I saw a news report today that reminded me where I was exactly 10 years ago.
That was the Saturday afternoon that Nathalie and I found ourselves in a traffic jam in downtown Tel Aviv. Sirens blared all around us as we inched our way to our hotel, only to learn in the lobby that an hour earlier, at a peace rally two blocks away, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had been shot. By the time we checked into our room, Rabin died on the operating table. This moment was every bit as horrible for Israel as the assasination of John F. Kennedy was for America.
Yitzhak Rabin (יצחק רבין), a native Israeli, fought in the Israeli Independence War, and then, as Chief of Staff, defended Israel in the 1967 Six Day War to a stunning victory. As Prime Minister in 1976, Rabin boldly mandated Operation Entebbe, a spectacular raid of Idi Amin's fortified airport in which commandos rescued 100 hijacked Jewish airline passengers (as well as the entire Air France flight crew that courageously declined to be set free so long as any of their passengers were captive).
But Rabin showed his true courage in his second term as Prime Minister, during which he recognized the PLO, signed the Olso Peace Accord, and reached an historic peace treaty with Jordan. For this, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. For the first time in this little nation's history, hope grew that Israel might finally live in peace with her neighbors, released from the constant threat of annihilation. For a society with mandatory and truly dangerous army service, Rabin promised the young generation a chance to strive for something beyond mere survival.
Nathalie and I wandered down to the Kings of Israel Square--the site of the assasination--where people wandered, dumbstruck. We felt ourselves drawn to the crowd, feeling the reflections of their pain.
The next day, we learned that the assasin was a reactionary, fundamentalist Jew enraged by Rabin's intention to negotiate peace with the Palestinians. So what? Who cares what kind of maniac pulled the trigger? It mattered to Nathalie and me. It propelled our growing realization that all flavors of religious fundamentalism (not just the Muslim flavor) destroy life and liberty.
The day after that, world leaders flew in to attend the Nobel Laureate's funeral. Nathalie and I joined the crowds in an unplanned procession through the streets of Jerusalem, winding our way to the national cemetary, where hundreds of thousands held vigil. When sirens signalled the moment of silence, all traffic in Israel stopped, and every person froze.
Kings of Israel Square was renamed Yitzhak Rabin Square. For the remainder of the week, people gathered there every evening, all night. No one fired shots into the air, and no one called for vengeance against "enemies" of any kind. We sang songs of peace around lit candles, to mourn the loss of a true leader.
Since Rabin, prime ministers have tried and failed to revive the peace process. But even from the grave, Yitzhak Rabin promises hope. This week, 200,000 Israelis held a peace rally in his memory. How wonderful that Israel's next election promises a race between Likud's Sharon, who is moving slowly toward peace, and Labor's Peretz, who wants to move there quickly.
I found this photo, below, that I took the night after the Prime Minister's death. The artist had impromptu picked a wall in the square on which Nathalie and I watched him paint his memory of Rabin. I hope this image remains there today.