20 Years After Rabin's Assassination, Israelis Still Debate His Legacy : Parallels Every year Israelis gather to mark the anniversary of the killing of Yitzhak Rabin. But even as they honor Rabin, they disagree on whether he was pursuing the best course for Israel.
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20 Years After Rabin's Assassination, Israelis Still Debate His Legacy

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20 Years After Rabin's Assassination, Israelis Still Debate His Legacy


You know, earlier this year I was walking through Tel Aviv, Israel, with a colleague. We passed an open plaza, and my colleague said this is where Yitzhak Rabin was killed in 1995. It was on her mind even though she hadn't been living in Israel back then. She said people still visit the spot. The killing of Israel's prime minister 20 years ago today lingers, as if it just happened.


Rabin was killed by a fellow Israeli Jew as Rabin tried to lead his country toward peace with Palestinians. The plan deeply divided Israel then and now. Here's NPR's Emily Harris in Jerusalem.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Every year, Israel marks Rabin's murder with a public gathering in the Tel Aviv square where he was killed.


YITZHAK RABIN: (Speaking Hebrew).

HARRIS: This year, archive footage played Rabin saying, there is a great chance for peace. In the crowd, Ora Zvern-Anafi wiped tears away.

ORA ZVERN-ANAFI: Still, still, still, it kills me.

HARRIS: She switches to Hebrew.

ZVERN-ANAFI: (Speaking Hebrew).

HARRIS: "Then there was hope things would get better," she said. "But instead, things just got worse." Nearby, fellow Israeli Avi Shai stayed dry-eyed.

AVI SHAI: Because I didn't agree with Rabin's way. And because I did not agreed with Rabin back then, I think it's very important that the people here will see me.

HARRIS: He points to his head and the knitted yarmulke or skullcap on top. This is a clue for other Israelis, he says, that he is politically right-wing, religious and supports Jewish settlers in Palestinian-claimed territory.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in Hebrew).

HARRIS: Busloads of religious youth came to this year's memorial, many from settlements in the West Bank. Danny Hirshberg drove in from his home in Talmon, a settlement surrounded by Palestinian villages.

Wow, this is quite a view.

Over a brisk wind in his backyard, Hirshberg points out cities you can see from here.

DANNY HIRSHBERG: (Speaking Hebrew).

HARRIS: Ramallah, where the Palestinian Authority is based, Tel Aviv, on the coast. He has lived here 18 years. I asked him why he moved here.

HIRSHBERG: (Speaking Hebrew).

HARRIS: It's nice here.


HARRIS: Rabin didn't think Israelis should settle the West Bank. Back in his book-lined living room, Hirshberg said he didn't agree with Rabin.

HIRSHBERG: (Through interpreter) It was an ideological war between the settlers and him. He wanted to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, and we did not.

HARRIS: Yet, Hirshberg helped organize Rabin's memorial rally.

HIRSHBERG: (Through interpreter) We wanted the rally to stay away from controversial issues like peace or territory. We would go for what connects us, our commitment to democracy.

HARRIS: Hirshberg is general secretary of Bnei Akiva, Israel's biggest religious youth group movement. He worked on the rally with a youth movement leader from the other end of Israeli politics. That's Barak Sella, who was 10 years old when Rabin was murdered. He's attended a memorial rally every year since then.

BARAK SELLA: For many, many years, it was basically a rally that belonged to one side of the political map, mainly the left side.

HARRIS: This was in part because much of Israel's left blamed the right wing for encouraging and supporting the unapologetic murderer. Eventually, Stella and groups who organized recent Rabin commemorations decided inviting the other side could boost attendance and reset an expectation.

SELLA: We wanted everyone to come, everyone that is willing to agree that no matter what will be the conflicts between us, democracy will be the only way we'll solve our conflicts - not violence, not assassinations.

HARRIS: Remember, he's talking about conflicts among Israelis. One of the most passionately debated divides that's grown since Rabin's murder is whether Israel can stay majority Jewish and democratic.

SELLA: It means that we can't control millions of Palestinians.

HARRIS: But that opens the door to ending the occupation of the West Bank, and that circles right back to the issue that tore Israel apart under Yitzhak Rabin. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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