NORMALISATION of relations between Israel and several Arab countries this year might never have happened if Yitzhak Rabin hadn’t made “the first difficult move towards the Palestinians and the Jordanians”, observed colleague and friend Omer Bar-Lev in an oration honouring the Israeli prime minister slain by an Israeli Jewish assassin.
Addressing a Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) online commemoration marking the 25th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination, Bar-Lev recounted a sombre handshake with Rabin beneath the roaring rotors of a helicopter that brought the PM to farewell him and other commandos on their way to Entebbe airport in Uganda in 1976 to rescue hostages.
In 1993, as an Oslo negotiator, he dealt with a prime minister who “saw the many obstacles that were ahead as well as the opportunity, but once he made a decision, it was clear for all”. And on November 4, 1995, Bar-Lev was explaining the peace agreements from the bimah of a New York synagogue, hours before Yigal Amir fatally aimed his Beretta.
“What shocks me even today is once I was informed about the assassination, and before I even knew who the assassin was, it was almost obvious to me that it was not a Palestinian terrorist but an Israeli citizen. The polarisation and hatred within Israeli society was at that time wide and dangerous,” he said.
Dedicating himself to Rabin’s legacy, Bar-Lev joined Dor Shalom (Generation of Peace), closing the social gap between Israelis, and founded Acharai! (Follow Me!), which now has some 200 groups uplifting disheartened, disadvantaged teens.
Lighting a memorial candle, Rabin’s daughter Dalia Rabin spoke of a PM, defence minister, soldier and diplomat who was also a father who “took me to the doctor … visited my school”.
Various Australians recalled where they were when they heard news of the assassination – in a Jerusalem cinema, on shnat, watching sport, watching TV. Ilana Maisels was on a kibbutz viewing the cult Australian movie Crocodile Dundee when the news flash interrupted.
ZFA president Jeremy Leibler, then a 15-year-old, recalled being woken early that Australian Sunday morning by a phone call from a journalist seeking his father Mark, then president of the ZFA, that “brought my world crashing down”.
Musical troupe Lior, Simon Starr, Jonathan Skovron and Aviva Lefkowicz performed Livkot Lecha (Cry For You), Aviv Geffen’s song the composer performed at the Tel Aviv peace rally where Rabin was shot. Evocatively, former US president Bill Clinton’s intonation in his eulogy of Rabin was repeated by a multitude of participants until it soared to a crescendo. “Shalom, chaver.”