Rabin’s Final Hour Marked by Support and Songs of Peace

At 9:30 on Saturday night a smiling Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin stood before 100,000 people, young and old, Jew and Arab, who had come to show support for his peace process.

At 9:50 p.m., he was shot down by Yigal Amir, a 27-year-old Jewish law student.

By 11:15 p.m., he was pronounced dead at nearby Ichilov Hospital.

For Israelis everywhere, even to professed right-wingers, the news of the assassination came as a shock.

For those Rabin supporters who had attended the massive rally just an hour earlier, the blow was beyond comprehension.

Two hours before the assassination, a huge crowd of peace supporters stood in Malchai Yisrael Square in the heart of Tel Aviv. Reportedly the largest gathering in the city’s history, people of all ages waved banners proclaiming “Peace Yes, Violence No” and “A Strong Nation Makes Peace” as well as dozens of other pro-government slogans.

Although some of the speakers spoke in purely political terms, calling on those assembled to vote for the Labor Party next November, at times the rally seemed more like a festival than a political demonstration.

Enticed by the promise of rock music, as well as the opportunity to show their support for the peace process, tens of thousands of teens sat on the grass or danced in the large fountain 20 feet below the podium.

Parents with young children, white-haired grandparents, young Israelis Arabs – all had traveled short and long distances to attend the rally.

Standing some 15 feet away from Rabin, who was flanked by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and other government ministers, it was easy to sense a feeling of goodwill.

Peres later said that he thought that it was Rabin’s “happiest day.”

Joking with colleagues, Rabin surprised the crowd by embracing Peres, his political rival for more than two decades.

In speech that will long be remembered with irony, Rabin began by thanking “everyone who came to make a stand here against violence and in support of peace.”

“This government, which I have the privilege to head together with my colleague Peres, has decided to give peace a chance.

“I have been a military man for 27 years,” he continued. “I fought as long as there was no chance for peace. I believe there is such a chance now, a great chance, and we must take advantage of it, for the sake of those who are here and all those who are not.”

The crowd was even more surprised when Rabin joined in a rousing rendition of “Shiru Shir Hashalom,” Hebrew for “we will sing a song of peace.”

Although reluctant at first to sing, the introverted prime minister placed the song sheet in his breast pocket. It was only after performer Miri Aloni cajoled him into participating that Rabin borrowed a song sheet and began to sing, albeit quietly.

Later, Peres revealed that the assassins’ bullets, on the way to Rabin’s chest, also ripped through the song sheet.

But before that moment, the crowds gathered below the podium were spurred by the sight of Rabin’s singing and joined in at the top of their lungs.

Not long afterward, the crowd began to disperse. Some heard the fatal gunshots ring out in the night, but most learned of the tragedy several minutes later. By that time, many people had already boarded buses for the trip home.

On a bus bound for Jerusalem, rally participants listened in strained silence as Israel Radio first announced that three shots had been fired and that the prime minister might have been wounded. A few minutes later, word came that Rabin had been badly injured. “Badly” was downgraded to “seriously,” until, at 11:15 p.m., Israelis learned that Rabin had succumbed to his wounds.

Leah Rabin, the prime minister’s wife, they were told, was at his bedside.

As the announcement was made, everyone on the bus seemed to cry out at once. Teenagers in Peace Now T-shirts, clutching banners, wept into the darkness as the bus made its ascent to Jerusalem.

One 16-year-old, whose mother had accompanied her to the rally, turned away as her mother tried to offer comfort. Tears streamed down her face as the radio announcer, obviously moved himself, cleared his throat and continued to provide information about the murderer.

Most of the bus passengers were too upset to speak, but Dorn Wifand, a 24-year- old student, insisted that the peace process would not only continue, but flourish.

“This tragedy won’t stop the peace,” he said. “Just the opposite. Thanks to what happened tonight, everyone will know how important it is to pursue nonviolence.”

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