Why Yitzhak Rabin Mattters:
The pragmatic soldier, warrior and peacemaker, Yizhak Rabin is one of the iconic figures of Israeli history and was twice Prime Minister (1974-77 and 1992-95) representing the Labor Party. In 1948, Rabin fought in the siege of Jerusalem during the first Arab-Israeli war. As Chief of Staff of the Israeli army, he led Israel to victory in the 1967 Six Day War. He then forged the first disengagement treaty
with Egypt in 1974, oversaw the partial withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon in 1983, and made peace with the PLO’s
Yasser Arafat in 1993. An Israeli right-winger assassinated him in 1995.
Early Life :
Yitzhak Rabin was born in Jerusalem on March 1, 1922, the son of a Ukrainian father and politically active Russian mother. “It was a disgrace to speak about money” in the house, Rabin remembers, but public service was revered. Rabin’s father was involved in David Ben-Gurion’s trade union organization. As a young man in school, Rabin received military training, and as a teen-ager he joined forces with the Palmach
, the elite militia that would eventually form the core of the Israeli military. For his anti-British activities, Rabin spent six months in a British prison in Gaza.
The 1948 War of Independence and the Forced Exodus of Arabs:
Rabin commanded the Har-El Brigade during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, keeping supply lines open with the Mediterranean Sea.
In his memoirs, Rabin recalled that when David Ben-Gurion, the Israeli commander, was asked during the 1948 war what should be done with the Palestinian civilian population of al-Ramla and Lydda, Ben-Gurion “waved his hand in a gesture which said, ‘Drive them out!’” Rabin issued the order to expel, at gunpoint if necessary, 50,000 Arabs on July 12, 1948. The revelation in his memoir upended the long-standing Israeli myth that Arabs were never forced from their homes during the war.
The 1967 Six Day War:
In 1953, Rabin went to England to study at the British Staff College, , an experience that helped him become one of Israel’s most accomplished military strategists. He essentially built and trained the Israeli army that fought and defeated Egypt, Syria and Jordan—and conquered then occupied the West Bank, Arab Jerusalem
, the Golan Heights
and the Sinai Peninsula. Ironically, Rabin had a nervous breakdown immediately before the hostilities, and shortly after Ben-Gurion rebuked him for his war plans.
Rabin’s Turn Toward Politics:
In 1968, Rabin became Israel’s ambassador to the United States, a position he used to great effect by channeling dollars and weapons to Israel while building public support for the country in the United States. When Israel blamed then-Prime Minister Golda Meir for being unprepared for the 1973 Yom Kippur War
, Rabin was elected prime minister. He was 52. “The time has come,” he said, “for the sons of the founders of the state to take over their role.” He helped negotiate the first thaw in Egyptian-Israeli relations, the 1974 and 1975 Disengagement Treaty
That treaty, worked out with Henry Kissinger, paved the way for the 1979 Camp David Accords and the broader land-for-peace formula that yielded the Sinai back to Egypt.
Rabin’s image was tarnished, however, by a 1977 scandal involving an illegal bank account he kept in the United States—and his initial lies about it. He was ousted and replaced by the hawkish Likud leader, Menahem Begin.
Brokering Peace With Palestinians :
It took Rabin a long time to take Palestinians seriously. His aim was to make peace with big regional powers—Egypt, Syria, Jordan. He thought Palestinians could be ignored because they had no power—no military, no country, no clout. The 1987-88 intifada
changed his mind and made him realize that the Palestinian issue could not be resolved by force. “They’re now on the map,” he told Aaron David Miller
, a State Department analyst at the time, “and we may have no choice but to deal with them.” So he did.
Second Term as Prime Minister (1992-95):
Rabin campaigned for his second term as prime minister on a platform of peace, including cutbacks in building new settlements in the Occupied Territories. He called for a one-year freeze on settlement activity, but quickly dropped that call when he was elected. The about-face was political: Rabin needed the small but influential right-wing party called Tsomet, which opposed a freeze, to solidify his Labor-led coalition. Even if a freeze had been declared, settlement activity would have continued anyway because 10,000 to 12,000 new houses and apartments were already under construction in the Occupied Territories.
Nevertheless, after secret negotiations leading to what became known as the Oslo Accords, Rabin recognized the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinians’ right to self-determination in the Occupied Territories. For the accords, Rabin won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat. The accords were supposed to be the first step toward an independent Palestinian state. But the accords never resolved two key issues: The status of Arab East Jerusalem, and the status of Palestinian refugees in the Arab world. Those unsettled questions doomed Oslo, though Rabin never lived to see the failure.
Rabin’s 1995 Assassination :
On Nov. 4, 1995, Yigal Amir, a 25-year-old Israeli resident of suburban Tel Aviv and law student at Bar-Ilan University, boarded a bus with a loaded gun and headed to a peace demonstration where 100,000 people had gathered to hear Rabin and Labor leader Shimon Peres. Amir planned to murder both Rabin and Peres for their roles in making peace with Palestinians. Amir had been overtaken by religious zealotry that deemed the peace accords against divine law. When Peres and Rabin walked off the podium separately after the rally, Amir was left with one target. He shot Rabin as the prime minister was entering his car.
Rabin’s Words of Peace
Rabin the peacemaker could be immensely moving, conveying in words and emotions what others in the Middle East might not bring themselves to say as sincerely. At his Nobel lecture in 1994, Rabin said:
In my current position, I have ample opportunity to fly over the State of Israel, and lately over other parts of the Middle East, as well. The view from the plane is breathtaking: deep-blue lakes, dark-green fields, dun-colored deserts, stone-gray mountains, and the entire countryside peppered with whitewashed, red-roofed houses.
And cemeteries. Graves as far as the eye can see.
Hundreds of cemeteries in our part of the Middle East - in our home in Israel - but also in Egypt, in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. From the plane's window, from thousands of feet above them, the countless tombstones are silent. But the sound of their outcry has carried from the Middle East throughout the world for decades.
Standing here today, I wish to salute loved ones - and foes. I wish to salute all the fallen of all the countries in all the wars; the members of their families who bear the enduring burden of bereavement; the disabled whose scars will never heal. Tonight I wish to pay tribute to each and every one of them, for this important prize is theirs, and theirs alone.
In late October 2008, Israeli television’s Channel 2 and 10 bowed to public pressure and canceled plans to air an interview with Rabin’s killer, who is serving a life sentence.
According to the Associated Press, Amir told Channel 10 TV “that he was incited into action by comments from hawkish former generals, including Ariel Sharon, Rehavam Zeevi and Rafael Eitan, that the deal would bring disaster. At the time of the killing, all three were leading right-wing politicians with long, distinguished military careers.”