Netanyahu Marks Rabin Murder With Nightmare Prophecy of Israel's Future

Now, all these years later, I have to force myself to remember that nothing is forever. Not even Netanyahu.

Bradley Burston
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Palestinians flee from Israeli troops during clashes in the West Bank city of Hebron. October 27, 2015.Credit: Reuters
Bradley Burston

Twenty years ago this November 4, we had a young family, and hope.

Twenty years ago this November 4, when we loaded the old car with the kids and a stroller to drive down the mountain to go hear Yitzhak Rabin speak in Tel Aviv, we lived in a country with a future.

It was a young country then. But only for a few more hours.

We could not have known it at the time, but on that long-ago Saturday night, our future was about to be placed, over and over again, in the hands of Benjamin Netanyahu.

And this week, as Israel marked the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, Netanyahu finally revealed what our future was about to be. A permanent nightmare.

"These days, there is talk about what would happen if this or that person would have remained," the prime minister told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, in a clear but unusually callous reference to the slain Rabin, and to the goal to which Rabin's final years were dedicated, a peace with the Palestinians and all of Israel's neighbors.

"It's irrelevant," Netanyahu continued. "There are movements here of religion and Islam that have nothing to do with us."

Then, turning to Rabin's ideological heirs on the committee, supporters of negotiations with the Palestinians, the increasingly testy Netanyahu set out his dark vision of our futures as Israelis:

"You think there is a magic wand here, but I disagree," he told them.

"I'm asked if we will forever live by the sword — yes".

Twenty years ago, we had a young family, and hope.

Like most of the people who were moving toward Tel Aviv's central square that night, we were skeptical and somewhat guarded in mood, concerned that no one would show up. Concerned that the threats in the air, the acid in the protests against Rabin, the current of implied violence in the chants against negotiations with the Palestinians, in the catcalls of Rabin the Traitor and Rabin the Murderer, would deter people from coming, would turn them despondent, shorn of hope, intimidated.

We could not have known it at the time, but there would be two earthquakes that evening.

The first came when we noticed people pouring into the square, flooding in, people from far away in Israel, gratifyingly diverse, young and old, Jew and Arab, a surprising number of them religious.

When Rabin began to speak, you could feel the earthquake in that huge crowd, an electricity which no one could have anticipated. There was an abrupt momentum to their reactions, an unaccustomed and unexpected exhilaration, to which Rabin, a painfully undemonstrative man, clearly responded.

"Allow me to say, I am also moved," Rabin began, looking into the square. "I want to thank each and every one of you who stood up here against violence and for peace.

"This government, which I have the privilege to lead, together with my friend Shimon Peres, decided to give peace a chance. A peace that will solve most of the problems of the State of Israel."

Twenty years ago, Rabin's was a very different Israel, a very different government than any the country had known – or would.

The nation was taking substantive, unprecedented steps toward reversing decades of discrimination against its Palestinian and other citizens. It was actively working with the Palestinians, the Americans, the UN, Europe and an ever-expanding list of nations, on the first stages of a plan meant to lead to Palestinian independence alongside Israel, and eventual normalization of relations with all of our neighbors.

"I have always believed that the majority of the people want peace, are prepared to take risks for peace."

Israel was opening itself to the world, and the world - significantly including countries which had long shunned and boycotted and quarantined us - had begun to embrace Israel with openness.

"I was a military man for twenty-seven years. I fought as long as there were no prospects for peace. Today I believe that there are prospects for peace, great prospects."

We stood on a small lawn at the rear of the immense peace rally, our younger daughter, 20 months old, asleep in the stroller.

We wondered if peace could possibly come before our elder daughter and her classmates, then turning 12, would be drafted to serve in the army. Surely, we dared hope, that by the time our toddler was 18, the horrors of war would be behind us.

"Violence is undermining the very foundations of Israeli democracy. It must be condemned, denounced, and isolated. This is not the way of the State of Israel."

We thought, this is the kind of speech, the kind of crowd, the kind of occurrence that can change history.

And, just then, when we turned to leave, history changed.

The second earthquake hit. It took nothing larger than a handgun to set it off. It made barely a sound. But its effect was vastly larger, an earthquake that is still taking place, to this very day.

Now, all these years later, I have to force myself to remember that nothing is forever. Not even Netanyahu.

This Saturday night, not knowing entirely why, we'll be going back to the square, as we have every year since our family was young. Much has changed - our family has grown, and is growing still, thank God. But some things haven't changed. 

I still take Rabin's view over Netanyahu's. I still believe that the great majority of people here, Arabs and Jews both, want to see peace here, and true democracy, and social justice. 

I have no illusions that I will live to see it come to pass. 

But I believe that our children might. And I believe that their children will. 

And that's more than a good enough reason to work for that future.