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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 2 .

The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin
Yoram Peri (ed.)

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000
390pp. Index. Hb.: 35.00; ISBN 08047-3835-1. Pb.: 12.95; ISBN 08047-3837-8.

This book consists of a series of essays by Israeli academics reflecting on issues raised by the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister of Israel, on 4th November 1995. Rabin was murdered by a right-wing Israeli extremist who believed he was justified in taking the life of a moser, a Jew who betrays his fellow Jews to the enemy.

Writing in a local newspaper at the time of the assassination, I commented on the bitter irony that just a few days before his own death Israel agents, presumably acting with Rabin's approval, had murdered the leader of a Palestinian 'terrorist' group, Islamic Jihad. How little has changed in the six years since these two assassinations. On the day I started reading this book (17th July 2001) a Palestinian teacher and peace worker, Isaac Saada, was killed outside his home in Bethlehem by a missile fired from a helicopter gunship. He was the brother of an 'Islamic terrorist' targeted by the Israelis, and Isaac was collateral damage. One can only imagine the bitterness and hatred his family will feel. Maybe some of them will join the ranks of the young suicide-bombers who wreak such terror and violence amongst Israelis. So the cycle of violence and hatred is perpetuated.

Anyone with the courage to try to break the cycle risks assault from those with a vested interest in the perpetuation of the bloody conflict. This was the price that Rabin paid.

The book is divided into four sections. The first locates the assassination in the context of key trends in Israeli politics and society which help us understand the manner in which Rabin came to be vilified by extreme right-wing groups. There is also an interesting examination of the relative frequency of political assassinations in the history of the Zionist movement. Parts two and three examine different aspects of the response to the murder from different sections of the Israeli public. The final section looks more towards the future, concluding with Peri's examination of the dilemmas of commemorating Rabin in a deeply divided society.

The memory of Rabin is one that continues to divide Israeli Jewish society. The fear is that so long as there is no agreement about the future of the occupied territories and the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians, the schism is likely to deepen - with an increased probability of further political assassinations within a state that proudly asserts that it is the only democracy in the Middle East.

Dr Andrew Rigby
Centre for the Study of Forgiveness and Reconciliation

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