It is that time of year. Time to remember. Time to apologize. Time to worry. Above all, it's time we learned the lessons of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination instead of exploiting it to justify this side or that.
While schools across the country run special programs on the Hebrew anniversary (11 Heshvan) on the importance of tolerance and democracy, outside the classroom children too young to even remember Rabin as prime minister learn a very different lesson: In a ritual as predictable as the mass memorial sing-along in Tel Aviv, the family going to the grave and the speeches in the Knesset and President's Residence, the Hebrew-language media dwell on the role of the Right, the religious and the settlers in creating the atmosphere in which the dastardly murder took place. They also judge whether the aforementioned communities (which probably account for half the Jewish population of the country) are remembering him in a suitable fashion, with sufficient soul-searching and pain. They usually find the accused guilty.
Perhaps we all have the Rabin we want to remember. The Rabin I like to recall was no saint, but neither was he the devil. Working as the Post's parliamentary reporter in the period following Oslo II, I had the privilege (and sometimes pleasure) of seeing Rabin close-up and often.
As talk once again revolves around the perceived rightist incitement that created the atmosphere in which a Jewish assassin could fire three shots into the back of the prime minister in the heart of Tel Aviv, I remember Rabin's own dismissiveness. Had he not been tragically cut down, his Knesset speech comparing Golan Heights residents opposed to withdrawal to "spinning propellers," for example, would probably still be broadcast as a sound with a particular bite.
Indeed, it is sobering to recall that the most divisive debates in the Knesset in that period did not concern the possible withdrawal from the Gaza Strip but pulling out of the Golan Heights.
My last strong memory of Rabin was at the Labor faction weekly meeting a few days before he was killed. He was in an uncannily good mood. The atmosphere was so relaxed after such a tense period that I quipped with another reporter that we should investigate the reason for his high spirits. "He's probably just given away the Golan," the journalist replied. Within a week, that comment would have fallen into the forever broadened category of "incitement." Nonetheless, it was his elated mood that week - and even more noticeably at the peace rally where he met his death - that made his murder even more jarring. He had made his peace with longtime political rival Shimon Peres and seemed to be at peace with himself in a way he hadn't been leading up to the Oslo Accords and certainly since the agreements had immediately started to literally blow up in streets and buses across the country.
I had witnessed Rabin signing the First Oslo Accord, recognizing the PLO, in a tense, downbeat ceremony in his office early one Friday morning in September 1993 - far from the stage show that later took place on the White House lawn.
The Rabin I'd rather remember is not some kind of dead saint but a very real human being. I'd always assumed it would be his chain-smoking that would kill him.
One of the strongest memories I have of Rabin came from a tour he made of the newly renovated Mandate-period Illegal Immigrants Camp at Atlit in 1993. Here, Rabin nostalgically recalled his own experiences as the deputy commander of a Palmah operation in which 201 immigrants broke out one night. The Palmahniks had to get the newcomers - most of them newly arrived from the horrors of the Holocaust - up the mountain to the safety of Kibbutz Beit Oren. Rabin picked up a two-year-old, sat him on his shoulders and set off as fast as he could. "Halfway up I thought, 'I'm really sweating,'" Rabin recalled. "Then I realized the warm, wet trickle down my back was coming from the toddler. But this is just one of the things I had to do to serve my country," he added. His trademark half-smile flitted across his face, serving as a quiet exclamation mark.
I also saw Rabin the family man long before the country was exposed to the indelibly disturbing image of his granddaughter, Noa Ben-Artzi, sobbing through the eulogy at his grave. I watched as Rabin took his wife and grandchildren with him to Petra in Jordan, a site that once symbolized for Israelis the very concept of inaccessibility. Arik Lavie's Hasela Haadom, The Red Rock, "from which no man has ever returned alive," was the anthem of the generations before the peace treaty with Jordan. During the visit, talented amateur photographer that he was, Rabin stopped to take shots of the splendors of the Nabatean city while Leah Rabin nagged him in that wifely way to drink more.
There was also the Rabin I saw with Jordan's King Hussein, on the podium as the peace treaty was signed at Ein Evrona and later on the lawn at the king's palace in Aqaba, displaying the ease and chemistry of old friends.
These are memories I have published before. But they are worth remembering again - small consolation as Rabin's name is dragged through discussions more inciteful than insightful on the meaning of democracy and free speech. Happy memories to share when the peace with Jordan is - if not going up in smoke - smoldering around the edges as surely as Israeli flags were being burned in the Hashemite kingdom this week, 15 years after the peace treaty was signed.
Fourteen years after November 4 became far more than just another date, one wonders what Rabin would have made of it all. I can imagine that smile of irony would cross his lips before he lit up another cigarette.
This year, the first to raise the ghost of Rabin was Haaretz, which saw fit to publish private letters by Leah Rabin in which she called Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (then in office for the first time) "corrupt" and "a liar." Their publication was condemned by his daughter, Dalia Rabin, who presumably realized it brought no honor to either of her parents or to Netanyahu in Round II as premier.
Equally embarrassing were the attempts by Peace Now activists to encourage right-wing MKs and personalities into condemning anybody connected with Oslo and the peace process in a mock documentary. The fiasco resulted in the desired outrageous statements being aired, alongside news that Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin had banned Peace Now Secretary-General Yariv Oppenheimer from entering the Knesset until further notice.
Left-wing politicians and activists, those whose camp had no problem shouting "murderer" outside the window of prime minister Menachem Begin in the First Lebanon War - or even condemning Ariel Sharon until his sharp Left turn produced the Gaza disengagement plan - once more accused the Right of dangerously abusing the rights of freedom of expression.
More than a decade later, it is sadder than ever that instead of focusing on the real dangers facing Israel - the country and its society - there are those who prefer to use Rabin's name as a tool of delegitimization. May he rest in peace.