In the days after the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Israel focused on unifying a deeply split and wounded society.
But Thursday, at the one-year anniversary of Rabin’s death under the Hebrew calendar, there was no pretense of unity. Instead, the focus lingered darkly on preventing another political murder.
Security sources say more than a half-dozen Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have recently received death threats.
“If something did change over the past year, I did not feel it,” said Parliament member Yael Dayan, whose face and neck were scalded by hot tea that was hurled at her Tuesday by a Jewish man in Hebron.
“It wasn’t one madman who killed Rabin,” she said. “It was a hothouse that is continuing to breed something terrible. If we do not do something substantial, we will fall apart.”
The attack on Dayan, coupled with the threatening phone calls and letters to Israeli leaders, has caused great distress in the last few days amid both the left and right wing.
The revival of threats and violence follow the recent momentum toward an agreement for partial withdrawal of Israeli troops from the embattled city of Hebron, analysts say.
One part of Israeli society, still a relatively small minority, is willing to fight for its vision of “Greater Israel,” which includes all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Half of the country, perhaps more, is willing to give that land to the Palestinians in exchange for the promise of peace.
The potential for violence is not limited to right-wing militants unwilling to relinquish the West Bank and Gaza. Just a month ago, in the first case in recent history of political violence apparently from the Israeli left, someone firebombed the nursery school run by the mother of Yigal Amir, who was convicted of murdering Rabin.
Amir, who viewed Rabin as a traitor for giving land to the Palestinians, gunned down the former prime minister after a peace rally in Tel Aviv on Nov. 4.
“I do not exclude the possibility - not immediately but in the long run - of matters deteriorating and the polarization widening to a point of civil war in Israel,” said Ariel Merari, who tracks the trends of violence in the Middle East.
Left-wing attacks like the one on the Amir family home “may proliferate, or take on some sort of momentum,” Merari said. “I can also see the right wing resort to widespread violence if there is a left-wing government.”
On Wednesday night, the mourning period for Rabin began with hundreds of youths walking with torches from the site of the shooting to the hospital where he was proclaimed dead.
Thursday, about 2,000 people climbed to the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem for the official graveside memorial ceremony. The events will continue over the next 11 days, with marches and rallies calling for peace.
But the country is so divided that there is bitterness on almost every issue connected to Rabin. Some on the left expressed anger about the right participating in the events.
Shevah Weiss, former Knesset speaker and Labor Party member: “I have this feeling that the right has adopted the mourning for Rabin. I know that on the anniversary of a death it is usual to speak moderately and pleasantly, to speak of unity and brotherhood. But with regard to a portion of those who were party to the incitement and to creating the environment of fear and darkness - suddenly they are parties to the mourning, and they want me to believe them?”
There was even disagreement over the performance of the “Peace Song” at a rally honoring Rabin that is planned for Sunday in Tel Aviv. Members of the Beitar and Bnei Akiva youth movements said they didn’t want to sing it because of the lyrics.
“We are not prepared to accept left-wing ideology, chapter and verse, because the prime minister of blessed memory was murdered,” said Eldad HaLahmi, Beitar’s leader. ” … The words of the song debase the memory of those who died in Israel’s wars, when they say ‘Don’t look back, let the fallen be.”’
Meanwhile, Dan Tichon, the current speaker of the Knesset, fears another political murder.
“There is no doubt that we are witnessing a situation reminiscent of that of a year ago,” he said. “You see it in the Knesset, in the street, you see the increasing extremism.”
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: AFTER RABIN By the Hebrew calendar, Thursday marked the anniversary of Yitzak Rabin’s assassination by a Jewish extremist. Milestones since Rabin’s death: Nov. 4, 1995: Rabin assassinated by a Jewish extremist; Shimon Peres becomes prime minister. Nov. 13-Dec. 27: Israeli troops withdraw from six West Bank cities. Jan. 20, 1996: Arafat elected president in first Palestinian election. Feb. 25-Mar. 4: Islamic militants carry out four suicide bombings in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ashkelon. Israel postpones pullout from Palestinian areas of Hebron and puts peace talks on hold. April 24: Palestine National Countil votes to revoke clauses of the PLO charter that call for the destruction of Israel. May 5: Talks begin in Taba, Egypt, on issues including the future of Jerusalem, Jewish settlements and the Palestinian entity. May 29: Right-wing Likud Party leader Banjamin Netanyahu narrowly defeats Peres to become prime minister. July 23: Netanyahu sends Foreign Minister David Levy to meet Arafat in his government’s first high-level meeting with Palestinians. Aug. 2: Government angers Arabs by ending four-year freeze on settlement construction. Sept. 4: Netanyahu meets Arafat. Sept. 24-27: Protests and clashes break out in West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem after Israel opens new exit to tunnel near Muslim holy site. Oct. 1: Netanyahu and Arafat meet at White House on how to end violence. They agree negotiations should resume. Oct. 6: First talks since Netanyahu’s election begin at Erez Checkpoint near Gaza Strip.