Remembering Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin

Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin, U.S. President Bill Clinton and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat at the Oslo Accord Signing, September 13, 1993, courtesy of The White House

November 5 is the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish terrorist by the name of Yigal Amir. It was one of the darkest days in Israeli history, if not the worst, since it halted the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, which was becoming Rabin’s legacy for future generations.

This process, which was often called “the peace of the brave” was the high point of Rabin’s political career. As a former military leader, he made the transition from warrior to a peacemaker in a remarkable fashion, as became evident in many of his speeches during his second period as Prime Minister of the state of Israel, from 1992-1995, the period of negotiations and signing of groundbreaking Oslo Accords, which at the time held out great hope for Israelis, Palestinians and Jews around the world.

Among his most famous speeches was the one that he made at the special signing ceremony on the lawn of the White House on September 13, 1993, which I and so many people all over the universe have never forgotten.  I have played the tape of this speech on many of my lectures about the peace process in Israel and abroad over the years, and have often quoted from it in my writings about this topic. Among other things, he said the following in this short but poignant speech, which was more like a sermon to me:

 

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 a 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.

We wish to open a new chapter in the sad book of our lives together a chapter of mutual recognition, of good neighborliness, of mutual respect, of understanding. We hope to embark on a new era in the history of the Middle East. Today, here in Washington, at the White House, we will begin a new reckoning in relations between peoples, between parents tired of war, between children who will not know war.

I remember vividly crying when I heard Prime Minister Rabin give this very brief speech. I thought of my own children then, and their children to be, now my grandchildren. And I thought of all those on both sides of the conflict who have lost children in so many wars and so much violence over too many decades by now.  There was a chance that this conflict could come to an end, and Rabin seized the moment. Through a great personal transformation, he was now ready to embark on a new era in history for Israel and the Middle East, with the support of President Bill Clinton and the international community.

In stark contrast, one day last week I heard our current Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Netanyahu, make some remarks in the Knesset on the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Rabin. As someone who remembers well his vicious verbal attacks against Rabin’s bold moves for peace in the early 1990s, I was horrified by his hypocrisy (although I should be used to it by now!). I could not listen to his whole speech because I felt that it was disingenuous.

Rabin’s lasting legacy is the need for bold courageous leadership for peace with our Palestinian neighbors. Netanyahu has forgone and rejected this legacy by doing everything in his power during the 14 years he has been Prime Minister to stall, fumble and blunder so as not to make peace with the Palestinian people. Instead, he has facilitated creeping annexation and constantly given in to settler and ultra-orthodox rejectionist demands.

Rabin was tired of continuing to wage ongoing wars with the Palestinian people. As he said clearly in this remarkable speech in Washington, he had had enough!  He wanted to begin a new relationship with the Palestinian people, “between parents tired of war” and he wanted my children and grandchildren to not have to fight any more pointless wars with former enemies who have made it clear that they are ready to live in peace with us.

This is why I am thinking about Prime Minister Rabin today. Perhaps his legacy will catalyze a future Israeli leader to rekindle the flicker of hope for peace with our neighbors, which is still so necessary for us and for them now and for our common future.  It is clear to me that the current Israeli leadership is not up to this task. Yet, I believe that sooner or later, we will bring in new leadership who will realize the existential benefits to us and our children of a sincere effort to make peace with the Palestinians, not only because it is the fair and just thing to do, but because it will fulfill the prophetic ideals of peace and justice upon which the state of Israel was established.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr Ron Kronish is the Founding Director the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI), which he directed for 25 years. Now retired, he is an independent educator, author, lecturer, writer, speaker, blogger and consultant. He is the editor of 5 books, including Coexistence and Reconciliation in Israel--Voices for Interreligious Dialogue (Paulist Press, 2015). His new book, The Other Peace Process: Interreligious Dialogue, a View from Jerusalem, was published by Hamilton Books, an imprint of Rowman and LIttlefield, in September 2017. He is currently working on a new book about peacebuilders in Israel and Palestine.
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