Where Were You the Night Rabin Was Shot?

Eight prominent public figures, from Tzipi Livni to Dan Shapiro, remember the night of November 4, 1995, when the former prime minister was assassinated.

Alona Ferber
Alona Ferber
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Israeli Scouts memorial ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin, Tel Aviv, Oct. 19, 2010.
Israeli Scouts memorial ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin, Tel Aviv, Oct. 19, 2010.Credit: Alon Ron
Alona Ferber
Alona Ferber

It was 19 years ago that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was shot at a peace rally in Tel Aviv. The assassination of the left-wing leader by right-wing extremist Yigal Amir, just a few years after the signing of the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, was a painful, defining moment in Israeli history. Amir fired three shots toward Rabin as he walked down the steps of city hall after the rally, and his death was announced within 40 minutes of his arrival at hospital.

On the anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's death, Haaretz asks eight public figures: Where were you the night Rabin was shot?

Tzipi Livni, Israeli justice minister

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Credit: AP)

I was home in Tel Aviv, in the kitchen, with the television on in the background. I was with a friend who came from the rally before the shots were fired, and then the news started coming in, and then the shock and prayers for the wounded Rabin. When the government announced his death, it was like a darkness fell on us. There was this feeling that we put the country in a different time and place, that this doesn't happen here, it happens elsewhere. We were in stormy seas before, but everything came to the surface. I remember that feeling, and then immediately, everyone split into two political camps. I was still a lawyer then, and had only recently decided to enter politics. At the time, there was a real division between Rabin’s peace camp and the opposite camp, which I belonged to, and it was very hard afterward to make my voice heard. In 2003, as justice minister for the first time, I addressed a commemoration for him in that square, and said that I didn't vote for him or choose him, but he had been my prime minister too.

Dan Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel

Credit: Shmuel Almany

It was Shabbat afternoon in Washington, and I was at home, outside in the yard, raking leaves on a cloudy fall day. A colleague from the Senate office, where I worked with Senator Dianne Feinstein as her foreign policy adviser, called and told me there was terrible news from Israel, so I ran inside and turned on the TV. My wife Julie and I watched the first reports of Rabin’s shooting, and we were gripped with worry. When his bureau chief Eitan Haber announced his death outside Ichilov Hospital, I don’t think I’ve ever had a greater shock in my life, and the tears began to flow. For Americans committed to Israel, and deeply desiring to see it live in peace and security with its neighbors, the tragedy resonated no less strongly than it did in Israel. I think about that terrible day frequently, about what was lost, and about our obligation to see Rabin’s vision fulfilled. It is a big part of why I took the career path I did, and why I am serving in Israel as U.S. Ambassador today.

Yael Dayan, politician and peace activist

Credit: David Bachar

I was a member of Knesset for the Labor Party, led by Rabin, at the time, and I was on a speaking tour in the U.S. That night, I was meant to be addressing the local Jewish community of a small Midwestern city, I can’t remember which. When I went into the house where I was meant to speak, I asked them to turn on the TV, because I wanted to watch news of the rally. I was sorry to have missed it, but my tour had been booked in advance, and I thought I would be bringing a message of peace. The moment I turned on the TV there was the first report of the shooting. I immediately phoned my daughter, who had been at the rally with her boyfriend. That evening, I gave my talk about Rabin’s assassination, and afterward I flew to New York and got the first flight to Israel in time for the funeral. I was in deep sorrow and shock, but I wasn’t surprised by where it came from. Today, there are still Israelis who haven’t recovered, and who haven’t regained the hope they lost.

Ahmed Tibi, member of Knesset for the United Arab List-Ta'al

Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

I was at home in Beit Hanina, in East Jerusalem, when I heard the news. I remember myself immediately calling Yasser Arafat, who I was political advisor to at the time, to tell him about the shooting. This was the first Arafat had heard about the assassination. At first he didn’t believe it, and there was complete shock. A few minutes later, he called me back to find out what had happened, and what Rabin’s condition was. Later, after the prime minister had died, Arafat said, “My partner was murdered.”

Stav Shaffir, Israel’s youngest lawmaker, a Knesset member for the Labor Party

Credit: Emil Salman

I was at home in Netanya with my family, and I was 9 years old. We saw the rally on TV, but I only heard the terrible news in the morning. I remember that it felt like something big had been frozen that day. Back then, everybody was talking about peace. At Purim that year, everyone at school dressed in peace-themed costumes. It was after the treaty with Jordan, and there was this feeling that the next few years would be peace-filled and happy. To me, as a child, Rabin was a real hero. After his death, we went to the square, like many others, like the “candle generation,” and sat there with our enormous sadness. We were shocked that this could happen in Israel. Even today, it is shocking to think how one hateful act not only ended a person’s life, but put an end to a whole peace process. We couldn’t have known it at the time, but since that moment Israel has gone in another direction; it has gone backwards, not forwards.

Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the U.S.

Credit: Shmuel Almany

I was a 24-year-old student at Oxford University. An Israeli-born fellow student rushed into my room and told me Rabin had been shot. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. As we rode the elevator downstairs to watch CNN on television, I hoped and prayed for two things: First, that Rabin, who had dedicated his life to serving Israel, would live. Second, that it wasn’t a Jew who had perpetrated this despicable act. As the night wore on, it became clear that both prayers would go unanswered. Now we are charged with never forgetting that fateful night when the prime minister of the Jewish state was murdered by a fellow Jew, and with recommitting ourselves to always be vigilant against those who believe that there is any cause that justifies murder.

Uri Avnery, veteran peace activist and founder of Gush Shalom peace movement

Credit: Daniel Tchetchik

I was at the rally with a big group of Gush Shalom activists. We planned to give out leaflets, and I thought I would be clever and park my car nearby the day before, so we wouldn’t have problems on the night [of the rally]. But when we arrived about 15 minutes early, the car had been towed to Jaffa. I rushed there in a taxi, and by the time I drove back, all the roads to the square were blocked. Somehow, I convinced the police to let me pass, and I parked right by the rally. We gave out our stuff, we heard the speeches, we heard Rabin sing "Shir La Shalom," the peace anthem of the left. I made my way to my car early so I could put our things away, and then I heard cars honking and I understood something had happened. I turned on the radio and heard the news. By the time I got home, Rabin was dead. The truth is, I didn't expect it. Not that I should have been surprised, given the incitement against him back then.

Achinoam Nini, musician

Credit: David Bachar

That night, I was invited to appear at the rally with Rabin, and I was very excited. I was 24 years old. When we accepted the invitation, my long-standing musical partner, Gil Dor, and I found out that many of our musical heroes had declined because of the political nature of the event. They didn’t want to hurt their fan base. We were very disappointed by that, but we wanted to be there. On the night itself, I was so happy to see how many people came out to support peace. After the show, we walked off the stage and down the stairs to my car – the same stairs that Rabin walked down when he was shot. Only 10 minutes later, I heard what happened on the radio. I rushed to my grandmother’s house and we turned on the TV. We were in complete shock. It had been such a positive night, Rabin himself had been so happy. That day I said to myself, if this man could give his life for peace, then I am also willing to make big sacrifices.

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