Yesterday I finished reading an excellent new biography of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by Itamar Rabinovich, a former ambassador from Israel to the USA and a former president of Tel Aviv University. The book, entitled Yitzhak Rabin: Soldier, Leader, Statesman (Jewish Lives, 2017), traces Rabin's evolution from a military man to a man of peace. Among the best chapters in the book are the ones devoted to the Oslo Peace Process and the assassination of Rabin and its aftermath, which severely wounded the peace process, if it didn't kill it altogether. The rejectionist forces of Muslim and Jewish extremism have been engaged ---all too successfully—during the past 24 years (!) in destroying the peace process, to the mutual detriment of all people in Israel and the region.
The famous signing of the Declaration of Principles of the Oslo Peace Process, which took place on September 13, 1993, on the White House lawn, has all but been forgotten. It is not even commemorated any more.
But I remember it well. I especially remember Rabin's brief and brilliant speech on that day, at which I –and millions of people in Israel—shed some tears of hope and inspiration. I have often referred to this speech in my lectures and I quote it in my new book entitled The Other Peace Process. I take this opportunity –a day before Rosh Hashanah this year—to share with you major memorable portions of this famous speech which I cherish and value to this day:
Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, This signing of the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles, here today, is not so easy neither for myself, as a soldier in Israel's wars, nor for the people of Israel, not to the Jewish people in the Diaspora who are watching us now with great hope, mixed with apprehension. It is certainly not easy for the families of the victims of the wars, violence, terror, whose pain will never heal. For the many thousands who have defended our lives in their own, and even sacrificed their lives for our own for them, this ceremony has come too late. Today, on the eve of an opportunity for peace and perhaps an end of violence and wars we remember each and every one of them with everlasting love.
We have come from Jerusalem, the ancient and eternal capital of the Jewish people. We have come from an anguished and grieving land. We have come from a people, a home, a family that has not known a single year not a single month in which mothers have not wept for their sons. We have come to try and put an end to the hostilities, so that our children, our children's children, will no longer experience the painful cost of war, violence and terror. We have come to secure their lives and to ease the sorrow and the painful memories of the past to hope and pray for peace.
Let me say to you, the Palestinians: We are destined to live together on the same soil, in the same land. We, the soldiers who have returned from battle stained with blood, we who have seen our relatives and friends killed before our eyes, we who have attended their funerals and cannot look into the eyes of their parents, we who have come from a land where parents bury their children, we who have fought against you, the Palestinians.
We say to you today in a loud and a clear voice: Enough of blood and tears.Enough. We have no desire for revenge. We harbor no hatred towards you. We, like you, are people who want to build a home, to plant a tree, to love, to live side by side with you in dignity, in empathy, as human beings, as free men. We are today giving peace a chance, and saying again to you: Enough. Let us pray that a day will come when we all will say: Farewell to the arms.
We wish to open a new chapter in the sad book of our lives together a chapter of mutual recognition, of good neighborliness, of mutual respect, of understanding. We hope to embark on a new era in the history of the Middle East. Today, here in Washington, at the White House, we will begin a new reckoning in relations between peoples, between parents tired of war, between children who will not know war.
In two days, the Jewish people will celebrate the beginning of a new year. I believe, I hope, I pray, that the New Year will bring a message of redemption for all peoples: a good year for you, for all of you. A good year for Israelis and Palestinians. A good year for all the peoples of the Middle East…
In the Jewish tradition, it is customary to conclude our prayers with the word 'Amen'. With your permission, men of peace, I shall conclude with words taken from the prayer recited by Jews daily, and whoever of you volunteer, I would ask the entire audience to join me in saying 'Amen': ‘He who makes peace in His high places. He shall make peace for us and for all of Israel. And they shall say: Amen.’(translation from Hebrew)
(Address by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin upon signing the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles Washington, D.C. September 13, 1993)
What a beautiful speech. It was more like a sermon than a political speech. Inspiring, visionary, deeply Jewish, human and ethical.
How different this speech was from the speeches of the current Prime Minister. For example, in a speech to the Foreign and Defense Affairs Committee of the Knesset on October 26th, 2015, after the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Rabin, Benjamin Netanyahu said of Rabin: "These days there is talk of what would have happened had this or that man remained…This is irrelevant, we will forever live by the sword." (as quoted in the epilogue of the biography of Rabin by Itamar Rabinovich). How sad and shocking. What a vast difference from the eloquence and exemplary model of Yitzhak Rabin.
As we approach this Jewish New Year, let us be mindful of the hopes and dreams of a visionary leader, who was cut down suddenly by a Jewish extremist, who was misguided by some of his fanatic rabbis to do what he did. Let us remember that peace would still be beneficial for Israelis and Palestinians alike. As Rabin said so succinctly: "Enough of blood and tears. Enough."