A rally marking the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin drew 100,000 people on Saturday, organizers said. Initial estimations suggested 50,000 were in attendance.
President Reuven Rivlin vowed in a speech that Israel will never give in to violent extremists, while former U.S. President Bill Clinton told the crowds of Israelis that they must decide if they stand for peace. President Barack Obama said in a televised speech that he still believes the only real solution to the conflict is two states for two peoples.
Rino Tzror, the event's host, began by cautioning that "this is a time of danger." "It's here among us," he said, "inside us, setting fire, creating discord, dividing and inciting between tribes, between beliefs, between colors, between sexes." Tzror added: "This is no longer a warning. We have been warning for years. Now it's reality. 20 years after the murder we have arrived at the greatest danger of Israel – a war of tribes, a war of camps, a war of sectors, a war of opinions, a war of beliefs about who is a Jew and how Jewish he is and what he prays to and what he believes in every person here embarks on his own jihad."
"We are standing here today, together, facing the crosshairs of that murderer, facing the hatred of violent, extreme margins, in order to say: You will not defeat us," said President Reuven Rivlin. "The Jewish and democratic State of Israel, the Israel of the Declaration of Independence, will not fall victim [to] your violence and intimidation. Never.
"And to those who silence, who threaten, who raise clenched firtsts, who create pictures of SS [uniforms], to those who threatens MKs, judges, ministers and prime ministers, I want to say today: We are not afraid of you," Rivlin said.
"Twenty years have passed, and we still busy ourselves too much with picking at the wounds of the past instead of building the future; too much with the sense of justice and wrong of every side, camp and sector within us, and too little with understanding and listening to the other side; too much with fear, too little with hope. We don't have to be afraid. Israeli democracy is strong enough, we're strong and brave enough to open the gates of Israeliness wide apart, so that every group within us takes an equal part in the molding of Israel's character and future," Rivlin said.
"We're arguing about the way, but we're dreaming together of an Israel we'll all feel part of, of an Israel that is Jewish and democratic, democratic and Jewish at the same time."
Sarah Rosenfeld, mother of Malachi Rosenfeld who was murdered in a terrorist attack near the settlement of Shilo in the West Bank about four months ago, also spoke at the rally, saying that she was asked repeatedly in the last few days why she chose to attend the rally.
"Truth is, the question surprised me. It was so clear to me that the opportunity to stand together on one stage, in one square with all my brothers and sisters is a gift for me and a proper way to honor the memories of Yitzhak Rabin and of my Malachi," she said.
Clinton: The decision is yours
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton was booed by some when he stepped on stage, most likely due to his work as a lobbyist for the Noble Energy gas corporation. He told the crowd that Rabin "gave his life so that you could live in peace. What does it all amount to? Now that is up to you."
Clinton, who said the day that Rabin was killed was probably the worst day of his eight years as president, said: "Ten years ago, when I was honored to stand at this space,I said that if I could miraculously bring Rabin back to life and he was standing here with me, he would have said enough with this bragging about me, let's get back to work and finish what I was trying to do.
"I always thought the role of the United States was to provide whatever help necessary to ensure Israel's security, maximize the benefits of peace and minimize the risks. But the decision is yours."
Clinton added: "The next step in the magnificent story of Israel the next step will be determined by whether you decide that Rabin was right, that you have to share your future with your neighbors, that you have to stand for peace, that the risk for peace isn't as severe as the risk of walking away from it. We are praying that you will make the right decision."
Obama: Rabin was a true statesman
In a televised speech, U.S. President Barack Obama said that though Rabin understood the dangers facing Israel, he also believed that the Palestinians could not be controlled through force forever. "Like a true statesman, he meant to examine every opportunity, every possibility to achieve piece."
"As you stand here for the future you believe in," said the president, "know that the U.S. commitment to the security of the state of Israel will never diminish."
Obama added: "Peace is necessary if both sides are willing to make compromises and take risks for the only real solution – two states for two peoples."
"A bullet can take a person's life, but his spirit, his dream of peace, will never die," concluded the president."
Earlier, Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Galon said at the rally: "Rabin was murdered because he proposed a political vision for the State of Israel. He was murdered because of the politician that he was – a politician who wanted to end the occupation and make peace with the Palestinians. Rabin was murdered because of a political atmosphere that let his blood, because of a public – backed by rabbis and politicians – that thought that an elected government which relies on the votes of Arab citizens is an illegitimate government, a public that has since grown in size and in strength."
According to Galon, "For Yigal Amir, Rabin's murder was worth it. Those public leaders who should have taken responsibility and do some soul searching performed a brilliant diversion and managed to turn the Rabin rally to an event of unification where politics aren't discussed, while at the same time a group of dangerous and agitating fundamentalists are continuing to simmer and act undisturbed." Galon added that "we who arrived at the square this evening, are not afraid and aren't backing down and aren't surrendering to the incitement against us. And mainly we do not agree and we'll never agree to ever acquiesce to the only future Netanyahu is offering us – of living forever by the sword."
Family members speak
Dalia Rabin, the daughter of the late prime minister and the chairperson of the Tel Aviv-based Rabin Center said that “we will not let the thin fabric of Israeli society be harmed again. All of us will leave here with the message that there will be no more violence in our midst.”
Yonatan Ben-Artzi, a grandson of the slain prime minister, did not sound optimistic about the possibility of peace in his own remarks. "Twenty years have already passed and peace doesn’t appear to be on the horizon. Unfortunately, I personally believe that it is distant at the moment. When I look ahead, I am concerned. The Jewish democratic majority in the territory under Israel’s control is contracting. In a few years in Israel, there will be an Arab majority. We won’t be able to able to exist as a democracy.”
“I am not prepared to explain to my children that living here means wars and people being killed forever,” he added. “There is a one and only solution. Anyone who wishes for the good of the people of Israel and democracy and anyone who believes that the Jewish people need to protect the country with a Jewish majority must leave here with a major call to the government of Israel to immediately declare unconditional recognition of a Palestinian state,” he said.
The coordinator of the Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed youth movement's Arab division, Tony Nasser, told the gathering: “During these difficult days, when our hearts are boiling and our blood burning, and when people are gripped with feelings of revenge and frustration, we are required to maintain our humanity and our democratic values, to act responsibly. We live together and will continue to live together.
"During these difficult days of despair and fear, we are here to express a message of hope for another path, to express a voice of reason, one that is not extremist and not harshly critical, and that exists in Israel. This is the voice of the decisive majority of our country.”
Among those appearing at the rally were singers Ninet Tayeb, Rita, Shai Tsabari, Ahuva Ozeri, Shlomi Shaban and Nasreen Qadri. The organizers said the rally would not be politically partisan, in an effort to attract the broadest possible attendance.
The event was organized by the coalition “Remembering the Murder, Fighting for Democracy” led by youth movements and social organizations. The Rabin Center, which did not take part in organizing the memorial rallies in recent years, joined the organizers this year.
The organizers said the rally would not be politically partisan, in an effort to attract the broadest possible attendance. “The recent terror attacks underscore the growing need to isolate and denounce violence and racism and strengthen a moderate center to deal with Israeli society’s challenges,” a statement from the organizers said. “All those who hold Israeli democracy dear are invited to come to the square on Saturday.”
The rally’s producers drafted a document of principles they presented at Saturday's event. It called on “all Israel’s tribes and all parts of Israeli society to join our generation’s mission in understanding that Israel is facing difficult historic decisions. These decisions can only be made by means of a democratic procedure and moral values. We want to place Rabin’s murder as a warning signal to society and pledge that in every controversy among us, democracy will determine the issue.”
Large police, Shin Bet and U.S. Secret Service forces safeguarded the rally, due to Rivlin and Clinton’s attendance.