This Thursday marks the 15th anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a man whose death we still pay for, and whose legacy must never be forgotten. On Nov. 4, 1995, Rabin was shot and killed as he departed from a peace rally in Tel Aviv. The assassin was a right-wing Israeli extremist who opposed Rabin’s efforts to bring about peace and reconciliation between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The bullets fired that night in Tel Aviv destroyed more than one man’s life. They shattered the dreams of two nations, and unleashed a stream of horrors that continues to haunt the Middle East to this day.
In the 15 years since Rabin’s death, hope for peace in the Middle East has been cruelly shattered by wars, bombings and suicide bombings that have left thousands dead on both sides. Today, those who do seek peace are scorned and ridiculed as naive dreamers desperately holding onto the illusions of the past. No one takes the rhetoric of peace seriously anymore. When a leader on either side speaks of reconciliation, it is in the vague platitudes of a politician, not the genuine aspirations of a visionary. Even the most recent failed peace talks were seen by most as a farce with no chance of success. Yet, now more than ever, the Rabin legacy must be preserved.
After Rabin’s death, a sheet of paper was found in his pocket, stained with his blood. On it were written the lyrics to the Hebrew song Shir LaShalom, “Song for Peace.” The song served for decades as the anthem of the Israeli Peace Movement, and was sung at the rally prior to Rabin’s murder.
The song begins by describing a man who died during war, and how neither the purest of prayers nor the bitterest of cries will bring him back. Followed by the assertion that even the elation that comes with victory in war cannot mute the tragic loss of human life. Thus, the only way to truly preserve and sanctify human life is to cease war and usher in peace.
Rabin espoused this theme as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, declaring that the surest way to preserve human life was “not armored plating or tanks or planes or concrete fortifications. The one solution is peace.”
It is easy to call attention to the very worst aspects of human nature in the Arab-Israeli conflict. We have witnessed mothers who raise their children to be suicide bombers, and soldiers who fire on unarmed civilians. On both sides there is the distortion of religion into a perverse materialism by those who sanctify land over human life and a vindictive justification for revenge over compassion and empathy.
Yet, in the midst of this darkness, Rabin, as a man, embodied the best of human nature. Rabin was a testament to the power and ability of the human individual to change. Rabin did not always advocate peace. He had spent a great deal of his life as a soldier at war with Arabs, fighting the enemies of Israel since its founding. He had seen his friends and comrades killed at the hands of Arab enemies. For most of his career, he was known for supporting aggressive policies and opposing peace measures.
Yet, Rabin eventually transcended that past of hatred and violence and was able to take the first crucial steps toward peace. When criticized for his negotiations with the Palestinians, he bluntly declared, “You don’t make peace with friends.”
This simple yet profound statement reveals the courage required in any peace process. Anytime peace must be made, it requires the courage to set aside hatred and trust those who were once your enemies.
It is precisely this type of courage that we must emulate today. Many see the violence of the past years as dissuasion from fighting for peace. People have given up on reconciliation. But it is precisely now, in the face of adversity, when Rabin’s legacy reminds us of the potential we all possess to transcend hatred for the sake of peace and human life. His death, at the hands of an Israeli, reminds us of the true nature of this conflict: It is not Israeli against Palestinian, nor Jew against Muslim. The real conflict is between those who seek peace, and those who oppose it.
Sam Blank is a junior in the College.