Peres Rabin memorial 224.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Unlike Rachel Ya'akov, the sister of slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, President Shimon Peres carefully refrained from allowing the name of assassin Yigal Amir to pass his lips while speaking on Tuesday night at the state ceremony at Beit Hanassi marking the 12th anniversary of Rabin's murder.
Instead he referred to him as "the son of iniquity," saying: "He shot Yitzhak in the back and killed him. He shot the nation in the heart and traumatized it."
"Twelve years have passed since that awful night, the darkest in Israel's history," said the president.
Peres and Rabin had been bitter rivals for a long time, and a great deal of acrimony had passed between them. But when they realized that the nation had to change its priorities and began to work together toward that goal, the animosity dissipated. They became colleagues and even friends.
As he recalled the final hours of Rabin's life, Peres said: "Personally, I never felt such closeness between us - an ideological and a personal closeness. We were so reconciled, so united, and so enthused and excited by what was happening in front of us, and by what we anticipated would happen the following day."
Peres could not remember ever seeing such radiance on Rabin's face.
And all the time, noted Peres, the assassin was lurking with his gun cocked.
When Rabin fell, the president said, it seemed as if the curtain had suddenly come down on the prospect for peace, and the nation felt as if it had been brutally orphaned. Peres suddenly found himself alone, without Rabin's support, without his leadership.
He knew that no one could replace his friend. Peres had learned that when Rabin committed himself to something, he remained as steadfast as a rock, and no opposition could move him.
But Rabin was no longer there and Peres felt as if everything around him had collapsed. All that remained was pain and grief.
And yet it was important to immediately get beyond the nightmare, not to abandon the mission even if there was no partner with whom to share the journey, and to continue on Rabin's path.
It has become a tradition since the night of Rabin's assassination to light candles in his memory.
The president lit a candle in Beit Hanassi on the night of the anniversary of Rabin's death, and thousands of candles are lit in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, the scene of his dying breath.
The flame that he was lighting, remarked Peres, was one more light in addition to the many kindled by the nation. The whole country wept, he said. Its world had darkened, and these were candles of anger and of pain. But above all they were candles that expressed respect for Rabin.
In a soft and understated voice, Rabin's sister declared that 12 years had passed since three bullets shot in Tel Aviv had hit the prime minister. A religious man, she said, had decided to end her brother's life.
What Yigal Amir did, she said, is against the Jewish religion and counter to the Ten Commandments. "He succeeded in killing Yitzhak and in aborting the political process."
Rabin's quest for peace had not been met with national consensus. There had been many ugly demonstrations against him, his sister recalled, especially on Fridays when he and his wife Leah were at home alone.
The night that he was killed was a turning point. It was the first time that the masses had come to demonstrate against violence and in favor of peace, she said.
"Later, people gathered in the square to weep over what had happened. People from across the political spectrum mourned Yitzhak the human being and Yitzhak the leader. The shock was enormous."
Rabin's sister surmised that the shock derived from the fact that Israel is a country with freedom of expression and freedom to demonstrate - and yet someone felt that he had the right to change the norms because he had a mission to accomplish. She also hinted that Israel today is devoid of leadership.
During the Lebanon war, she noted, there was a tremendous amount of goodwill, but there was no leadership to steer that goodwill in the right direction. "Yitzhak was missing."