One of Israel’s fiercest warriors and most admired heroes, and yet one who became the boldest advocate and builder of peace for his country, has been brutally cut from the land of the living.
It was Saturday night, November 4, when I received a phone call from a friend who also shared common interest in the well-being of Israel and its citizens. I was shocked upon hearing the words “Yitzhak Rabin has been murdered!” My heart sank while my fears soared, and perplexity was added on learning that Rabin had been killed by a fellow Jew.
How could this be? A Jew never kills another Jew, so says the unwritten rule. However, I must confess that in spite of my shock and perplexity, I breathed a sign of relief, for had an Arab been involved in the incident, the implications for peace in the Near East would have been incalculable and perhaps even devastating.
From his early years, Yitzhak Rabin had worked untiringly in the pursuit of a dream in which his people would find freedom and regain their much yearned-for homeland where they could live in security and peace. During World War II, he joined the Haganah, the Jewish underground army, and was readily invited to join the Palmach, an elite strike force. His performance was outstanding in numerous tasks assigned to him, to the point that senior officers regularly sought his advice on matters of military strategy.1 Rabin was then sent on a mission to Syria, where his job was to climb up telephone poles and cut the wires so that the pro-Nazi Vichy forces would not be able to send for reinforcements. In 1945, just at the end of the war in Europe, Rabin led a daring raid that freed 200 Jewish immigrants who had not been granted asylum by the presiding British Forces.2
The demand for his skills were such that by 1964 he was named army chief of staff. He led the army brilliantly during the Six Day War in 1967. This war had been triggered by a surprise offense mounted by the surrounding countries. He coordinated the maneuvers that enabled the army to gain the Sinai, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights.3 A major highlight in this operation was the liberation of Jerusalem, making its holy sites available to all. Afterwards, Rabin served a five-year term as the Israeli embassador to Washington, DC, through which he greatly contributed to the modernization of the Israeli armed forces. In 1974 Rabin took over the labor party and shortly after he became Israel’s youngest and first native-born prime minister.4
It was during this period that he authorized operation Entebbe, a dramatic rescue mission in Uganda that saved a number of Jewish hostages. In 1984, he was appointed at the Knesset to be the Defense Minister. During this time the Palestinian uprising (the Intifadeh) against Israeli rule surged in the occupied territories and Rabin came down with a heavy hand to suppress this rebellion. He was even known to have given instruction to break their bones. When the most harsh methods implemented proved to be ineffective, Rabin came to the conclusion that the 1.7 million subjugated people could not be ruled by force. He then realized that only negotiation through open dialogue could bring peace to this nation plagued with violence.5
Under this theme of negotiated peace, Yitzhak Rabin was reelected as prime minister in 1992. He declared: “The time for peace has come; we the soldiers who have returned from battles stained with blood, we who have seen our relatives and friends killed before our eyes, . . . we who have fought against you, the Palestinians—we say today in a loud and clear voice: Enough of blood and tears. Enough.” Thus he opened dialogue with the P.L.O. leader Yasser Arafat and began making land concessions for self-rule to the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, and opening talks with Syria on the Golan Heights as well as achieving peace with Jordan.6
To everything there is a season and a time, to every purpose under the heaven. Yitzhak Rabin’s life seems to parallel this passage in Ecclesiastes in his endeavor to secure freedom and peace for his people, while coming to the realization that this was not possible at the expense of the freedom of the Palestinians, their subjugated neighbors. There was a time of war, but now it was time to make peace. War had ushered in a time to acquire, but it was now a time to give. And precisely in the time to dance, a time which had gathered the largest crowd ever to rally for peace in Israel, the mortal blow bitterly ushered in a time to mourn, from the gunpoint of the traitor, a fellow Jew. In this manner the most admired, apt, and realistic warrior and leader of peace was cut off from the land of the living. It is hard to conceive other than that it was only the man who took the land in the first place who could be trusted to make the necessary concessions while not compromising national security.
To a great majority of Israelis, regardless of their orientation towards the peace process, Rabin was a national hero, and a man who could be taken at his word. In addition, for those in favor of the peace process, he was considered a man of integrity who was always willing to tackle the harsh realities of life in a realistic manner. For those who find hope in the words of Isaiah, and wish to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, for those who wish to see the day in which nation shall not lift up sword against nation, for those who do not wish to study war anymore, Yitzhak Rabin’s life and martyrdom will undoubtedly be a guiding light for their path.
Image: Yitzhak Rabin, commander of the Harel Brigade, c. 1948, Public Domain
1Kevin Fedarko, “Man of Israel,” Time, 13 November 1995, p. 3.
2Marilyn Berger, “A Soldier, Politician, Statesman and Peacemaker,” TheChicago Tribune, 5 November 1995, p. 19.
3Fedarko, p. 70.
4Peter McGrath, “An Indispensable Man,” Newsweek, 13 November 1995. p. 48.