Rabin — and peace — remembered
Just as many Americans remember where they were when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, so do many Jews recall where they were and what they were doing when a gunman — a Jewish gunman, sad to say — assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Tuesday marked the 15th anniversary on the Hebrew calendar of Rabin’s death, 15 years since Yigal Amir, a radical right-wing Jew who opposed the signing of the Oslo Accords, shot the prime minister at a mass peace rally in Tel Aviv.
Israeli President Shimon Peres, who at the time succeeded Rabin as prime minister, marked the occasion Tuesday by lighting a candle for the fallen leader.
He urged the onlookers to remember Rabin. “We are holding a memorial evening because we must fight forgetfulness,” Peres said. “Such forgetfulness is the enemy of man. It also puts democracy in danger.”
Maybe that sounds like a no-brainer — let’s remember a man who gave his life for peace. But under the circumstances it may be becoming a very difficult thing to do.
Fifteen years ago, we thought peace was at hand. Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat shook hands on the White House lawn to a cheering crowd; Israel made peace with Jordan. It seemed everything was possible.
We soon learned that Arafat was no partner for peace. Indeed, to his dying day, he was the main obstacle.
Today, Israel is an armed fortress. To its north, Hezbollah stockpiles deadly weapons with increasingly longer ranges. To the south, weaponry of all sorts is transported underground into the Gaza Strip where Palestinians continue to clamor for Israel’s destruction. In the West Bank, Palestinians say they will make peace with Israel, but only if all Jewish settlements are dismantled, East Jerusalem is ceded, right of return is accepted, and demand for Jewish state recognition is dropped.
And let’s not forget Iran — the saber-rattling neighbor to the east — which is on the brink of developing nuclear weapons while at the same time giving support to Holocaust deniers and threatening to wipe Israel off the map.
With all this to contend with, it’s hard to believe that people around the world, especially in Europe, and increasingly here in the States, are so arrayed against Israel, but that is the case. They relentlessly demonize her with boycotts, divestment and sanctions — to great effect.
All of which leads to this painful question: Did Rabin die in vain?
We can only speak for ourselves, but we say, no.
Just like scientists stand on one another’s shoulders down through the generations to discover cures for deadly diseases, so too must the peacemakers stand on shoulders.
Peace really wasn’t at hand back in 1995 after Rabin died, we know that now. But we also know that people were prepared to take a chance on peace — more so than at any other time in the history of Israel and the modern Middle East. That was a big step forward. Rabin proved that.
When will peace come? That question is posed in our prayer books, and we ask it, too — sometimes in despair. Only don’t despair. Peacemakers are still among us. They have no more or less courage than Rabin had. They only wait for their time to act. For the sake of our children, we must believe that time will come.