The Tragic Demise of Yitzhak Rabin: A Journey from War to Peace

On the fateful Saturday night of November 4, 1995, approximately 100,000 residents of Israel gathered at King’s Square in Tel Aviv for a peace rally. The atmosphere was charged with hope as Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin delivered a speech emphasizing the crucial support of the Israeli people for the achievement of peace with Arab nations. The emotional evening reached its pinnacle as the crowd immersed themselves in the melody of “Shir Lashalom,” performed by singer Miri Aloni. Despite the apparent awkwardness, Rabin and other Israeli officials joined in singing from the stage.

According to The Guardian, at 9:45 PM, tragedy struck as Rabin suddenly collapsed in front of his car. Two bullets had lodged into his lower back and rib bones, prompting his immediate rush to the hospital. One of his guards, along with on-site police, swiftly apprehended the assailant, Yigal Amir, who was found in possession of a semi-automatic firearm of type 84F. By 11:15 PM, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson announced from the hospital’s front that medical efforts were unsuccessful in saving Rabin’s life. The shocked crowd erupted in cries of “No! No!” upon hearing the heartbreaking news. The Israeli government promptly declared a week-long mourning period, Shiva.

Two days after the shooting, leaders from Arab and Western countries, such as King Hussein of Jordan and U.S. President Bill Clinton, attended Rabin’s funeral in Jerusalem. The leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Yasser Arafat, paid his respects a few days later, visiting Rabin’s family and removing his keffiyeh as a sign of homage.

Yitzhak Rabin, born on March 1, 1922, in Jerusalem, was the eldest child of Nehemiah Rubitzov and Rosa Cohen, both Russian-born Jews. Rabin’s last name was adopted by Nehemiah in 1917, when he registered as a member of the Jewish Legion, aiding the British against the Ottoman Turks in Palestine during World War I. His mother arrived in Palestine in 1919 due to ongoing anti-Semitic sentiments in Russia, leading her to become a supporter of the Zionist movement.

Libby Hughes, in “Yitzhak Rabin: From Soldier to Peacemaker” (2005), notes that Rabin’s early education involved enrollment in a working-class school named Beit Hinuch in Tel Aviv, emphasizing agriculture, farming, and Zionism. Later, he continued his studies at Givat Haslosha, a high school founded by his mother, where he delved into the arts, socialism, and economics. In 1937, during the Arab-Israeli tensions in Lower Galilee, he joined a semi-militant organization formed by his school, demonstrating his commitment to the Zionist cause.

Despite opportunities to study abroad, Rabin chose a military path, eventually becoming the commander of Palmach, a secretive unit of the Haganah. In 1945, he was detained for six months by British Mandate authorities for leading an operation to liberate 200 Jewish-European prisoners facing deportation.

Rabin’s military career soared after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, culminating in his appointment as Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). He played a key role in the destruction of Arab fighter planes during the Six-Day War in 1967. Following his military retirement, Rabin became Israel’s ambassador to the United States in 1968.

In 1973, after his ambassadorship, Rabin returned to Israel, entering the Knesset and later serving as Minister of Labor. In 1974, he became the Prime Minister but resigned in 1977 amid public outcry over his illegal possession of a bank account in the United States.

Re-elected in 1992, Rabin resumed the role of Prime Minister and initiated secret negotiations with the PLO and Arab nations, resulting in the Oslo I and II peace agreements signed between 1993 and 1995. For his efforts, Rabin, along with Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.

However, Rabin remains a controversial figure, particularly among Palestinians who remember him as the orchestrator of bone-breaking measures during the First Intifada (1987–1993). Dr. Rami Abdi, Director of Human Rights at Euro-Mediterranean Gaza, was a victim of IDF bone-breaking actions in 1990.

The peace negotiations faced opposition both in Israel and Palestine. Hamas in Palestine rejected the Oslo agreements, considering them an indirect surrender to Israel. In Israel, dissent took the form of demonstrations, with posters depicting Rabin wearing a keffiyeh, symbolizing perceived similarity to Yasser Arafat.

In a tragic turn of events, Yigal Amir, a law student and member of the extremist Jewish group Eyal, assassinated Rabin. Amir justified his act as carrying out God’s command and showed no remorse during the trial. Some ultranationalist Israelis hailed him as a hero.

Rabin’s death did not bring the anticipated peace. Riots persisted in Israeli and Palestinian territories, indicating the fragile nature of the peace agreements. The relationship between the Israeli government, PLO, and Hamas showed no signs of improvement. In 2010, as Israel expanded settlements, the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, refused to negotiate with Prime Minister Netanyahu, asserting that the Oslo agreements were not designed for genuine peace.

In retrospect, the Oslo Accords, while recognized with a Nobel Peace Prize, did not lead to lasting peace. The territorial division of the West Bank furthered the geographical and political separation of the Palestinian people, providing ample room for the expansion of Israeli settlements. Yitzhak Rabin, once a war hero turned peacemaker, left behind a complex legacy, remembered differently by different communities.