"Salam-shalom" : An Israeli soldier murdered

Cover Jerusalem Post Just hours after heads of state and prime ministers from over 80 countries had left Jerusalem and the airport was re-opened for commercial flights, I arrived in Israel and found a divided nation in deep shock. It was 4th November 1995.

For days, tens and tens of thousands of young Israeli's gathered at the graveside where prime minister Yitzak Rabin was buried, close to Theodor Herzl. Or they massed together at the square in Tel Aviv, where he was murdered only days before at age 73. After the regicide, six generals had surrounded the coffin and it had been the army's chief rabbi who chanted kaddish. The deep emotion of his widow, Leah, had moved the world and the tender words ("Shalom haver", goodbye my friend) US president Bill Clinton had spoken at the grave continued to vibrate. At the same time, Hamas militants were dancing of joy in the streets of Gaza and in southern Lebanon, for Rabin had raised an iron fist against their Intifadah. Palestinian leaders such as George Habash (PFLP) and Ahmed Jibril (PFLP-GC) hailed the assassination.

The former prime minister not only had been a military commander, but he was also the driving force behind the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Yitzak Rabin was a sabra in the first place - the first prime minister of his country who was born in Israel.

Beyond the deep sadness of the Israeli nation, there was a feeling of disbelief for it was a Jew, 25-year old Yigal Amir, who had killed another Jew over a political issue - in the name of his own interpretation of the Halacha, the Jewish law. The Jerusalem Post recalled that the persecution of the Jewish people had begun, when Jews began fighting each other.

Must it be remembered that radical rabbi's and then Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu had called for the liquidation of the peace process in extremely inciting and inflammatory words? That public address systems had been sabotaged when Yitzak Rabin appeared at public meetings? Should one recall the Friday rallies before his private house? The insulting posters where Rabin was compared to Adolf Hitler? The threatening letters that included dead pigeons? The mystical Kabbalist death curse Pulsa da Nura that had been chanted - kind of a Jewish variant for the Arabic fatwa? The Talmudic Din rodef that had been issued by rabbinic authorities (the same "license to kill" that has currently been pronounced against Ariel Sharon for giving up land that is said to be part of Eretz Israel)?

Two years after his historic handshake with PLO-leader Yasser Arafat at the White House lawn, for which Rabin, Arafat and Shimon Peres were awarded the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize, Yitzak Rabin had agreed to extend Palestinian self-rule on the West Bank and the Gaza strip and to withdraw the Israeli army - deeply dividing the nation. The man who had directed Jerusalem's defence in Israel's war of independence and who was army chief of staff in the Six-Day War, ended his career as a politician - giving up the land he had conquered as a military commander. Three weeks after the Knesset approved with the agreement, Yitzak Rabin was murdered.

In the following pages, I brought together some stories I filed from Jerusalem, Ramallah, Hebron and Kiryat Arba. As a tribute to the courageous leader he was, I have added the last speech of Yitzak Rabin at the Kings of Israel square in Tel Aviv (later renamed Yitzak Rabin square), where he attended a mass peace rally on 4th November 1995 - singing the Israeli song of peace, the local version of "Give peace a chance." To conclude I recall the moving eulogy his granddaughter, Noa Ben-Artzi Filosof, spoke at Mount Herzl cemetery on the day of his burial.