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Twelve Years Later, Rabin’s Assassination Still An Open Wound

As they commemorate a national tragedy, many Israelis still wonder whether their political fate might have been different if Yitzhak Rabin had lived, says PJM Tel Aviv editor Allison Kaplan Sommer.

by
Allison Kaplan Sommer

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October 24, 2007 - 10:20 am

My kids walked to school this morning, leaving the house and melting in a crowd of children heading down the street, all wearing white shirts and solemn expressions on their faces.

As I type these words, they are standing at attention at their school ceremonies, marking a national trauma that happened before they were born and remembering a leader they never knew – Yitzhak Rabin. The official ceremonies take place on the Hebrew anniversary of the event, which took place on Nov. 4, 1995.

Every year around the anniversary the Israeli media seems to come up with an appropriately-timed revelation regarding the assassination. This year it was the release of the tape of Yigal Amir’s interrogation by police immediately after he killed Rabin.

He confessed in a chillingly matter-of-fact and utterly unrepentant manner in a transcript published in the country’s largest Hebrew daily, Yediot Aharonot:

Amir: “I arrived today at 8:15 from my home. There were many police and security around. Then Rabin approached. Peres was walking behind him, but I didn’t shoot him because he was a secondary target. When Rabin came down the stairs with his security people I got close to him as he was getting into his car. I shot three bullets. Then the security people jumped on me. I let go of the gun.”

Interrogator: “When you went there, were you aware of where you were going and what your intention was?”

Amir: “To kill Rabin.”

Interrogator: “To kill Rabin?”

Amir: “No, not to kill, to silence him politically.”

Interrogator: “And how did you plan to accomplish this?”

Amir: “With my gun”

Interrogator: “That was in your possession?”

Amir: “That was in my possession.”

Interrogator: “When did you get the idea to shoot the Prime Minister?”

Amir: “Since the first Oslo agreement.”

Interrogator: “My last question is personal: You have killed him. Do you regret or are you sorry for what you have done.”

Amir: “Heaven forbid.”

Interviewed by Yediot about the tape, the interrogator Moti Naftali further described how Amir rejoiced and raised his hands in victory when he first learned that Rabin was dead, lifted the glass of tea he was drinking and asked that they join him in a toast.

“I had to count till three in order not to just punch him in the face, because that’s what I wanted to do,” Naftali confessed.

It is difficult to comprehend why authorities held this tape back for twelve years. If the tape had been made public earlier, it could have thrown some much needed cold water on the numerous far-fetched conspiracy theories that have blossomed since the murder, JFK-style.

In the past, I’ve compared the impact of Rabin’s assassination in Israel to that of the slaying of John F. Kennedy in the U.S.

And it is true that my children are as knowledgeable regarding the details of the shooting in Rabin Square as I, who was born a year after JFK was killed, could describe the grassy knoll and the bloodstains on Jackie Kennedy’s suit at a young age. Every year the ceremonies are held, and details are revisited, with Rabin’s family, friends and associates, reliving that date and speculating whether or not Israel’s political fate might have been different if Rabin had lived – just as Americans wondered whether Vietnam might have played out differently if JFK had remained president.

But there is one big difference – unlike Kennedy’s assassin, Rabin’s killer, Yigal Amir is alive, which keeps alive the focal point of the pain of the assassination.

No matter where one’s political sympathies may lie, there is a basic horror regarding the fact that on this day twelve years ago, Israel’s leader was not murdered by one of the country’s mortal enemies in the outside world, but by one of our own. The annual reminder of this makes the event as fresh and painful as it was twelve years ago.

The media coverage of the details of Amir’s life in prison dutifully reported on the news, is a continual flow of salt in an open wound. This year should be more painful than most, with his wife, Larissa Trimbobler, a member of the strange and extreme cult of supporters and sympathizers who is due to give birth to his child shortly.

Israel is a country that celebrates children – and never has the birth of a child been so dreaded. Already, Yigal Amir’s camp launched a “Free Amir campaign” The group, labeled by Rabin’s granddaughter Noa Ben Artzi-Rotman as “a shrill and perverse choir” and by his grandson Jonathan Ben-Arzi as an “insane asylum” recently launched a pressure campaign to free him, or, short of that allow the assassin a furlough to attend the baby’s circumcision, or to allow the ceremony to take place in the prison.

There is some receptivity for their view that Amir is not a national disgrace, but a man who made a noble sacrifice by disrupting the peace process begun at Oslo. A recent survey found that 20 percent of the religious public feel he should be pardoned.

So pervasive is the antagonism against this group that a nationally prominent singer Ariel Zilber, who signed a statement of support of the “Free Amir” campaign, is facing calls to boycott his music on the radio and in stores.

Many call the focus on Amir, both by those who would demonize him or heroize him “unhealthy obsession.”

One thing is clear – in this contentious atmosphere, it has been close to impossible for the nation to move on. Every year, emotionally, it is pulled back to the same place.

Nahum Barnea, the dean of Israeli political pundits, believes that the focus on Amir and company utterly contradicts the spirit of Rabin himself.

“The bunch of losers who surrounded him are undeserving of the sacred rage that is leveled at them. Not his Trimbobler bride, not his mother, not his brother and not the singer Ariel Zilber. They have nothing but a pathetic need for attention. The anger should be directed at others. At the Shin Bet’s security personnel that allowed the murder to take place. We should be angry at bodyguard Yoram Rubin who allowed the assassin to emerge unharmed. We should be angry at Yitzhak Rabin for refusing to surround himself with an extra security belt despite the many warnings, including from myself. We should direct our anger at Justice Meir Shamgar and the commission of inquiry he headed because it missed the opportunity to reach the root cause of the murder and to draw real conclusions from it. We should be angry at Shimon Peres because instead of dealing with those who incited Amir to kill, he opted to turn over a new leaf. The following proposal should be made to those who belong to what is termed “the peace camp:” Don’t light candles today and on November 4th. Don’t sing sweet, melancholy Israeli songs that are full of self-pity. Be angry, this is what Yitzhak Rabin would have done so well: Be angry.”

Perhaps. But it is impossible not to also be sad.

Allison Kaplan Sommer is PJM’s Tel Aviv-based editor

Allison Kaplan Sommer is a writer living outside Tel Aviv. She is a former PJM editor.
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