From the NNLS Memorial Service Monday 6 November 1995
Today is a black day for the Jewish people, but as King Hussein said this morning, it is also a day of remembrance and commitment.
It has been said many times today that Yitzhak Rabin was a man of war who became a man of peace. But that road involved many changes of position along the way which a lesser man would not have confronted. It would have been more comfortable to have propagated the rigidity of unalterable positions, not to think beyond the accepted wisdom, not to challenge cherished beliefs. In the 1980s Rabin was the hard man of Israeli politics. No one can forget that it was Rabin who ordered his soldiers to break the bones of the demonstrators of the Intifada and that he regarded Shamir as not being tough enough. Yet the foot soldiers of the Intifada, young Palestinian boys and girls – as young as our youngest children – persuaded Rabin that there would never be peace unless the Palestinian grievances were addressed, unless historic Eretz Israel or Filastin was divided between the two peoples that lived there, unless the Land was partitioned into two states as originally envisaged by the 1947 UN Declaration.
This later led the pragmatic Rabin to the hard conclusion that he had to deal with Arafat and the PLO as the only group that could deliver politically. And although it was Peres who made the breakthrough with the PLO, it was Rabin who overcame his doubts and approved every step.
Rabin was a man without pretensions, an honest man who stepped down as Prime Minister in 1977 when his wife infringed regulations governing foreign accounts – and this was in stark contrast to many others in political life who looked for every excuse to hang onto office. Yitzhak Rabin was a man who was trusted by the people for his integrity, his sense of mission and above all his demand that the people of Israel should live in peace and security.
Rabin opposed intolerance and tried to deflate the climate of verbal violence which his opponents did so much to promote. Above all, he believed in peace for the children of Israel, that unlike their fathers and grandfathers and indeed Rabin himself, they would not have to go to war, that their lives would be given over to repairing the world, to tikkun olam and that they would not, from generation to generation, have to rush to the defence of the homeland.
Rabin was not a religious man, but his numerous messages since that historic handshake with Arafat are replete with Biblical statements and prophetic sentiment. It is ironic that Rabin the secularist looked to the sources as he actively sought peace while so many rabbonim did not practice what they preached. Indeed, they did not teach their students peace, they preferred to turn ploughshares into swords. They often incited their youthful and unworldly charges to opposition, legitimising a situation which has allowed unstable people tocommit irrational acts.The rabbonim of our generation have much to answer for.
On 13 September 1993, Yitzhak Rabin clasped the hand of Arafat on the White House lawn. He did so gingerly, somewhat hesitantly, somewhat sceptically but he also did so surely and with conviction, in the knowledge that this was the road to peace for all the children of Israel. That scene – especially after the terrible event two days ago – will remain burned in our collective memory for all time. I would like to conclude with a brief section from Rabin’s speech on that September day two years ago.
We have come from Jerusalem, the ancient and eternal capital of the Jewish people. We have come from an anguished and grieving land. We have come from a people, a home, a fami y, that has not known a single year – not a single month – in which mothers have not wept for their sons.
We have come to to, and put an end to the hostilities, so that our children, our children’s children, will no longer experience the painful cost of war, violence and terror. We have come to secure their lives and to ease the sorrow and the painful memories of the past – to hope and pray for peace.
Let me say to you, the Palestinians: we are destined to live together on the same soil, in the same land. We, the soldiers who have returned from battle stained with blood, we who have seen our relatives and friends killed before our eyes, we who have attended their funerals and cannot look into the eyes of their parents, we who have come from a land where parents bury their children, we who have fought against you, the Palestinians.
We say to you today in a loud and clear voice: enough of blood and tears. Enough. We have no desire for revenge. We harbour no hatred towards you. We, like you, are people – people who want to build a home, to plant a tree, to love, to live side by side with you – in dignity, in empathy, as human beings, as free men. We are today giving peace a chance, and saying again to you: enough.
Let us pray that a day will come when we all will say: farewell to the arms. We wish to open a new chapter in the sad book of our lives together – a chapter of mutual recognition, of good neighbourliness, of mutual respect, of understanding.
We hope to embark on a new era in the history of the Middle East. Today, here in Washington, at the White House, we will begin a new reckoning in relations between parents tired of war, between children who will not know war.
Our inner strength, our high moral values, have been derived for thousands of years from the Book of Books, in one of which, Koheleth, we read:
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to heal; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”
The time for peace has come.
It is by these standards that we must measure our own commitment to the peace process. It is by these standards that we will remember Yitzhak Rabin, the peacemaker, zichrono livracha – may his memory be for a blessing.