Yesterday was the day of the official state ceremony in Israel, commemorating 22 years since his assassination by an extreme right-wing Jewish terrorist, who was influenced by extremist racist rabbis to kill a Jew who was a moser, one who was willing to hand over any parts of the land of Israel, even for peace.
And, on Saturday night, in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, the annual civil society commemoration of Rabin’s death—and life!—will take place , as part of Israel’s civil religion of songs and reflections , with mostly a secular audience, holding candles and standing somberly in the place where he was murdered , in an anti-peace act of immense proportions. Indeed, some people say that this assassination also killed the “Oslo peace process”, which was initiated in 1993 with high hopes, which were dashed by this dastardly deed.
One of my most poignant memories of Prime Minister Rabin is his famous speech on the day of the signing of the Oslo Accords, on September 13, 1993 (24 years ago!) on the White House lawn in Washington D.C. Presiding at this amazing event was a young President Bill Clinton, in only his second year in office as President of the U.S.A. On one side of him, stood Yaser Arafat, chairperson of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and on the other side, stood Prime Minster Yizthak Rabin, and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who were partners in this peace process, despite many years of struggle and even enmity between them. Hundreds of Jews and non-Jews who were in the audience and millions of people who viewed this historic ceremony on their television screens around the world, including myself, had a good cry.
Rabin’s short and succinct two-page speech on this occasion expressed clearly and cogently his transformation from military man to peacemaker. I have quoted it many times in my lectures in Israel and abroad—including frequently during my recent book tour in the USA (for my new book called The Other Peace Process), and every time I do so, I and most of the people who hear it—many for the first time– find it unprecedented and inspirational. This is why I want to share some of it with you, my readers, on the occasion of commemoration of his passing.
On this day in history, Prime Minister Rabin spoke personally and poignantly to the Palestinians:
Let me say to you, the Palestinians: We are destined to live together on the same soil, in the same land. We, the soldiers who have returned from battle stained with blood, we who have seen our relatives and friends killed before our eyes, we who have attended their funerals and cannot look into the eyes of their parents, we who have come from a land where parents bury their children, we who have fought against you, the Palestinians—
We say to you today in a loud and clear voice: Enough of blood and tears. Enough. We have no desire for revenge. We harbor no hatred towards you. We, like you, are people who want to build a home, to plant a tree, to love, to live side by side with you in dignity, in empathy, as human beings, as free men. We are today giving peace a chance and saying again to you: Enough. Let us pray that a day will come when we all will say: Farewell to the arms.
Rabin had had enough. He was finished with ongoing wars and violence and was ready to move on, to a new era of peace. In a documentary film about his life, which I saw two years ago, on the 20th anniversary of his assassination, called “Rabin in His Own Words” (directed by Erez Laufer), he talked about how he changed his views from war to peace, after seeing so much bloodshed and so many lives lost in so many wars in his long and brilliant military career.
It is sad to contrast the current leaders of Israel with Rabin’s lofty and yet simple vision. Our visionless leaders today, who have repeatedly told us that we must live by the sword forever, have abandoned completely this vision of peaceful coexistence. They seem to prefer the status quo—of endless occupation and periodic violence—over the potential benefits of a peace agreement to all Israelis and Palestinians. They give us nothing but spin about why the other side is at fault, and in the meantime, they do nothing, year after year, to advance a genuine peace process.
At this time of year, on the anniversary of Prime Minister Rabin’s assassination, I am mindful of his vision for peace for the people of Israel as well the Palestinian people. I am grateful for his courageous leadership, for his imaginative statesmanship and for his ability to undergo the transformation from soldier to peacemaker, which held so much potential for all of God’s children in our region.
May his memory be for a blessing.