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Shlicha’s view: After 24 years, Israel still grappling with Rabin assassination

‘Yitzhak Rabin: Forged Identity’ by Martha L. Dunham was donated to the Sculpture Garden at the Tucson Jewish Community Center in 2011 by Jill and Herschel Rosenzweig. (Courtesy Weintraub Israel Center)

Next week, on Nov. 4, Israel will mark 24 years since the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Rabin, a leader, politician, and army commander, was killed by a Jewish assassin as he was walking down the stairs from the stage at what is now called Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, after a massive gathering of citizens calling for peace. The event was titled “Yes for Peace, No to Violence,” and was attended by hundreds of thousands. These were difficult times in Israel. Politics was everywhere. People opposing the peace process were demonstrating around the country, supporters did the same. Everyone had an opinion. Traumas from previous years’ terror attacks were strong, leaving many families shattered and grieving. For those who supported the Oslo process, it seemed like the only hope that would have the potential to end the cycle of violence. For those who opposed it, it seemed like yet another assault on the legitimacy of Israel and its future prospects. The tension between the Israeli political right and left was at its peak. 

I was 19 years old, still in the army. When the shots were fired at Rabin I was watching the demonstration on television with my family. The event was broadcast live on both TV channels, and we had just finished watching the prime minister singing “Shir Lashalom,” a popular anthem for peace, with Shimon Peres (the former prime minister who was now his foreign minister) and others. Rabin was not a great singer. It was not a musical show, but a symbolic gesture. No one could have imagined that minutes later we would face an entirely new political reality.

In the days after the event that has changed Israeli politics forever, everything was quiet. For weeks one could not hear cars honking, TV broadcasts were quieter, people talking were less noisy. Walking along city streets one could actually feel collective grief, or maybe it was simply a sign of shock. Many of the leaders who had opposed Rabin’s way issued statements of condemnation, disowning the murderer and his act.

Four or five years after the event, a group of researchers asked Israelis several questions about that dramatic night. Astonishingly, a great number of people who did not attend either of the gatherings (for or against the Oslo process) remembered for years exactly where they were, what exactly they were doing, and even what clothes they wore that night. I remember too. In 2014, a group of youth movements from across the array of Jewish-Israeli political and religious affiliation gathered to propose an alternative narrative to the annual Rabin commemoration day, an alternative that talks about the boundaries that should be kept while internally negotiating the future of the Israeli society. Twenty-four years later, the aftermath of the event continues. Only a month and a half ago a new film was released, titled “Yamim Nora’im” (Israel, 123 min., directed by Yaron Zilberman). The title can be translated as “Days of Awe” or “Terrible Days.” The thriller, called “Incitement” for its North American release, follows the year before the assassination from the perspective of Yigal Amir, the assassin, who is still in jail. For me, it signals that although we are now more than two decades past the event, Israeli society has not yet finished processing it.

Inbal Shtivi is Tucson’s community shlicha (Israeli emissary) and director of the Weintraub Israel Center.