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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                       Jan. 11, 1996 V4, #4
All the News the Big Guys Missed

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1995's Top Story: Rabin's Assassination

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

The assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin last Nov. 4 was one of the major worldwide news stories of the year. It also had a significant impact on Israeli society and the Middle East peace process.

It was a warm November night in Tel Aviv. The crowd gathered slowly. First teenagers in workshirts. Then young parents with small children. Retirees found seats along the edge of a planter. It had the feel of a 1960's peace rally, and in a way it was very much the 1990's equivalent.

A normally silent segment of Israeli society -- supporters of the government's plan to grant autonomy to Palestinians in much of the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- had come out to be counted. Officials spoke, entertainers performed, they got the prime minister to join in singing a song. Then, as he left in a jovial mood, gunfire.

A 25-year-old Jewish law student had been waiting for Rabin near his car, ignored for still unknown reasons by the legions of security officers in the area. He shot Rabin twice, at nearly point-blank range. The prime minister died in his car on the way to the hospital.

Rabin's closest aide, Eitan Haber, announced his death to a shocked crowd outside the hospital, and to a shocked nation and world.

The outpouring of sorrow and condolences was remarkable. Leaders came to Jerusalem for his funeral from more than 40 countries, including several Arab states. Jordan's King Hussein referred to Rabin as "my brother." Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak called Rabin a courageous leader and a man of vision.

President Clinton called Rabin his partner and his friend, and urged Israelis to heal the rift in their society which had led to the murder of the prime minister by a young man opposed to his peace policy.

"Your prime minister was a martyr for peace, but he was a victim of hate. Surely we must learn from his martyrdom that if people can not let go of the hatred of their enemies, they risk sowing the seeds of hatred among themselves."

Just two days after the assassination, that theme was already prominent in Israel. Initially there had been a strong backlash against the Israeli right, which was accused of bringing the rhetoric of hate into the political debate, and creating a highly-charged atmosphere which some said inspired the killing. But as the weeks went on, a more balanced view emerged, with plenty of blame to go around for extremists on both the right on the left, without tainting moderates on either side.

Sociology Prof. Moshe Lissak of Hebrew University says when the recriminations stop, there will be at least one remaining impact of the Rabin assassination -- a kind of loss of innocence. But Lissak says although Israelis now worry their society is not immune to political violence, they have also taken steps to moderate the political debate and to increase communication between supporters of the right and the left, in order to at least try to reduce the likelihood anything like this will ever happen again.

"It became almost a sort of a ritual now. Every second day you have another symposium, another seminar, another informal meeting. I was invited at least to five or six of this kind of meetings. And I mean this kind of meetings were very rare before the assassination. It was almost a sort of absolute segregation or detachment from each other. So there is soul searching, and I must say that I am a little bit optimistic. But you can not expect that it will happen rapidly from today to tomorrow, because it is a long process."

Meanwhile, the state commission investigating the assassination is continuing its work -- having identified serious security lapses which made it possible for the gunman to succeed in his mission. The trial of confessed assassin Yigal Amir began Dec. 19, But was recessed until late this month.

The Rabin assassination appears to have given new momentum to the peace process. The new prime minister, Shimon Peres, implemented the initial expansion of Palestinian autonomy on schedule. Rabin's death provided an opportunity for a re-examination of the stalled Israel-Syria talks, by both sides, and a decision to renew them.

If that is among his legacies, Yitzhak Rabin would likely be pleased. He made this statement when he received the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize. "Despite the toll of murderous terrorism, despite the fanatic and cruel enemies of peace, we will pursue the course of peace with determination and fortitude. We will not let up, we will not give in. Peace will triumph over all its enemies."

At Rabin's funeral, his successor Shimon Peres said the general-turned-peacemaker had been at his best in wars, but at his greatest in peace.

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