Without a warning - A former 'Post' reporter recounts that dark night 20 years ago

We were told the basics, that a Jewish student in his late 20s had killed the prime minister as he was leaving the square.

By RAINE MARCUS
November 1, 2015 03:38
4 minute read.

Obama to Rabin rally: 'A bullet can take a man's life but, his dream for peace will never die'

Obama to Rabin rally: 'A bullet can take a man's life but, his dream for peace will never die'

 
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On an old printer in my London home, there is a sticker: “Haver, Ani Zocher” – (“Friend, I Remember”).

The sticker, which stubbornly refuses to be unstuck without being torn in two, is the only reason I can’t bear to dispose of the printer.

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Twenty years on, I don’t know if the printer works, but the sticker won’t let me forget.

It was one of many printed following former US President Bill Clinton’s eulogy at prime minister Yizhak Rabin’s funeral: “Shalom, Haver” (Goodbye, Friend).

Shalom Haver stickers were prevalent everywhere in Israel after that fateful and tragic night.

That night on Saturday, November 4, as a reporter for The Jerusalem Post, I was relaxing at home in Givatayim.

After covering terrorist attacks, various crimes and Tel Aviv court cases, I thought I deserved a night off. The editor asked me to cover the rally for peace in Kikar Malchei Yisrael, but I asked if someone else could do it. If I have a list of regrets, not going to the rally has to be near the top.

I don’t remember what came first, the phone call, the pager or hearing on the radio that there had been shots fired.

Then a friend from a Hebrew daily called me. “Rabin’s been shot.”

I also don’t remember if the roads to Tel Aviv were busy or quiet, or where I parked.
Bill Clinton: Israel must decide how to 'finish last chapter' of Rabin's story

Maybe it was a hoax, a sick joke? I heard somewhere that they were dummy bullets.

I ran toward a group of police and fellow reporters at the side of the square, later named in remembrance following that fateful night.

We were told the basics, that a Jewish student in his late 20s had killed the prime minister as he was leaving the square.

Yigal Amir’s name was soon common knowledge – he had been taken in for questioning to the Hayarkon district police station.

I was told by The Post’s night editor that other reporters had been dispersed to cover various angles of the story: Ichilov hospital, Labor Party headquarters. With deadlines usually earlier than other newspapers, which were extending theirs, I remember trembling as I dictated the sequence of events as I knew them. Although practiced at writing on the fly from the most difficult scenes, this was probably the hardest dictation of my career.

Later I would hitch a ride with a friend from Haaretz to the Hayarkon police station – where we saw a large car with blacked out windows.

“That’s probably him – Amir, “ I said. “They’re taking him to be interrogated somewhere else. Or it’s a decoy.”

The “somewhere else” was either Petah Tikva, home to the Serious Crime Squad, or at an unknown location, to be questioned by Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).

This was just the start of a long story and complex criminal trials that would uncover the dark activities of a new Jewish underground I still remember the pale, uncomprehending face of Brig.-Gen. Gabi Last, the then head of the Greater Tel Aviv police force and acting head of Israel Police, normally composed and confident. He was standing near the stairs where Rabin had been shot, surrounded by several police officers and the press, looking for answers, explanations and breaches of security.

Now chairman of the Delek Group, Last tells me now that the memories of the assassination will stay with him forever.

“I too admired Rabin,” he said. “Everywhere I go, there are reminders – streets named after him. Even in Paris, there’s a place named after him.”

Last and the police had painstakingly prepared for the rally as any other public event. But they had not been warned of the possibility of a Jewish terrorist.

According to one senior officer, there were two elements to consider: the recent assassination (by Mossad) of Islamic Jihad founder Fathi Shaqaqi in Malta and the incitement by the far Right against Rabin.

“We were prepared for an Arab terrorist, but no one mentioned the possibility of a Jewish assassin,” said the officer. “No one thought it possible.”

But that was the shocking reality: that a Jewish student from Herzilya could murder a prime minister who knew when the time was right to put an end to war and make peace.

And, although Amir’s hand fired the trigger of the Beretta pistol, there were the others behind the scenes who were just as guilty by fueling the fires of incitement and creating an environment that justified the assassination.

What is also shocking is that today, on Facebook, Yigal Amir, who is still serving a life sentence, has two pages – one private and one as a “public figure.” And that there are still those, both in Israel and I am discovering, in England too, who refuse to condemn the murder. I wonder if, today, in this age of social media, if the rabbis would have tweeted their Pulsa Dinura (Kabbalistic death curse)– and if it would have been intercepted in time to save the life of the man who would have brought peace.

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