Most Israelis have vivid recollections of where they were and what they were doing the night of November 4, 1995, upon learning that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had been shot at a big peace rally in the Tel Aviv square that now bears his name.
I have equally sharp memories of the previous Saturday night – October 28, 1995 – when it became undeniably clear – to me at least – that the writing was on the wall.
I was an economics reporter for the Hebrew-language edition of Haaretz (the English-language edition was not yet around), expecting my second child and I went off to cover a keynote address by the prime minister at an international business conference in Jerusalem.
It was not long after Rabin had signed a second interim agreement with the Palestinians, and the atmosphere in the country was becoming more virulent by the day, as opposition to the prime minister’s peace initiatives grew increasingly nasty and militant. So concerned were the heads of the Israeli secret services by threats made against the prime minister’s life (but who really believed then they were anything more than threats?) that they begged Rabin to wear a bulletproof vest during public appearances. He refused.
How surprising then not to be asked to present my press card or any other form of identification when I entered the Jerusalem conference center where the event was being held. I recall a colleague from another Israeli paper sharing similar thoughts as we headed toward our seats.
Rabin was up on the podium and had barely opened his mouth when a pair of hecklers sitting not far behind me interrupted him. I don’t remember exactly what they said, but I do recall that they were chanting slogans in American-accented English and that they had yarmulkes on their heads. As soon as police escorted the pair away, another pair of hecklers rose on the opposite end of the auditorium and began in turn to berate the prime minister, not allowing him to complete even half a sentence. When this pair was escorted away, another pair rose, this time at the center of the room, and so on and so forth. It soon became clear that these were not spontaneous outbursts, but rather an orchestrated protest, and that these hecklers – it later emerged there were hundreds of them – had been planted around the room.
This was meant to be a dignified event, a gathering of government officials and corporate leaders from around the world, among them the U.S. Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown. Witnessing what was going on around me, I felt an overwhelming sense of embarrassment. I also suddenly felt great fear – fear for the life of my prime minister. After all, considering the atmosphere at the time, how were all these riled-up individuals allowed to enter a space like this and vent their anger in such a crude manner? Where were the people who were supposed to be watching over him?
I remember calling the night news editor when I returned home and being asked whether any big economic news had come out of Rabin’s speech. I remember telling him that even if Rabin had managed to get in two words, it wouldn’t have mattered – the real news was what was going on away from the speaker’s podium. I remember my husband coming in early in the morning after a long overnight flight, and I remember the first words to come out of my mouth when I greeted him at the door, still shaken by the scene the previous night.
“They’re going to kill Rabin,” I said.
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