Rabin: 20 years after

ben artzi bookTwenty years ago today, the then-prime minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin, was assassinated by an extremist who thought that he was betraying Israel by seeking peace with the Palestinians. Rabin had just taken part in a peace rally calling for an end to violence when he was shot.

To mark the 20th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination on 4th November 1995, I’ve been re-reading the book written by Rabin’s granddaughter (Noa Ben Artzi-Pelossof; now Noa Rothman) after his assassination, In the name of Sorrow and of Hope published in 1996. Ben Artzi writes movingly of the life of her grandfather and herself and of her growing longing for peace. In the first chapter she talks about the assassination from her point of view. In the next few chapters she tells the story of her life, the conflicts that she experienced, her experiences of Rabin, and her desire for peace.

Chapter 3 is called Growing up with War. It begins (p54):

Israeli children have always grown up in the shadow of war. from an early age, we are taught that our tiny land is soaked with the blood of soldiers who gave their lives to insure our survival. We learn that we are surrounded by enemies.

Ben Artzi then focuses on the peace process from her perspective of an not-quite ordinary Israeli teenager, who is also proud of what her grandfather is doing. She writes of her military service, of having to be “strong enough for peace” and of accompanying Rabin to Auschwitz. She also talks about the divisions within Israel (p157):

Israel is like a divided body, healthy on one side, stricken with cancer on the other. And that cancer is the extreme right. It was that cancer that killed Grandpa. It is that cancer that is still trying to kill Israel.

However, Ben Artzi concludes hopefully with a plea for tolerance and the importance of education (p157):

Surely one day these extremists will realise that most of my generation wants to live in peace.

The final chapter tells of Rabin’s funeral and reproduces Ben Artzi’s moving, powerful and personal eulogy at Rabin’s funeral (pdf version). In the Epilogue she writes of Rabin leaving “a legacy of hope” and of peace being “the lasting monument to his life.”

Sadly, 20 years on, it is distressing to see how much the ‘cancer’ that Ben Artzi identified has spread. Writing recently in Ha’aretz Anshel Pfeffer reflected on the divisions within Israeli society that the assassination revealed. Speaking at Rabin’s graveside to mark the 20th anniversary Ben Artzi’s mother, Rabin’s daughter, Dalia Rabin-Pelossof said:

Sadly, I have no news. There is no peace process. We are facing terrorism. Blood is being shed again. I have no other country and my country has changed.

What can be done?
So, then, what can be done? Obviously, there is less that people from outside the countries involved can be, but there is also more than nothing! There are organisations that are working for peace in Israel-Palestine, and the more international support and recognition that they gain hopefully the more influential they will become. Wikipedia gives a pretty comprehensive list.

That giving any more suggestions of the best way to proceed would be deeply contentious is an indication of how problematic resolving this issue is going to be.

One important Christian organisation working in this area is Embrace the Middle East, which seeks to show God’s love by caring for the vulnerable and disadvantaged. Another important organisation is Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, “working for Justice, Peace and Reconciliation in Palestine-Israel”, which was founded by Rev Dr Naim Ateek. Ateek has also written a number of important books on the subject, which are well worth reading, particularly Justice and only Justice and A Palestinian Cry. I’ve also reviewed Faith in the Face of Empire by Mitri Raheb who is also wrestling with these issues.

Psalm 122:6 says:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem

We need to pray, and then to act for peace.

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