Memorial Candle for late PM Yitzhak Rabin.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
On Saturday night, November 4, 1995, my late wife Jamilla and I went for our usual shopping in Nahariya, close to our hometown of Acre. While we were checking the products and filling our shopping cart, a bewildered young man ran toward me with a terrified look on his face.
“Zouheir,” he screamed, “Yizhak Rabin has been shot.”
It felt like electricity ran through me; I shuddered and froze. Then my wife grabbed me and we ran to our car.
We sped away muttering unintelligible words amounting to: “Disaster!” For us it was a double disaster.
It wasn’t only the murder of the prime minister of Israel, the Champion of Peace, but in those moments it was reasonable to assume that the murderer was a Palestinian Arab.
In other words, not only had peace and hope been murdered, but it appeared again that one of us did it. We Arabs had succeeded at what we’re usually good at: shooting ourselves in the leg, destroying our own work and killing our own dreams.
Terrified, we gathered in front of the television screen, and it quickly became clear that our hands were clean of this crime.
We sighed with relief – but the relief was definitely only partial.
One of the sweeter periods of our lives had come to an end. The illusions evaporated.
Rabin was gone, and with him, it now appears, went hope. The dream vanished.
At the height of the period of budding beginnings, Rabin was a leader who was undergoing a metamorphosis. The former general who participated in establishing the Jewish state at the expense of the Palestinian homeland, the man who took an active part in all the developments, battles and creative processes that characterized the magical rise of Israel in the Middle East; this same man was determined to continue to act as a leader.
Rabin, who, at one point called for breaking the Palestinians’ bones, realized in the midst of the bloody events, conflicts, intifada and political darkness that what he wanted was to lead a process that would put an end to a century of terrorism, would bring the parties to the negotiation table, and then to a peace agreement.
Rabin leveraged these challenges into advantages. His introspective personality inspired trust. His military persona evoked determination and faith, and his heritage and roots brought commitment and dedication to the cause.
Rabin knew how to win the Palestinians’ trust, but it was the Israelis who were divided about him. Some followed him and others opposed him, fought him, haunted him, embittered his life and eventually turned the coveted dream into a nightmare.
As a media personality, I met Rabin on several occasions, mainly formal; I as the MC of large events and he as prime minister. I remember that on the occasion of declaring Umm el-Fahm’s official status as a city, both of us shared gifts of olive oil jugs presented by the mayor, and I wondered whether it was appropriate for a journalist and a prime minister to receive the same honor. When I was about to leave the stage, he took my arm and, in his full baritone voice, asked me to stay next to him.
On another occasion, when the village of Rahat officially achieved city status, I again had the honor of introducing him as the next speaker at the event. As I was coming down the stage steps, I heard thousands of people whispering. I raised my head and saw his hand was extended to me as if he wanted to shake it, but I had not noticed. His face was flushed. I extended my hand and even put my other hand on his shoulder. While the applause continued for many seconds, I came to realize that the man was true, modest and respectful of others; very important qualities for a leader who establishes foundations among people. This valuable quality of his is still alive among us. Some have taken advantage of Rabin’s absence and have turned us into prisoners of the Devil. But the day will come when Rabin’s legacy will bring about what he believed in, advocated and paid for with his life. When and how? I ardently hope that day is not far off.The author is an Arab member of the Labor Party and Zionist Union. He was also one of Israel’s most well known radio and television personalities before entering politics.