Yitzhak Rabin was buried on Monday before the greatest assembly of foreign leaders ever gathered in Israel, eulogized by President Clinton as “a martyr for peace” and by Jordan’s King Hussein as “a brother, a colleague and a friend.”
In ceremonies that blended military precision, ringing tributes and home-grown emotion, Rabin’s body was laid to rest under the pines and cyprus trees of Mount Herzl, the burial ground of Israel’s military and spiritual heroes.
The 73-year-old prime minister was assassinated Saturday by a right-wing radical fired up with rage by the process Rabin had initiated to return occupied lands to Palestinian rule.
Tears flowed freely, especially when King Hussein eulogized his one-time political and military foe in eloquent and heartfelt terms, likening Rabin’s legacy to that of the king’s own grandfather, King Abdullah, who was assassinated in Jerusalem in 1951 by Islamic militants before the eyes of the young Prince Hussein.
“We are not ashamed nor are we afraid - nor are we anything but determined to continue the legacy for which my friend fell, as did my grandfather in this very city when I was with him and but a boy,” said the king, who lost Jerusalem and the West Bank to Israel in the 1967 war and made peace with Israel last year.
More tears flowed as Rabin’s granddaughter, Noa Ben-Artzi Philosof, freckled and red-haired as he was in his youth, recalled a warm and loving grandfather: “Others greater than I already have eulogized you, but none of them ever had the pleasure that I had to feel the caress of your warm, soft hands, to merit your warm embrace that was reserved only for us, to see your half-smile that always told me so much,” she said, fighting for control.
The image of Hussein and of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, along with representatives from the Arab states of Qatar, Morocco and Oman, paying tribute to an Israeli leader on the Jerusalem hilltop where Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, is buried spoke volumes of the changes in the region since the days when Arab leaders spoke of Israel only as a “Zionist entity” and a mortal foe.
The gathering of so many presidents, kings and prime ministers in a land that once had to struggle for recognition was even more stunning. High dignitaries from 80 countries sat among the 5,000 guests at the funeral, the largest gathering of the high and mighty in the history of the Middle East.
Clinton and his wife, Hillary, led an American delegation that included two former presidents, George Bush and Jimmy Carter, three secretaries of state, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and 40 members of the U.S. Congress.
Britain was represented by both Prime Minister John Major and Prince Charles, France by President Jacques Chirac, Germany by Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Russia by Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, the Netherlands by Queen Beatrix and the United Nations by Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
The tribute was as much to the state of Israel as to Rabin himself, the first native-born Israeli prime minister, whose career paralleled his country’s passage from wars of survival to the making of peace and prosperity.
“Today, my fellow citizens of the world, I ask all of you to take a good hard look at this picture,” said Clinton, taking the podium after Hussein. “Look at the leaders from all over the Middle East and around the world who have journeyed here today for Yitzhak Rabin and for peace. Though we no longer hear his deep and booming voice, it is he who has brought us together again here, in word and deed, for peace.”
But Clinton and other speakers also pointed to the danger without Rabin to the peace negotiations that he initiated and appealed to a stunned Israel to stay the course and overcome the deep divisions in its own society that the process of disengagement with the Palestinians had opened.
“Your prime minister was a martyr for peace, but he was a victim of hate,” Clinton said. “Surely, we must learn from his martyrdom that if people cannot let go of the hatred of their enemies, they risk sowing the seeds of hatred among themselves.”
Many Israelis saw the assassination as a brutal revelation that the rift in their society was far deeper and more violent than they had believed. Though Israeli settlers in the West Bank, religious nationalists and others on the political right had waged an increasingly vicious and passionate campaign against the policies of Rabin and his Labor government, often clashing vehemently with police and calling the prime minister a traitor, most Israelis seemed to deny the possibility of a political assassination.
But along with the images of Israelis across the country stopping whatever they were doing at 2 p.m. while sirens wailed for two minutes in memory of the fallen leader, the state television also showed the confessed assassin, Yigal Amir, a slight man in scruffy blue T-shirt and black yarmulke, as he was brought expressionless into court for a hearing.
Amir’s brief statements to reporters crowding the court were a virtual inventory of the basic tenets of the far right - the belief that the government was surrendering the biblical heritage of the Jews and betraying Jewish settlers in the West Bank and that the new Palestinian autonomy taking shape in occupied territories put Israel in mortal danger.
“I find it interesting that everyone is united in condemnation - after all, Rabin is already dead, so who is uniting them?” he said. “It’s very interesting how an entire people never noticed that he’s setting up a Palestinian state with an army of terrorists that he will have to fight in less than half a year, a year, and everyone is shocked at the killing of a prime minister who groveled before all the countries of the world.”
Amir declared that he had acted in accordance with Jewish religious law in killing a Jew who gave land away to the “enemy.”
In the latest development, police arrested Amir’s brother, Hagai, who reportedly acknowledged that he had hollowed out the bullets that the assassin used but denied that he knew his brother’s intentions. Police also said they were looking into broader links between the gunman and militant groups, though Amir maintained that he had acted alone.
Amir said that he had also intended to kill Foreign Minister Shimon Peres but that he had been unable to because the two men, partners in the peace negotiations, left separately from the peace rally in Tel Aviv at which Rabin was killed. Peres stepped in as acting prime Minister on Rabin’s death.
In his eulogy, Peres said that Rabin warned him during the rally of the threat of an assassination. “You told me, there are warnings of an assassination attempt at the large rally,” he said. “We did not know who would strike. We did not imagine the harm would be so great. But we knew we must not fear death and we must not hesitate for peace.”
The theme of political assassination hung heavily over the proceedings. Hussein spoke of his grandfather, and the presence of Egypt’s Mubarak was a reminder that his predecessor, President Anwar Sadat - the first Arab leader to make peace with Israel - had been assassinated in 1981. Clinton invoked America’s “litany of loss from Abraham Lincoln to President Kennedy to Martin Luther King,” and Sen. Edward Kennedy brought handfuls of earth from the graves of his two assassinated brothers, John F. and Robert, to scatter on the grave of Mr. Rabin.
The horror of the killing was brought home most dramatically by Rabin’s friend and long-time speechwriter, Eytan Haber, who read the last eulogy: “Yitzhak, this is the last speech,” he said. “There will be no others.”
Describing what was fast becoming legend, that Rabin’s last act before his death had been to join in singing the popular “Song of Peace,” Haber produced the bloodstained copy of the song that the prime minister had folded and put in his pocket on leaving the rally.
“The blood that ran out of your body in the last moments of your life is between the lines, between the words,” he said. He then read from the song, written by Yaacov Rotblitt after the 1967 Six-Day War:
“… He whose light has been extinguished
And has been tucked into the earth
Bitter tears will not awake him
Will not bring him back here …”
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