JERUSALEM — Two shots put an end to Yitzhak Rabin's life and to everything he symbolized in that life. It is as if the image of an entire generation has been shattered, the image of the first generation of Israelis who were born in this land, who sensed that they were distinct and different from the Jews of the Exile, free of that Jewish affliction, the Diaspora. They wanted to create here the image of an independent, proud, strong new Jew. They were--and still are--called the sabras, referring to the cactus fruit whose skin is prickly but whose inner flesh is soft. Yitzhak Rabin was the ultimate representative of that generation, and with his death the Age of the Sabra has, it seems, come to an end.
In all that he did, Rabin cleaved to the wellspring of "Israeliness" and "sabraness." The biography of the man that so many called a traitor was actually a DNA chain of Israeli identity. The agricultural school where he studied as a boy, the Palmach (underground militia) in which he served, his role in the defense of the convoys to besieged Jerusalem in 1948, the liberation of the Negev from the Egyptians, his victory as chief of staff in the Six Day War, the Entebbe Operation . . . there is almost no Israeli for whom these places and moments do not break into an entire spectrum of collective memories that are part of both our national and our very private identities.
But it was not only at his heights that he was the sabra; he typified the sabra also in his failures and failings. An entire generation could look at him, like a reflection, and see what had happened to them, to the mythological, ideal and idealist sabra, when his life became entangled in small, routine matters, in political intrigues, in the seductions of money.
We could even learn, from the way he looked, something that, because of a lack of historical experience, we almost did not know: how to turn this sabra, symbol of the new Jew, with that youthful shock of hair and the handsome face, into a middle-aged man, and then into an old man. Through Rabin's visage we could sense how the ideal, the dream, slowly took on flesh as part of reality, of life, and of time. We walked with him, and in this way, too, as if walking with ourselves, each man according to his age, we read our own image in his.
And then, just as he was sunk deep at the nadir of his biography, he began to rise again. In my eyes, Rabin made an astounding turnabout in recent years, back to the deepest essence of that "sabraness" that had faded a bit over time. He had within him the capability for an astounding renewal; there was devotion to the deepest, most manifest interest of Israel and the Jewish people, and--especially--there was exceptional bravery. Rabin not only revised his political beliefs; he also showed us all, the doubters as well, that we never have to be the slaves of our fears, of our previous opinions, of whatever education we have received, nor of the circumstances of our lives.
Rabin overcame all like a lion, and first of all he overcame himself, that very specific, harsh, power-based view of the world, one lacking in all subtlety. He overcame those solely military reflexes that were so vital to him--and to Israel--in times of war. In a very short time, relatively, he almost re-created himself as a statesman, as a military leader and as a person. I wonder how many of us would be able, at an age younger than his, and with a much less weighted and obligating biography, to discern, at the right moment, the opportunity, the new state of affairs, and to act with such determination in an unfamiliar field of action. How many of us would be able to achieve such a victory over ourselves, over the fears etched within us, over our very natures?
Sunday, I drove through the Jerusalem Forest, and at one of the twists in the road, along the side, I saw, almost hidden in a small thicket of trees, a man quickly tearing "Rabin Is a Murderer" and "Rabin Is a Traitor" stickers off his car. Hundreds of thousands of such stickers have been distributed in Israel over the past year by opponents of the peace process. What will that man say to his children today, how will he explain to them why he put the stickers on his car and why he peeled them off?
Just as has happened so many times in history, the shots came only at the end of a very long chain of violent phrases, provocations and curses, and of incendiary stickers on cars. Did the speakers and the cursers and the provocateurs on the roads not understand that at the end of such a chain there is always one man with a gun who will add the deadly exclamation point to the words of theirs that rang in his ears?
I am sure that they knew; I am convinced that they understood.