Monday, November 1, 2010

The square was full

Yitzhak Rabin. The man who spent most of his life in wars. The officer who participated in the expulsion of Arab villagers near Jerusalem in 1948, the Chief of Staff who led Israel's armed forces in the 1967 war which started the occupation. The Prime Minister who declared in 1975  "We will meet with the PLO only on the battlefield", The Defense Minister who in 1988 ordered his soldiers "To break the bones of Palestinians rioters". The man whose very name, when mentioned from the podium in peace rallies, was enough to immediately fill the square with a storm of whistles and boos and catcalls. The same square which today bears his name.

Yitzhak Rabin. The man who has shown his ability to change radically when well over the age of seventy. The man who went out to meet with the leader of the PLO, not on the battlefield but on the White House lawn. The Prime Minister who shook hands with Yasser Arafat with the reluctance evident in his face, but who grew into the role of the peacemaker and persisted in it even in the face of mounting difficulties. The first and only prime minister in Israel's history who embraced the simple and very controversial principle that a citizen is a citizen is a citizen, that in a parliamentary democracy the government should rely on the majority of legally elected members of the Knesset duly representing the citizen body - even if they happen to be Arab.

Yitzhak Rabin. The man who said: "I am retired Lieutenant-General Yitzhak Rabin, ID 30743, a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces and a soldier in the army of peace. I, who sent regiments into the fire and soldiers to their deaths, I say to you: today we are embarking on a battle that has no dead and no wounded, no blood and no anguish. This is the only battle that is a pleasure to wage – the battle for peace". Yitzhak Rabin - the man who, not long after saying these words, was killed in that battle.

Fifteen years later, could the name and the memory and the way of Yitzhak Rabin still serve to bring the crowds out unto the square? The organizers doubted it – and they were proven wrong.

Tens of thousands came to the square, including many teenagers who do not remember the days of Rabin. The events of recent weeks - the collapsing negotiations and flourishing settlements, the racist bills coming daily on the Knesset agenda, and the despicable religious rulings by rabbis, and the provocations at Karmiel and Safed and on the outskirts of Umm al Fahm and in the proclamations of the Foreign Minister of the State of Israel – aroused, more than ever, a longing for the time when Yitzchak Rabin could provide some grounds for hope. After the events of recent weeks, there were quite a lot of people who waited for this opportunity to come out on the street and let their voice be heard, loud and clear.

The square filled up, and above the crowd waved the signs and banners - some printed in advance in large quantities, others hand-written in which considerable effort had been invested: "We will not let democracy be assassinated", "Fascism is on the march", "This government is shameless", "Struggle against the government of darkness – struggle for democracy",
"Racism erodes the foundations of democracy ","Enough incitement – no more sinister religious fanaticism", "Turn away from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it","Arabs and Jews - united in the struggle", "We will not let our mouths be stopped", "We will neither forget nor forgive," "We will never forget who killed and who was murdered", "Rampant Fascism prepares war and bloodbath", "I will not keep silent when my country has changed her face", "Danger – the end of democracy ahead", " Yes to Peace - No to Violence " .

"Israel is waiting for Rabin", the campaign slogan which led to Yitzchak Rabin's election victory of in 1992, has been resurrected in the Rabin Square of 2010, and copies of it were everywhere.

Israel is still waiting for a new Rabin.