Fear follows the shock in Israel In candlelight vigils, mourners are wary of verbal violence

November 05, 1995|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,SUN FOREIGN STAFF Joshua Brilliant in Tel Aviv contributed to this story.

JERUSALEM -- At the hospital where the dying Yitzhak Rabin was taken, a small candlelight vigil began. One marcher carried a handwritten sign: "This hatred will kill us."

That fear quickly followed in the steps of Israel's shock, and the lament sprang immediately from many mouths here.

The political debate over Mr. Rabin's peace with the Palestinians has been carried out in the terms of rage, often with the language of violence. Some worried that Israel's own anger could tear the nation apart.

"Death to Arabs. Death to Rabin," became a standard slogan at the right-wing demonstrations.

The speakers at the rallies, even mainstream opposition politicians, described the prime minister as a traitor who was endangering the country by negotiating with Palestinians.

"There is no doubt the verbal violence of the last year and a half added to this," Israel's president, Ezer Weizman, said last night. "I hope this is an end to the way that has developed, the way of verbal violence."

The prime minister's security guard in recent months had worried that someone would be moved by the emotional rhetoric to try to carry out an assassination against a top government minister, according to frequent reports.

Mr. Rabin's advisers discussed the danger openly, and it became grist for editorials. But few really expected it to happen. Loud shouting was just a part of the culture, they said. Extreme language was only words; in the Israeli community, all were brothers.

But the shooting of Mr. Rabin is not likely to be dismissed as a aberrant act, as something unconnected to the rhetoric. Ephriam Sneh, the Health Minister and a close adviser to Mr. Rabin, bluntly pointed a finger last night at the political opposition.

"The assassination is a direct outcome of instigation, irresponsible personal instigation against the prime minister. Those who encouraged the instigation are clearly responsible," he said.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud leader, did not respond directly, but said last night that "we have to exorcise anyone who murders" from the Israeli society.

Mr. Rabin himself sometimes replied in kind. He publicly branded the man who massacred 29 Arabs last year in a mosque in Hebron in the West Bank as "an errant weed. A shame on Zionism. Sensible Judaism spits you out."

Recriminations will flow in all directions from last night's murder. Security officials will be questioned about why a man who had three times publicly tried to attack Mr. Rabin was free, roaming about with a gun.

But physical skirmishes are now typical at public gatherings involving top officials of the government. Protesters who try to storm those officials are often manhandled away by police, and then released.

Mr. Rabin was not unaware of the dangers. He could not be, given the nature of this region. No leader in the Middle East could forget the scenes of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's assassination in 1981 by extremists in his own country, who were angry that he had made peace with Israel.

"I talked to him this afternoon about the threats, the personal instigation," Mr. Sneh said last night. "Likud activists are demonstrating, at his house, in the street, against his wife. If you ask me if Yitzhak Rabin was afraid, he was a brave man, a fighter, who was afraid of nothing."

Indeed Mr. Rabin shunned precautions. He was a modest, stubborn man who did not take willingly to cumbersome trappings of his office. He refused to wear a bulletproof vest. He would not change his routine, as security advisers suggested.

But the threats came in. Leaders of the Jewish settlers' movement, which felt most threatened by Mr. Rabin's plan to return part of the West Bank to Palestinian control, talked of taking the law into their own hands and forming armed "militias."

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres addressed the threat last night, and urged Israelis to embrace in unity. "I shall call upon all the nation to stand up as one person against murder. One can argue, but one must not murder."

Indeed, no top Israeli had been assassinated since the nation was formed in 1948, although one Israeli threw a hand grenade into the Knesset in the 1950s, wounding several Knesset members.

But Dan Meridor, a Likud Knesset member, said last night, "Israel after the murder is not the Israel she was before."

At the site where Mr. Rabin was shot, hundreds of young Israelis gathered in the square after the announcement that Mr. Rabin had died. They lighted memorial candles, and some sang a low, mournful song. One group of candles was formed into an expression of Israel's grief: "Why?" the candles asked.

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