For Palestinians, Yitzhak Rabin is remembered first of all as someone who instructed soldiers to break their arms and legs, when they began their popular uprising against the Israeli occupation in 1987.
Before the handshake on the White House lawn, before the Nobel Prize and before the murder, when Palestinians were asked about Rabin, this is what they remember: One thinks of his hands, scarred by soldiers’ beatings; another remembers a friend who flitted between life and death in the hospital for 12 days, after he was beaten by soldiers who caught him drawing a slogan on a wall during a curfew. Yet another remembers the Al-Am?ari refugee camp; during the first intifada, all its young men were hopping on crutches or were in casts because they had thrown stones at soldiers, who in turn chased after them and carried out Rabin’s order.
Jamal, Bilal, Nadim and Said: All are in their 40s, and all have been jailed for various periods for popular activity during the first intifada. They are from the Gaza Strip and West Bank. They are all university graduates; two are doctoral students, in mathematics and in history, while the third is completing a master’s degree in political science and the fourth is an artist and an amateur DJ. They are not activists in any organization, and they don’t pretend to represent any group, only to answer the question, “Who is Rabin for you.” The question surprised them, because they don’t think about him a lot, and they did not recall that this was the 10th anniversary of his assassination.
Bilal ?(the DJ?), who is from a village in the northern West Bank and lives in Ramallah, says: “I don?t tend to make political analyses, but I have never been convinced by Arafat’s comments about Yitzhak Rabin as a true partner for peace, and I don’t accept the thesis that if Rabin hadn’t been murdered, ‘there would already have been peace.’”
He thinks the change in Rabin was a shrewd maneuver, not a principled transformation. “In the two years between when he signed the declaration of principles and when he was murdered, we did not feel any genuine change in our lives,” says Bilal. “I saw meetings on television, conversations around the table, smiles, but in the field, we remained under Israeli occupation and Rabin continued to represent the occupation for us: settlements and land appropriation and a Civil Administration that gives or doesn’t give a permit to move.”
Rabin’s murder was not much of a surprise for Bilal. “Politicians are always exposed to this kind of thing, and I always thought that Israeli society isn’t different from other societies, that the Israelis are like us.”
‘In the first moment, I felt joy’
Nadim, the history student, admits that he felt happy when he first heard Rabin had been assassinated. “In the first moment, once I heard he had been murdered, I felt joy,” says Nadim. “A man who ordered that bones be broken – how should I feel toward him?” He says not many people think about Rabin. “Now that you ask, I remember that he didn’t honor the agreement, rejected a few of its clauses. ‘There are no sacred times,’ he said.”
As a Gazan, Nadim remembers that before Oslo, when he was first released from jail in 1991, he worked in Israel. But after the Oslo Accords, he says, “Israel closed in on us more and more, and I was trapped in Gaza, without hope, like most people.”
Said, the political science student from Nablus, sees Rabin as a strong leader who initiated a “political process,” but was still interested in maintaining the settlements. “Rabin is a person who had the strength and determination to go from a public directive to break the Palestinians’ hands and legs to a political process, when he felt the change in the international mood,” says Said. “I’m not saying ‘peace process,’ because it wasn’t peace. He had the strength to break taboos in Israeli society when he agreed to talk with the [Palestine Liberation Organization] and to recognize the PLO. And, at the same time, he knew how to preserve the colonial achievements of Israel. After all, he did not remove a single settlement. He was a good representative of a generation of Israelis who wanted to put an end to the image of Israel as an occupying state, and at the same time searched for a way to assure Israel’s territorial
‘If only we had a leader like Rabin’
Unlike Nadim, Said is convinced the Palestinians remember Rabin. Some people curse Rabin for bringing “the group from Tunis here,” he says, referring to Arafat and other PLO leaders who had been exiled there. “And some are convinced that if Rabin had not been murdered, we would not be in the lousy situation we’re in today.”
Said says Rabin understood that Palestinian society had become weakened at the end of the first intifada. “We were in a situation similar to today: political chaos, hooligans who ruled the street, apathy. He understood that it was a good time to make a deal, when we were in a position of weakness. That’s why some among us say: ‘If only we had a leader like Rabin.’”
Besides the broken bones Rabin ordered, “which jump into my head when you say Rabin,” Said also remembers the disgust with which Rabin shook Arafat’s hand. “He broadcast a feeling of superiority – a common disease of the Israelis, from which the Israelis have not recovered.”
Jamal, who is working on his doctorate in mathematics, is struck by the contrast “between the boorish, racist and fascist order to break bones, and [Rabin's] ability to swim against the stream, to make a courageous decision and sign an agreement with the PLO.”
Jamal is a Gazan “jailed” in Ramallah; since the Oslo Accords were signed, Israel has not allowed many of the Gazans living in the West Bank to change their addresses, and considers them to be ?illegals? in the West Bank. Jamal does not leave Ramallah, where he has lived since 1987, because he does not want to be caught and sent to Gaza. Nonetheless, when asked about Rabin, Jamal does not mention that he is trapped, but rather the comments his friend made when the Oslo Accords were signed: “We don’t want anything besides Gaza, the West Bank and [East] Jerusalem.” In other words, says Jamal, people were full of hope, a hope he says surged since the first intifada. Inspired by this spirit of hope, he says, people believed Rabin had changed.
“I can’t call him a dove, but he underwent a process of liberation from previous patterns,” says Jamal. “The order he gave to break bones brought out wild craziness in the Israeli soldiers. But the decision to hold a dialogue released in Israeli society other, positive moods, and among us also, there were positive moods. Such that Yigal Amir won. The murder halted the chance there was to move forward.”