Over 100,000 people gathered to cheer Rabin and other speakers. (And while 100,000 may seem modest by American standards, in Israel with a population of five and a half million people, an equivalent number with the US population would be a demonstration of 6 million!)

The rally concluded with Rabin and others on stage leading the crowd in singing Shir Shel Shalom – a song of peace. Afterwards, Rabin folded the paper with the song’s lyrics and placed it in the pocket of his suit jacket. Five minutes later, Rabin was dead, and the song sheet was retrieved blood-stained from his jacket.

The world stood at a crossroads that night, and it took a turn into darkness.   But there are still millions of people in Israel, Palestine and around the world who support the light of peace.
As Americans who collectively contribute to Israel's security and economy to the tune of $3.8 billion a year, (roughly $10 million a day) we deserve to have an opinion about which vision of Israel we prefer. We have the right and responsibility to express a preference, a choice. Rabin made his choice—peace—and he paid dearly for it. If we agree with that choice, we can honor his legacy by doing all we can to make Rabin's vision a reality.

PS: From Annamaria:
As this blog goes up, Michael is on his way on a medical mission to Palestine.  He told me that Rabin's murder was the reason he started writing in the mid-90s, to fulfill a need to convert the anger, sadness and despair of that moment into something else, something that might promote coexistence under cover of fiction.  You can learn about his splendid, “subversive” historical thrillers here:


  1. Alas, I fear we're headed in exactly the opposite direction again. All signs point toward a war with Iran, and soon. Trump wants it, Israel wants it, even the Mullahs in Iran wants it (to push the moderates back down in their own country), Putin wants it (so Russia can get a warm-water port), the Saudis want it. And I'm not sure replacing Trump with Pence would do anything to stop it. It seems highly likely we're headed for very dark times indeed, and my only hope is that the human world will survive to see brighter days in the future.

    1. EvKa and all--Michael, as I said above, is in Palestine. When he can get on wifi and visit with us, I am sure he will. Thank you for your comments for now.

    2. Hi Everett - good to hear from you and sadly, your pessimism regarding the current tensions in the Middle East are spot on.
      And that's precisely the point of the blog in the aftermath of Rabin's murder...
      After Rabin and Arafat signed their Declaration of Principals and shook hands at the White House in 1993, the atmosphere throughout the Middle East changed for the better--diplomatic doors began to open between Israel and the entire Islamic world. Israel established diplomatic and trade missions with Morocco and Tunisia, she developed business and trade with Oman and Qatar, made peace with Jordan, and began to explore a peace treaty with Syria.
      Peace was breaking out between Israel and the Arab world!
      It isn't overstatement to say that this filled most people in the region with optimism for a brighter future. And I would submit that the easing of tensions in the Middle East may have had a far-reaching ripple effect contributing to the easing of tensions in Northern Ireland with a ceasefire between the armed factions of Protestants and Catholics beginning in 1997 leading to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998--a peace that's withstood a decreasingly few (though horrible) acts of terrorism in the ensuing years.
      And while the hope for peace between Israel and Palestine grew in the years after 1993 with the step-wise Oslo Accords, large fringe elements of Arab and Jewish extremists viewed this situation with alarm, and they rose in resistance, stoking "fear and loathing" through propaganda along with acts of terrorism. And among these fearsome acts were verbal and physical assaults of Yitzhak Rabin culminating in his assassination on November 4, 1995, and eventually culminating in the death of the peace process itself.
      But is the hope of peace really dead?
      There are many who would suggest that “the reports of that death are greatly exaggerated” (to paraphrase the quotation attributed to Mark Twain).
      And I firmly believe that if enough of us in the Middle East and around the world demand peace, justice and security for the long-suffering people of the region this will someday come to pass. And soon, I hope.
      And as I sit writing this at my computer at 4:20 AM in my Bethlehem hotel room, the electronically amplified call to prayer from an unseen muezzin sounds from a nearby mosque, and I know that dawn will surely come.

  2. Hear, hear! Well, said, Michael, and thanks.