October 31, 2004

The legacy of Yitzhak Rabin: violence must not be part of our culture.That terrible evening nine years ago will never be forgotten by any Israeli citizen who was alive and of age at the time.

The assassination of prime minister and defense minister Yitzhak Rabin, the attack on Israeli democracy and the nation’s fundamental values, will not be dimmed by time and its turbulent events. The black letters, the astounded images of grief-stricken citizens, the many thousands of candles lit by young people, the tears of mourning, the inscriptions on the city streets and in the square – all these will not fade away from the chronicles and the history books.

History will remember forever and not forget. It will remember and cherish the man, who devoted his entire life to his people: The warrior at the gates of Jerusalem in the War of Independence, leading young men who laid down their lives to break through the siege and secure the eternal capital of the Jewish people: the commander who saw the Israel Defense Forces in their inception and was among their founders, formative leaders and builders: the commanding officer who led the IDF to the full liberation and unification of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War: the elected leader who believed and dared to be a trailblazer in the path of peace, and was shot in his exposed back on the winding road leading to the destination.

Has the lesson been learned? Are we free of the curse of polarization, the shame of malignant separation, the unbridled words of abuse, the threat posed by dissent to law and the democratic regime, and the danger of internal violence? Has the terror of political assassination receded, which was hanging over the foundations of the State of Israel’s existence like the sword of Damocles?

I fear that the answer to this is not a positive one.

No, the lesson has not been learned. It is visible to us, shamed, mortified, forgotten, like a stop sign that is not heeded until disaster strikes. It is engraved in front of us like handwriting on the wall, which cries out but is ignored as if it did not exist.

And what will we say if, God forbid, the next assassination takes place? That we did not know? We did not foresee? And which square will change its name? And how many young people will sit in the city squares this time?

Woe is to us if only another national crisis causes us to heed the warning too late. If only a crisis makes us open our eyes and see what was written.

In his last speech, a moment before his death, Rabin said: “Violence eats away at the foundations of democracy. It must be condemned, denounced, isolated. This is not the path of the State of Israel.”

He did not know then that deadly violence awaited him at the bottom of the stairs. And we do not know today whether another weapon is not being loaded in order to strike another blow at Israeli democracy and destroy it, for we have not done enough to tear up all roots that bear gall and wormwood.

We were united in our grief when we accompanied Yitzhak Rabin to his final resting place on Mt. Herzl. Incisive and true statements of soul searching were voiced then, a pure hope that this would be an hour of change and a vow “nevermore.”

For some time it seemed that the political and ideological controversy dividing the people was being conducted within reasonable boundaries, within a proper culture of debate, circumscribed by restrictions preventing wild incitement, hatred, personal defamation and calling for people’s deaths.

Time has passed, and all the restrictions have been lifted, all the inhibitions removed. Once again, evil and extreme voices are heard, religious rulings call to refuse orders, and there are warnings of violent intentions and planned attacks against the parliamentary democracy and its sovereignty decision.

On this day, a call will be issued saying no to violence, no to dangerous and divisive dissent, no to incitement and lawbreaking, no to the deterioration of the public debate to depths of hatred and blood, no to divisiveness and a rift in the army and the people, and no “never again” to the use of cold weapons or firearms against democracy, its elected officials, its representatives and emissaries the soldiers and police officers, even in the toughest decisions.

The threat of internal violence is no less severe and dangerous than the threat of external violence. Just as we always knew how to stand united against any enemy that threatened our security, we must stand fast against anyone threatening our sovereignty and our lawful and authorized decisions. We must be guided by one rule: Violence is the worst thing of all, and it must not be part of our culture. Only one thing is worse than violence – and that is submission to violence. We will stand firm against any attempt to intimidate us. We will safeguard our unity and stride bravely towards the challenges that await us.

(Excerpted from a speech at the state memorial ceremony for the late Yitzhak Rabin at the President’s Residence)

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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