Fascinating and troubling, the public debate leading up to tomorrow’s memorial ceremony marking 22 years since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. The media are full of this discussion. Commanders for Israel’s Security and Darkenu, (“Our path”), who assumed responsibility for this year’s rally, state clearly in their websites’ “vision” their support for the two-state plan that lies at the heart of Yitzhak Rabin’s peace agenda. Yet the two organizations’ invitation to the rally states that there will be no politicians or parties represented at the rally. The call is for “The Unity of the People,” obliterating any reference to the peace agenda or the political assassination without which we would not be gathering tomorrow.
The whitewash has been vigorously challenged by the Israeli left which awakened from its slumber, and three days ago the organizers’ rally ads’ wording was changed from “…Yitzhak Rabin of blessed memory” to “…Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin marking 22 years since his murder.”
Nonetheless, Facebook is surging with leftists’ calls to boycott the rally, to stay home or to stage an alternative rally. I for one will be there in Rabin Square. As I look through my closet I’m debating whether to come in an old faded Peace Now shirt or in the Hebrew-Arabic shirt that says, “Peace Between Israel and Palestine, both Free and Secure.” It’s definitely going to be a political rally for me.
What is interesting in all of this is the cry for “unity of the Israeli people.” While this appeal seems like a no-brainer, like Mom and apple pie, it is more complicated than it appears. What is the significance of this “unity?” Within days of Rabin’s assassination at the hands of a twisted young product of the nationalist Israeli settler-right, we were assaulted by cries for “unity,” as the religious settler movement scrambled to defend itself and deny its responsibility for the prolonged, widespread and deadly incitement that led to the assassination. In the years following, a plethora of organizations seeking reconciliation and brotherhood spread throughout Israeli society, targeting youth in the schools and in the IDF. Was this appropriate? Was the search for unity simply the fear of conflict, an attempt to shmear peanut butter over a festering wound?
In recent months, the left, the media, and even the president have been demonized by our prime minister and his gang, the accusation that we are splintering the unity of the people, that we are traitors. Deligitimization of honest debate gallops forward, the reins flying in the wind. Yitzhak Rabin was no peacenik. He was a complex but decent guy who had the courage to step beyond his military history and steer our country toward a possible future. A staunch defense man, he led us toward a peace that he thought we could achieve while protecting ourselves. He was killed for his commitment to this goal.
Still today, fully half of all Israelis know that a peaceful future rests on the creation of an independent home for the Palestinians, painful as our concessions may have to be. Half of us do not accept this. We must engage each other around this central issue. We will argue, we will be upset. This is how we express our unity, by facing each other decently and having it out. Without raising our hands against each other. And when the majority of the Israeli people choose peace and its cost, then, armed with the empathy that was lacking in Rabin’s approach to the settlers, we will support each other in confronting the challenges and losses that are part of gaining peace. When peace is finally on the way, I will happily host a displaced settler family in my home until they find a new one.
The written Japanese symbol for conflict is a combination of the symbols of danger and opportunity. Will we Israelis, locked in this conflict, will we face the danger of releasing our familiar violent past in favor of the opportunity of our lifetime, to create the unknown, peaceful future?
Yoav Peck, a Jerusalem organizational psychologist, is director of the Sulha Peace Project, bringing together Palestinians and Israelis for people-to-people contact