Peres recalls ‘a rival and a friend’

After lighting large memorial candle at ceremony, president says it was candle dedicated to peace, to a promise whose flame would never be extinguished.

Peres Rabin Ceremony 311 (photo credit: Mark Neyman, GPO)
Peres Rabin Ceremony 311
(photo credit: Mark Neyman, GPO)
President Shimon Peres Peres recalled those fateful minutes in which prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated when speaking at Beit Hanassi at the official opening on Tuesday night of the Rabin memorial events.
After lighting a large memorial candle at a ceremony known as Ner Yitzhak, the president said that it was a candle dedicated to peace, to a promise whose flame would never be extinguished.
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From the foot of Mount Sinai to the steps of Kikar Rabin, Jews had always been commanded not to kill, said Peres, not to kill a person, not to kill a concept.
“Murder is a crime that cannot be excused or erased,” he said.
Although he and Rabin had been bitter rivals who did not always see eye to eye, there was a mutual respect, and in the final years of Rabin’s life a close friendship between the two men developed, said Peres.
“Yitzhak knew that a true leader does not rest on his laurels, but leads in accordance with his vision,” he said.
Rabin remained adamant in his commitment to peace, regardless of the pressures placed upon him at home and abroad, Peres reminisced. “He didn’t try to sweeten difficult situations, nor did he try to avoid them.”
Peres and Rabin knew each other for 50 years, and despite their differences, succeeded in working together in relative harmony. “He once told me that someone would think that we had been born to a planned division of labor...”
Turning to the Tel Aviv rally that had preceded Rabin’s death, Peres said it had been held to gauge the support that Rabin had in the peace camp.
Even at a visit to the Wingate Institute near Netanya, Rabin was booed and almost assaulted.
Peres recalled.
“All this against a man who in his whole being was a patriot, fully concerned about security, totally committed to peace and to his people.”
Peres and Rabin had agreed that on the night of the rally they would mount the stage together and they would leave the stage together. “It was a declaration of unity against violence.”
When they went out on the balcony of Tel Aviv City Hall, they could not believe their eyes.
Thousands of young people were shouting, “Rabin! Rabin! Peace! Peace!” Beneath the balcony, they were jumping into the fountain still yelling Rabin’s name.
“Yitzhak was surprised by the powerful enthusiasm and by the wonderful spontaneity that no one could have organized in advance. It was like a stream of love from the nation,” Peres said.
Before the rally was over, security personnel asked Rabin and Peres to leave separately.
There had been an intelligence report that Islamic Jihad would try to kill them.
Peres went down the stairs alone, and saw Rabin’s car parked in front of his. The door was open, and Rabin’s driver Menachem Damti was standing in front of it. Peres turned his head and saw Rabin descending the stairs.
As Peres entered his own car, he heard a muffled sound, and before he could begin to understand what had happened, his bodyguards had pushed him down into the car and began to drive to a safe location.
“I asked them what was going on, where Yitzhak was.
They didn’t answer. Only after several minutes had passed did they tell me that Yitzhak was on the way to hospital. I asked them to immediately head for the hospital. They refused. I told them that if they wouldn’t drive me, I’d get out of the car and go there on foot. Only then did they take me there.”
After a while the hospital manager came to Peres and in a whisper told him what he didn’t want to hear. Rabin was dead.
Peres approached Leah Rabin and relayed the tragic news.
Then he and Leah entered the room in which Rabin lay.
The prime minister’s body was covered with a sheet, but his face was exposed and there was an expression of complete tranquility on it, such said Peres, as he had never seen before.
Peres left him with a kiss and Leah remained to make a private farewell.
Yuval Rabin, the son of the slain prime minister, said on Tuesday that more relevant than asking people where they had been when Rabin was killed, was to ask how they wanted Rabin to be remembered.
Yuval Rabin said that he wanted Yitzhak Rabin to be remembered as a man of integrity who cared about his people and who wanted to give them a better, more peaceful life.
“Oslo brought about his assassination,” said Yuval Rabin, but added that his father knowing that there was a perilous path ahead, and questioning himself over and over, nonetheless decided to continue in that direction.