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Days—and Heroes—to Remember

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This evening Israel will begin the observance of Yom Hazikaron—Memorial Day—and the next evening it will begin the celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut—Independent Day. Thus, the country will mark its sixty-ninth years of existence, and will usher in its seventieth year. By first observing the memory of all the fallen soldiers, it will continue a tradition—not without some controversy—that had been enacted into law in 1963. In later years, following the Six-Day War and its aftermath, the memory and honor of remembrance has been extended to include civilian victims of political violence, and terrorism in general.

While the memory of each and every fallen soldier is dear and singular—I will remember a number of them myself, whom I knew personally and had had the honor to count, if for such a short period of time, among my dear friends and brothers-in-arms—none will be remembered and missed more, both as a fallen soldier and as a victim of political violence, than the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin; assassinated on the altar of peace by a zealot, fervent, messianic, religiously-fanatic Israeli Jew in November 1995. Together with him, the peace between Israelis and Palestinians had died too. And since then—yet to be resurrected.

It is to the understanding and observation of yours truly—who was born in Israel, fought in a number of its wars and major operations, but now lives (mostly) among the Jews of America—that when we look on these sixty-nine years of independence with clear eyes and open mind, we cannot avoid the conclusion that the ‘political assassination’ of Yitzhak Rabin, who quite possibly was the greatest war-hero and independence-warrior Israel had ever known, was one of the three, maybe four most crucial events in the short history of the modern county since it had gained independence. Like the Six-day war of 1967, the Yom Kippur War of 1973, and the peace agreement with Egypt to follow it in 1979, this singular event—i.e. Rabin’s assassination—and its aftermath, had changed dramatically the course of the nation.

The last page on that tragic and momentous event in our history is yet to be written. And though many words had been said and had been written about it, the cloud of mystery surrounding that terrible death and murder is still looming large, dark and heavy. One brave attempt to shade some light on that mystery is the film ‘Rabin, The Last Day,’ by the well-known and well-respected Israeli film director Amos Gitai. His 2015 Israeli-French docudrama, released here theatrically last year, is a political thriller of the first order, depicting the events surrounding the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin—with footage never before seen of the actual moments of assassination—in the days leading to it, and its aftermath, including the governmental committee inquiry to follow.

We will screen this film at the KOH Library, in the Culture Center of Mosaic Law at 2pm on Sunday May 21. I will make an introduction to the film, and after the screening I’ll lead a discussion—believe me, there is a lot to be discussed—about it. The film is not easy to watch, or digest for that matter, but nothing easy ever had much of a value to it; especially when it comes to such a tragic, complex event. Rightfully, the reviews for the film were mixed. “Rabin, the Last Day is not interesting in spite of its flaws as a film. It’s interesting because of them,” wrote A. O. Scott in the NY Times. “Frequently horrifying and never less than absorbing, Rabin, the Last Day is a meticulously observant portrait of a broken society.” Wrote Matt Fagerholm, on his Roger Ebert’s dedicated blog.

The film, correctly so, raises more questions than answers. But this is exactly why it’s so important that we will watch it; that we will pay attention to the old stories and new revelations; that we will discuss them, and try to answer them to ourselves, and to others. It is of the utmost importance, then, not only because this was one of the most ‘successful’ political assassination in the bloody history of mankind, but because the implications to the state of Israel and its people, and to the future of the Jewish people as a whole, are still vibrating, and loudly, with a lot still at stake.

On the occasion of the screening we will also celebrate the ‘Nine-year Anniversary’ to this blog, with this being the 121 continuously monthly post. I hope you’re enjoying the ride, just as I do, and that you will continue to visit this site, read my posts, reflect and comment. And please, join us at the screening of the film on May 21.

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After Israel

Hayarkon River - Tel Aviv

Hayarkon River – Tel Aviv

As promised before my trip to Israel, here are some of my reflections and observations following that long-awaited visit. But since that previous blogpost was mostly of the personal nature, as opposed to the political one, allow me to start by saying – it won’t be long, don’t worry – that on that score, and on all fronts, the visit was outstanding. Above and beyond all my expectations, or as we say in Hebrew: מעל ומעבר. My family and my friends, males and females, embraced me with love and showered me with kindness; my mother turned 90-year-old and my one-year-old granddaughter learned how to climb steps on her own; I visited the places I wanted to visit, and – on a wintry, cold and cloudy day – I jumped head on into the natural spring pool I call my “fountain of youth,” as I’d used to do as a kid; I found Tel Aviv to be modern, vibrant, full of zest for life with so many young children and dogs in the streets and in the parks, like no other city I know (and I know quite a few). My only worry on this front, for the city and the country, is that this fast-paced growth and development will one day soon leave no piece of land without humans living on it, roads and building built on it; which would be a pity. But to surmise, I tell you this: I sent an email just before leaving the country to my younger son in America, and without thinking much wrote this in the Subject Line: “Leaving Home – Coming Home.” That’s how I feel and, of course, I would have to deal with the implications of that statement in the days and years ahead.

Now to the political situation in Israel. While admittedly I hardly watched the news on TV, three events/ developments had occurred while I was there – the saying “Never a dull moment” was invented with Israel in mind – that did not escape my attention. I didn’t invest a lot of reading on these three occurrences, but nonetheless here are my observations. First to shoot into news headlines prominence were the rapid developments related to PM Netanyahu two-pronged police investigation, which concerns claims that he and his family received hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of luxury gifts from businessmen, and a case deals with recordings of conversations between Netanyahu and Israeli media mogul Arnon Mozes in which the pair allegedly negotiated an illicit quid pro quo. You all heard about it by now, and know that “power corrupts.” No surprise here. It is surprising, however, that it is happening to the most astute, experienced politician there is in the country and on the global stage (together with Putin), and that he has allowed it to burst into the forefront before he had managed to have a full dictatorial control over Israel and its people (as his friend Putin has in Russia). What’s my prediction as to the outcome of this investigation you ask? How can I know. But roughly, I give it fifty-fifty chance that Netanyahu would be forced to resign and pay a substantial political price for his follies. No matter the outcome of this investigation, however, I believe it signals that his political career – a long career of a leader without any vison, or courage, other than hunger for power – may be coming to an end. In the sense that even if he would somehow, miraculously, finish his current term as Prime Minister, he will not be elected again. This is not a prediction, as predictions are meant for fools, but more like an assessment based on gut feeling. Needless to say, though, the damage he has caused to Israel and its people – from Rabin’s assassination to the victory of the settlers’ movement – would be a lasting one.

The second event to take place in Israel while I was there was the unanimous guilty verdict in the trial of the soldier, Sgt. Elor Azaria. Now, while his guilt – that of a coldblooded murderer – was clear to anyone with functioning eyes and working brain, the eruption of the blood-thirsty crowd in the streets, and the cacophony of corrupt and softheaded politicians – Netanyahu of course leading the way – in defense of the murderer, and in opposition of the long, studious verdict by the three-judge panel of distinguished army judges, was deafening (but maybe expected too). Though the trial has reached its conclusion, this matter is not yet over by any stretch of the imagination. Let me leave you with this thought: The most appalling, frightening slogan I’d heard being chanted in the streets was this: “Run, Gadi, run; Rabin needs a friend!” Gadi is the first name of the current Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Gadi Eizenkot. The implications are obvious, of course: You’re next! Don’t be surprise, then, when another such political assassination does occur. You shouldn’t be surprised that Netanyahu didn’t really condemn these hooligans in the streets. Just as he hadn’t done a thing to calm down the crowds in the streets of Jerusalem when they shouted similar things against Rabin.

The third thing to occur was the terrible terrorist attack in Jerusalem on the cadets of an IDF Officers Course, with four of them dead as result, and seventeen others injured. What stood out to me, together with the deep sadness of the loss of young, innocent lives, and apart from the repulsion at the government officials and ministers who didn’t find the time to attend any of the funerals, as is the custom in Israel, was the clear, prominent thought that no matter how strong Israel and its army are; no matter how many nuclear bombs Israel possess; no matter how sophisticated the fighter planes and the submarines are – all it takes is a simple, basic truck with a driver to cause that much horror and grief. The only thing that can prevent these things from happening again – and they will, of course – is peace. Yes, that five-letter dirty word. But peace, and the future of the Zionist dream, that’s another story for another post.

Basel - Switzerland

Basel – Switzerland

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