Yitzhak Rabin

A man of war and a man of peace.

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From 1984, Rabin served as Defense Minister in the unity governments under Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir. Rabin was responsible for the withdrawal from most of Lebanon, and was also responsible for Israeli policy during the [first] Intifada. He is famously quoted as having said of the Palestinians, "We will break their bones," but his wife, Leah Rabin, insisted in her book Rabin: Our Life, His Legacy that he never said it. Other versions claim that Rabin made the statement in order to encourage soldiers to refrain from shooting at stone-throwing Palestinians.

Yitzhak Rabin Bill Clinton Yassir Arafat Peace Oslo Accords Nobel PrizeIn 1992, Rabin was chosen as leader of the Labor party, replacing Shimon Peres. He led his party to victory over the opposition Likud for the first time since 1977, and became Prime Minister in June of 1992, assuming the post of Defense Minister as well, and giving Peres the post of Foreign Minister. His unequaled credentials as a war hero and elder statesman made it possible for him to overcome the divisive internal politics of the Labor party, and subsequently lead Israel to the Oslo peace agreement with the Palestinians and peace with Jordan. In 1994, Rabin was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with Yasser Arafat  and  Shimon Peres in recognition of their role in the Oslo peace process.

Rabin was known for his bluntness, analytic mind, and colorful colloquial Sabra idioms, delivered in his slow deep bass voice that became a hallmark of reassurance to two generations of Israelis, and a source of annoyance to political enemies.

As the reality of probable Israeli concessions to Palestinians came closer, and as Palestinian terror groups launched more and more ambushes and terror attacks (though still relatively minor at the time), Rabin's popularity plummeted. Violent demonstrations caricatured Rabin as an SS officer, and at one point demonstrators began vandalizing his official car. A group of right-wing demonstrators gathered outside his Ramat Aviv apartment each day to chant insults and threats. The security apparatus did very little to stop this activity. Ariel Sharon claimed that warnings of threats on Rabin's life were political fabrications. Rabin responded by organizing a giant peace demonstration, with the theme of "Yes to Peace, No to Violence."

The rally was held in the main square of Tel Aviv on the evening of November 4, 1995 and was well attended. Rabin shared the podium with his ex-rival Shimon Peres, singing songs of peace and declaring his determination to carry through the peace agreements, and then left to go to his car. As he approached his automobile, a right-wing fanatic, Yigal Amir, inflamed by incitement of extremist settler rabbis, broke through the very lax police security and fired several shots at Rabin's back. Rabin was rushed to Ichilov hospital and died shortly thereafter. His funeral was attended by numerous world leaders, including US President Clinton, who made the phrase "Shalom, Chaver" (adieu, comrade) famous, and most notably His Majesty King Hussein of Jordan. 

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Ami Isseroff

Ami Isseroff is a web journalist and director of MidEastWeb for Coexistence. He lives in Rehovot, Israel.