Bullet punctures teen ideals in Israel Rabin death shatters optimism for peace felt by young people

The Assassination Of Yitzhak Rabin

November 07, 1995|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

TEL AVIV, Israel -- Last week, back when the world was still simple, 17-year-old Shoul Zoalis confronted the ancient problems his young nation with a laugh and a song, admittedly "getting a little bit stupid" from time to time.

He and his friends were for peace, and so was their prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, so they gathered by the tens of thousands on Saturday to celebrate in Kings of Israel Square. Before the night was over Mr. Rabin was assassinated by one of his countrymen, and the world according to Shoul Zoalis changed forever.

"Now I feel older," he said. "Now we see that we are just like Hamas [the Islamic terrorist organization], like these other people who kill Israelis Maybe the movement for peace will be even stronger now, but now it is a different country. There is no optimism for us."

Yesterday, while the world's high and mighty gathered in Jerusalem for Mr. Rabin's funeral, thousands of the uninvited found themselves, like the Zoalis youth, drawn back to the scene the crime.

Predominantly a crowd of the young, they returned to the drab square where 40 hours earlier they lost not only their prime minister but something far more difficult to replace.

"I have lost my faith -- in the country, in peace, in people," said Rotem Ashkenazi, 14. "If this had been done by an Arab person, I don't know if it would have been any easier to understand, but it would have been a lot easier to deal with."

Such comments, widespread here yesterday, suggest a painful rite of passage similar to the one experienced by a generation of young Americans in 1963, after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

At age 73, Mr. Rabin was 27 years older than Mr. Kennedy when he died. But he, too, captured the imagination of his nation's youth, in his case mostly with his peacemaking efforts, and young people have already begun turning the place of his death into a sprawling shrine.

Thousands of small memorial candles crowded the sidewalks and plazas, with each large cluster encircled by teen-agers holding hands and singing.

On the building at the end of the square, by the spot where Mr. Rabin was shot, grimy slabs of reinforced concrete were being filled with graffiti, memorial posters and handwritten messages.

It resembled a modern version of the Western Wall, the holy wall of the ancient temple in Jerusalem's Old City, where Jews have long stuffed folded, handwritten prayers into cracks between the stones.

Most of the graffiti on the Rabin walls glimmered with the hopes expressed more jubilantly at the peace rally on the night of the shooting.

"Just want to let you know that we believe in what you stood for, and that we admire you" said one message posted on a sheet of notebook paper. "May your beloved country get what you gave your life for: peace."

For the teen-agers leaving such messages, the late prime minister has already achieved a martyrdom that will bear their standard into the next century, when they, too, will begin climbing toward the ranks of leadership.

"We all believed in him because he was making peace," said Michal Chason, a 16-year-old girl from Netanya, as she knelt to light a memorial candle.

On Sunday she had joined up to a million people who journeyed through heavy traffic to Jerusalem, where they lined up to stroll by his casket. And there was never any doubt about where she'd spend the hours during his funeral.

"I think it is important for me to be here, at this place where he died," she said. "Although now I don't know what to think about the country, because I feel like anything could happen. There could be civil war, or we could all be united. I don't know."

The homage to Mr. Rabin reached its peak at the same moment as elsewhere in the country, when sirens sounded at the stroke )) of 2 p.m.

On the busy streets by the square, cab drivers who had been honking and snarling at each other only moments earlier emerged from their cars quietly, standing next to their open doors with heads bowed.

Women here and there shook with sobs, while small children holding their parents' hands gazed in wonderment at the crowds suddenly gone silent.

One of those parents was Avi Vununu, who brought his 2-year-old son to the square. He came partly because he knew he would not be able to get into the funeral, but also because he was drawn inexplicably to this spot.

"I still can't describe what the feeling is," he said. "I only knew I had to come here to be with Rabin." He, too, felt a loss of more than just a prime minister the moment he heard of the shooting. "I had a feeling that something very bad was going to come out of this," he said.

But, being 30 years old, he hadn't entered the weekend as wide-eyed as most of the crowd around him. And with less innocence to lose, he now finds himself already thinking about what might yet be gained from the pain of the past few days.

"You see all of these young students coming here, lighting candles and singing," he said, "and it strikes you that there is still a lot of hope in this generation. People say that everything is changed, that Israel is different now. But perhaps 10 years later we will look back and see that things like this had to happen, that this is the price of peace. Maybe this will be the warning the country needed."

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