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One Year After Assination, Divided Israel Remembers Rabin

By Marjorie Miller
Los Angeles Times

A year after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, an ever-divided Israel flocked to his graveside, the site of his murder and school auditoriums Thursday, trying to resume a truncated soul-searching over the meaning of the peacemaker's violent death.

The memorials to Rabin - on the anniversary of his death according to the Jewish calendar - were sad, if somewhat ritualized in a country that has lived from crisis to tragedy for almost half a century.

Students donned the white shirts they wear on Israel's Holocaust memorial day and radio stations played a Hebrew translation of Walt Whitman's "O Captain! My Captain!" written after the assassination of President Lincoln.

Parliament held a special session in memory of the Nobel laureate prime minister gunned down Nov. 4 by a Jewish law student opposed to his policy of trading land for peace with Israel's Arab neighbors. Throughout the country, hundreds of thousands of candles were lit for the slain Rabin.

Yet, the mourning showed once again that the unity that Israelis had hoped would emerge from their shared trauma is as illusive as ever. The only point of agreement between left-wing and right-wing, religious and secular seemed to be that the divisions among Israelis are at least as deep as they were before the assassination.

"Each side feels he knows the truth," Rabbi David Hartman of the Shalom Hartman Institute said in an interview. "The rhetoric is uncompromising. That hasn't changed. But then nothing changes after (huge) events. God gave us the Ten Commandments and people turned around to worship the Golden Calf."

During the state memorial at Mount Herzl cemetery, Leah Rabin stared coldly ahead as right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid a wreath on the grave. She is unforgiving, believing that Netanyahu's harsh speech contributed to a climate of violence that led to her husband's slaying .

Netanyahu's government, in turn, refused a family and Labor Party request to make the anniversary an official day of mourning. Two leftist members of parliament walked out on the prime minister's speech appealing for national unity.

"The murder of Yitzhak Rabin must remind us of a basic truth: peace begins at home," Netanyahu said. "The choice before us today is to seal the rift and unite or widen the division and disintegrate."

But Israelis do not even agree on the definition of "unity." When left-leaning and secular Israelis speak of it, they mean pulling together the people and safeguarding the state of Israel. They, like Rabin, believe in trading captured land for peace.

When religious and right-wing Israelis plaster bumper stickers on their cars calling for the "Unity of Israel," they mean the people must unite around Jewish land in Erez Israel - Greater Israel. It is a call to hang on to the city of Hebron, which is to be given over to Palestinian control, and to the rest of the West Bank land that Israel captured from Jordan in 1967.

Thus, while most Israelis feel that the assassination of the prime minister of the Jewish state by a religious Jew was a terrible thing, not all Israelis have experienced Rabin's death as a loss.

Most of the country expressed outrage at Yigal Amir, Rabin's killer who was tried and jailed for life. Many called for a national commitment to nonviolence. There were efforts to bridge the chasms between religious and secular, left and right.

But the lesson seems not to have been absorbed by all.

On Tuesday, a religious Jew in a skullcap threw hot tea in the face of Yael Dayan, a left-wing member of parliament, during her working visit to Hebron. According to Nomi Hazan, another member of parliament with her, the attacker called the women "traitors" and "murderers," as Rabin's opponents had before he was killed.

Last month, an unidentified assailant threw a Molotov cocktail at the home of Yigal Amir's parents in Ramat Gan. No one was hurt, but the house was damaged.

While some girls in Kiryat Gat formed a Yigal Amir fan club, Supreme Court president Aharon Barak was assigned security guards after he came under attack in the ultra-Orthodox press for his rulings.

Security forces reportedly have received a growing number of threats against political leaders from Dayan to Netanyahu, who is planning to redeploy Israeli troops from Hebron under Rabin's accord.

Most who spent Thursday in assemblies discussing the value of human life, tolerance in public debate and preservation of democracy, felt there had been little improvement in these area.