The masses that accompanied Rehavam Ze'evi on his last journey may have given him in death the deep respect that he never commanded in life, but they also proved one definite truth: while Ze'evi may have been a proponent of a Greater Land of Israel, he was the hero of only half a nation.
The tens of thousands of people who passed by his coffin like a tidal wave as it lay in state at the Knesset, and the vast majority of those who came to the funeral at Mt. Herzl's military cemetery, were primarily right-wing and religious, even ultra-Orthodox. The other half, those who made the same journey following the coffin of slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin almost six years ago, did not come.
The "children of the candles," those very teenagers who turned into one of the most prominent symbols of Rabin's murder, were replaced yesterday by youths in tzitzit (fringes or tassels on ceremonial garments worn by Orthodox men), praying psalms. One of them, a yeshiva student, even flaunted that he had once put out a candle lit in Rabin's memory. Even the Palmach generation, which lovingly eulogized Ze'evi into every microphone available over the last two days, was swallowed up by the masses who vowed to continue Ze'evi's way.
So went the funeral of a man who was once an army general and a government minister - a very sad family occasion, with a very honorable, official status, but mostly an impressive demonstration of might by the right.
Four young female students from Jerusalem's Midrasha Datit La'Banot spoke of how the first reaction at the religious seminar when they learned of the assassination was, "Just don't let the murderer be a Jew again."
When the identity of Ze'evi's assailants became clear, the right came out in full force to mourn the man who had become their archetype symbol in his death. This time, without any guilty feelings, with full self-confidence in the righteousness of the path that characterized his death, they just justified it further.
"We hope that his path will now be taken up as a commandment to be followed to the end, as long as the murder will not have the opposite effect, that the public's representatives will not now fear to speak their minds," said two young settlers.
Every now and then a voice in the crowd would comment with great satisfaction that it seemed the number of people who came to pay their respects to Ze'evi was greater than the number who came to do the same for Rabin. Prof. Israel Nevenzal from Bar-Ilan University wandered through the crowd, voicing his concern that the tight security measures aimed to make things difficult for the mourners and limit their number out of political motives. "After all, that is a well-known method at right-wing demonstrations," he said.
"A righteous man is gone," whimpered an ultra-Orthodox woman from Jerusalem as she passed by the coffin. "I wish it were [Foreign Minister Shimon] Peres instead," another woman shouted.
Here and there, there were others, like 28-year-old Michal Meital, a secular, left-winger. "I came anyway because this was a man who did a lot for this country during this difficult year that gave one the feeling that there was nothing to do. Suddenly there was something to do; to come here. I wish that more like me would come here," she said.
Avraham Shavit, a retired employee of the Prime Minister's Office who got to know the top defense echelons from up close, said decisively that, "if Rabin were alive today, his opinion of [Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser] Arafat would be closer to Gandhi's than to Peres'."
Only Simcha Benita, a leader of a strike of disabled people, did not make any comparisons or calculations. Sitting in her wheelchair, with a printed poster saying, "I salute you, friend" held close, she talked of "her Gandhi," the only MK who knew how to lean over and give her a hug, while the others would recoil. "I lost a father," she said.
The composition of those who came to Mt. Herzl hardly differed. The family requested a mass, military funeral. Long-term comrades in arms assembled among the large religious and right-wing attendants, most of whom read psalms. Youths in Betar T-shirts stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Palmach veterans. The group that stood out the most was new immigrants from Ethiopia who were brought to the funeral from the absorption centers.
The two eras in Ze'evi's life did not come together even in his death. "Your death was not for nothing: Death to Arabs," shouted one woman when the coffin went past her, carried out by the shoulders of thousands.
Catcalls aimed at the few left-wing MKs who came to the funeral were made every now and again. Some spoke in anger about the dead. "I am really angry with this," said Colonel Haggai Man (res.), Ze'evi's adjutant in the Central Command during the 1960s. "I don't understand what happened to this careful man, with sharpened senses, who did not spot the danger that waited for him yesterday."
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