Nineteen years ago this week, Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister of Israel at the time, was assassinated by another Jew, Yigal Amir.
Rabin was a soldier of peace. He was not a dove, as most people think of dovish politicians. He had been to war and excelled at it. He was as familiar with the ways of war as I am with the way to my office which, incidentally, is only ten minutes from home. Rabin was not afraid of war but he knew war well enough not to be enamored of it. He was not a visionary like his foreign minister and partner in peace, Shimon Peres. Peres was the theoretician. Rabin was the practical one. Together they set into motion an historical process that may have led to a lasting peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors. May have. Might have. It’s too early to tell. On the night of November 4th, 1995, just after a large rally demonstrating support for the peace process, surrounded by his protection detail and thousands of fresh young faces expressing their love, Yitzhak Rabin was shot down by a lone Jew who took advantage of the trusting assumption that a Jew would never kill a Jewish leader. Israel has always been like a sabra, the fruit of a cactus, prickly and hard on the outside but soft on the inside. It was that softness on the inside that allowed Yitzhak to be assassinated by his own countryman.
Although Yigal Amir had served in the Israeli Defense Forces in a religious unit of the Golani Brigade, I doubt he saw any real action. It’s doubtful also that he knew the measure of war, so that he probably couldn’t understand the value of peace. After Amir completed his army service, he went to Bar Ilan University to study law. He believed that Rabin would betray Israel by making concessions, involving giving up pieces of our land to our enemies in his pursuit of peace.
Yigal Amir certainly stood on the cusp of a chaotic event similar to Gavril Princip who assassinated the Austrian Archduke, Franz Ferdinand, with “the bullet that started World War I”. I have no desire to glorify with faint damnation a petty misguided young man who committed the most banal of acts, thus proving only that a great soul living in a human body can be brought down by a small soul brandishing a weapon and a poisonous hatred. It may be, and I hope it so, that the soul of the soldier of peace managed to jump ship before his body sunk to the ground he loved, and was rescued and cultivated by those who loved and respected his purpose.
But something happened that night besides the murder of one of the last of the true leaders of Israel. I suppose it is possible to divide up this country in many ways to prove many points, just like a diamond cutter cleaves a rough diamond into different sorts of gems. I would suggest that Israeli society was divided that night into four groups of people. Two groups of singletons, black holes, as it were: the group of people with great ideas who were murdered before they could complete their implementation, one member, Yitzhak Rabin, and the group of people without an idea but in possession of a great hatred who murdered a great leader before he could fully implement his great idea, one member, Yigal Amir. And the other two groups for the rest of us: the beautiful souls and the … well, I’ll get to that later.
The beautiful souls (pronounced yafeh nefesh in Hebrew, יפה נפש): in Israel this term is usually spat out distastefully as a curse, something like the term “bleeding hearts” used by the privileged classes or by persons of conservative or right-leaning political bent to describe others of more liberal or left-leaning bent. This term includes infants, young children, people who still have their innocence, hopes, and bright futures ahead of them, who believe in the truth of beauty and the beauty of truth, who flow with the feeling, who feel what it’s like to be other people and feel what other people feel, who give peace a chance when there is a chance for peace, who sing songs and read poems that aspire to more than what is allotted to us and insult no one. On the night that Yitzhak Rabin, soldier of peace, was shot down, these beautiful souls were wounded, innocence itself was wounded, wounded but not mortally, because it is the nature of innocence to lick its wounds, to rise from the ashes, and to refresh itself.
It is the last group who gave the previous group its name. These are the people who spit out the curse of beautiful souls at those liberal left-leaning Pollyannas, older children, young adults old before their time, and old dried up people who have lost their innocence, hopes, and futures so long ago that they have forgotten that they ever had them, who believe only in their beliefs, who would destroy beauty because they can’t create it, who block the flow of feeling, can’t feel what anyone else feels, are afraid to give peace a chance, would rather maintain the status quo of war and stalemate, who sing songs and chant slogans that glorify the bitterness that is allotted to us and insult the other who is not us. These are the people who called Rabin a traitor, who prefer war to peace, status quo to something better, people who hide behind the fact that they did not pull the trigger but don’t understand what’s so terrible about the man who did. I would say that the most appropriate name for such people would be “the ugly souls”, not spat out as a curse, but said in irony and sadness.
I suppose it is possible to kill hope, but I think it will take a lot more than the murder of one man to do so.
To which group do you belong?