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Tens of thousands crammed Tel Aviv's Rabin Square to mark 10 years since the assassination of the man it was named after, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in a ceremony that paid homage to a legendary Israeli leader, but also served as a campaign kickoff for a remodeled Israeli Left.
Newly crowned Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz offered himself as Rabin's real successor, saying "the path of Oslo [peace process] is still very much alive," adding that Israel's moral salvation lies in ending the occupation.
The mass memorial, with the high profile attendance of former US president Bill Clinton, was also a shot at redemption for a shattered Left that in the years since Rabin's death seemed to have lost its way amid the political backstabbing of Rabin's successors, according to left-wing activists.
"Ending the occupation and a final-status agreement are synonymous with protecting human values," crowed Peretz who was invited to speak at the last minute after narrowly defeating the Labor Party's perennial number two Shimon Peres in last week's party elections.
While the fiery Peretz roused the crowed, Clinton stole the show. Cutting through some of the political sloganeering of the evening, a visibly emotional Clinton told the crowd that "Rabin gave all his days for your future."
Clinton said that a week doesn't go by without his thinking of a man he had considered a mentor and a friend. "He [Rabin] is as real to me today as he was on his last day on earth," said the former president.
As he ascended the stage, Clinton sought out members of the Rabin family and warmly embraced them.
Rabin was gunned down on November 4, 1995 by Yigal Amir. Saturday's memorial service comes over a week after the anniversary of the assassination due to the differences between the Gregorian and Jewish calendars.
The mass memorial, entitled "Ten Years Since the Murder," was held under intense security with 1,500 police and border policemen guarding the square, and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) officers and American security officials controlling the stage area.
Organizers, including Dalia Rabin, the former prime minister's daughter, decided to recreate the night that shook Israel, more than any other terrorist attack. The stage was built to the same specifications as that 1995 peace rally, and the same politicians who flanked Rabin then assumed their positions, leaving a vacant spot where the prime minister stood 10 years ago.
And just as that fateful night 10 years ago, Miri Aloni sang a heartrending rendition of "Song of Peace," the blood-stained lyrics of which were found in Rabin's breast-coat pocket following the shooting. All those who had stood beside the prime minister that night took to the stage alongside Aloni plus one. Bill Clinton also joined.
Newly crowned Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz was squeezed into the speakers line-up. He had to compete with former Clinton - who coined the phase, "Shalom Haver," or "Good-bye friend" - for the limelight.
For many the memorial was a chance to rub shoulders with Labor leaders and catch up on the results of a tumultuous week for the Labor Party.
The talk of the evening wasn't Clinton, however, but Peretz the comeback kid, who rallied last week to take the Labor Party chairmanship.
"I have a dream," continued Peretz, that "Israeli and Palestinian children will play together," and that one day a profitable joint industrial zone might arise between his native town of Sderot and the Gaza Strip's Beit Hanoun (infamous as a Kassam launch pad).
But it was a spirited Shimon Peres, the man who has hardly won an election, who issued his most moving speech in recent memory.
In what sounded like a farewell address, the 82-year-old don of Israeli politics called on Israel's youth "to enter politics," and work towards peace, "because no other state will do it for us."
Dwarfed by the giant poster of his long-time rival, Rabin, Peres called on the youth "to give your lives, to serve this country in its goals, its future; give a true push to peace, as Yitzhak did."
Peace Now and the Geneva Initiative had slung massive banners across one side of the square, but most of those who crammed together before the stage had no political message to convey.
Avraham Amon, 64, who was on his way to the peace rally the night Rabin was assassinated but arrived late, said he came to "identify with Rabin's path, and to make sure that such a thing [the assassination] never happens again." He missed much of that night's rally, said Amon, "so tonight it was important for me to be here on time."
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