(October 28, 2015 / JNS)
This week, Israel commemorates the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, a prime minister of Israel and hero in the eyes of the Israeli people. I was struck by how significant the day is for Israelis and what this means in the context of ongoing conflict in the Jewish state. The way that Rabin is revered as a hero truly shows the extent to which the Israeli people desire peace.
Born in Jerusalem, Rabin predates Israel by more than a dozen years. As a young man, Rabin witnessed and even led in various wars in which Israel was attacked by its neighbors, including the 1948 War of Independence and the 1967 Six-Day War. During the first intifada, he was Israel’s minister of defense. But even though Rabin undoubtedly witnessed anti-Semitism at its worst, he was a man committed to peace with Israel’s neighbors.
Yitzhak Rabin was best known around the world for implementing steps toward the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and with Jordan. He signed various peace agreements with Palestinian leaders as part of the Oslo Accords and received the Nobel Peace Prize with Shimon Peres and Arafat.
On Nov. 4, 1995, Israeli Jewish extremist Yigal Amir, an opponent of the peace process, assassinated Rabin at a rally held in support of the Oslo Accords. Rabin was rushed to the hospital but succumbed to his wounds less than an hour later.
The Israeli public was devastated. Rabin represented the desire and even more, the actualization, of building peace with Israel’s neighbors. At this point, many people were optimistic and truly believed that lasting peace could be in Israel’s future.
In ulpan, we had a memorial service for Rabin. I was deeply moved by the reaction of our Israeli teachers and staff during the ceremony and the short documentary showing the desperation and raw trauma suffered by the Israeli people as a result of the murder. The video showed women crying and men nearly collapsing when they heard the news.
Most of the ulpan teachers remember the day of the assassination in the same way that my parents and grandparents remember the assassinations of U.S. president John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered together for Rabin’s funeral. Former president Bill Clinton delivered his eulogy with the final words, “Shalom, Haver.” The double meaning of these words remained with me this past week. Shalom in Hebrew means both peace and goodbye, the perfect final salutation to Rabin.
The fact that the Israeli people view him as a hero illustrates the true intentions of the Israeli people—to strive towards peace. Even in this tense time in Israel, Rabin is praised with fervor. Because he is the embodiment of the peace process in Israel, the obvious inference is that the peace process itself is praised with fervor even during times of war.
There is no need to wonder what sort of events a future Palestinian state might memorialize, when the current Palestinian Authority president says, “Every drop of blood that has been spilled in Jerusalem is holy blood as long as it was for Allah.”
While the current attacks in Israel are indeed a threat to the Jewish people, as we commemorate Rabin’s assassination at the hands of a Jew, we are also reminded that our biggest challenge comes from within ourselves. All Israelis with whom I’ve talked, from the left to the right, regard Rabin as a hero. Even though they might not have agreed with his politics, they respect the peace process and acknowledge that getting there is just that—a process.
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought and the author of the new “Aliyah Annotated” column for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied International Relations and Jewish Studies. She was published in USA Today and Forbes after writing about her experiences in Israel last summer. Follow her aliyah column on JNS.org, Facebook, and Instagram.