A Martyr for Peace
It seems that all the most crushing news, the kind of news you want to be sitting down for and holding a kind hand in order to receive, arrives over BlitzMail. I should be used to it by now.
The subject "Rabin Assassinated," in my In Box, contained words that I never wanted to see together. The concept that Yitzhak Rabin, Israel's fiercely strong champion of peace, could be dead, was one I did not want to grasp. The fact that a Jewish assassin's bullets were what tore through him, ripping life and soul and Israeli hope from his body, was one I did not want to believe. But reality is a harsh master.
Three days later, after I stood in Rollins Chapel surrounded by my fellow students and said the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, I reflected on the same question everyone was asking, "What will happen to the peace process?" To this I added one more thought: "Why does society kill the harbingers of peace?"
Jew that I am, I must admit that I am not conversant with internal Israeli politics, and I am not sure if land should be given to the Palestinians or not. But I do know that even in my lifetime there has been too much bloodshed in the Middle East. If peace can be exchanged for land, so be it. Peace is a give and take. Peace necessarily means compromise.
Rabin made his name in Israel as a soldier. But the world will remember him as the man who shook hands with Yassir Arafat, president of the PLO. As King Hussein of Jordan eulogized him, "He was a man of courage, a man of vision and he was endowed with one of the greatest virtues that any man can have. He was endowed with humility." This is why, in Rabin's own words, he realized that "No longer is it true that the world is against us." And so he changed his world view and his goals, and even shook the hand of an historical enemy, in order to allow Israel to rise beyond its memory.
Shimon Peres, Rabin's successor and political rival, remembered him this way: "Yitzhak Rabin was at his best in war and he was at his greatest in peace." Peres has a large pair of shoes to fill and hopefully he will wear them on the same road Rabin traveled. Other world leaders, especially King Hussein and even Yassir Arafat, have sworn to continue to clear the path of peace in a desert stained with conflict and fraught with blood shed in the name of God.
And in this way, this killing is not so different from the blatant disregard for life that the region has seen for centuries. Yigal Amir, the assassin, claims that "I acted alone on God's orders and I have no regrets." Dartmouth's own Rabbi Daniel Siegel confronted this claim best when he spoke in Rollins Chapel: "I always feel that that kind of religion makes it difficult for the rest of us who don't believe that God could possibly force anyone to do such a thing."
In a rather ironic way, Yitzhak Rabin, like Anwar Sadat before him, has been paid a huge compliment in his martyrdom: the side of reason must be winning when the enemy thinks the only way to win is to turn back to violence. Yigal Amir, and those who praise him, must have thought that peace with the Palestinians was unstoppable. In any case, the supporters of peace have inertia on their side -- an object in motion tends to stay in motion.
Perhaps the most frightening implication of Rabin's death is that in this world we no longer know who the enemy is. It used to be that Israelis knew the Arab nations were aligned against them. This put them on guard. A radical Jewish enemy is one that Rabin himself would probably not have predicted. Jews do not historically assassinate Jews. Maybe it is because we figure there have been plenty of other people killing us along the way.
Since 1948, when Israel was born (in blood and words), the Israeli army has earned its reputation defending its country against foreign terrorist threats. The threat from within is a new one. Maybe it is simply a symptom of the new world order. Maybe when the lines between countries blur in global friendships, the connections between brothers within a country run the risk of also blurring -- into intra-familial malevolence. Our own bombing in Oklahoma earlier this year -- a crime against Americans by fellow Americans -- is another example of this distressing development.
In his speech at the peace rally before his death, this man -- soldier, statesman, purveyor of peace -- a man whose primary concern was not his own safety, sent a message the entire world can profit from: "I waged war as long as there was no chance for peace. I believe there is such a chance now, a great chance, and we must take advantage of it ... I have always believed that the majority of the people want peace and are ready to take a chance for peace." Even in death, Yitzhak Rabin's words are his sword. He has passed on the weapon we need to continue to wage his recent war -- the battle for peace.