It’s hard to believe that 11 years have already past. In Israel and Palestine, people still play the “what if” game. What if Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had not been assassinated on November 4th, 1995. It’s like the “butterfly effect” on history. What if assassin Yigal Amir had followed his initial instinct and shot foreign minister Shimon Peres, who preceded Rabin down the steps of the Tel Aviv municipality?
Just as people in America ask “Where were you when you heard that Kennedy was shot?,” in Israel, people in certain circles ask “Where were you when Rabin was shot?” My answer is that I was walking on my way home down King George Street in the heart of old Tel Aviv, feeling the high of being one of the over l00,000 Israelis who had just left Kings of Israel Square following the successful “no to violence, yes to peace” demonstration, which featured a very strong speech by the Prime Minister. There was a feeling that the mainstream was fighting back against the rightwing obstructionists who were trying to demonize Rabin and undermine the peace process. It was on my way home that I first heard that Rabin had been shot, more or less the same spot where I first heard six years later that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.
Ever since that night back in 1995, I and many of my known and unknown friends have been regular participants of the annual memorial rally, which takes place at what is now known as Rabin Square. This year was the first time since 1995 that November 4th was a Saturday evening, in a sense completing a circle.
Some people who were always at the rally, beginning with his wife Lea Rabin, and continuing with many friends, colleagues and relatives, are no longer with us. Fortunately, the ranks have been replenished by a younger generation of believers in the idea that there is still room for hope. Once again, l00,000 Israelis gathered in the square.
This year there was only one central speaker, author David Grossman, who earned the right by having his son killed on one of the last days of Lebanon War 2, as it’s unofficially called around here. He said that he spoke as a man with an “overwhelming, complex yet unequivocal love of the land,” whose “covenant with the land had turned his personal calamity into a covenant of blood.” In today’s age there is no need to repeat the speech. Unlike in 1995, it’s accessible to everyone on the Internet. Everyone concerned with the fate of Israel and Palestine should read it in its entirety.
When Grossman began focusing on the current prime minister, Ehud Olmert, my feeling was that he was going to call upon him to resign. But no, although the headlines in Sunday’s papers emphasized that Grossman had issued a stinging critique about the “hollowness” and failure of the current Israeli leadership, his call was not for resignation, but for initiative. He called upon the prime minister to initiate talks with the Palestinians, and to respond to the Syrian president’s offer for negotiations, even if they would take years.
To my mind, the most important phrase in his speech was the call to “try to shape reality, not only to serve as its collaborator.” That should not only be true for the leaders, but for all of us.
When Grossman was finished, and daughter Dalia Rabin, the keeper of the family flame had her say, and the poems and songs were over, I had a feeling that the crowd, and all of those Israelis who still believe it’s possible to end the mutual madness (since the entire rally was broadcast live on all three national TV channels), had been energized in a way I had no longer thought was possible.
In recent years, the annual Rabin Memorial rally is the only time I find myself singing the Israeli national anthem. Hatikva (The Hope). And this year, some sliver of hope was engendered anew. And as always, after the anthem, the crowd dispersed with the singing of the powerful anti-war song and anthem of the Israeli peace movement, Shir Lashalom, (Song for Peace), followed by the voice of John Lennon singing Imagine.
On the way home, the heavens opened and the rain poured down, perhaps shedding tears for Rabin, and maybe, just maybe, cleansing the dust and the mud that we are all bogged down in, creating the possibility for new beginnings.
And on Monday, as the scene shifts to the east Jerusalem office of the Palestine-Israel Journal, we sat together, Israelis and Palestinians, discussing what words to put on the cover of our new issue devoted to Hamas and Kadima: the new reality after the war in Lebanon. As someone said, Hamas and Kadima, the two governing parties, are part of the problem, what Grossman called the failure of leadership. In the end we decided to call the issue Hamas and Kadima: are they up to the challenge? And we will add the following words from our editorial: “Now is the time to fill the missing agendas with workable initiatives.”