There’s an old saying that goes something like “if you’re not a socialist by the time you are 21, you have no heart, and if you are still a socialist by the time you are 30, you don’t have a brain”.
Well, when I was young and just off the boat in Israel I was a big “Peacenik”. I actually grew up in the “revisionist” Zionist youth movement “Betar”, but I only really went there because thats where all the good looking girls were, and I had a reputation even there for being a black sheep and a leftie. When I made “Aliyah” in 1992, I found myself squarely on the left in Israeli politics. I voted “Meretz” in my first Knesset Election in 1992.
I was a soldier at the time and it still gives me goose bumps when I think of the day when Israel signed the Oslo accords. I remember I was on a bus in central Jerusalem on my way home that evening and I jumped off to join the people dancing in the streets celebrating peace. It felt like a mini version of those films and images of New York on VJ day in 1945 – strangers hugging each other, music, dancing…. I danced in my uniform, M16 on my back, with a mixture of pride, joy and hope that I had never felt up until that day.
Fast forward to November 4th 1995. I was in “Kikar Malkey Yisrael” for the largest peace rally I had ever attended. It was a strange rally. The left had taken a beating due to the non-stop terror attacks and huge Nationalist Camp rallies that were in opposition to the Oslo Peace Accords. That night though, it seemed like we were not alone. There were hundreds of thousands of us that felt the same way. Rabin and Peres famously sang – horrendously out of tune – “Shir LaShalom” or “Song for Peace”, and then Prime Minister Rabin ducked off stage.
The rally dissipated, and I hung around for a while, noticing an ambulance and a commotion, but not really understanding what was going on. I then went over to a friend’s house and it was there that I first heard the utterly shocking news that Rabin had been shot.
The next few days were unlike anything I have ever experienced anywhere else or at any other time. The country was in genuine shock and mourning. I would assume it was similar to the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination in the US, or perhaps the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. The whole country just stopped. There seemed to be genuine and real disgust across the political spectrum for the idea that we had killed one of our own. Our country lost a great deal of its innocence on that night. Perhaps a cynic might suggest that we grew up.
Today it is is 18 years since that night in what is now called “Rabin Square”. I’m no longer the naive “Peacenik” I used to be and for the last decade or so I have relocated to slightly right of centre in a global political sense (although interestingly, in Israel we call ourself the centre but are still considered by the ultra right to be on the left). While I still have enormous amount of respect for Yitzhak Rabin, I have grown weary of the naiveté of the real left. I think Oslo was a mistake, even though I respect that it came from good intentions. After all, they were the same as my intentions. We just wanted to believe that we could live in Peace with our neighbours and there would be – like Peres dreamed – a new middle east where we could get on a train to Damascus, or Beirut, or Baghdad…… Yeah, right.
I think back to that night and it is still the most meaningful “national” event that I have ever experienced. I know for sure that there is a large segment of the Israeli population that feel the same way – at least a few hundred thousand of them that were in Rabin Square that night. In the last few years I have heard many disrespectful things said about Rabin and Peres and Oslo. Someone recently scoffed at me and suggested that “everything in Israel in the last 18 years is named after Rabin”. They see the failure of Oslo, and apparently enough time has passed that they have lost that little feeling of guilt that we all had to varying degrees back in 1995. These people seem to have forgotten something though. Rabin’s assassination was a shameful event. It was a collective shame on our whole nation. We Jews like to think we’re special. To a large extent I think we are. But then all it takes is one Yigal Amir to suggest that we are just the same as everyone else.