Thursday, November 5, 2015

Rabin: The Mourning After ... Twenty Years Later

Much has been written recently about the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin as yesterday was the 20th anniversary of his murder.  Analysis has understandably focused on the effect of Rabin's policies given the current tensions between Arab and Israelis and how politics have changed in Israel since his death. 

In this article I spoke to several Israeli friends who were teenagers when Rabin was murdered. What were the days after Rabin's death like for them? How did his murder impact their lives? Do they still believe in his vision of peace or are they resigned to the conflict? Here are their answers. 

After the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin on November 4, 1995  young people stood day and night at the site of which is now called Rabin Square to mourn the prime minister. They stood vigil with candles and were called “The Candle Children.” The photographs at the time depicted young people seemingly lost in darkness with a small flicker of light shining on their mournful faces.

However, not everyone who was young during Rabin’s assassination considered themselves part of the “Candle Children.” They or their families didn’t support his politics. Nevertheless, the assassination was the most impactful national event of their lives and the reverberations of the gunshot that ended Israel’s innocence can still be felt today.

Shahar, a tour guide from Pardes Chana took part in the rally and heard the shots. He went home after the rally and found out that Rabin had died. He returned the next day.

“The day after the assassination I arrived at the square and there were a lot of people who sang, lit candles, and wrote messages on the walls of City Hall,” Shahar said.

Children and teenagers who weren’t at the rally also remember where they were when they heard the news.

“I was at home watching the Peace Rally,”  said Tomer, the director of nonprofit outside Jerusalem. “After he was shot, there were reports on the news all of the time, but no one believed he would die. When it was announced that he died, we were so shocked.”

Lior, a graduate student, woke his parents up to tell them the news that Rabin had been shot.

“I remember my parents crying,” Lior said.

Lior visited the site of the assassination a few days later to light a candle.

“Children and teenagers from the youth movements filled the square,” Lior said. “The ones from Tel Aviv and the youth movements were there all of the time.”  

Efrat, a photographer from Eilat, didn’t go to Tel Aviv, but  did visit Rabin’s grave a few days after his death.

“I remember the days after the assassination were extremely sad days in Israel,” Efrat said. "Many people had faith in him wanting him to finally bring peace to our region. They didn’t think anyone else could fit in his shoes.”

The aftermath of the assassination was devastating for Israel and the peace process.

“Before he was murdered there was hope for peace,”  Tomer said. “After, the hope was replaced by a pessimism about the future of our nation and the possibility to conduct a real dialogue among people with different points of view.

Eran, an IT director from Ramat Gan did not support Rabin’s politics and in fact blames him for some of Israel’s problems today.

“I was right wing then, I am right wing today,” Eran said. “However, I was against his murder then and I am against his murder today.”

For Shahar, it propelled him to understand how important it is to be an active member of society.

“If you let other people get involved for you, that’s when disaster happens,” Shahar said.

So what exactly is Rabin’s legacy for the “Candle Children?”  

“He believed in giving everything of yourself for the sake of the state,” Tomer said. “ He believed that you have to fight to the end to protect the state, but also strive to change and reach out for peace.”

Lior agreed.

“He was a soldier and a general and towards the end of his life he realized that this particular conflict cannot be solved with military force,” Lior said.

Yariv, a banker in Tel Aviv,  lit a candle at the Square after Rabin’s murder. He said the lesson to Israel from the devastating event was “the importance of unity over being right.”

Shahar echoed Yariv’s sentiment. “Rabin always did what he thought was right for the country. He was always brave.”

Is the hope for peace gone? Perhaps for some it has dimmed, but for Efrat, she still envisions a better future and that one day  “there will be a genuine peace agreement that will open this amazing Middle East to the world where there are no real borders and anyone could come and visit and cross between countries like they cross between states in the US.”