A causa de la pandemia de Covid-19, este año se conmemorará de manera muy reducida, o tal vez ni se conmemore, la ceremonia principal recordando a Yitzhak Rabin en la plaza donde fue asesinado en Tel Aviv. Es muy probable que este acto central ya no se vuelva a conmemorar más cuando regresemos a la "normalidad", y para muchos en este país eso será un verdadero alivio.
Rabin fue asesinado el 4 de noviembre de 1995 en la plaza de la municipalidad de Tel Aviv, que ahora lleva su nombre. El trauma y el duelo nacional fueron muy intensos, aunque no unánimes, es necesario decirlo. Cada año desde entonces se conmemora la fecha trágica con ceremonias en todo el país, pero principalmente con un acto de masas en la misma plaza del siniestro. Con el pasar de los años, el carácter general de la ceremonia, así como la escogencia de figuras públicas invitadas a pronunciar discursos y de los temas en los cuales debería centrarse el acto, se han vuelto temas casi tan divisivos como lo fueron las decisiones polítcas de Rabin y las reacciones de quienes se le oponían.
En esta época en la que las brechas ideológicas han profundizado y la instigación interna a la violencia se ha vuelto más intensa que nunca (con el impulso irresponsable de Netanyahu y su entorno de aduladores) nadie cree realmente que es posible hacer un acto unificador alrededor de la figura de Rabin, pero a la vez, nadie se atreve a tomar la decisión de cancelar oficialmente tales actos. Como en otros aspectos de la vida pública, el Covid-19 llega oportunamente a la ayuda de todos, obligándonos a realizar el acto de manera muy reducida este año, y posibilitando que tal vez nadie quiera oragnizar tal ceremonia en el futuro. Lo único que quedará, me permito profetizar, son actos de conmemoración mucho más modestos que se organizarán en contextos reducidos sin presunciones de alcance nacional, y probablemente algún acto simbólico del gobierno o de la knesset, que gradualmente se irá reduciendo hasta desaparecer sin pena ni gloria.
En la Universidad de Tel Aviv, como en otras instituciones de enseñanza superior y en la mayoría de las escuelas, se realizan todos los años (por ahora) ceremonias locales de ese tipo. El año pasado, en noviembre de 2019, siendo yo decano, fue mi turno de pronunciar el discurso central de esa ceremonia en mi universidad. Lo que dije en esa oportunidad sigue siendo vigente hoy en día, y probablamente con muchos agravantes. Les copio aquí abajo una traducción al inglés de mi texto (que suena mucho más convincente en hebreo ...).
El asesino de Rabin sigue pagando su castigo encerrado en la cárcel (por ahora ...). Pero su espíritu vicioso anda más libre que nunca, ambulando prósperamente en todos los rincones de Israel y sumando cada vez más adeptos.
Twenty-four years ago, Israel’s Prime Minister was assassinated in Tel Aviv. The two years preceding the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin Z”L were extremely turbulent, following the signing of the Oslo Accords and the opening of a direct dialogue between the Israeli government and the PLO leadership. The public in Israel was deeply divided. Supporters saw the agreements as a breakthrough and as a ray of hope for a common future of peace between the peoples, and for a common life in this war-torn stretch of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Opponents saw the agreements as a national calamity that must be stopped by all available means. The controversy also revolved around the question of the real intentions of the Palestinian leadership on signing the agreements.
On February 25, 1994, a few months after the first signing ceremony was festively held in Washington DC, the Jewish physician Baruch Goldstein, a resident of Hebron, murdered 29 Muslim worshipers in the Cave of the Patriarchs, shooting them with an automatic assault rifle in their backs while they kneeled to pray. On October 14, 1994, the abducted Israeli soldier Nachshon Waxman was killed by his Palestinian captors, while Captain Nir Poraz died in the failed attempt to rescue him. Five days later a powerful bomb exploded on Bus Line 5, in Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv, killing 22 Israeli civilians. Subsequently, there were more terrorist attacks, which claimed the lives of dozens of Israeli citizens. Stormy demonstrations broke out all over the country and the level of tension rose steadily. Initially, calls were made for non-violent civil uprisings, which would lead to the cancellation of the Oslo Accords. Gradually, the voices that personally incited against Rabin intensified, sometimes openly calling for his assassination. Finally, the despicable assassin, Yigal Amir, cowardly fired three shots at the back Yitzhak Rabin.
Yigal Amir has been in prison ever since that fateful day of November 1995. The issue of his possible release comes up time and again as the calendar brings us closer to the yearly commemoration ceremonies. As time goes by, supporters of such a move become increasingly vocal. Many of us are reminded of the 1997 frightful TV sketch, in which actor Rami Heuberger impersonates the imprisoned murderer declaring with full confidence, while sitting in his cell: "One day, in 20 years from now, I will be pardoned. You know it damn well. Deep down in your hearts, you all know it." And although more than 20 years have passed and Amir is still in prison, many continue to fear (or should we say: to “know it damn well, deep down in their hearts”) that the day is not far off, perhaps, when we will witness the roaming applause of those who, as described in the sketch, will celebrate Amir’s release and accompany him on his way to freedom. It does not take a professional pollster to realize that an ever growing part of the Israeli population, and above all among younger people, believe that Yigal Amir is not the murderer or, worse, that even if he did shoot the deadly shots, his place was never in prison. In any case, many politicians and ordinary citizens think that time is ripe for Amir’s prompt release.
And while such questions are openly discussed, and while Amir himself still sits behind bars, Yigal Amir's spirit has long been walking free among us, peacefully and confidently, with the infamous cynical smile of the man spread over its face. This is an evil spirit whose presence and power are up and growing. These days, TV commentators and journalists, as well as senior members of the judiciary in increasing numbers, are being assigned bodyguards to protect their lives in light of open intimidation on the social media. A harsh, open and clear condemnation of such threats, coming from religious and political leaders, is yet to be heard, much as it remained unheard in the days before Rabin's assassination. Tacit acquiescence or even worse than that is a much more common attitude. Disregard for human life and haughtiness towards Israel’s Arab citizens, not to mention the total disdain towards the personal safety and the property of Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories, are becoming, more than ever, an inseparable part of our lives. Organizations that try to promote dialogue with our neighbors, such as Parents Circle – Families Forum, who seek to maintain direct contact with bereaved Palestinian families, are viciously denounced, and the ceremonies that they organize to advance their doctrine and beliefs come under threat and violent attacks.
Yitzhak Rabin's address on the occasion of the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement Signing Ceremony (28 September 1995, Washington, D.C.) may sound today as a very distant and poignant echo, embodying a completely different vision, perhaps naive in the ways in which it was conceived then. And yet it was an inspiring call for hope and a blunt recognition of the most basic of all realities in the Middle East, whose continued denial in the mainstream political discourse is bound to lead us to disaster: “We are not alone here on this soil, in this land” - Rabin said back then, in his simple prose and confident voice. And he continued with a courageous cry: "Our neighbors, the Palestinian people, we who have seen you in your difficulties, we saw you for generations; we who have killed and have been killed are walking beside you now toward a common future, and we want you as a good neighbors." Rabin’s vision, for all the complexity and immense difficulties it implied, and for the many mistakes incurred in trying to make it come true, was optimistic about the possibility of bringing promise: “We are sharing this good earth today with the Palestinian people in order to choose life.” Yigal Amir suddenly interrupted this hope and his spirit has come to control all aspects of our lives nowadays.
But let us say it loud and clear: the spirit of Yigal Amir is not just the spirit of the man who today is paying in jail the price of his deeds. It is the spirit of many others who exacerbated then the hatred and encouraged violence. This spirit, as already said, walks the day freer than ever and adds to its cause more and more followers. Take a look at just a few examples from recent weeks: A Border Police officer is documented in a video when she shoots the back of a young Palestinian, “heavily armed” with a miserable plastic bag, to the cheers of her friends, and against the background of enthusiastic reactions on the social media. A heavily armed and fully protected IDF soldier aims his gun at the head of a young man who accompanies his 5-year-old son, a little boy who was declared “highly dangerous” because, according to the soldiers, he threw stones at them. Had he pulled the trigger he would have surely become a new Israeli hero, akin to Elor Azaria, who was quick to kill the one who could no longer harm him. Palestinian farmers' day-to-day hardships have been documented being removed from their lands, time and again, with their olive harvest avoided by security forces, using stun grenades. The State of Israel was forced to admit that their entry was prevented due to the soldiers' error in reading the map, but the damage and suffering are irreversible. An urgent petition was filed by human rights organizations, precisely those which are widely denounced nowadays as enemies that must be eliminated and removed indiscriminately. Less courage and less commitment to the mission were demonstrated by IDF fighters, unfortunately, when groups of violent Jewish rioters attacked them near the Yitzhar settlement and punctured the wheels of their vehicles, and even threatened a Golani battalion commander whose soldiers were operating in the area. The rioters, of course, who acted under the spell of Amir's spirit, will not be punished, and such vandal acts against local Palestinians, as well as against IDF officers loyal to the basic values, orders and regulations stipulated by army, will continue to be perpetrated with impunity by unruly Jewish settlers, while some politicians come up with faint condemnations, at most. And these examples are just a very small sample of what was documented and broadcasted over the media, while most of this daily violence passes without notice under the radar.
Throughout his life, Yitzhak Rabin held many public positions: military, political and in the service of the state. Israeli citizens owe him a big debt for his work of so many years. This does not mean, however, that, when seen in retrospect, all of his actions and decisions, the moves he initiated, and that which is sweepingly known as "Rabin’s legacy," is beyond criticism and cannot be critically and even sharply assessed. The assassination in itself does not sanctify Rabin's character, deeds and views, and there is no justification for silencing voices of criticism towards this legacy, whatever the meaning of that may be. And this approach is valid not only in relation to his actions during his second term as prime minister, that ended tragically with his assassination, but also to his long public life in general, like any other leader. On a day dedicated to his memory, it is important that the main focus be on the important task of preventing the oblivion of the act of murder, and of the political and ideological conditions that made the murder possible and even encouraged it.
And yet, on this very day when we recall the memory of the man Yitzhak Rabin, it is important to go back and mention deeds and values that were part of his life trajectory and from which there is much to learn even today, or perhaps, should we say, especially today. With a brief reference to this important point, I would like to conclude my remarks today. Rabin was a straightforward, humane leader, prone to error, but always obedient of the law and faithful to his public mission. His acts were led by that seemingly simple attitude that is so far removed from what we observe nowadays in our leaders, namely, that the government was meant to serve all the citizens of the country, and to advance their interests as individuals, and not the other way round. The power of authority did little to corrupt his personal values. Rabin did never place his own political survival above the interests of the state and of Israeli society and throughout his long career he was willing to pay prices for his deeds.
When preparing this message that I am delivering here today, I revisited Rabin's speeches during his second term as Prime Minister, from 1992 until the day of the assassination. I need to confess that I was stunned to recall that, alongside the controversy surrounding the Oslo Accords and the moves that led to his assassination, Rabin’s tenure was characterized, above all, by an admirable atmosphere of fresh energies that dominated the public scene after years of stagnation: important reforms in the capital market, massive investments in infrastructure, especially in the peripheral areas of the country, the creation of a large number of colleges and new institutions of higher education, to mention just a few examples. Rabin brought with him to the job a comprehensive plan of action and an energetic team that helped it materialize. Some parts of his program were implemented and with great success at that, and they have a lasting impact to this day.
In recent days, I have read many of Rabin speeches: harsh in style, phrased in his somewhat unpolished Hebrew—not unlike that of his comrades of the old days of the Palmach—but full of straightforward and often courageous statements. Among them, there is one paragraph that struck me the most, and that I feel obligated to read it to you today—dear students and colleagues—to conclude my address. At the occasion of the Levy Eshkol Art Awards Ceremony, held in Tel Aviv, on October 6, 1994, Rabin emphasized the important role of intellectuals and artists in shaping the face of society, and he said:
It would not occur to us to ask you to write in a spirit agreeable to the political establishment, to the government. We would not dare to ask and we will not ask. We have no intention, God forbid, to interfere with your creative choices, and we believe that the time will come to ponder about this special period we are going through—in books, songs, plays, paintings, sculptures, music. The call we are calling you today is to recruit the writers, without it being militant literature. You must take a stand; continue to contribute to the debate about our national character and, to a large extent, about our fate in this country. The next few years will be overshadowed by question marks. After we sign peace, after borders are opened, after walls fall, the essential questions will begin: Who are we? Where are we heading? What is our new character? What nation do we want to be? How will we live with our neighbors around us? Will we become "light to the Gentiles," or will we be "like all the Gentiles"? Will it be religion that will preserve Judaism? The Chosen People? And what is the place of secularism? Is there a new Jew, a new Zionist, a new Israeli? The answers, at least in part, are with you. You are few - but your power is great in shaping the image of this country, and your job will be to give us in the years to come, and to the next generation, what we lacked in the years when the use force was primordial: the spirit—the same spirit of the prophets, the spirit of Yavneh, and also the spirit of Athens. Please consider me, my office, and the government at large, to be the address that will help you in your attempt to reach the right answers. We look forward to your answers.
So Rabin in 1994. And I wonder, my young friends attending today this ceremony, did you ever imagine that this is how a political leader would speak to intellectuals and artists, inviting them to be critical and to challenge basic beliefs? How distant and different from what we got used to over the last years in this country! We even started to believe that it cannot be otherwise … Just compare the spirit of Rabin’s words with the evil spirit that is so strongly present in our lives these days, imbued in the hate speech that comes from the very top echelons of the political system, and so deeply connected with the spirit of Yigal Amir, that evil spirit that walks freely among us.
Foto credit: Yaakov Saar, National Photo Collection of Israel, Photography dept. Goverment Press Office , under the digital ID D3-016. License: Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported. Reproduced (cropped) from Wikipedia.