Israelis rally for affectionate final farewell to Rabin Thousands jam plaza where leader was slain on last day of mourning

November 13, 1995|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

TEL AVIV, Israel -- With lingering songs and melancholy tears, Israelis said a final farewell yesterday to the gruff, impatient man who had brought their country so near to peace.

Thousands jammed the plaza where Yitzhak Rabin was killed to light candles, trade hugs, and sing sad ballads to mark the end of the seven-day mourning period.

Mr. Rabin, an unsentimental old soldier, probably would have had none of it. But Israelis poured out an affection for the assassinated prime minister that they had not shown while he was alive.

"If I could only tell you a little of what happened here," Leah Rabin, the only speaker at the gathering last night, said in a goodbye addressed to her husband. "I would have told you how we took leave of you of the coffin covered with a national flag, and how we passed in front of it of hundreds, thousands, millions who came.

"They had really depended on you too much and left you on your own," she said. "They did not pay attention to the writings on the wall and the incitement and propaganda. Now everybody knows it will be impossible to stay silent."

Mr. Rabin, 73, was killed in this plaza Nov. 4 as he left a peace rally, one of the few large demonstrations in favor of his government's peace plans.

The Itim news agency quoted estimates of 250,000 people at yesterday's rally, which was called to rename the plaza in Mr. Rabin's honor. Veterans of previous demonstrations held here said it was the largest in Israeli history.

The night belonged mostly to young Israelis, who had seemed to carry the burden of grief all week. Teen-agers, young soldiers, and people in their 20s dominated the crowd. They sat solemnly in small circles, lighting memorial candles.

The flickering yellow light illuminated young faces lost in thought, many quietly singing along with the folk singers who followed Mrs. Rabin.

"Maybe we are more vulnerable. Maybe he held more hope for young people than others," said college student Daphna Shohamy, 24, whose green eyes seemed to reflect the hurt. "I was very optimistic before, but now I don't know.

"I've been returning to Leah Rabin's house every night, searching for relief and comfort. You want to be around other people. You want to do something," she said. "But in the end, nothing helps. You feel the same."

"We are the next generation, and all the young people here are worried about what will happen. We feel helpless," said 21-year-old Ilanit Bibelnik, burying her long blond hair in the arm of her boyfriend. "We want the whole country to identify with this."

"This is the first time in my life I've been at a demonstration," said Ron Hafner, a 20-year-old soldier. "I hope peace will come. I hope all this mess and chaos in the country will stop."

Many at the rally admitted that they were frightened, that the country's first assassination of a prime minister had destroyed their faith in their fellow Israelis. Many, perhaps, had believed that the country's feuding factions could continue to curse and shout and nothing violent would happen.

Indeed, Mrs. Rabin was right in suggesting that her husband was not really appreciated until after he died. He had been down in the public opinion polls -- neck and neck with the opposition leader at about 42 percent -- but now Israelis say he was what held the country together.

"It's frightening that something like this could happen," said Ohad Harel, 17, who said he supported the opposition Likud Party. "I see unity here tonight, but there could be total rupture, and this is frightening."

The ruling Labor Party leadership met last night to recommend that Shimon Peres form a new government, an expected formality. But in his remarks, the acting prime minister, too, seemed to reflect the uncertainty that he could take the country toward peace as had Mr. Rabin.

"In the [past] three years, I suddenly began to realize what it means to be two, not one against the other," he said of his long-time rival, turned co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for their work together. "I learned to be two, together, pulling the heavy load."

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