Israeli Arabs recall Rabin as enforcer turned peacemaker
When Rabin was killed Arabs felt they lost a partner for peace and a chance for a new life.
By BRENDA GAZZAR
A decade after Yitzhak Rabin's assassination rocked the country's political and social landscape, Israeli Arabs say they primarily remember the former prime minister as the only man in his post who was able and willing to make peace with Palestinians.
When Rabin was killed by Yigal Amir 10 years ago, Arabs felt they lost a partner for peace and a chance for a new life, said MK Abdul Malik Dahamshe (United Arab List). Perhaps both peoples would be living in peace today if Rabin were still alive, he said.
"Rabin was able to make peace, but they killed him, and so they cut off the process," said Dahamshe, who became a Knesset member following Rabin's death. "And those that came after him weren't able to make peace. Peres couldn't. Netanyahu couldn't, and also he didn't want to. Sharon can but doesn't want to, and so here we are."
Dahamshe described Rabin as an honest man whose life was taken before he could accomplish the good things he had set out to do.
But Israeli Arabs also remember the former military man for his harsh stance toward Palestinian protesters during the first intifada, in which as defense minister he called for the breaking of their arms and legs. Because of this, some say his death, while tragic, is not as important to them as it is for the Jewish community.
"In the end, he was also responsible for using violence against the Palestinian people," said Jafar Farah, director of the Haifa-based Mossawa Center: The Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens of Israel. "They are our people. Although we are citizens of the state of Israel, we have relatives on the other side of the Green Line."
Others in the community emphasize Rabin's shift in policy that helped shape the Oslo Accords, saying he came to understand that peace was the way and the solution. He also had the ability to communicate this message effectively to the people of Israel, said MK Issam Mahoul (Hadash).
"For me, he was dreadful and horrible when at the beginning of the first intifada, he called for the breaking of legs and arms of the Palestinians, of Palestinian children, of students," Mahoul said, "but I really value the process of change that Yitzhak Rabin underwent that actually began at the end of the first intifada and the perception or persuasion he had that there is no military way to end the Arab-Israeli conflict."
Rabin differed from his successors in that he viewed settlements and settlers as obstacles to peace and said so, Mahoul said. He also had the courage to rely on Arab votes to lend support to the ruling coalition and the Oslo Accords, although it earned him significant criticism from the Right.
"Rabin negated the legitimacy of the settlers and gave legitimacy to the citizenship of Arab citizens in this sense," Mahoul said. "That [Israeli Arabs] can be legitimate partners and he can lean on them" in government.
Israeli Arab families also fared better economically because of Rabin's leadership, Farah said. For example, Rabin's government implemented a program that equalized child allowances for needy Arab and Jewish children regardless of military service. This helped decrease child poverty in the Arab population from 42.9 percent in 1994 to 32.6 percent in 1996, according to the Mossawa Center.
But ex-Mossad official Shmuel Toledano, who served as Rabin's adviser for Arab affairs from 1974 to 1977, said Rabin, unlike prime minister Levi Eshkol, did little to help Arabs during most of his career.
When Toledano, who also served as Arab affairs adviser to Eshkol and Golda Meir, presented Rabin with a number of recommendations to increase equality among Israeli Arabs and improve their economic situation, all were rebuffed, he said. Rabin seemed to be the man least likely to compromise with the Arabs since his scorn for them ran deep, he said. In fact, in Toledano's opinion, Rabin's shift was likely made for political reasons to secure Arab votes and not because he had a change of heart.
"For such a man to make a 180 change, this is really unbelievable," he said. "And that such a man would be murdered because of what he did to make peace with the Arabs is also really the absurdity of life."