The night Rabin died
When he was
gunned down 10 years ago, Israel's hope and innocence fell with him.
By David Grossman
November 4, 2005
I WAS THERE, at the square in front of Tel Aviv's City Hall, on the
night Yitzhak Rabin was murdered. It was supposed to be a different
kind of rally, different from all the other demonstrations I had gone
to in my life.
Instead of a protest, it was a demonstration in support, a demonstration
of gratitude to Rabin and Shimon Peres for what they had done for peace
between Israel and the Palestinians. We wanted to declare our appreciation
for these two no-longer-young gentlemen who had managed, for the most
part, to break free of the old patterns of thinking and action that
had fixed their attitudes toward the Palestinians for decades.
It was Nov. 4, 1995. The square was packed with people. Tens of thousands
of peace activists and supporters had arrived. We were all well aware
of the huge obstacles Rabin faced in moving toward peace. We had seen
the angry demonstrations by the right wing in this very square and others,
and the venomous vigils each Friday in front of his official residence
in Jerusalem. We had heard the incitement of the right's leaders, Benjamin
Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon, and of the right-wing rabbis who considered
Rabin a traitor and declared that he should be judged.
Our support for Rabin was neither blind nor automatic. Along with our
profound appreciation for his metamorphosis, we never stopped doubting
and wondering — even that very evening, as we talked among ourselves
on the square — if Rabin really meant to conclude a meaningful,
comprehensive, lasting peace with the Palestinians.
Was he really capable of breaking free from the trust in military strength
that had shaped his worldview from childhood? (This was a man, after
all, who had been accused only seven years earlier of ordering soldiers
to break the bones of Palestinian militants at the beginning of the
first intifada.) Or would it turn out that he really meant what others
had meant before him when they used the word "peace": a rearrangement
of our defenses tailored to meet only Israel's security needs?
That night in the square, at the height of the Oslo process, it was
hard not to believe that our struggle was coming to an end and
that real peace was only a matter of time. It was as if Rabin had opened
a window through which fresh, clear air suddenly began to blow. But
even then, at that very moment, we knew that the process wasn't perfect.
In the occupied territories, Israel was still confiscating vast swaths
of land, paving roads meant for Israelis alone and moving in tens of
thousands of Jewish settlers.
That night we wanted not just to thank Rabin for how far he'd already
come but to encourage him to stride forward, to be more determined and
unequivocal. We wanted to remind him that he still had more support
among us than he had opponents among those who demonstrated against
him and called him a murderer and traitor.
We wanted to remind him that to achieve peace, it was not enough to
meet your enemy halfway. In a certain sense, each side must walk the
entire way toward the other, because if you don't walk the full length
of the road toward your enemy's fears, wounds and devastation, you haven't
moved at all. We felt that the peace process was reversible, fragile,
almost hopeless, and that for it to succeed, we would have to act against
our most profound fears, against the survival instinct we had attained
through so many wars.
I remember how he spoke. Short, straightforward sentences, in simple,
informal, direct Hebrew. I remember him smiling with bashful delight
at the sight of the crowd and self-consciously singing the "Song of
Peace," the peace movement's anthem. "Don't just say, 'A day will come'/Bring
that day yourself/For it is no dream!"
And a few minutes later — three gunshots, chaos, confusion. In
the days that followed, a sense of personal and public loss, the end
of an era, the end of hope, a feeling that a polluted, fanatic, violent
flood had suddenly welled up from Israel's subconscious depths and become
reality and would determine our fate from that moment onward.
Ten years. Rabin's murderer failed, it seems, to turn the clock back,
or to utterly destroy the process of conciliation between the two nations.
But he was able to slow it down, to tangle it up, to splatter it with
more and more blood, Israeli and Palestinian.
There is no room here to lay out the tremors and disasters that Israel
has undergone these last 10 years. Most of them have been detailed over
and over in these pages. Today, Israel is a prosperous, dynamic country,
but at the same time it is a torn, tormented country. Israelis have
accepted — not with great enthusiasm but out of exhaustion —
that the land must be divided into two countries. Yet this has still
not been translated into the determined and courageous action necessary
to provide the Palestinians with a free and independent state in the
entire West Bank and Gaza Strip. And violence has again broken out on
Today, Israel is ruled by Ariel Sharon, the man who worked with all
his might against Rabin's peace policy. Ironically, Sharon has become
Rabin's heir — in his daring, in the political and personal risk
he has assumed, but also in his elusive ambivalence about the continuation
of the occupation and the possibility of real peace.
These have been 10 grueling, bitter years.
With Rabin's murder, a sense of innocence was torn to shreds. We lost
the simple hope for a normal, tranquil life and for a demilitarized,
open, tolerant Israeli society that had seemed, at that moment, to be
How much we hoped, that night on the square, that we were coming close
to the end of the conflict, to the beginning of a healthier and saner
new era. How innocent we were while the murderer walked among us with
a pistol in his pocket.
Israeli novelist DAVID GROSSMAN is the author of "Death as a Way
of Life: Israel Ten Years After Oslo" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003).
This article was translated by Haim Watzman.
Copyright 2005 Los