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I had just been to a club for the first time. I drank vodka and I drank beer. I stayed at a friend’s flat near Baker Street that night and we walked back there together in the dark. The streets were wet from a downpour we had missed while inside. It always rains in London.
We arrived back to his place where his mother told us Rabin had been shot. I knew of him vaguely as an Israeli politician, the President or the Prime Minister of Israel, I wasn’t sure.
In death he influenced me more than in life he ever could have. In one way or another modern Israel is dominated by the man who was shot in Tel Aviv while I was enjoying my first tastes of alcohol in London. Every negotiation since, every war since has been devoid of any hope, any real belief that the result will be anything other than more of what lay before. Everything stands in contrast to the hopes of the generation that elected Rabin their Prime Minister.
While the current crop of leaders fall over themselves to pretend that the man who disagreed with them on just about every level was actually their friend I wonder what happened to the traits of leadership embodied by Yitzhak Rabin. People too easily ignore the fact that he was the most hated Prime Minister in the short history of the country. His course towards peace was one that far more people than just Yigal Amir sought to disrupt. People came to his house to hurl insults at him and his family, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to express their hatred of him for sitting down at the peace table with Yassir Arafat and countenancing the creation of a state of Palestine.
And he ignored them all. For me this old, chain smoking, man embodied the term courage. He was elected to lead the country and lead the country he did. It may have been an unpopular policy but when you are elected to office you take the responsibilities on your shoulders to do what you feel is best for the country, not what is popular. The people can then decide at the next election.
This kind of leadership is sorely lacking right now. The people can’t decide because there is no clear policy, too much obfuscation and not enough people willing to stand up and be clear about what a vote for them means. For me Rabin’s legacy is that which he died for, the willingness to stand at helm of the ship and set sail in a clear direction.
Now, in 2015, no one knows where we are, we don’t even know if we’re going through an Intifada or not and we don’t know how we’re going to get out of it if we’re in it.
Great acts of leadership throughout the ages have always been turbulent. Be it John F Kennedy insisting on integration in Alabama or Winston Churchill telling the British people he has “nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat” or Ben Gurion declaring statehood with the knowledge that a war would follow for which Israel was ill equipped to fight. Leadership requires people to take responsibility on their shoulders for making decisions that will affect the lives of their citizens intimately. Rabin was such a leader.
He was killed for being such a leader.
Rabin’s legacy will always be a tragic legacy. But the tragedy is not that he was killed before the peace fell upon us, nor even for the fact that he fell at the hands of a fellow Jew. The real tragedy is that he is fast being revered as the only man who possibly could have brought peace to Israel. If that is true then it is a sad reflection of the state of Israel’s leadership today. If it is false then it is a lie not worthy of the man who guided the state through so many of the tests that defined the nation of Israel.
20 years have gone by since he died, more than enough time for those who took on the mantle of leadership of the party he once headed to get their act together. The man who sold Israel on the hope of peace was murdered and now his successors lack the courage to tell Israelis the truth about the lessons learned the night Israel’s innocence died.
To tell them that there will be no end to extremism or to terrorism but that it can be an occasional heartache or a constant war. It can involve the suffering of millions or it can involve the suffering of hundreds. There’ll be no signature on a piece of paper that will end the terror, no ceremony on the White House lawn and no handshake that will make everything okay.
It will be a long struggle for peace but a struggle that we must embark on nonetheless. The alternative is more of the same nothing we have now.
It is a tragedy of the Middle East that the fate of millions lies not with elected governments but with a very few people willing to give their lives to kill others. The man who killed Rabin was willing to give up his life not just to kill his Prime Minister but to kill the hopes of so many. Now another Israeli Prime Minister is weighing up whether to remove the residency rights of 80,000 people because of the actions of several dozen. A war was started in Gaza last year because three boys were kidnapped and murdered by a couple of terrorists.
Israelis and Palestinians live their lives in the shadow of these people.
Rabin was a leader who wasn’t prepared to hand over his elected mandate to the few prepared for violence. Now it is the terrorists who control the agenda and an Israeli government flailing around trying to keep up.
It’s been 20 years since a great man of the Israeli left was shot dead in the street. He preferred to risk being shot dead if it meant doing what he thought was best for the country. There hasn’t been another leader like him since, there hasn’t been a braver one since. So long after the event I don’t mourn for Rabin, I mourn for the Israel that might have been had he been allowed to live just a little longer and the Israel we became without his guiding hand.