20 years has passed since Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s Prime Minister, was murdered by a fanatical Israeli, Yigal Amir, who decided that he had a mandate to decide what was right and best for the people and the State of Israel.

I remember the night of Rabin’s murder as if it was yesterday. Those were days when, for many, there seemed to be a real chance for an agreement with the Palestinians, a way forward and out of the endless circle of violence that has been our lot for so many years. There were fears, trepidation and uncertainty. We were talking and making agreements with people who just a short while ago had declared openly that they sought the destruction of Israel, organizations that organized hijackings, bombs, shootings and killing against Jews, not only in Israel but around the world. But for many of us – it was a chance, a risk that was worth taking.

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It was also a time of great dissent and debate writhing Israel with options regarding the peace process being divided. There were many, like myself, who supported the process and others who saw it as a danger to Israel’s continued existence.
It was a period when incitement and hatred were encouraged by many political groups inside Israel. Pictures of Rabin in a Nazi SS uniform, coffins paraded through the streets with slogans such as “Rabin – this is for you” painted in red. Demonstrations chanting “Rabin is a traitor”, “Rabin should be shot” and even worse.


Prominent figures, both political and religious, stated that Rabin’s actions were criminal and that he was destroying the State of Israel. Many rabbi’s, with immense influence on large communities declared that Rabin’s actions sentenced him to “Din Moser”, in effect, legitimization to kill him for his actions that they saw as being directed against the Jewish people.
That night, I was in what was then “Kikar Malchai Yisrael” in Tel Aviv. Hundreds of thousands of people packed the square and the surrounding street. There was an atmosphere of euphoria, of hope. Politicians and prominent people came to the stage to speak. Artists sung songs and the crowd cheered and waved the Israeli flag in their thousands.
The final song of the evening was “Shir HaShalom” – the Song of Peace, a song that has, for decades embodied our yearning for peace with our neighbors. Rabin, who was known as being a very reserved person, even sang a few bars of the song with a huge smile on his face.

Then the celebration ended.

Later we learned that the Secret Service had intelligence that Arab terrorists planned to assasinate Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin – both of whom were on the stage.

They told the two leaders to leave separately.

Peres left first, escorted by friends and his close protection agents. Later film footage showed that the murderer was close to Peres and could easily have shot him. But he decided to wait for Rabin – the Prime Minister.

Rabin came down from the stage. He was relaxed, talking to people, shaking hands.

From where we were standing, we could just see the crowd of people surrounding him when suddenly, pandemonium erupted in his vicinity. We hadn’t heard any shots, nobody knew what was going on and rumors, as they do, spread faster than the speed of light.

People were screaming, police were running with weapons drawn, sirens, police cars, people trying to get closer, others trying to leave the square – chaos.

Slowly the word spread through the crowd – “Rabin has been shot”, “He’s injured but OK”, “He’s dead”. The feeling of euphoria which had gripped us just a short while earlier was replaced by fear, worry, despair.

The came the announcement by Eitan Huber, one of Rabi’s closest advisors who told us and the world that Yitzhak Rabin, one of Israel’s greatest military heroes, a statesman, our Prime Minister, was dead, shot by a Jewish assassin.

I remember, as a young boy in the UK, listening to the news of President Kennedy’s assassination and how shocked and sad I was. This was a 1000 times worse.

The next few days saw a country distraught with grief. Even amongst those who were opposed to the Oslo Agreement, there was a sense of deep, almost overwhelming sadness.

Thousands of people congregated around the spot where Rabin was gunned down in cold blood, lighting candles, singing together, crying together, wondering what the future would hold.
But there others who rejoiced in the murder, who praised the assassin, calling him a hero, the “deliverer” of Israel from the “evil” one.
Never before had Israel been so divided between left and right.

20 years on and the pain is still there and peace between Israel and her neighbors seems further away than ever before.

The divisions in Israeli society between right and left have, if anything, grown wider with extremists on all sides becoming increasingly vocal and violent. It is almost considered legitimate to physically attack those who think differently, those who see another way of solving the decade’s long conflict with the Arab world.

Politicians, artists, public figures are bombarded with threats on Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media platforms. Extremist groups demand (and put into practice) the biblical “eye for an eye” policy but rather than taking their rage out against perpetrators of violence, they choose to attack helpless people, property of places of worship – and in the dead of night!

Do I still believe that there can be peace between us and our neighbors? Yes!
Do I think that it will happen in my time? Sadly no!

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