On November 2, 2010 the Embassy of Israel held its official public observance of the 15th anniversary of the death of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the 16th Street J with a screening of Rabin: Shivah in November. Prior to the film Dan Arbell, the Deputy Chief of Mission for the Embassy delivered these remarks.
Thank you all for coming tonight to this memorial. Every year since Rabin’s untimely death, we have held a service in his honor at our Embassy. For me, it has always been a very personal experience commemorating a profound loss that I thought of as uniquely Israeli. Rabin’s death was an isolating experience – one I felt we should share internally among our citizens. However, I have come to understand that this tragedy was not solely ours. I realize that it was a loss for the Jewish people, as a whole. So, I want to thank the Washington, DC JCC Film program for this night – it is comforting to come together as a community and mourn our collective loss. If you would, please join me for a minute of silence in honor of the late Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin.
[MINUTE OF SILENCE]
For as long as I can remember, Rabin was a national figure for the Israeli people. Even in my childhood, I recall singing songs about his achievements, and he was looked up to by virtually everyone. As I progressed in my career, I had the opportunity to meet and work alongside him on many occasions. I feel fortunate to have many memories of this much revered man, but one stands out in my mind. It was 15 years ago and we were in the Rotunda room of the Capitol building here in Washington, DC. It was a Conference of Presidents event to commemorate 3000 years of Jerusalem as our capital. I remember singing the Hatikva –in the US capitol. The weight of this moment was not lost on me.
As an Israeli and as a Jew, to sing a song of our hope – our national anthem – here in the midst of the most powerful country on earth was overwhelming there are no words to describe the inspiration I felt. Rabin was there – the previous months and days prior to this, he had been through a series of what I am sure were soul searching meetings in Israel’s new hope – our hope for peace.
9 days later, the country was stunned. The shock was palpable around the world. Here in America, people remember where they were when Kennedy was shot. Israelis remember where they were when Rabin was shot. In fact, I was watching a film that to this day, I have not been able to bring myself to watch the ending of.
For those who did not know him, it is important to understand that he was not an ordinary man. The first Prime Minister of Israel to actually be born in our homeland, he was known as “Mr. Security”. With an illustrious career, he served as a general, the Chief of Staff for the IDF, Ambassador to the US, Minister of Defense, and was elected twice as our Prime Minister. He embodied the ideal of ultimate Sabra – the ultimate Israeli. Despite being shy, he knew how to get down to business and get things done. Truly an introvert, he felt a tremendous duty to civic service. The eloquence of his approach was his steadfast and unrelenting protection of Israel, combined with a humane gentleness, which he carried with him always. He felt deeply and never took his responsibilities lightly. He carried a heavy heart, which anyone who came into contact with him could openly see. His blend of strength of purpose and optimism was epitomized in a speech he made to Congress following the peace agreement signed with Jordan, he stated, “I, Military ID # 30743, Retired General in the Israeli Defense Forces, consider myself to be a soldier in the army of peace… Today we are embarking on a battle which has no dead and no wounded, no blood and no anguish. This is the only battle which is a pleasure to wage: the battle of peace.” This was a profound statement that touched me deeply and I recall the standing ovation he received that strengthened my own resolve to work on Israel’s behalf.
In Israel, we still have not come to terms with Rabin’s assassination. To have him killed by one of our own is a wound that 15 years later is still open. But, if Rabin leaves us with anything, he leaves us with the most unlikely of thoughts. He leaves us with Tikva – hope — his courage – the courage to try a different path. To try to work with your enemy because the price of defending against them seems too high – the sacrifice too great — is an act of great courage, befitting such a great man.
In 1993, as Rabin signed the Oslo Declaration of Principles, he reinforced his optimism, “Enough of blood and tears. Enough. We are today giving peace a chance.” In fact, I will never forget the tense moment when it came time for Rabin to shake hands with Arafat on the White House lawn. I could see his contemplation, and indeed, Rabin hesitated, but shook his hand, committing himself to the principles he was indeed signing. A moment later, the applause was deafening. Even if he was unsure that this was the answer, he had the strength to explore this alternate route. And sometimes in vulnerability, there is strength.
Rabin’s life-long dedication to Israel created a trust in him that enabled Israelis to have the courage to pursue a more challenging path. He came to believe that the way to defeat war was peace. What Rabin searched for in his life, we continue to seek to this day… Israel’s ultimate and long lasting peace and security, and for that we have Tikva.
Blessed be his memory…