The Other Israel _ November/December 1995 Issue 69/70
Editorial Comment by Adam Keller
Ya'akov Arnon -- 1913-1995 -- Out of logic and good nature -
The unfinished business
An outcry from Hebron
Behind the Barriers
Physicians for Human Rights
[Kav La'oved (Worker's Hotline) report ]
Peres' hour of truth
From Enemy to Friend
Outburst of Sweetness
The big question
A personal word
Three shots ended the life of Israel's Prime Minister on the night of November 4, three
shots which will still long reverberate. Everything before that cataclysmic moment seems like part of another existence.
Israelis are left to feel their way through a changed political landscape, with old securities, and old obstacles,
In the spring of 1995, the long-deadlocked negotiations with Yasser Arafat started at
last to gather momentum, making the extension of Palestinian self-rule from Gaza and Jericho to cities and towns
all over the West Bank into a concrete possibility, measurable in months. Israeli settlers on the West Bank, who
had long been lulled by Rabin's protracted hesitation to implement this stage of the Oslo Agreement, were furious.
Launching a "civil disobedience campaign," they declared their determination to foil the upcoming agreement
by all means, legal or illegal. They held numerous demonstrations, many of them ending in violence; they repeatedly
blocked highways during the rush hour; they established "new settlements" on Palestinian land and clashed
with soldiers who came to evict them; and they also attempted to interfere with electricity supplies throughout
Yet, though the settlers claimed to speak in the name of "the People," they
were able to mobilize in their support only the religious nationalists -- a very distinct group, quite different
from other Israelis in their culture, way of life and outward appearance. The secular right-wingers, which include
most voters of the Likud Party, stayed aloof -- again and again failing to answer the frantic appeals for anti-goverment
action, issued not only by the settlers but also by the Likud's own leadership.
As the negotiations with Arafat continued unabated, despite everything the settlers could
do, their struggle was increasingly transformed into a hate campaign against the person of Prime Minister Yitzchak
Rabin. Placards bearing such slogans as Rabin -- Traitor! and Rabin -- Murderer! became routine matter at nationalist
rallies, as were huge cartoons showing Rabin, wearing an Arab headdress, with blood dripping from his hands. Right-wingers
shouting: With blood and fire, we will drive Rabin out! dogged the Prime Minister -- at his public appearances
and outside his private home -- heckling, rioting and clashing with security guards.
The attack on Rabin was not limited to wild demonstrators on the street. Settler rabbis
quoted the Scriptures to prove that Rabin's government was illegitimate and that soldiers were bound to disobey
its orders; and "respectable" professors compared Rabin with Marshall Petain, the French collaborator
with the Nazis, and presented "a draft indictment" for his future treason trial. The wildest kind of
incitement was ceaselessly disseminated by the settlers' pirate radio station, brodcasting from a ship off the
Tel-Aviv shore. (A half-hearted government attempt to shut it down failed, with many of the government's own liberal
supporters coming out in defence of the pirate's freedom of speech.)
Soon, it was no secret that some extreme right groups were considering the use of political
assassination. The Shabak security service issued a warning to that effect, which was prominently published in
the news headlines. Meanwhile, a group of "mystics" held an archaic kabalistic ceremony outside the Prime
Minister's residence, calling for avenging angels to annihilate Rabin with swords of fire. One of the participants
in this televised ceremony told the camera: The traitor Rabin is doomed. This invocation is the most powerful,
and when used, it always works.
Most Israelis did not take this and similar manifestations quite seriously. To his last
day, Prime Minister Rabin refused to wear a bullet-proof vest, and the ministerial bodyguards continued to be alert
mainly for the danger of Arab assailants, trusting the common wisdom that "Jew does not kill Jew" (at
least, not for political reasons).
True, for many years the ethnocentric ideology prevalent in Israeli society seemed to
effectively impose upon the country's nationalist extremists a prohibition against killing members of their own
"tribe." Moreover, the religious community reinforced this taboo by frequent quotation of the Talmudic
passage blaming the destruction of the Temple on divisions and fighting of the Jews among themselves.
However, with the increasing polarization, this taboo -- like others in Israeli politics
-- has worn thin.
Having accepted the indiscriminate killing of Arabs as legitimate, or even praiseworthy, having made Baruch Goldstein
of the Hebron Massacre into their idol, and having decided that Rabin was a 'traitor who sold out to the enemy,'
it was but a single further step to conclude that Rabin should be "liquidiated."
As we now know, at least one band of young conspirators came to this definite conclusion
already in early 1995, and perhaps earlier. They have come together at the religious university of Bar-Ilan, a
hotbed of extremist agitation which flourished undisturbed under the nose of the university administration. At
their head was the 25-year old Yigal Amir. Soon to achieve worldwide notoriety, he somehow avoided the attention
of the police and security services, who suspected him of no worse crime than "disturbance of public order."
Officially registered in the Faculty of Law, Amir actually spent most of his time studying
the Scriptures and the works of the sages. There he came upon passages which seemed to confirm his view that assassinating
Rabin would be an act pleasing to God, and he began to prepare himself for carrying out this divine task. He had
spent some time as a security guard at the Israeli embassy in Lituania. There, he thoroughly learned the standard
procedures and routines of the bodyguards protecting Israeli VIPs. Aside from his holy studies, he also took up
reading about the attempts of French settlers in Algeria to assassinate De Gaulle, in the early 1960s.
Amir's brother Hagai, a skilled demolition expert trained in the army's Engineering Corps,
accumulated a considerable quantity of explosives stolen from army depots by a soldier friend. As now published
by the police, the two brothers considered several plans for blowing up Rabin's car or his home; the risk that
Rabin's family members or neighbors might get killed as well seemed to them acceptable. They also thought out the
logistics of blowing up car bombs in Arab town centers, to disrupt the negotiations.
Several times, Amir prepared to kill Rabin -- but desisted at the last moment, finding
the bodyguards too alert. He continued to attend Rabin's public appearances, inconspicuous among the "normal"
right-wing hecklers, and awaited his chance.
Paralysis on the left
Throughout the summer months, the Israeli peace movement was unable to field a counter-mobilization
to the nationalist campaign. With the papers publishing daily bulletins on Foreign Minister Peres' indefatigable
talks with Arafat, most supporters of the peace process found it convenient to assume that things were progressing
as they should; let the right-wingers tire themselves out was an often heard phrase. Peace demonstrations remained
small and scattered, held mainly by the different groups' hardcore activists, without involving any wider grassroots
For his part, Prime Minister Rabin actively discouraged the mobilization of government
supporters against the right, several times firmly vetoing proposals to hold a rally in support of the government
and the peace process. When the subject was raised, Rabin told Labor Party officials and Peace Now organizers that
"a duly constituted government should not descend into the street." The Peace Now leadership, which had
developed detailed plans for a major Tel-Aviv rally, reluctantly shelved them -- coming to the conclusion that
a rally in support of the peace process could not succeed without active Labor Party participation.
Instead of rallying the government supporters, Rabin alternated between three kinds of
response: ignoring the hostile demonstrations and getting on with the negotiations; lashing out at the settlers
with his highly abrasive tongue; or -- when the nationalists became too violent to tolerate -- setting the police
on them. At the same time, Rabin's emissaries at the negotiating table pointed to the right-wing demonstrations,
and demanded more concessions from Arafat.
On September 24, a week of marathon talks at the Red Sea resort of Taba at last produced
the long awaited, long delayed "Oslo-2" Agreement -- promising the Palestinians effective control over
about 30% of the West Bank territory, in which most of the population lives, and setting Januray 20, 1996, as the
date for internationally-supervised Palestinian elections. (The agreement came too late for three Nablus youths,
shot dead in clashes with Israeli soldiers at the very time when negotiatiors finalized details of the Israeli
army's imminent departure from Palestinian cities.)
At the Oslo-2 signing in the White House, Rabin seemed relaxed and comfortable, behaving
far more friendly to Arafat than at the previous ceremony on the same location. The real problem arose on his return
to Israel: ratification of the agreement in a Knesset where his majority had shrunk to the very bare minimum, 61
out of 120.
It could have been very different, had the momentum and enthusiasm generated by the historical
handshake in Washington been preserved, had this second part of the agreement been concluded at the stipulated
time, July 1994 -- when the Rabin government was still much stronger. Rabin's slowing down of the process had given
the opponents on both sides time to do their worst: for Goldstein to perpetrate the Hebron Massacre; for the Palestinian
extremists to retaliate with their series of deadly suicide bombing attacks inside Israel; for the Israeli right-wing
opposition to capitalize on these attacks, undermine Rabin's position among the public and chip away at the weak
links in his parliamentary support.
While Rabin hesitated whether or not to go ahead with evacuating the West Bank cities,
he lost not only the Oriental-religious Shas Party, with its crucial six seats, but also some of the more hawkish
backbenchers of his own Labor party. This defection by two Labor KMs would have brought down the government, but
for Rabin's success in enticing two members of the right-wing opposition to join his government as a minister and
a deputy-minister respectively. While arithmetically preserving for the government its majority of one, these two
votes had been bought at a high price. The right wing gained a powerful new weapon: accusations of government corruption.
The main fire of the opposition -- parliamentary and extra-parliamentary -- remained,
however, directed elsewhere: at Rabin's willingness to rely on Arab Knesset members as part of his majority, and
get Oslo-2 ratified with their help. By so doing, he has broken a taboo even more fundamental than his shaking
the hand of Arafat.
In fact, Rabin has touched upon the fundamental paradoxes inherent in Israel's official
definition as "a Jewish state," the question whether such a state can be truly democratic and whether
non-Jews can participate as equals in its decision-making process. In his earlier career Rabin -- like all his
predecessors -- sought to gain "a Jewish majority" for his government; but having lost that option
at the very time when he had resolved upon the crucial step forward with the Palestinians, he refused to call early
elections, as the opposition demanded. Instead, he chose to forge ahead with the majority he had, bravely and unhesitatingly
offering a vehement defence of this decision -- and in the process taking up a more democratic and anti-racist
stand than any Prime Minister had dared before him.
As the Knesset gathered to ratify the agreement, the nationalists held a rally in central
Jerusalem. "Rabin -- Traitor!" was the most common shout; Likud leader Netanyahu, who addressed the crowd,
made a half-hearted and ineffective attempt to protest at this slogan. A poster circulating among the crowd depicted
Prime Minister Rabin wearing a Nazi uniform -- the ultimate insult to an Israeli politician. Later, the right-wingers
marched to the Knesset, which they proceeded to virtually besiege. Housing Minister Ben-Eliezer, passing in his
official car, came close to being lynched; and the mob smashed up the (empty) Prime Ministerial car.
Inside the besieged hall, the unperturbed Prime Minister Rabin conducted the debate, reaching
-- late at night, or rather early in the morning -- the predetermined result: ratification by 61 votes to 59.
The events of the ratification night, as well as continuing violent assaults by the right
wing accompanied with threats to disrupt the implementation of the new agreement, at last aroused the grassroots
government supporters out of their stupor. Labor Party members met, and resolved to form "a volunteer guard"
to accompany the Prime Minister on his public appearances and confront hostile hecklers. Rabin firmly vetoed this
offer -- but at last gave his assent to the long-delayed rally, to be held at Tel-Aviv's Municipality Square, the
traditional site of Israeli peace demonstrations.
The final impetus for holding the rally came from ex-Tel Aviv mayor Shlomo Lahat -- formerly
a Likud member who had passed over to the ranks of the peace camp and, in the manner of new converts, soon surpassed
most others in enthusiasm for his new cause. With him came the French-Jewish millionaire Jean Friedman, who donated
considerable sums to publicize the coming rally, as well as getting business colleagues to do the same.
The slogan 'Yes to Peace -- No to Violence!', often seen at past peace demonstrations,
was judged to be capable of generating the widest concensus. Soon it was seen at the top of huge ads, placed in
all Israeli papers and calling upon the people of Israel to 'stand up in support of peace.' The Peace Now movement
published its own set of advertisements, more militantly worded and calling for 'reconquering the street from the
right.' Advertisements and expressions of support came from Meretz, the Kibbutz Movement, trade unionists, several
youth movements, the huge Na'amat Women's Organization; the Labor Party started to flex its muscles and mobilize
-- for the first time in years, its network of branches over the country; the International Center for Peace published
a list of supporters endorsing the rally and including even several West Bank settlers; Dov Lautman of the Confederation
of Industrialists gathered some of the most prominent names in the business community, to sign a simple declaration:
Peace is good for the economy -- we are for it.
Weeks before its scheduled date, November 4, the Tel-Aviv peace rally was already a prominent
news item; right-wing attempts to ridicule the government for "organizing a birthday party for itself"
only served to draw additional public attention to the upcoming event.
The fateful night
A week before the rally was due to take place, the country was startled by the news that
Dr. Fathi Shkaki, leader of the Damascus-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad and originator of several suicide bombing
attacks on Israelis, has been assassinated in Malta. No one claimed official responsibility for the act, but it
bore all the hallmarks of previous Mossad
assassinations, and Rabin did not hide his satisfaction at "the downfall of the arch-terrorist."
The jubilant Israeli press made little mention of the fact that in the previous four months,
the Islamic Jihad had observed an unofficial cease-fire, as part of Yasser Arafat's intricate negotiations with
the Islamic opposition aimed at getting them to participate in the coming elections. Far from "stopping terrorism,"
the Shkaki assassination threatened to open a new cycle of retribution and counter-retribution. On November 2,
two days before the scheduled rally, two Islamic Jihad suicide bombers attempted to attack a settler convoy in
the Gaza Strip -- but were foiled by the guarding soldiers, with the two bombers themselves being the only casualties.
The Shabak warned that a further Jihad attack could be launched at the Tel-Aviv rally;
this, rather than an attack by Jewish extremists, became the main threat envisaged. For their part, Lahat and the
other organizers would not hear of canceling the rally, going right ahead with their daily Yes to Peace -- No to
In other times, the Shkaki assassination with its dire consequences could have been good
reason for radical peace groups to hold a demonstration against the Rabin Government, or at least for refraining
from participation in a pro-government rally, so shortly afterwards. But with the government under violent attack
for its agreement with the Palestinians, there was an overwhelming feeling of the need to make a massive show of
support for continuing the peace process. Thus, Gush Shalom decided, with only few dissentions, to endorse the
rally and mobilize its activists to participate (with its own slogans and banners). A similar decision was taken
by the Hadash Communists.
The same feeling prevailed also among Israel's Arab citizens, who mostly decided to swallow
the insult offerend them by the last moment cancelation of the speech by their representative, Nazareth Mayor Ramez
Jarayesi. With all their reservations, thousands of Arabs boarded the specially chartered rally buses -- including
a considerable number of Arab women, a sight rarely seen at previous peace demonstrations.
Hours before the official opening, the Tel-Aviv Municipality Square was already quite
full, especially with youths in the blue shirts of the Labor-affiliated youth movements. More and more demonstrators
arrived in their tens of thousands, filling the square and spilling out to the adjoining streets. Though it was
called to protest the right-wing violence, the atmosphere at the rally was not particularly militant; even the
presence of a handful of rightist counter-demonstrators, behind a thick police cordon, failed to ignite a confrontation.
Rather, the mood was of upbeat optimism and exhileration, of relief that so many have
turned up; for too long did the peace forces avoid such mobilizations, and too many has started to half-believe
the right-wing propaganda that "the people are against the government." There was a certain air of celebration,
increased by the virtual sea of giant banners and the frequent release of bright-coloured balloons into the completely
clear evening sky; people circulated through the crowd, listened to the singing and speeches carried by enormous
loudspeakers from the Town Hall balustrade, picked up the leaflets distributed by numerous groups, and passed the
rival stalls put up by Meretz and Labor, to register new members for their respective parties. At the Gush Shalom
stall, hundreds added their signatures to the Jerusalem -- Capital of Two States petition.
There were numerous speakers, alternating with singers and music groups: politicians,
youths, writers, bereaved parents -- all declaring their support for the newly-signed agreement and
for continuing with the peace process. The ambassadors and diplomatic representaives of Egypt, Jordan and Morocco
-- the three Arab governments to make peace with Israel -- were called to give the greetings
of their respective governments. But no emissary of the Palestinian Authority was invited to address the assembly,
apparently due to the organizers' attempt to emphasize the "less controversial" aspects of peace. The
stupidity of this glaring omission was revealed during the keynote speech -- that of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin.
When Rabin uttered the words 'We have found a Palestinian partner for peace -- the PLO,' an enormous cheer broke
out all over the packed square.
At that moment, Yigal Amir was already skulking near the Town Hall back stairs, where
the speakers would pass on their way out; the pistol, loaded with deadly dum-dum bullets, was ready in his pocket.
In other parts of the rally hundreds of police and border guards were posted. But for reasons which will certainly
be debated for years to come, the Shabak and police virtually ignored this vital sector.
Rabin's last moments were soon to pass into myth, to be described in the most minute detail
again and again and again during the coming week. He made his last speech -- strong, emphatic and vivid;
he stood back to receive the enormous cheer; he embraced Shimon Peres, his decades-long rival and associate; he
warmly thanked organizers, seeming ecstatic with happiness at the success of the rally; he joined in the singing
of The Peace Song, which had accompanied most Israeli peace demonstrations since 1970. Rabin was not familiar with
the words; many previous demonstrations where it was sung were held in protest against Rabin's own policies. (The
paper from which Rabin sung was later found, soaked with blood, in the pocket of his jacket.)
The rally ended with the performance of the immensely popular young singer Aviv Gefen.
As if with uncanny premonition of what was to follow Gefen chose to sing his song of lament for a fallen friend:
I am going to cry for you / Be strong up there in Heaven / I will never forget you, my brother / We will meet again
in the end, you know. Gefen dedicated his song "to those who will not live to see the coming of peace."
Israelis will now always associate it with the memory of Rabin.
The Prime Minister embraced Gefen (who, but a
few months earlier had written a scurrilous song about Rabin). He went slowly down the back stairs. A large crowd
was waiting there -- all but one of them friendly, cheering, waving, crying Rabin, we love you! Nobody
bothered to push them back. Yigal Amir was able to approach unnoticed, pull out his pistol and shoot the Prime
Minister from a point-blank range.
The unlikely martyr
On the other side of the Town Hall, thousands of youths were still dancing, to cheerful
music streaming from the loudspeakers. Few people heard the three shots, but the blaring of sirens soon drowned
out the music. Pandemonium broke out when the news of what happened came out; hundreds run all the way to Ichilov
Hospital, where the dying Prime Minister was taken. A confused crowd gathered outside the operating room -- Laborites,
Anarchists, senior government officials -- all mixed together.
When Rabin's trusted aide, Eytan Haber, announced his death in a tear-strained voice,
angry shouts were heard: "Netanyahu -- Murderer!" A handful of right-wingers, who stood there
jeering narrowly avoided being beaten up. (It was one of the Anarchists, usually considered to be firebrands, who
interposed himself between, shouting: Don't touch them! Just let them disgrace themselves before the cameras!)
Few people slept that night in Israel. Through the night hours they sat, watching the
emergency television broadcasts on all channels; in the Palestinian Territories, too, many watched the grief-stricken
Israeli commentators and the bewildering flood of reports and comments. Former activists who had dropped from the
scene years earlier suddenly reappeared, phoning the leaders of different peace groups with wild ideas for immediate
Gradually, more and more people drifted back to where it all happened. Somebody started
lighting candles at the site where Rabin was shot. Within hours, thousands upon thousands of candles were burning
through the vast square, with groups of disconsolate youths sitting in circles around them. The fury manifested
earlier at the hospital had totally disappeared; it was a nearly silent scene, with the youths singing softly and
sadly: Aviv Gefen's lament and The Peace Song, whose refrain those who are buried never come back had suddenly
assumed so much meaning.
Similar scenes appeared elsewhere: outside the Rabin family home in North Tel-Aviv, at
the Prime Minister's official residence in Jerusalem, near the Knesset where the coffin was laid in state. Later
in the week of mourning, the phenomenon spread throughout the country. Everywhere, smaller or larger groups of
youngsters -- the "Candle Children" as they soon came to be known -- chose a public place,
where they sat for long hours around the small flames, singing their sad songs.
Already on the first night, some of the youths changed the road signs around the square,
writing 'Yitzchak Rabin Square' in crude black letters. (The shrewed Tel-Aviv mayor, Roni Milo, was quick to make
the change of name official.) The youths went on to spray the Town Hall walls -- and every surface for hundreds
of metres around -- with "Rabin graffiti." (The police did not even try to enforce the prohibition on
"defacing real property.")
'Till God grows old!'
The following was noted down from a single wall-section of the Tel-Aviv Town Hall.
We have all become orphans; Rabin, you had a dream of peace, and we will make the dream
come true; The people want peace; Amir, you son of a bitch; Peace will be our revenge; Jaffa Central Highschool
mourns the fallen Hero of Peace; God, why did you let this happen???; Rabin, we love you!; We have lost a father;
Goodbye, Rabin, rest in peace; All we are saying is give peace a chance (English in the original); Let the sun
rise, let the morning dawn (first words of The Peace Song); Rabin, we will never forget you; Rabin is dead, but
Peace will live; Where was the police?; Why, why, why?; One killer, three bullets, five million broken hearts;
Peace is Rabin's legacy to us; From Heaven, Rabin will watch over us; Yes to Peace -- No to Violence;
Yigal Amir, go to hell!; Rabin, you were a hero, and we did not even appreciate it; Rabin -- in life
and death, the Hero of Peace; Rabin -- we will remember you till God grows old; Two days passed since
your death. I am no longer the same -- nobody is!
Together with the graffiti there were also an enormous number of "Letters to Rabin,"
pasted on the walls, together with Rabin photos and pictures (clipped from the papers, or handpainted), peace symbols,
posters, political and non-political stickers. Evening after evening, the square was crowded with thousands of
people. The youngsters continued to sit in circles, around their candles; men and women of all ages, often complete
families, took to a kind of prilgrimage retracing Rabin's last walk, across the balustrade; sometimes, the site
was crowded with hundreds awaiting their turn to go down the Town Hall back stairs at whose bottom Rabin was felled.
For veteran peace activists, grown used to an uphill struggle with small actions where one knows one another,
getting into this mass phenomenon was like suddenly coming out of the dark and with difficulty getting used to
light again. It was so big, so complex, involving so many individuals and groups and emotions. How could it ever
be fully comprehended and rendered into precise definitions and conceptions?
The shock at Rabin's murder, and the mourning for him, were a genuine feeling upswelling
from below -- but they were also reinforced by constant propaganda from above, repeated endlessly on
all channels of the electronic and printed media. Official and unofficial ceremonies, official and unofficial mourning,
all the time merged or clashed or interacted in numerous ways. At the Jerusalem funeral, the police roughly pushed
back the thousands of common mourners, to keep them separated from the VIPs and the numerous foreign heads of state;
yet, the most common sticker of all, seen on cars and walls everywhere, was Shalom, Chaver (Goodbye, friend)
-- quoted from President
Clinton's oft-repeated television speech.
How to interpret such an outburst, on a scale rarely seen before? What to think of the
sudden appearance of a myth, overnight making a politician with all too human faults into a paragon of virtue ("larger
than life" as some graffiti-writers put it), a "great father" and a martyr for the cause of peace?
The mass mourning at "Rabin Square" (and on a smaller scale, at public places
all over the country) had many religious overtones -- though not conforming to any prescribed Jewish rite: the
placing of candles before upright Rabin pictures, with (often very emotional) letters, addressing the dead Prime
Minister in the second person, placed as a kind of offering... In the youths' behaviour there was an element of
idolation, not for a rock star this time, but for the person of a 73-year old man, who had never excited such admiration
during his lifetime.
Undoubtedly, not all the mourners shared Rabin's political program -- but just as undoubtedly,
the mourning had a strong and clear tendency of making Rabin the personification of the longing for peace, making
the continuation of the peace process into an act of faith, fulfilment of the dead leader's last will and testament.
To some oldtime peace seekers it all seemed "incoherent, emotional and lacking a clear political direction."
This may well be so -- yet for the very reason of being an inarticulate collective trauma and emotional catharsis,
the phenomenon of the public mourning had such an immense political significance, with an impact for a long time
The political aspect of the Rabin mourning was manifested in the person of his widow,
Leah Rabin, to whom the situation gave an immense moral authority. In the days of crisis after the murder she developed
into being the virtual arbiter of Israeli politics (completely eclipsing President Weitzman, whose role it should
have been!) and used this position to emphasize the need of moving ahead with the peace process. After Yasser Arafat
was excluded from the list of international VIPs and heads of states invited to the Jerusalem funeral, Leah Rabin
invited him to pay a condolences visit to the Rabin family's private appartement in Tel-Aviv. That was how Arafat's
very first invitation to visit Israel, after two years of talks and deals with the country's leaders, came about.
To the crowd of mourners who gathered outside the Rabin home, Leah Rabin said: Where have
you been before? Why weren't you here when they came, every Friday, to call him a traitor? Still, it is good that
you came now -- thank you for that. This little speech, endlessly broadcast on the radio, had immediate results:
all over the mourning square, the new graffiti 'Rabin, forgive us for not showing up!' was scrawled. On the following
days, this feeling of guilt and remorse was channeled into pledges of loyalty to Shimon Peres, the successor on
whom Rabin's mantle has fallen. Youths started to decorate their clothes with large stickers reading 'Peres, you
will never walk alone!', and 'With Peres to Peace'. Soon, the decision was taken to organize a regular Friday vigil*
outside Peres' Tel-Aviv home, to continue as long as he will be in office.
* The Friday noon vigils are a characteristic of Israeli politics in the past decade. They were originally instituted
at the Intifada outbreak by the Women in Black and other groups protesting the occupation; at their peak, thirty
peace vigils were held, simultaneously every Friday, at squares in Israel's main cities and at crossroads throughout
the country. After Oslo, the peace vigils dwindled in number of participants and locations covered. Many of the
sites were taken over by right-wingers, who then went on to also hold "Friday sieges" of ministers' private
homes. Since the murder of Rabin, these right-wing activities all but disappeared, and throughout the country there
is enormous mushrooming of Friday vigils by peace-minded, pro-government youths.
From the first moment after the murder, a considerable number of left-wing Knesset
Members, columnists and political leaders lashed out at the right wing. Nationalist leaders and activists, from
Netanyahu down to all participants in the inflammatory anti-Rabin demonstrations, were accused of indirect
responsibility for the murder and their abject apology was made the precondition for any reconciliation.
This was the dominant tone in an artists' memorial meeting held at Tel-Aviv's Mann Auditorium
on November 6, and -- to the right's chagrin -- broadcast live on Israeli TV. The lines were sharply drawn by author
Me'ir Shalev: 'There are two camps in this country: a camp of peace, compromise and hope, and a camp of extremism,
violence and hatred. Let's not generalize: in both camps there are religious and secularists, young and old, rich
and poor -- but only in one of these camps there are murderers.'
Together with their sharp attacks on the right came calls upon the new government to make
use of the right's disarray and take drastic steps: remove at last the fanatic settlers from Hebron, let the Palestinians
proclaim an independent state, make massive arrests to finally break the racist organizations (officially banned
after the 1994 Hebron Massacre, but in fact continuing operation as usual).
After the anger of the first few days, however, there was a growing number of voices on
the left calling for some kind of dialogue with the nationalist camp. Various petitions and initiatives for reconciliation
and mutual tolerance were floated; and the theme started to appear among the Rabin graffiti on the mourning square.
Several dialogue meetings were held: between Labor and Likud Knesset Members, between Peace Now and settler leaders,
between secularist kibbutzniks and their religious counterparts...
The agenda at such meetings concerned devicing rules for more civilized debates in the
future, or "unity against the extremists." Unofficially, the peace-minded participants in such meetings
expressed the hope that -- in return for the left refraining from full exploitation of its present advantage --
the right could be induced to drop at least some of its most intransigent positions. Rather than gain new ground
for the cause of peace, they hoped to consolidate what was already achieved.
The two divergent attitudes cut across the usual affiliations or alliances. Thus, author
David Grossman -- together with Me'ir Shalev prominent in the recent
campaign against the Jerusalem land confiscations -- came out with a long, well-reasoned appeal to the nationalist-religious
camp, including the settlers: 'Even if we ask you to leave the Territories, we still need your vitality in shaping
the new Israeli identity. In effect, what we can offer you is Territories in exchange for Identity. We need you,
you need us' (Yediot Aharonot, Nov. 23).
Among the youth movements, an acrinomous debate broke out between the Peace Now youth
and the Labor-affiliated Young Workers -- with the first joining the national-religious youth at a Rabin memorial
ceremony in Haifa, while the second boycotting the event and declaring: "The religious youth must apologize
for having called Rabin a traitor, before being allowed to attend his memorial."
The week of mourning ended with a second rally on the -- now officially renamed -- Rabin
Square. Originally initiated by several of the 'Candle Children' as a youth rally, the idea was taken up by Tel-Aviv
Mayor Milo, who procalimed "a non-political memorial rally, against violence and for mutual tolerance."
The artists who appeared on the previous rally were invited to perform again -- joined by some who had preferred
not to appear at the previous one.
There was an enormous turnout, with hundreds of thousands overflowing the square, Tel-Aviv's
biggest open space, and spreading far into adjoining streets and side streets in all directions. It was by all
accounts the biggest rally in Israeli history, larger even than the September 1982 protest, in the aftermath of
Sabra and Shatila, held on the same site.
Despite the officially "non-political" nature of the rally, the choice of Leah
Rabin as the single speaker (aside from the initiating youths) made it into an overwhelming endorsement of Oslo-2.
The message was reaffirmed by a not entirely coincidental event: on the same night of November 12, a few hours
after the huge crowds finally dispersed in Tel-Aviv, the Israeli army evacuated the town of Jenin and handed it
over to Palestinian control. This vital stage of the West Bank redeployment was carried out days ahead of schedule
-- a refreshing innovation, considering that hitherto none of the Oslo timetables have been kept.
Together with the two-page photos of the mass rally, Israeli papers showed Palestinian
crowds cheering Arafat on his entry into Jenin.
Before his death Rabin was unable to secure more than the barest majority for the passage
of Oslo-2 through the Knesset, and opinion polls at the time showed the general public to be likewise divided almost
evenly on the issue. Tragically it was only by his death that Rabin achieved a solid confirmation of the peace
process, manifested through official polls and clearly evident throughout the society.
At the Likud Secretariat on November 13, former Prime Minister Shamir moaned in a widely-quoted
speech: "Today, the PLO begins voter registration in East Jerusalem towards elections to their damned Council.
They daily gain a stronger foothold in Jerusalem -- and we, the main opposition party of Israel, can do nothing
to stop them!"
For months public opnion polls had favoured the Likud's Netanyahu as the likely winner
of the next elections. Rabin was expected to have an uphill battle to secure re-election. However, following the
assassination the polls gave Peres, as Rabin's inheritor, an overwhelming advantage (60% to Netanyahu's 22%, according
to the Ma'ariv poll of Nov. 17). The whole right wing was pushed on the defensive, with all its leaders --
even the most extreme -- hastily publishing statements of condemnation for the murder and condolences to the Rabin
family; rank-and-file nationalists were quick to scrape the anti-government stickers off their cars. (A few scattered
individuals who expressed jubilation at the murder, even in private conversations, were pounced upon by a police
which had hitherto ignored well-armed racist organizations.)
The deepest shock was felt among the religious
Having been sung by Rabin at the last hour of his life, and by the youths mourning him,
having been recited at the funeral to a worldwide audience, The Peace Song became a virtual second anthem. Written
by Ya'akov Rothblitt to Yair Rosenblum's music, in 1969 during the War of Attrition on the Suez Canal, it was originally
intended for an army singing group of the army's educational corps. The 'demoralizing' song was soon banned --
but enjoyed considerable success on the civilian market. The singing group's soloist, Miri Aloni, continued to
sing the song at Peace Now rallies. It was Aloni who sang it together with Rabin, and again, a week later, at his
The peace song
Let the sun rise
Let the morning dawn!
Even the purest prayer
Will not bring us back
He whose candle was blown
Who was buried in the earth
Will not be woken by crying
Nothing will bring him back
Nobody will bring us back
From this dark deep hole
Here, victory celebrations
Or songs of praise
Are to no more avail
Sing, sing, sing a song of peace
Don't whisper a prayer
Just sing a song of peace
And cry it out loud
Let sunrays come in
Through the wreaths
Don't look backwards
Leave the fallen alone
Raise your eyes in hope
Not through gun sights
Sing a song of love
No more of wars
Don't say 'the day will come'
But go and bring the day
For it is not a dream
And in all the squares
Cry out for peace
Sing, sing, sing a song of peace
Don't whisper a prayer
Just sing a song of peace
And cry it out loud
nationalists, from whose educational system issued the killer Yigal Amir. With religious bypassers insulted and
called "murderers" on the streets of Israeli cities, there were bitter accusations and recriminations
among rabbis in the West Bank settlements, with some accusing others of having given a "spiritual sanction"
to the killing of Rabin. Soon, some of these rabbis found themselves interrogated by the police's Serious Crime
The University of Bar-Ilan, where the conspiracy was hatched, was bending backwards in
attempts to utterly condemn the conspirators and dissociate itself from them; meanwhile, a hitherto banned peace-minded
Bar-Ilan student group surfaced, holding demonstrations for their democratic right to free political activity on
On the national level, the moderate religious movement Memad -- which had come out in
support of Oslo-2, despite some reservations by its settler members -- now gained prominence and increased support
in its own constuency; Rabbi Yehuda Amital, the hitherto marginalized Memad leader, became a nationally-known figure
Not less confused and convulsed with internal divisions was the Shabak -- Israeli security
service. From the beginning, it was clear that the Shabak was guilty -- at the very least -- of incredibly gross
negligeance, which enabled Amir to get unnoticed to point-blank range of the Prime Minister.
The suspicion of deliberate involvement by at least part of the Shabak was openly voiced
by some commentators, such as Prof. Michael Harsegor of Tel-Aviv University. Most others, however, hesitated at
making such a charge without more evidence. Even without going that far, the continuing investigation provided
more and more evidence of Shabak incompetence: warnings and leads of the impending assassination given to the Shabak
months in advance and not followed through, information on Yigal Amir which was filed without being given attention.
Towards their testimonies at the special judicial commission of inquiry, the six senior
operatives and department heads of the Shabak procured -- each one for himself -- the services of six first-class
lawyers. Observers regard this as indicating that the Shabak heads are in deep trouble, and that they are likely
to try shifting the blame each upon the others.
Among the flood of new revelations daily finding their way into the front pages, the story
of Avishai Raviv, leader of the extreme right Eyal group, was particularly sensational. It turned out that Raviv,
a friend of Yigal Amir, had been employed as Shabak informer and agent provocateur for many years; but he
had either not informed his controllers, or not known himself, of Amir's intentions. Furthermore, he had been involved
in some of the more crude forms of anti-Rabin incitement, such as the distribution of the "Nazi Rabin"
posters on the night of the Oslo-2 ratification.
The right wing seized upon the Raviv affair, in an effort to regain the offensive. The
Likud tried to shake off responsibility for the anti-Rabin incitement in its demonstrations, and shift it all upon
"the Shabak provocateur." Some elements in the extreme right tried to go further and implicate the Shabak
in the Rabin assassination itself.
In spite of the Shabak's shaky position, the "Shabak lobby" in the media proved
still quite strong. Numerous articles appeared simultaneously in all papers, blasting the right wing for its "undermining
state security" by digging into the Raviv affair. (A few months ago, when human rights organizations made
a campaign against torture, the same journalists used much of the same arguments against "the liberal leftists.")
November 29, 1995.
Amidst intensive and confused political currents, Shimon Peres formed his new cabinet.
Nearly all ministers were the same as under Rabin, and Peres -- speaking on a stage decorated with an enormous
Rabin portrait -- solemnly promised "to continue faithfully on the path of Rabin;" nevertheless, on some
points Peres' personal imprint was already highly visible -- and it became clear that Peres the prime minister
was not necessarily identical with Peres the foreign minister, originator of Oslo.
Right from the start Peres took considerable pains to speak conciliatory words to the
settlers -- in marked contrast to the tongue-lashing to which Rabin had often subjected them. This was part of
a general Peres campaign to gain the support, or at least the neutrality, of as many as possible in the religious
camp. The moderate Rabbi Amital was made a minister without portfolio -- an appointment giving the government no
additional parliamentary votes, but some public support in a constituency where the Rabin government had practically
But Peres went further, opening negotiations with the settlers' party par excellence,
the National Religious Party. These delicate negotiations were entrusted to Peres' capable deputy Yossi Beilin
-- the same man who was, three years earlier, entrusted withn opening "The Oslo Back-Channel" to the
With all the settlers' fury at Oslo-2, the experience of the Gaza Strip in the past year
and half has already shown that Israeli settlements could continue as armed enclaves in Palestinian territory --
as long as the government continues to provide them with military protection and financial assistance. Having conclusively
failed to stop the same situation coming to the West Bank, the settlers offered Peres a deal: the National Religious
Party, their parliamentary expression, would acept Oslo-1 and Oslo-2 and support the government from the oustide
-- in return for a de-facto freeze on further steps until the Israeli elections, due in November 1996. In particular,
the settlers asked for non-implementation of the "further redeployment" which, according to Oslo-2, Israeli
forces on the West Bank should carry out between July and September 1996.
Beilin proved surprisingly amendable and produced a draft Labor-NRP memorandum, including
the settlers' demands. The text was, however, leaked to the press and firmly vetoed by Meretz, Labor's coalition
partner on the left. Nevertheless, NRP leader Zvulun Hammer, went on to give a de-facto recognition of Oslo: "A
fait accompli has been created. These [Palestinian] towns are being evacuated, and the NRP will not initiate a
war to reconquer them." Hardline settlers accused Hammer of "giving Labor what they wanted without getting
anything in return." Hammer pointed to further conciliatory talk by Beilin and his promises that "in
the definite solution negotiations, Labor will strive to get the settlements where most settlers live annexed to
Peres used the opportunity of the new start yet on another deadlocked front: talks with
the Syrians. Negotiations had gotten stuck in June over Israel's demand to maintain "early warning stations"
in the Golan Heights, also after this strategic area is handed back to Syria. On the procedural level, Syria had
put itself in the wrong by cutting off the talks -- and Rabin, in his last months, seemed content to leave it at
that. It was generally assumed that Rabin felt politicallly too vulnerable to open a second front -- especially
since the Golan Heights had become the rallying point for the internal hawkish opposition inside the Labor Party.
But of course, the inheritor Peres is in a much stronger position than Rabin was.
The Syrians welcomed the direct appeal made to President Assad in Peres' inaugural speech;
and though Assad refused an American proposal to send a letter of condolences to the Rabin family, an undeclared
cease-fire was observed, during the week of mourning, in the guerilla war waged against Israel by Syria's allies
in South Lebanon.
Indeed, for the average Israeli the most immediate bonus from peace with Syria would be
the concomitant peace with Lebanon -- Syria's satellite -- and the end of a thirteen-year old war of attrition,
whose casualties have become part of a grisly routine. Peres would like to appear in next year's election campaign
as the one who brought about, in his one year, peace treaties with the whole Arab World.
For that, peace with Syria and the controversial withdrawal from the Golan Heights, are
indispensable preconditons. To sweeten the pill, Peres would like to bring it to a popular vote as one big package
deal, after another Washington ceremony -- this time starring Shimon Peres in the company of President Assad, the
President of Lebanon, the King of Saudi Arabia, and as many other Arab heads of state as could be found.
Clearly, this scenario would also have implications for the Palestinian issue. There is
the danger that it will leave the Palestinians isolated and forgotten, forced to accept what handouts Israel chooses
to give them. On the other hand, the vast edifice envisaged by Peres may well prove the hostage of unfinished business
with the Palestinians -- especially on the issue of Jerusalem, sensitive to all Arabs and Muslims. In May 1995,
the Jordanians threatened to break their peace with Israel over Rabin's attempt to confiscate two small plots of
Arab land in Jerusalem. Can Saudi Arabia do less, in face of an intransigent Israeli claim to continued rule over
Arab East Jerusalem?
As this issue goes into print, the Israeli army is in the process of evacuating the West
Bank towns; in town after town, the same sights are repeated: jubilation in the streets, warm welcome of the arriving
Palestinian police, former prisoners waving the Palestinian flag on installations where once they were incarcerated,
tortured... Limited though the withdrawal is, it gives the Palestinians a sense of pride and achievement, of vindication
of their enormous sacrifices during the Intifada.
Following the completion of this process, internationally-monitored elections are
due to follow on January 20. With all their reservations, the Hamas and most other Palestinian parties are likely
to take part in th voting -- that, clearly, is the wish of their own grassroots supporters.
Once this process is completed, the West Bank will be formally divided between two inherently
incompatible entities: the Palestinian Self-Governing Authority, and the armd Israeli settler enclaves with their
military guard. The Palestinian National Authority will enjoy a wide international legitimacy, and dispose of a
president, cabinet, parliament, a considerable government apparatus. Above all, it will have a territory, however
small, controlled by its own armed forces -- which was throughout history and remains today the most basic attribute
However, the Palestinian territory as defined by Oslo-2, is extremely narrow and scattered
-- a series of enclaves, cut off from direct access to the outside world and hemmed in on all sides by Israeli
settlements and army camps. The Oslo-2 map has given some two-million Palestinians a partial control over 30% of
the West Bank; 70% remain at the disposal of not much more than a hundred thousand scattered Israeli settlers.
It is a folly -- and a dangerous one -- to believe that this situation, accepted as a fleeting temporary stage,
can be frozen into a permanent solution. Unfortunately, such folly still abounds in Israel -- not only in the right-wing,
but also inside the Peres cabinet itself.
Proudly, ministers have declared the final death and burial of "Greater Israel"
-- the total claim to all which Israel conquered in 1967. At the same time, new plans are being prepared to carve
and cut up the West Bank -- the poor remnant which is left of historical Palestine -- and give the Palestinians
as small a part as possible. These tendencies seem to have found a prominent spokesperson in the new Foreign Minister,
former General Ehud Barak.
A long road, many difficult struggles, are still ahead before Israelis and Palestinians
face each other on anything resembling equal terms. On the day when true peace comes, I will go to lay a flower
on Rabin's grave. At a crucial crossroads he struggled within himself, decided for peace -- and paid for it with
Ya'akov Arnon -- 1913-1995
-- Out of logic and good nature --
After a long illness, ICIPP founding member Ya'akov Arnon died on October 7, in his Jerusalem
home -- where he remained until the end under the loving care of his wife Lous, and in close contact with his three
sons and his grandchildren. It was the same home which hosted for many years the ICIPP executive meetings.
Beate Zilversmidt talked with Lous about his life.
He was born in Amsterdam as the son of a much-respected family. Jaap van Amerongen was
his name, a name too strange, too difficult for Israelis. As a young economy student he soon became a Socialist
and an opponent of Zionism, expecting that Socialism would also solve what was then called "The Jewish Question."
That was his view until 1932 when he participated in a long and serious debate with the Zionist Student Movement,
where he let himself be convinced that the problem of being a minority would not be solved unless the Jews could
have their own state. He had an analytical mind, and was a man who committed himself. To those who knew him it
was as if his becoming a Zionist was out of a logical necessity. Forty years later he would be driven by the same
kind of logic to the conclusion that what is true for Jews is also true for Palestinians: that they should have
Jaap and Lous survived the Nazi occupation hiding with false papers in the south of Holland.
After the war both were active in taking care of hidden Jewish children whose parents did not survive. For a short
time, Jaap was chairman of the Dutch Zionist Federation, but he and Lous went to Palestine in 1948, a month before
the Declaration of Independence proclaimed the foundation of the State of Israel.
Of all the thousands of Dutch Israelis, Ya'akov Arnon -- the new name which he chose --
had the most successful public service career. As Director General of the Finance Ministry in the first decades
of the state, he actually has laid the foundations for the economic system of the country. At the memorial for
his death in Jerusalem, November 7, a former colleague from the ministry said: "If Arnon would not have been
so damned Dutch, if he would at least have known Yiddish, he would have become a minister for sure." Others
remarked at this occasion that it was his Dutch background which made him such an outstanding person in Israel:
a man of no big words, with a great sense of humour, a near Calvinist sense of justice -- and a passion for football.
Asked once what had made a man like him into a pioneer of dialogue with the PLO (in 1983 Arnon went with Matti
Peled and Uri Avnery to Tunis -- the first public visit of Israelis to the PLO headquarters) he answered in a matter
of fact tone: It was time to sit together and talk.
Lous emphasized that Ya'akov, who was a devoted family man, had been very much influenced
in his political thinking by the stories which his sons brought home after the '67 Six Day War. While Ya'akov
was involved in coordinating the financial management of the Occupied Territories ("he thought of it as a
temporary arrangement; the territories were to be traded for peace") his son Aryeh, a soldier at that time,
told about what happened on the ground, about the hatred which he saw in the faces.
At that time, the euphoria of the Six Day War gave birth to the "Greater Israel"
movement; while the first Jewish settlements were being set up in Palestinian land, Ya'akov Arnon decided in 1970,
at the age of 57, to quit his job at the Finance Ministry as an early pensioner.
From this time he served the Israeli society in numerous respectable, often voluntary
jobs. On the one hand, he was chair of the board of the Israeli Electricity Company; on the other hand he took
care, as treasurer, of the Yesh Gvul Fund for the families of reserve soldiers imprisoned for refusal to serve
in the Occupied Territories. As a born arbiter he solved many a business dispute; in his book "Economy in
Turmoil," (1981) he attacked the Likud's "consumerist policy, for the benefit of the haves only."
During all these years, in which he was involved in an innumerable lot of social institutions
and companies, he also fulfilled the role of ICIPP treasurer. Although his involvement in breaking the taboo of
talking to the PLO exposed him to a lot of criticism from his establishment friends, he was nevertheless honoured
in November 1991, by the Jerusalem municipality with the title of Yakir Yerushalaim ('Treasured Jerusalemite').
The great secret of Ya'akov Arnon, which made it difficult for people to dislike him --
even when he became a radical -- was that though he took radical steps, he never acquired a radical tongue.
The handshake between Rabin and Arafat, which he had done so much to make possible,
was a ray of hope in his difficult last years.
+++ Haim Bar'am in Kol Hair (Oct. 12):
"My friend, the optimist Ya'akov Arnon, knew throughout his life to combine Zionism
with a maximum of Humanism."
Dov Genichovski, in Yediot Aharonot (Oct. 13):
"One could argue with Arnon and engage with him in long discussions, but to have
a quarrel with him was simply impossible."
' ' '
The unfinished business
In the middle of September, intense negotiations were going on to complete the Oslo-2 agreement, and it became
clear that Hebron was the chief remaining stumbling block. Every detail of the negotiations, every proposal and
counter-proposal, was reported in banner headlines and caused immense sensation in the city under discussion; militant
Palestinian demonstrations and clashes with the army, reminiscent of the Intifada peak period, broke out every
day; and the settlers, in their armed enclave at the city center, mounted numerous violent provocations to influence
the negotiations their way.
The Palestinian mobilization on the ground defeated
the original Israeli demand to keep control over the whole of Hebron; but the Israelis adamantly insisted upon
retaining the settler enclave, comprising some 10% of Hebron and effectively cutting the Palestinian city in two.
Moreover, a considerable Palestinian population -- far outnumbering the 400 settlers -- found itself trapped inside
this heavily-armed enclave.
Like all other West Bank schools, the Cordova Girls' School -- located right at the center
of the disputed enclave -- raised the Palestinian flag on its flagpole. It was immediately the target of violent
assault by armed settlers, who beat up pupils and teachers and tore down the flag. A new flag was produced and
raised -- to be taken down again, this time by soldiers who proclaimed that this school and this school alone out
of all other schools was forbidden to fly the red-green-black-white flag.
The pupils and teachers did not give up: for a whole week, the worldwide attention of
TV viewers was riveted to the latest news from the Cordova School, with flags going down and defiantly up again,
demonstrations, confrontations, violence again and again... It also got much sympathy in Israel, more widespread
than Palestians usually get, because the settlers' violence and racism were even more clearly manifest than usual.
Knesset Member Dedi Zucker spoke for many when he visited the Cordova school at the head of a Peace Now delegation
and told the principal: 'We are ashamed of what the settlers are doing to you' (Ha'aretz, 13.9.95).
The compromise finally achieved allowed the Cordova School to fly the Palestinian
flag -- but only in the inner courtyard, which is invisible to the settlers on the other side of the street. Needless
to say, this is not reciprocal: the settlers continue to flaunt a huge Israeli flag, nor does the army stop them
from scrawling crude racist graffiti on the school walls.
After Oslo-2 was signed, a prominent Fatah supporter told Ha'aretz: 'As a Palestinian,
I support this agreement -- but as a Hebronite, I oppose it.'
The unfinished business of Hebron, with the armed enclave left as a wound at its middle,
would still haunt Israel for a long time to come.
An outcry from Hebron
The following is excerpted from the extensive commentary which Dr Sweiti of Hebron University sent us.
The people of Hebron do not think of Oslo-Two as a pointer in the right direction, but
a sell-out of their cause in return for some future promises. They keep asking what is the point of such peace
since they will not control their affairs and Israeli presence will continue in their midst. Peace which restricts
their freedom of movement to specific places even within their own town is meaningless and paralyzing to their
The implementation of Oslo-Two in Hebron will be a source of much new trouble to the people
of the city. It will take a long time, pending the completion of bypass roads around the city to connect the settlers
to each other and to Israel. It is estimated that this project would take a year to be finished and require confiscating
hundreds of acres of farm land. Its purpose is to keep the Israeli presence in the area unaffected, which would
at the same time jeopardize both the Palestinians' safety and their livelihood.
Israeli soldiers and settlers will be able to move freely in the area which leaves open
the possibility of new massacres similar to what Baruch Goldstein did when he machinegunned tens of innocent civilians
praying in Abraham Mosque, a year and a half ago. There are fanatical settlers who are willing to perpetrate the
most heinous crime against Palestinians, and no force could stop them from doing so, not even the presence of Palestinian
police. At many occasions, settlers in Hebron revealed their intention to kill Palestinians as "an act of
faith." Along this religious line they revere Baruch Goldstein as a hero because he killed Palestinians in
the Abraham Mosque, and celebrate his anniversary to immortalize his name. With settlements planted in many places
alongside various military camps in the Hebron area, the security of people will remain endangered.
The economic situation would not be improved, since Israel will continue to exploit resources,
control trade and market. Employment would become a special problem as people would be prevented from working in
Israel, thus reducing their income to a low level. The economic situation would worsen by the kind of delay of
international aid and lack of investment which plagued the economy of self-ruled Gaza. It suffers from high unemployment,
lack of investment, high prices, low income and strict Israeli control of its trade. The same situation awaits
Hebron as well as other West Bank areas after the implementation of Oslo-Two.
A deteriorating economic situation in Hebron would reflect on political stability there.
It would create a fertile ground for anti-Arafat activities to destabilize his authority and weaken his support
among people. With an economic situation turned upside down, Arafat's influence in Hebron could be damaged to the
point of allowing other forces to take over the situation. This is likely to happen since his popularity is already
low and dwindling with passing time. A rise in the power of other forces at his expense would spoil his chances
to bring things under control.
The situation could become more volatile in Hebron when Israeli settlers exploit the weakness
of Arafat to create political chaos in which random violence becomes the norm of the day. This definitely serves
their purpose of weakening the peace momentum which they see as a threat to their colonial activities. They want
to grab more land and change the topographic scene of Hebron for ever. Their success against Arafat in Hebron would
put him between anvil and hammer -- caught between the settlers and Palestinian opponents.
Such a dangerous situation could develop easily because Oslo-Two paved the way for it
Hebron as pariah. Israel did not apply to it the standard it applied to other areas, apparently intent to keep
a permanent colonial presence there.
The bizarre situation of Hebron represents the Achilles heel in the Oslo-Two agreement
and will continue to trouble Israeli-Palestinian relations in the future. In this deal, the people of Hebron find
themselves as losers and thrown in the twilight zone of Israeli-Palestinian politics. They feel that the only way
to establish a just and lasting peace would be to remove for good the Israeli settlers and soldiers from the whole
Hebron area which must become an inseparable part of a Palestinian state.
' ' '
Behind the barriers
The transfer of health services to the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority leaves
the PA with an underdeveloped medical system, neglected during decades and with no funds for improvement. The Palestinian
Authority's health budget stands at $21 per capita, whereas the per capita spending in Israel amounts to $550.
While the government of Israel is still far from granting the Palestinians full independence,
it has already absolved itself of responsibility for the fact that in the Palestinian Self-Governing Areas
many kinds of medical services are not available.
For treatment in an Israeli hospital Palestinian patients would have to pay privately.
Needless to say, that not every severely ill Palestinian can scrape together the needed sum. Nor is it only a financial
matter. The partial or total closures constantly imposed on the Palestinian Territories also bar or hinder Palestinians
from gaining medical treatment. Getting from Gaza to an Israeli hospital requires hard-to-get permits. So does
getting to a hospital in the West Bank -- across Israeli territory -- or in an Arab country through the Israeli-controlled
The Tel-Aviv-based association of Physicians for Human Rights is obliged to spend a large
part of its time and energy in endless struggles with the bureaucratic machine, on behalf of critically ill Palestinians.
The following tragic story is taken from the PHR's recently published report.
Ala Nimer, a Palestinian living in the Gaza Strip, was shot in the head by Israeli security
forces on November 25, 1993. After being rushed to Shifa Hospital -- the largest medical facility in Gaza -- doctors
determined that they could not provide the medical treatment he required. As a consequence, Nimer was transferred
to Assuta Hospital in Tel-Aviv, where neurosurgeon Dr. Uri Wald performed a complicated operation, saving Nimer's
Following the surgery, Nimer was transferred back to Shifa Hospital. However it soon became
apparent that the rehabilitation treatment which Nimer required was only available in Israel.
The Israeli authorities refused to provide Nimer, who suffered from total paralysis, with
the necessary permit and financial aid to undergo treatment, and at this point PHR intervened. After months of
intervention work, PHR secured a compromise deal whereby Nimer could leave Gaza and obtain rehabilitation treatment
at the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation. While this facility was not on the same level as rehabilitation
centers in Israel, it offered more promise than simply remaining in Gaza where no treatment whasoever was available.
Within a month of being in Bethlehem, Nimer developed a life-threatening infection. PHR
arranged for Nimer's immediate transfer to Assuta Hospital in Tel-Aviv in order to treat the infection. Because
of the urgency of the situation and need for rapid action, PHR moved Nimer to Assuta, committing, as they did before,
to pay for his treatment in the event that the Ministry of Defence refused. Dr Wald performed another operation
on March 29, 1994, and on April 16, Nimwer was discharged.
A few weeks later, the Israeli army finally withdrew from Gaza -- and the Israeli authorities
refused ever since to recognize any obligation on their part, leaving PHR with the hospital bill ($22,000).
Nimer was taken care of, to the best of their ability, by his wife and his brother in
his parents' home. There, in Gaza's destitute Sheikh Radwan neighborhood, he died a month ago.
Full English-language report available from:
PHR, P.O.Box 10235, Tel-Aviv 61101, Israel.
[Kav La'oved (Worker's Hotline) report ]
+++ Since the curfew imposed on the Occupied Territories during the Gulf War, Israel has enacted a persistent
policy of steadily reducing the number of Palestinians allowed to work in Israel. This policy remains unchanged
up to the present, though in the meantime the ruling party in Israel has changed and though Israel signed two agreements
with the Palestinians, both containing the formulation "[the two sides] will attempt to maintain the normality
of movement of labor between them;" nor did Israel's initiating two Middle East Economic Conferences, at Casablanca
and Amman, both officially based on "free flow of capital and labor" have an appreciable effect on its
policy. Periodically, following a terrorist attack in Israel or also with the proclaimed purpose of foiling the
threat of one, a total closure is imposed on the Palestinian Territories; when it is removed, after several weeks,
the number of Palestinians allowed to enter Israel is always less than before.
Thus, the number of Gazans working in Israel fell from 60,520 in 1991 to 16,500
at present -- an enormous blow to an economy which was made, for almost three decades, totally dependant on work
in Israel. The international aid given to the Palestinan Authority, with the original intention of long-term development
for the future, is in fact consumed on (partial) replacement of this grave loss to the Palestinian economy. The
construction boom visible in Gaza, which is often cited as evidence of economic recovery, has in fact provided
no more than 3,000 to 5,000 new jobs -- far from repairing the loss.
The Tel Aviv-based Kav La'oved (Workers' Hotline), which provided most of the above information,
is involved in an intense struggle: outspokenly opposing the government policy, on the principle that as long as
Israel is not willing to grant the Palestinians
complete independence, it is responsible for their economic condition; collecting and disseminating, in Israel
and abroad, the most detailed information (which the authorities often try to hide) on the day-to-day implementation
of this policy; and providing legal help which can sometimes ameliorate the lot of the victimised workers.
Recently, Kav La'oved created a major legal precedent when the District Labor Court in
Tel-Aviv ordered Bokovza Marble Industries Ltd. to give full severance pay (one month's salary for every year worked)
to Gazan worker Ibrahim Abu Nadi, who had worked twenty years for the company. (Bokovza, like many other employers,
claimed that the termination of the worker's job resulted from the government's action rather than the employer's;
the court ruled that they must nevertheless pay.)
Kav La'oved's newest project concerns the toughening official attitude to Palestians who
continue illegally to work in Israel. In the past, they were fined and sent back to the Territories; now, they
are more and more often sent to prison, often for half a year and sometimes for a whole year. In many cases, those
workers are arrested at police raids on workplaces where they had previously worked legally for years and where
the Israeli employers know them and are willing to vouch for them -- but to no avail. Kav La'oved is now collecting
information on the extent of this phenomenon (the police are far from enthusiastic abour sharing their statistics)
and preparing several test-case appeals against the most severe prison sentences.
English-languague brochures from:
Kav La'oved, POB 2319, Tel-Aviv; fax: 972-3-5173801.
+++ The official "Jerusalem 3000 Celebrations", designed to reinforce the exclusive Israeli claim
to all of Jerusalem, seem to have had the opposite effect. They were outspokenly boycotted by the European ambassadors,
and also the U.S. Ambassador pleaded "prior engagements." Inside the country, the celebrations, for all
the enormous sums spent on impressive pageants in the city streets, aroused rather than dispelled doubts about
the official version; at the Yediot Aharonot poll of September 9, 24% of the Jewish Jerusalemites expressed themselves
in opposition to the Jerusalem 3000 Show.
Gush Shalom, which earlier initiated the "Jerusalem -- Capital of Two States"
manifesto signed by more than a thousand Israelis, many of them prominent names, decided to hold a counter-event,
at a budget which was a very small fraction indeed of that spent on any of the official events. The Gush Shalom
symposium was given the title "Jerusalem 5000" -- to acknowlege that Jerusalem had a past before its
conquest by King David, the starting point of its history as far as the official celebrations are concerned.
The symposium, held on September 20, got considerable public attention and widespread
interest, both before and after it took place. Four outstanding Israeli scholars took part: Historian Meron Benvenishti,
archeologist Magen Broshi, literary critic Ariel Hirschfeld and art critic Gideon Ofrat; they were joined by the
Palestinian archeologist Ibrahim al-Fani. Without prior coordination, the speakers -- each speaking from a different
field of expertise -- reached very similar conclusions: that Israeli history, art, and literature have all been
ignoring or even obscuring the Arab presence in Jerusalem (as in the whole country). Participans talked about the
need for more than concrete political action; a much deeper change in basic outlook would have to affect all spheres
Gush Shalom, POB 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033; fax: 03-5271108.
+++ The interview granted by General Nasser Yusuf, commander of the Palestinian
Police, to the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem weekly Yom Hashishi of October 27, was an event of far more than journalistic
importance. Addressing an issue of great concern to the paper's readers, General Yusuf pledged that under Palestinian
rule Orthodox Jews would be free to pray at all sites holy to them -- specifically mentioning the hotly disputed
and sensitive Patriachs' Cave/Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. General Yusuf also explicitly invited settlers to stay
in the territories once the army has withdrawn, and enjoy the same rights and privileges as Arab citizens enjoy
in Israel, "even better: they can be Palestinian citizens, they can also enlist in the Palestinian Police,
if they want to; I will welcome them in the force."
+++ On October 1, the "nuclear prisoner" Mordechai Vanunu started
a hunger strike in his cell at Ashkelon Prison, to protest his continuing total isolation. Unfortunately, Vanunu's
protest -- timed for the ninth anniversary of his kidnapping from Italy by Mossad agents -- coincided with the
dramatic concluding days of the Oslo-2 negotiations; there was little press attention left for Vanunu's strike,
or for the solidarity demonstration held by dozens of anti-nuclear activists in Tel-Aviv.
However, shortly after Vanunu ended his strike in failure, his case regained prominence
through the nomination of this year's Nobel Peace Prize laureate -- the veteran British anti-nuclear activist
Joseph Rotblatt, president of the renowned "Pugwash Conference." In several interviews, which emphasised
his being a Jew and Holocaust survivor, Rotblatt paid homage to Vanunu as a fellow "whistle-blower" and
proclaimed him a full and respectable member of the worldwide anti-nuclear movement.
An additional embarrassment to the government was given by Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister
Jan Egeland -- one of the architects of the original Oslo Agreement, and a personal friend of several Israeli decision-makers
-- who called for the release of Vanunu as "a contribution to the peace process."
As a kind of gesture to the international anti-nuclear movement, the government of Israel
issued a strongly-worded statement regarding... the French nuclear tests.
Meanwhile, the Israeli press continues to chip away at the walls of secrecy and censorship
surrounding the country's nuclear arms program. In an Ha'aretz editorial (Nov. 27) there was a casual mention that
Ben Gurion's decision to establish a nuclear missile system was, at the time, opposed by the Army's High Command.
Both Ben Gurion's decision and the army's reaction to it have never before been published in Israel; for many years,
military censorship prevented any hint of such things from reaching the public.
Contact: Mordechai Vanunu
Ashkelon Prison, POB 17, Ashkelon, Israel.
Vanunu Solidarity Committee, POB 7323, Jerusalem 91072;
+++ Since Oslo-2 was signed, the Palestinian inhabitants
of Qalqilia -- westernmost city of the West Bank, in close proximity to the pre-1967 border with Israel -- have
been eagerly looking forward to the army's evacuation of their city, scheduled to take place in mid-December. In
November, however, dozens of families on the outskirts of Qalqilia received notice that the army was taking over
their agricultural lands -- fields, orchards and olive groves. Military and government officials gave unclear and
contradicting explanations as to the use they intended to make of the seized lands: a road for the use of Israeli
settlers at a nearby settlement, a military camp, a "coordination center" where Israeli and Palestinian
representatives should regularly meet...
Political leaders in Qalqilia alerted their contacts in the Israeli peace movement. On
November 22, Gush Shalom held a press conference in Jerusalem, publicising the case and calling upon newly-installed
Prime Minister Peres to halt the confiscations -- with no perceptible response from the authorities. On November
25, about a hundred Gush Shalom members set out to hold a protest -- and were stopped by an army roadblock on the
old border, soon to become a border once more. On the other side, some fifty metres away, about 500 Qalqilia inhabitants
were demonstrating. The two groups shouted and waved to each other, and a few Israelis succeeded in going around
the soldiers. Later, the army allowed the Mayor of Qalqilia and other notables to cross to the Israeli side. From
them, the Gush Shalom demonstrators heard grave news: earlier that morning, the army announced its intention to
close indefinetely the border crossing between Qalqilia and Israel -- which could deal a fatal blow to the city's
economy, heavily reliant on Israelis (especially Israeli Arabs) who come shopping. Upon hearing this news, the
Israelis improvised at the spot new signs reading: Yes to peace -- no to the strangulation of Qalqilia!
Later that night, the army announced that the Qalqilia border crossing would not, after
all, be closed.
Contact: Gush Shalom, POB 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033.
+++ Also on November 25, several busloads of Peace Now supporters arrived at
Jenin -- the first Israeli delegation to visit this city since its evacuation by the army. They were afforded an
extremely cordial welcome at the town hall by the gathered local notables and political activists. The meeting
was opened with Israelis and Palestinians observing together a moment of silence for Yitzchak Rabin. Prof. Yochanan
Peres (no relation to the new Prime Minister) said: "The murderer of Rabin had many further plans. He could
have murdered any one of us in this room, Israelis or Palestinians. We are all in this together, partners on the
difficult way to peace".
Contact: Peace Now, POB 8159, Jerusalem 91081.
+++ In the wake of revelations about the murder of Egyptian POW's by Israeli
soldiers in 1956 and 1967, a three-day hunger strike (Sept. 4 to 6) was held opposite the Knesset by Evyatar Shapira
and Tali Al'ezra, both 19 years old, who demanded a full official investigation of the horrible affair (see TOI
67-68, p. 15).
The two -- usually involved in caring for stray cats, rather than political activity --
got some sympathy from individuals. A veteran army officer wrote: Reading these things after decades of devoted
military service, I ask myself: did I waste my life? The hunger strike failed, however, to gain the support of
Knesset Members or organised political bodies.
After a flurry of sensational revelations in August, the Israeli media and political system
seemed to relegate the matter to the level of a diplomatic row between Israel and Egypt, rather than a political
and moral problem which Israel must resolve for its own sake. This tendency was encouraged by the Egyptian opposition
press which -- not content with genuine eye-witness testimonies about the POW killings -- also published a vast
number of manifestly obvious falsehoods and fabrications.
+++ On October 2, a bare three days after the televised Washington ceremony
launching Oslo-2, a military order arrived for the 28-year old Eyal Abutbul of Ramat Ha'sharon to present himself
for a month of reserve service; his assignment -- to stand guard over Palestinian prisoners at Far'a Prison on
the West Bank. Abutbul arrived on schedule -- and told the commanding officer 'I would rather be a prisoner myself';
he was sent to spend 35 days at Athlit Prison, the place reserved for disobedient soldiers.
On October 21, the hill overlooking Abutbul's place of incarceration was the scene of
a Yesh Gvul demonstration, with some forty activists shouting as loud as they could "Eyal, we are with you!".
A prisoner was observed waving from the prison courtyard, but it was too distant to see his face.
Ironically, on the same day the army evacuated and dismantled Far'a Prison, soon to be
handed over to the Palestinian Police. The Palestinian prisoners in it were not, however, set free. They were transported,
under heavy guard, to another prison...
Contact: Yesh Gvul, POB 4172, Tel-Aviv 61041.
+++ With Oslo-2 signed, the years-long dedicated volunteer work of the Tel-Aviv
based WOFPP (Women for Women Political Prisoners) seemed at an end. The new agreement quite explicitly stipulated
-- as the result of long and exhausting negotiations -- that 'all female Palestinian prisoners and detainees' must
However, the issue of Palestinian prisoners -- and particularly of those involved in the
killing of Israelis -- is a deeply emotional one, where a deep gulf seperates the two peoples. In the eyes of most
Israelis, including supporters of the Labor-Meretz government, such prisoners are terrorists and murderers and
their release is, at best, an extremely distasteful necessity. But virtually all Palestinians, including those
who support the peace process, regard the same prisoners as fighters for national liberation, and their continued
incarceration -- as incompatible with peace.
Public sensitivity to the prisoner issue provided a convenient climate for a right-wing
campaign against the release of "the murderer women." President Weitzman, whose signature was needed
to grant pardon to the prisoners and who has long courted the right-wing, refused to sign the pardons of "prisoners
with blood on their hands" -- thus making the unprecedented show of a Head of State (albeit titular) breaking
the treaty just ratified by his country's parliament.
When the news came to Hasharon Prison, the women prisoners who did get a presidential
pardon proclaimed a remarkable act of solidarity, refusing to be released [this article continued
from p14 to p19]
and voluntarily staying with the others behind the prison walls. (The authorities considered -- and finally
rejected -- the idea of dragging these women out by main force, in view of the waiting TV cameras.)
Hava Cohen, veteran WOFPP organiser, told us: "I was very angry and disappointed,
I all the time thought about these girls to whom freedom had been promised. Exactly then it was announced that
the president was going to hold 'an open house.' I just went there and stood in line. There were many people in
front of me, each shaking the president's hand and moving on. When it was my turn, I left Weitzman's hand hanging
in the air and said 'You notice the blood on the hands of a poor epileptic girl, but not on the hands of those
who murdered the Egyptian POW's. Is it because then, the blood fell into the sand?' He did not answer me, but his
face became suddenly very pale."
Contact: WOFPP, POB 31811, Tel-Aviv 61318;
Peres' hour of truth
The following is the translation of Avnery's article for Ma'ariv (Nov. 27) immediately following the formation
of Peres' new cabinet.
The dramatic and tragic circumstances which brought him to power bestow on Shimon Peres
a very special responsibility. Never before did an Israeli Prime Minister start his term of office at the crest
of such an enormous wave. Peres enjoys an unprecedented reservoir of good-will. The upsurge of the public, of the
youths, the sharp accusations leveled at the religious extreme right give him a virtually unlimited authorization
to carry out what is seen as his predecessor's last will -- an immediate move forward to peace.
There are historical, fateful moments in which practically everything is possible; where
one daring act -- impossible a moment before, and impossible again a moment later -- could change the course of
history. The greatness of a real leader lies in recognizing such a moment, seizing upon it and using it to the
full. In order to be a great leader, Shimon Peres would have to overcome just one problem: Shimon Peres.
On arriving in power, there were the following options before him.
+++ To hold elections immediately.
What makes it favorable: The Likud demands that no new steps be taken "until the
elections," and that "crucial decisions" not be taken on the strength of a single Knesset vote.
The Likud claims to represent "half of the people." New elections giving the government an overwhelming
popular mandate would be a perfect answer. And it is beyond doubt that elections in the present atmosphere would
lead to a large majority for the peace coalition, and possibly a parliamentary majority for the Labor Party by
itself, which it never had before.
The price: Peres would be accused of making political capital out of the murder, the kind
of accusation to which he -- with his reputation as "the great manipulator" -- is particularly vulnerable.
But also without immediate elections, there remain three other options.
+++ Peace with Syria.
In favor: Such an achievement will resound throughout the country and the world, ensure
success in next year's elections and will make it possible to put the Palestinian issue on hold. The settlers
on the West Bank will gladly sacrifice their fellow colonists on the Golan in order to "save Eretz Yisra'el."
It could appeal to the Army High Command, and emphasize the difference between Peres and Rabin.
The price: The situation on the Palestinian issue would once again approach the boiling
point. Arafat's position would weaken and the lead be taken by the Hamas.
+++ To move full speed ahead with the Palestinians.
In favor: Such an achievement would be seen as fulfillment of Rabin's last will, and therefore
probably ensure electoral success no less than the previous option -- plus that it would guarantee Peres' a place
in history and vindicate the third of the Nobel Peace Prize which he got. Dramatic gestures of rconciliation could
be made, such as: starting immediate negotiations on the definite solution, offering immdiate compensation to settlers
who are ready to leave, releasing all Palestinian prisoners, declaring Israeli willingness to discuss a Palestinian
state and a compromise in Jerusalem.
The price: A head-on confrontation with the settlers and their allies.
+++ To jump into the swamp of "national unity" and "reconciliation," abstaining from
any political initiative beyond the implementation of Oslo-2.
In favor: Any politician would like to appear as the leader of the entire people, beloved
of everybody. Peres, who was for many years hounded and unpopular, widely regarded as "unreliable," is
even more than others vulnerable to this need of being loved. He can now fulfill this need. The settlers and their
allies, routed and disgraced as they are by the Rabin murder, need legitimacy desperately and are willing to pay
The price: Stopping the peace process once evacuation of the Palestinian cities is completed
in March 1966, and turning these cities into permanent ghettos surrounded by settlements. Reinforcing these settlements,
whose inhabitants are determined to prevent peace. Totally losing the historical chance.
So what is Peres going to choose?
He has already ruled out the early elections idea. He already wasted the crucial first
days on "reconciliation" with the right and on trying to gain the allegiance of the National Religious
Party. By so doing, he has already diverted the great popular movement which arose after the murder. All the lower
rank party hacks, sensing this direction of the new leader, are quick to fit themselves to it -- as
does the Peace Now movement. Thus, the settlers are already getting back their respectability and the anti-peace
front is reordering its ranks.
But still, it is difficult to know what Peres really means to do. Unlike Rabin, who used
to draw straight lines, Peres is a devious politician, who might try to combine two options.
He could for example concentrate on the Syrian track, while giving the Palestinians no
more than a ceremonial opening of the definite solution talks -- but keeping both Palestinians and
settlers mollified by verbal promises, eventual statehood to the former, eventual annexation to the latter.
That would be a reasonable calculation for a sophisticated politician -- but a big failure for the
statesman. Nothing less than the loss of a historic opportunity.
Posterity will judge Shimon Peres for what he is going to do in these crucial weeks. Will
he eventually be among the statesmen, reaching even higher than his predecessor, or will he end his career as a
shrewed but mediocre politician? In this supreme test, I wish him success from the depth of my heart.
From enemy to friend
Perhaps nothing illustrates better the power of words than the story of Dan Almagor and
his years-long complicated relationship with Yitzchak Rabin.
It started seven years ago at the square which today bears Rabin's name. The popular satirist
and song writer Almagor had been invited as one of the speakers at a peace rally commemmorating the first anniversary
of the Intifada. It was his speech which resounded for days in the memory of everybody who was there (see TOI-35,
p.4,5). In a fiery address against the army's conduct in the Occupied Territories he read his new poem entitled
'We shoot children, don't we?'. There followed a media scandal, and soon Defence Minister Rabin announced in the
Knesset that Dan Almagor would not anymore be called to do reserve service in the army's Education Corps because
a person who accuses our soldiers of murdering children is unfit to educate them.
This was just the beginning of an enormous stream of attacks. Not only in the right-wing
fringe press but also in "respectable" papers was Almagor dubbed "traitor", "madman"
and worse. The answering machine in his home was flooded with obscene messages, and on one day, his car was set
on fire -- the responsibility being claimed by the "Sikarikim."*
(...) With the skeleton of my burned car outside the window, I sat at my desk to write
yet another biting anti-Rabin article. I was not just angry with Rabin -- I hated him! (During the preparations
for a demonstration opposite the Defence Ministry, it was me who thought up especially vitriolic anti-Rabin slogans.)
Nevertheless, I had a second thought. What, beyond giving me personally some instant satisfaction, would be the
effect of neatly putting together a serious of venomous words? Would it stop the hatred and violence? Would it
stop the larger violence engulfing the West Bank and Gaza Strip?
It was then that Almagor decided to address Rabin directly in an open letter, published
in Davar a few days later (9.1.'89). In it, Almagor reminded Rabin of his own famous Mount Scopus Speech of 1967,
in which, as a victorious general, Rabin himself had expressed compassion with the suffering of the enemy. Almagor
even recalled a poem of Aharon Ze'ev, calling upon the children of the world to unite and swear: when we grow up,
we will not kill, not dirty our hands with blood. That same Aharon Ze'ev had been Rabin's teacher in the elemantary
In the letter, Almagor put to Rabin the straightforward question what was so wrong with
his controversial poem in which he merely asked At least not to shoot children, no more children!/ (...) Let's
rise, instead, and start talking peace / What our enemies truly want / Is to harvest their olives, in the groves/
Which they cultivated for generations / Most of them truly want peace / To bring up their children / Not to throw
stones or raise molotov cocktails / But to let them study in peace / Play in peace and raise flags / Their own
flag, and cry / When they see it, like we cried / On that emotional night.
It will probably never be known with certainty whether this letter, this poem of Dan Almagor,
had an impact. But in Rabin's famous words directed towards the Palestinians, following the famous handshake with
Arafat on the White House lawn, it was as if Rabin was adding a couplet: We, like you, want to build our homes,
to plant our trees, to live and love at your side, as free human beings.
A few days after the murder of Rabin, Almagor reflected on all this in Kol Ha'ir
(Nov.10), writing: This is a story of several enemies who became friends: in fact, of how I became from an enemy
to a friend, because the man who was my enemy became the friend of his greatest enemy.
* This Jewish terrorist group, which identified with the extremists among the ancient Zealots, the Sicarii (Knifemen),
conducted similar raids on several other leftists, but the police never succeeded in apprehending them. In this
connection, the letter of Joseph Achimeir, then trusted aide of Prime Minister Shamir, is remarkable. Achimeir
had issued an official letter, on stationary of The Prime Minister's Office, stating that "Dan Almagor joined
the enemies of Israel, (...) the club of those who will destroy and those who will annihilate." It so happens
that this Achimeir is the son of Abba Achimeir, who in the 1930s headed an earlier extremist group also calling
itself "The Sikarikim.")
Outburst of sweetness
November 13, the day after the memorial on what is now called the Rabin Square. After nine exhausting days of mass
mourning, the long week of the Candle Children; the revolution with the sweetest ever demands -- peace and
tolerance, and no more violence.
For once I did not find myself among the sarcastic few. Unlike some friends who thought
that it was a "politically incoherent" or even dangerous trend, I felt drawn in. This wasn't just a collective
outburst of sentimentality which would pass with no traces. I had the feeling of a strong undercurrent pushing
a segment of the society over a rift, turning the scales. And weren't there some facts to prove it? The nationalists'
long-held claim to be the "evidently better patriots" was evidently in tatters. The right-wing, and especially
the nationalist religious elements, were put on the defensive. To hear a terrorist, the murderer of no one less
than the prime minister, no one less than Rabin, justify his action in the name of the Jewish religion was beyond
what most people in this passionate, militaristic country could digest, and suddenly there was no more need on
the Israeli street to apologise for wanting simply "peace."
Surely, all this passion would leave a lot of problems unsolved. But no doubt something
was happening. With an enormous force the Israeli people was being moved a little bit further on the road to peace.
For such small changes peace activists are always trying so hard. It is however their fate to be only involved
in paving the way, preparing the concepts. Others, bigger in number, take from it the slogans that suit them --
when the time comes. Shouldn't peace activists
be generous at such times, and enjoy that at last some of their ideas are being taken up?
I did not go to the vigil, on November 9, at Dizengof Square in Tel-Aviv, called for by
the Communists, against the danger of fascism. In this period to stand with some dozens, always the same faces,
and to proudly confront mourning Israel with old slogans -- I just could not do it. I was afraid that suddenly
seeing something well-known -- the red flag of the left fringe -- would only serve the right-wing. (About
that I might have been wrong. Others who did go reported that, on the contrary, quite a number of youngsters who
happened to pass by were willing to join the vigil for a while.)
I felt that the important struggle is now elsewhere. Rabbi Amital of the moderate religious
Memad Movement had made a courageous speech in front of TV cameras. This cautiously dovish movement so far did
not succeed in gaining representation in the Knesset on an independent slate. And the case of Rabbi Bin-Nun, member
of the settlers' Yesha Council, who has to wear a bullet-proof vest since he threatened to give names of rabbis
who had authorized political murder! I wanted to express support for them, the dissidents of the other camp, who
have a commitment to democracy and tolerance, and the guts to go against the stream. The government cannot afford
to work on the basis of national unity before the controversial peace process is finished. But why could I, a peace
activist, not try to foster understanding?
I phoned my old Dutch friend Ruth Lange. It is very seldom that we see each other. She,
the mother and grandmother of a large religious family, with a full-time job as a social worker, is always very
busy, and I, to, have little spare time. But on the rare occasions that we do make time for each other, we cross
the gap between our different worlds easily. This time, though, her first reaction when I phoned days after the
assassination, was apprehensive: "I hope you don't have any doubts as to where we stand."
When I came to visit Gershon, Ruth's husband, was there too. Gershon is a physicist and
rabbi -- though he never very much emphasized his religious title. I also saw two of their six children -- Itamar
who prepared dinner for us (it was Monday, his turn) and Nava who, as I soon found out, had been the day before,
in Tel-Aviv among the quarter million mourners.
We had a lively discussion, open and not hostile. We talked about responsibility. They
rejected the idea of being especially "responsible." They were disgusted with the murder like everybody
and according to their interpretation of the Halacha (religious law) there was no question of it
society as a whole. The climate of intolerance, the absence of respect for the other side, calling opponents "traitor"
or "fascist", all this was not the monopoly of the religious, and not even of the right-wing part of
the Israeli public. And, did Rabin himself not contribute to the climate of hostility? He did not try to sweeten
the bitter pills for the opposition. He did not really have the patience to speak to the settlers and on several
occasions he insulted them. People in the settlements felt that they were left in place for the time being as negotiation
chips, but that the government did not really care about them. Many of the settlers were piling up anger not only
because they were ideologically opposed to giving up parts of Eretz Yisra'el, but also because of being attached
to their homes and because of fear.
I was struck by the paradox that the non-ideological settlers are abused by two sides:
by the government which does not do anything to help them start a new life inside Israel, and by the Yesha Council
which is not representing their interests, gambling everything on the lost cause of preserving the settlements.
Why, when the peace process must go on, not make an increased effort on behalf of those who will have to pay the
price? Why not offer already now, to settlers who want to leave, financial compensations?
We had to stop our conversation abruptly. Hours had passed quickly and I had to catch
the bus to Tel-Aviv. At the doorstep Ruth told me about another son, Ofer, who on that very day had started a five
weeks term of military reserve service. The evening before he had been at the Rabin memorial, and nearly straight
from there he went to Nablus (she called it by its Biblical name "Sh'chem"). I did not know exactly what
On the way home I realised that when the army will be withdrawing from Nablus next month,
I might see Ofer on television among the soldiers, wearing his yarmulka and smiling goodbye to the cheering Palestinians.
' ' '
+++ At the end of October, several dozen Israelis and Palestinians -- many of them with close ties to their
respective administrations -- gathered at a secluded spot in the English countryside, to hold several days of intensive
talks on the eventual fate of the settlements. In frank discussions, the various possibilities and variants were
discussed: evacuating the settlements and giving compensations to their inhabitants; leaving them in place under
Palestinian rule, with the settlers having the right to Palestinian citizenship and/or residence; leaving them
in place under Israeli military protection, as at present; annexing some of them to Israel and giving the Palestinians,
in compensation, some parcels of pre-'67 Israeli territory (uninhabited or inhabited by Arabs).
The Jerusalem-based IPCRI, which organised the event, originally had no intention of publicizing
it; rather, it was intended to give a chance for quiet, informal exchanges to facilitate the eventual official
negotiations. It was exposed to the press by the one
bona-fide settler who was induced to take part in the proceedings, Prof. Hillel Weis -- an ideologue of the settler
"civil disobedience campaign." He had gone to England, against the advice of fellow-settlers, in order
"to show the Arabs what a real Jew looks like" as he put it; at the conference, he proceeded with all
seriousness to present "a peace plan" based on the exclusive Jewish right, not only to the land presently
under Israeli rule but also to the whole of Jordan and to considerable parts of Egypt, Syria and Iraq as well.
The Palestinian participants seemed more amused than offended by Weis' earnest efforts
to present to them this plan. One of them, an academic who several times advised the Palestinian negotiators with
Israel, told TOI: 'This Professor Weis, when you talk with him privately, is not such a bad fellow. He is not the
only settler I talked with; recently I get more and more approaches from them, some even invite me to address small
groups in their settlements. Whatever their views, if they are willing to talk, so am I.'
Israel/Palestine Centre for Research and Information
POB 51358, Jerusalem 912513.
The big question
The assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin came as a shock to the vast majority
of the Israeli population. True, for years violence, shooting and killing had been part of the daily scene. But
that violence was part of the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians -- with Arabs killed by Israeli
soldiers and settlers remaining anonymous, the press often not bothering to mention their names, while in-depth
stories on Israeli victims of suicide bombings fill the front pages for days. Jews and Arabs killing each other
was one thing. But the killing of the Prime Minister by a Jew -- that was beyond comprehension! Only
the most determined peace militants had been warning that Israeli fascists, or wild chauvinists, were not so different
from their counterparts throughout the world. Calling oneself "The Chosen People" is easier than
by one's ideas and deeds daily proving to be so. On the contrary, the closely intertwined notions of nation and
religion, contained in the concept "Judaism," put us in the very precarious position where religious
fanatism has entered the political debate, and often is a decisive factor in external policy decisions.
This being said, the unbelievable and unforeseen event, the murder of the Prime Minister,
caused a sincere grief and brought vast masses to pay tribute to Rabin, whether at his coffin, at the graveside
or on the spot of the crime. Outstanding was the prominence of youngsters who arrived in huge numbers, kindling
candles, singing mourning and protest songs in a very dignified way. Part of the explanation for this massive youth
turnout was their longing that peace would put an end to the killing (just a few weeks earlier, nine young soldiers
killed in Lebanon had been laid to rest). Only few dared to express the view that Rabin had been "a traitor
giving up 'holy' land" and they had been silenced quickly. The right-wing opposition and many of the religious
educators crossed the lines overnight and had to defend themselves, apologizing that they "had not meant,"
they"had not imagined" etc.
Before the assassination, Likud leader Netanyahu seemed to have good chances to defeat
Rabin in next year's direct elections for Prime Minister. According to hastily arranged telephone polls, now Peres
would receive an overwhelming majority. The composition of the Knesset would change less, but at this moment many
of the Likud voters could be regarded as floating, abandoning their previous political home but not yet convinced
to change it for a different one. Of course, these polls had been conducted while the initial shock had not yet
been overcome and many future events might still effect the outcome of the next elections.
Conspicuous has also been the grief of the Palestinian population both in the Occupied
Territories and in Israel proper (as opposed to the attitude of the Palestinians living in refugee camps in Lebanon,
who have been ignored by the existing agreements). In spite of the shortcomings of the Oslo Accord and the frustration
caused by its slow implementation, the Palestinians had become convinced that the Rabin Government was advancing
towards withdrawal from the Occupied Territories and towards Palestinian self-determination. Now, they were worried
whether this process would continue.
Will it continue? On the whole, Rabin's successor Shimon Peres had been regarded during
the past three years as a man of vision and much daring while Rabin had been seen as the cautious man, putting
in the centre of his considerations mainly the military and security aspects of any agreement. It was Shimon Peres
who stepped into the secret negotiations, conducted by his aids in the Foreign Ministry -- after informal
and academic discussions had shown that there was a common basis for the two sides. Only after Peres had become
involved did Rabin give his approval to the continued talks and to the common paper achieved.
But this is exactly Peres' problem. Marching in the footsteps of the former Prime Minister,
Peres will be judged all the time by his ability to maintain Israels' security and prevent any terrorist acts by
Islamic fundamentalists. At the time of writing the composition of the new government is yet unknown but the rumour
has spread that Peres will hold also the portfolio of Defence. In the nearby election, Peres will want to catch
a major part of the floating votes by displaying a responsible and cautious policy.
Until then he also has to deal with the minimal majority he holds in the Knesset, especially
since even this majority is far from secure. Some of his own party's Knesset Members are unreliable and quite hawkish
in their attitudes. They have to be pressed again and again at any important vote that is due. Peres is known for
his more radical views regarding a peace settlement with Syria. He is believed to be ready to accede to the international
borders that existed between Mandatory Palestine and Syria
before 1948 -- as opposed to the Syrian demand that Israel withdraw to the pre-1967 armistice lines
which would give the Syrians an additional slice of land. It is however difficult to see how Peres could step forward
with any such proposal prior to the forthcoming elections. He probably can do not much more than widening the range
of communication channels, not limiting the talks with the Syrians to the one, military channel which was agreed
to by Rabin.
In May 1996, negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians on a permanent settlement
should start and be concluded within a period of three years. Nobody believes that during the first six months,
until Israeli elections, these negotiations would already bear fruit -- whoever conducts them.
There does not exist any formal position of the Israeli government with regard to such
a final peace agreement, but there seems to be an understanding with regard to three major points: 1) No independent
Palestinian state should be established; 2) The eastern security border of Israel should coincide with the Jordan
River; and 3) The whole of Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel, not allowing any national Palestinian foothold
inside the city. To these demands the late Prime Minister Rabin had added, not long ago, that by "Jerusalem"
he had meant also vast neighborhoods around the city, enlarging it even further, and that different areas (as Gush
Etzion, Ariel etc.) inside the West Bank, which had been relatively densely populated by Israeli settlers, should
also be annexed. In fact, huge efforts are being made under the present regime to create a fait accompli around
Jerusalem, taking advantage of the fact that the future of Jerusalem would be decided upon only at a later
Though Israel will certainly stick to these demands there is hope that on some of these
points an agreement, with the help of the international community, could be reached. The "security border"
along the Jordan could be established through joint Israeli-Palestinian reconnaissances. The Israeli notion of
establishing a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation is not rejected offhandedly by the Palestinians, who are saying
that such a confederation could be established only by the free will of two independent states.
The real difficult question is and remains the question of Jerusalem. No gimmicks, such
as religious rights or solutions on the municipal level, are able to overcome the problem of shared sovereignty
of Jerusalem and its serving as the capital for both states -- Israel and Palestine. Will Israel, under
Peres' leadership, be capable of reconsidering its position? That is the big question.
' ' '
+++ Following the Prisoners Affair, Gush Shalom decided to hold a protest demonstration outside the Presidential
Mansion in Jerusalem. Some fifty activists, with placards and banners calling upon Weitzman to resign, arrived
on the spot at the afternoon of October 17. By that day, however, the prisoner issue had been pushed off the headlines
by a sudden escalation of the ongoing guerrilla war in South Lebanon: nine Israeli soldiers had been killed in
two Hizbullah ambushes. With the country in shock and a public debate raging in the media over Israeli presence
in Lebanon, the anti-Weitzman protest -- scheduled several days in advance -- seemed awfully irrelevant.
The best which could be done was to conclude the vigil at the Presidential Mansion a bit
sooner than planned and walk the short distance to the Residence of the Prime Minister -- the person most directly
responsible for the decision to keep the army in Lebanon. There, a new set of placards was spread out: Bring the
soldiers back from Lebanon -- Now!
Who could have thought that, just two weeks later, many of these same activists would
find themselves on the same spot, not demonstrating but lighting candles in mourning for another casualty, the
Prime Minister himself?
Contact: Gush Shalom, POB 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033;
Once again, the enormous rush of events and the extra-curricular involvement of our staff
in them forced us to miss our schedule and get into print a month late -- for which we compensate you with a double
Actually, TOI-70 should have become a birthday issue. It is exactly twenty years ago,
in December 1975, that the Israeli public first heard of a leftist group advocating the crazy idea of talking to
the PLO -- the group whose newsletter you are reading. It would have been nice to write a lot about our own history,
and boast a little. However, the murder of a prime minister who at long last tried to implement some of these ideas
we talked about, plus the sad loss of our Ya'akov Arnon -- so soon after the passing of Matti Peled -- left us
in no mood for birthday parties.
So, here it is, this issue, the only way in which it could be written this month.
The editorial staff
A personal word
For over a decade, I have been writing against Yitzchak Rabin and his policies -- no wonder
that quite a few people asked me for my reaction after the murder. Some may have been surprised to hear me say
without hesitation: "It is as if the bullets have hit my own body."
What I feel is like what Spanish Socialists must have felt in 1936. Then, too, there
were mainstream politicians, conservatives, who in the hour of truth stood up for democracy, against fascism --
and paid for it with their lives.
I am still in opposition to the government. I am still opposed to continued Israeli rule
over Arab East Jerusalem and more than ever I firmly support the creation of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders
-- with, at the most, very minor modifications. All this does not change the fact that I and my friends are,
together with the government and its supporters, part of a wider democratic camp. This past week has revealed the
depth of the abyss separating this entire camp from the others -- those who, since the Intifada, have more and
more openly displayed their basic hostility to democracy, to the rule of law, and in particular, to the political
equality of all Israeli citizens, Jewish and Arab.
I have often depicted Defence Minister Rabin as the standard-bearer of oppression -- the
man who ordered the breaking of Palestinian bones, the deportations, bombardments and air strikes, and the extra-judicial
"liquidations" by the "Special Units."
I don't take back one word of what I said in the past; I didn't move an inch closer to
where Rabin used to stand -- but he definitely did move in my direction.
It is not by accident that, on the last hour of his life, Rabin sang "The Peace Song,"
our song. It is no accident, as David Grossman noted, that in his last rally Rabin was loudly cheered by people
who, but a few years earlier, booed him just as loudly.
At this moment, the ideological differences dividing the community of Israeli peace seekers
don't seem to count. I wholeheartedly feel at one with those who manifested this week their love for peace through
expressions of love for Rabin, and pain at his passing.
During this dark week, in which I deeply mourned a man whom I had never loved, I felt
comforted by the massive upsurge in the society -- by so many people who shook aside their hedonism, broke out
of their slumber and stood forth, proud of their values, making their voice heard in a strong and unmistakeable
way. After years of passively enduring humiliations from the right, the rampant peace camp rediscovered its vitality
and solidarity, its anger and humanity, and went out on the streets.
Shortly before the Rabin murder, a commentator considered to be left-wing came out in
his weekly column with praise for "the settlers' idealism" which he contrasted to "the hedonism
of the left." I felt impelled to write a rebuttal, explaining that I prefer the most empty-headed yuppie to
"idealists" whose ideals consist of chauvinism and racism, with or without religious flavour.
But I was quite wrong in writing about "empty-headed yuppies," and I owe a sincere
apology to the tens of thousands of youths who this week went out on the streets in a refreshing mixture of styles
and who expressed themselves unequivocally.
They have done much more to save Israeli society from the clutches of fascism than anything
I and my friends did in the past two decades. Yigal Amir, the assassin, has pushed all of us out of our complacence;
he has forced us to stand up for our ideals, to declare our commitment to fight for the dawning light of a future
peace and not let the dream be drowned by the threatening darkness.
For decades, the religious-nationalists have been waging a campaign to conquer the heart
of Israeli society. Ironically, the most decisive blow against them was struck by one of their own -- Yigal Amir,
who was nurtured in their educational system and who took their teachings to their extreme logical conclusion.
I am sure that, in spite of their crocodile tears, some of them will soon restart their demagoguery; they may even
pose as the victims of "a smear campaign," as they have done in the past. But I can't see how they could
really recover from this blow.
At his first court appearance, the murderer tried to justify his heinous deed by reiterating
the argument that a government relying on Arabs for its parliamentary majority is illegitimate. This was not Amir's
own invention; the same argument has been endlessly repeated by "respectable" Likud leaders -- not to
mention those of the smaller right-wing parties.
In his last television interview, made three days before his death, Rabin vehemently denounced
this argument for the pure racism it is. In the aftermath of the assassination, Knesset Member Dan Meridor
-- one of the few declared liberals in the Likud leadership -- belatedly echoed him, speaking out for the
rule of law and for basic democratic principles. Such talk may now have more chance of being heard, even in the
Only six days have passed since Rabin's assassination, but we all feel -- and rightly
so -- that a whole new historical epoch has started. At his death, Rabin left his people and society in a much
better shape than they have been for a long time -- which is, perhaps, the best you can say for a political leader.
(Adapted from Kol Ha'ir.)
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