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Yitzhak Rabin's Assassination, November 4, 1994

Yigal Amir, An Israeli Fanatic, Murders an Israeli Peacemaker

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Assassin Yigal Amir

Israeli Yigal Amir, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassin, pictured here when appearing in court in September 2004.

Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
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 Prime Minister Ytzhak 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.

Yigal Amir in His Own Words

"My intention was to shoot him in a way that would prevent him from carrying on as Prime Minister," Amir said at his murder trial in January 1996. "Either paralysis or, if there was no alternative, also death."

Amir said he had decided to shoot Rabin after three years of protesting, by other means, Rabin's peace negotiations with Palestinians and the planned return of the West Bank to Palestinian control, which Amir believed against Jewish law. "I acted according to the judgment of the 'pursuer,' which is mentioned in the Torah," he said, wildly misinterpreting a Jewish law that applies to self-defense. "I didn't intend to murder Yitzhak Rabin as a person; I intended to murder the Prime Minister to deflect him from his path. I have nothing personal against him."

Amir was immediately apprehended as he was shooting Rabin. He was sentenced to life in prison in 1996. In August that year, the Israeli Supreme Court upheld Amir's conviction.

The Assassination's Effect on Israeli Society and Politics

Rabin's authority and clout in Israeli politics and in the Israeli psyche was vast. He was primarily a soldier, not a politician: He had fought in Israel's War of Independence, was the architect of Israel's vistory in the 1967 Six Day War, and had risen to the prime ministership for the first time after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which he charged Golda Meir had not prepared for.

Rabin was also a pragmatist. He pursued peace when he saw it as the better alternative towar, once Israel's survival was no longer an issue. He brokered the first disengagement treaty with Egypt, which led to the Camp David Accords in 1979, and won the prime ministership the second time on a peace platform. His death severely set back the peace movement's momentum as the power vacuum was filled with the Likud's right-wing hawks, who opposed peace-making and aggressively pursued settlement-building in the Occupied Territories: Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netenyahu. Sharon would moderate considerably by the late 1990s. Netenyahu would not.

The Assassination's Effect on Bill Clinton

President of the United States at the time, Bill Clinton was devastated by the assassination of Rabin, who had been somewhat of a father figure to the American president even though he'd known him only three years. As Aaron David Miller writes in The Much Too Promised Land,

Clinton recalls being told by [National Security Adviser] Tony Lake that Rabin had been shot. He remembers calling Hillary, who came down from the residence and held him, while they talked about the prime minister. Lake recalls that telling Clinton that Rabin had died was the hardest thing he would ever do: "It was as if someone punched him in the stomach." Rahm Emanuel told me that, seeing Clinton later, "he was white" and "stricken beyond politics." But Steve Grossman put it best: "Something in Clinton died when Rabin died." Watching Clinton in the days afterward, particularly at the funeral in Jerusalem, there was no doubt. Rarely had the death of any foreign leader affected an American President so deeply. Clinton's speech was powerful and passionate, a tribute not just to an Israeli prime minister but to a friend and partner. Part of Clinton's motivation to achieve a breakthrough on Arab-Israeli peace in the next several years was surely shaped by his desire to sustain Rabin's legacy.
But it was a breakthrough he never achieved.

Yigal Amir's Strange Prison Years

In January 2004, Amir announced that he intended to marry Larisa Trimbobler, a Russian emigre and recently divorced mother of four who had come to know Amir (and visited him in jail) while still married. On hearing the news, Rabin's daughter, Dalia Rabin-Pelosoff, was admitted to a Tel Aviv hospital with an irregular heartbeat. (She was soon released.) Yaakov Ganot, director of Israel's Prisons Authority, said he would reject Amir's request to marry. The couple married anyway through a Rabbinical court and later conceived a child through artificial insemination and a good deal of subterfuge.

In late October 2008, Israeli television’s Channel 2 and 10 cancelled plans to air an interview with Rabin’s killer, who is serving a life sentence. Amir gave the interview without prison authorities’ knowledge: he was pretending to be speaking to his wife on the telephone. “The broadcast of the interviews would have offended many people, especially on the eve of the annual memorial day for Yitzhak Rabin,” outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in a statement. “I regret the outsized and uncalled-for interest in the slayer rather than the slain, Yitzhak Rabin, his memory and his legacy.”

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. Mr. Sharon went on to become prime minister from 2001 to 2006. In 2005 he ended Israel’s 38-year occupation of the Gaza Strip before he had a debilitating stroke. Mr. Zeevi was assassinated by a Palestinian militant in 2001, and Mr. Eitan was killed when he was washed into a stormy Mediterranean in 2004.”

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