A Year After Rabin’s Death (part 1 of 3): Murder Spurred Israeli Teens to Be More Active in Politics

For 14-year-old Gavriella Lazar of Jerusalem, life has never been quite the same since the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin one year ago.

“I’ve become more active politically,” says Lazar, the daughter of a Conservative rabbi who describes her political views as left wing.

“Before the assassination, I was somewhat involved, but since then I’ve started going to more demonstrations. I’m a member of Peace Now Youth, and I pay a lot more attention to what’s going on in the country.”

Convinced that intolerance and an atmosphere of hate led to the assassination of Rabin by Yigal Amir, Lazar says, “Now, instead of saying the first thing that comes to mind, I think about the repercussions. A lot of kids I know are more careful now.”

This week marked the first yahrzeit of Rabin’s death, who was gunned down Nov. 4, 1995, after a peace rally in Tel Aviv.

According to a new survey — and what emerged from interviews with youths across the political and religious spectrum — the Rabin assassination left a strong imprint on the lives of most Israeli teen-agers.

“The vast majority of teen-agers were affected by the assassination in one way or another,” says Amiram Raviv, a psychology professor and researcher at Tel Aviv University, who conducted the survey before the May elections.

Looking at a political and religious cross-section of youths from 12 to 18 years old, Raviv found that all but a tiny percentage of those surveyed “were really sad and felt sorrow, some more, some less” in the days and weeks after the slaying.

While the survey revealed that those who supported the peace process were more upset than those who opposed it — a finding that surprised no one — it also found that supporters and opponents alike were shocked, first and foremost, by the fact that a political murder had taken place in Israel.

The next most shocking thing, members of both camps stated, was the fact that Rabin was killed by another Jew.

“The assassination showed, contrary to the popular assumption that only an Arab would kill a Jewish leader, that such a thing could happen here,” Raviv says.

“This revelation was shocking because the nation’s solidarity, or perceived solidarity, was suddenly shattered.”

Bernie Stein, chief psychologist at the Ministry of Education, says, “Contrary to our worst fears, the kids have not been permanently traumatized. We were afraid they might overly mythologize Rabin, but that didn’t happen.”

Experts agree that the mass outpouring of grief from Israeli youth during the “shloshim,” or 30 days of national mourning after the slaying, contributed greatly to their long-term well-being.

Israeli youth “found a collective way to mourn,” says Stein. “They lit candles, they sat together and wept, and found a way to express their feelings. It was a bit like sitting shiva.”

In the year since the assassination, Raviv says, “kids have become more involved.”

“They are reading more, watching more TV news and are more open to discussion,” Raviv says. “On the other hand, there has not been much political movement. Very few of those who opposed the peace process became neutral, but some people who were neutral became supporters and more involved in politics.”

Just how individual teens have coped in the year since the assassination has depended on their political and religious identities, Raviv says.

Before the assassination, he says, right-wing teens had a stronger sense of ideological identity than their left-wing counterparts.

“The assassination helped the doves define their identity, and served as a catalyst for group identification. Once the initial grief wore off, they experienced a relative sense of optimism because they felt they had a cause, a legacy to fulfill.”

Conversely, teens who opposed Rabin’s policies “felt very pessimistic. They thought that the assassination would ruin them as a cause. It weakened their identity because they didn’t want to belong to what some people called a `camp of killers.’”

Regardless of their political stripe, however, all the teens interviewed for this article said their lives had been personally touched by Rabin’s death.

“It was the worst day of my life,” says Ari, a soldier from Haifa. “I was too young to vote for Rabin during the previous election, but I supported his peace process 100 percent.”

Since the assassination, he says, “I’ve found it especially hard to be in the army. I hear motivation among soldiers is down drastically, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. At least with Rabin we had the hope that we might not have to do reserve duty till we’re 50.”

With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “at the helm, it feels like the intifada might start all over again. I can’t wait to be demobilized, so I can get out of this country, at least for a while.”

Mahmed, a young Israeli Arab from Acre who also declined to give his last name, says, “The Arabs in Israel were just as affected as the Jews, perhaps even more so.

“Rabin gave us the first glimmer of hope that Israelis and Palestinians could one day live together in peace. I’m a Palestinian, but also an Israeli, and Rabin made it seem like the two aren’t mutually exclusive. He treated us with respect.

“I want Jews to know that we are hurting, too.”

Yonatan, a 19-year-old yeshiva student, says “The worst part was recalling all the bad things I’d said during [right-wing] demonstrations. Sometimes, I said things out of anger and frustration, not realizing that a fanatic like Yigal Amir would be stirred by all the shouting.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m as opposed to the peace process today as I was a year ago. The difference is, I keep my opinions to myself. If only the peaceniks in the opposition would do the same.”

Hadas Shroeder, a 17-year-old Jerusalemite, says the assassination was “a big shock, especially because I’m religious. I was so humiliated that someone religious could be a murderer.”

Shroeder, who describes herself as “politically centrist,” says that one year later, “I feel as if a cloud overshadows everything we do in Israel. Whatever we say, we try to think twice before we say it, we think twice before we do it. No one just yells out loud what they think inside.”

“I think that’s the one positive thing that’s come out of all this,” says Shroeder. “We have learned from it.”

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