The Amir Legacy

The self-righteous chorus, from the left and the right, is sure to lift up its voice any day now against easing Yigal Amir's prison conditions.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The decision to release Yigal Amir from an outrageous 17 years of solitary confinement was courageous and apposite, if several years overdue. It was courageous because it is sure to ignite a firestorm of populist righteous fury. It was apposite because Amir has the same fundamental human rights as any other murderer, and they must be protected. And it was overdue because his solitary confinement was unnecessary and unreasoned from the outset.

The sole purpose of Amir's harsh conditions of incarceration was to placate public opinion, to satisfy the lust for revenge. But the man who murdered Yitzhak Rabin is not the source of all evil that he is made out to be. Far from it. It is true that all that remains of the Rabin legacy, come what may, is the Amir legacy, but that is not because of Amir himself. Perhaps that's why some Israelis seek to vent their rage against him: They don't like the group portrait they see in the mirror, the product of their own handiwork, and so they put all the blame on Amir. The revenge against Amir is the last relic of the Rabin legacy, and it is the only part that Israelis want to preserve.

Of course, there is no way of knowing what would have happened had Rabin not been murdered. Only one decisive fact remains: 17 years on, Amir's spirit is much more in evidence than Rabin's, in spite of the innumerable institutions and roads that now bear his name. That is not Amir's fault, it's the fault of all Israelis.

Israel today should thank Amir for opening the door to everything it wanted to be and to do - for destroying every opportunity for and all belief in peace, for grounding the occupation so firmly that it cannot be reversed, and for creating a racist society and a ruined democracy. Amir only provided the opportunity; the Israelis did the rest, with joy and with dedication.

This gives the lie to the false, hollow and sanctimonious claims that Amir "murdered the peace" and "killed Israeli democracy." Israeli democracy is much more deeply rent now than it was as a result of Amir's undemocratic assassination. The likelihood of reaching peace, similarly, is much more thoroughly destroyed now than it was by the diabolical wrench that Amir tossed into its gears. Everyone who was shocked by his despicable act is an accomplice, by their actions or their silence, to the passage of racist legislation, to the manhunts on the streets, to the ongoing brutality of the occupation, to the rising violence in society and to the continued building of the settlements.

It's us, not Amir. Peace has dropped off the agenda entirely, human rights became an obscenity and the yafeh nefesh ("gentle soul" ) a curse. It's us, not Amir. Tens of millions of shekels are spent on alternative housing for settlers who stole land. It's us, not Amir. Kicking a 9-year-old Palestinian boy. It's us, not Amir. A callous apartheid state in the territories. That too is our work, not Amir's.

But all this is difficult for Israelis to admit, so they seek revenge on Amir, only on Amir, the enemy of the people. In their eyes, the sole and absolute enemy.

The self-righteous chorus, from the left and the right, is sure to lift up its voice any day now against easing Amir's prison conditions. Many people would even like to see him executed: They are the enemies of democracy, no less than he. They all want only to see Amir's continued mistreatment, to distract us from the real, concrete mistreatment of peace, justice and democracy in Israel, which came after Amir was already locked up in solitary confinement, devoid of all influence.

Let our camp be pure: See how we punish anyone who dares raise his hand against peace and democracy - decisive proof that we are firmly committed to peace and democracy and it was only the despicable killer who ruined it for us. That is why he must remain in solitary confinement, why he can never go free, in contrast to any other murderer. Because we are fearless warriors against anyone who dares raise his hand against the most just, most peace-loving and most democratic kingdom in the Middle East; in the entire world, actually.

Read this article in Hebrew

Yitzhak Rabin's assassin Yigal Amir attends a court hearing in Nazareth, May 2010.Credit: Tomer Neuberg