JERUSALEM — For the second time in six years, thousands of Israelis filed slowly past a flag-draped coffin outside Israel's parliament on Thursday. Once again, they came to honor a slain political leader, a member of the generation that fought for independence in 1948, a general who had survived all the nation's wars only to fall to an assassin's bullets.
Some of the same people who paid last respects to fallen Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin here in November 1995 returned Thursday to say goodbye to Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi. The two started out as comrades in arms in the Palmach, the strike force of the pre-state Jewish underground. They ended their lives on opposite sides of the political spectrum, Rabin gunned down by a right-wing Jew who regarded him as a traitor for trading land for peace with the Palestinians, Zeevi slain by Palestinian militants avenging their leader's death.
The grim, vengeful mood here is drastically different from the wild grief that gripped the nation after Rabin's assassination. Then, there was widespread fear that Rabin's killer, Yigal Amir, might succeed in his goal of burying the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Today, most believe that the process is dead, that Zeevi's killing was the final blow to Rabin's partnership with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. Within hours of Zeevi's killing, the Israeli government issued an ultimatum to Arafat to hand over the assassins or face a severe Israeli military response.
Eulogizing his father, whom he called by his nickname, "Gandhi," Yiftah-Palmach Zeevi, named for Zeevi's Palmach unit, made a blunt request of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
"To you, Arik, such a close friend of father's at the beginning of the road: avenge, just as Gandhi would have avenged after you, and return to lead as we know you," the son said.
The demand resonated with a nation thoroughly disillusioned by the Palestinian Authority and its leader.
"The experiment is over," said Meir Meshulam, 49, a Likud supporter. Meshulam never voted for Zeevi's ultranationalist Moledet party, but drove for three hours with friends from the southern town of Eilat to mourn him. He made the same trip to pay respects to the fallen Rabin.
Even then, he said, he knew that Rabin's gamble on the Palestine Liberation Organization as a partner was mistaken. Zeevi's death, Meshulam hopes, has convinced the rest of the nation that "Arafat must be deported. He's bad for himself, for his people, for us."
Rabin's slaying, Israel's first political assassination, rocked the nation to its core. The killing of a prime minister by a fellow Jew had been an unthinkable act, and it triggered painful national soul-searching and raised the specter, however briefly, of civil war.
Zeevi's slaying outside his East Jerusalem hotel room this week was shocking but hardly unthinkable. No Arab had ever assassinated an Israeli government minister, but 13 months of bloodletting, with more than 800 lives lost, have left few red lines.
The slaying, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said in claiming responsibility, was a revenge killing. And revenge is the leitmotif of this brutal conflict.
Blood is seen as the only adequate payment for blood. After the Israeli army began using snipers, helicopter gunships and bombs to kill dozens of Palestinian militants in the West Bank and Gaza Strip this year, the suspected terrorists' comrades vowed that they would kill Israeli military and political leaders in retaliation.
In Jordan, PFLP leader Laila Khalid coolly promised Thursday that Sharon would be the next target of the organization's campaign to avenge Israel's slaying in August of the group's leader, Mustafa Zibri.
Zeevi seemed a natural target for the group. Palestinians hated him for advocating their "transfer" from the West Bank and Gaza to Arab states and for championing the Jewish settlement movement. Regardless of the Palestinian Authority's formal condemnation and Arafat's offering of condolences to the Zeevi family, the killing was popular among rank-and-file Palestinians.
The crowd shuffling past Zeevi's simple coffin draped with a prayer shawl and the Star of David on Thursday was quiet, controlled and deeply angry. Many of the men wore the knitted kippa, or skullcap, associated here with the nationalist right and the Jewish settler movement. Many women wore the head scarves and long skirts of observant Jewish women.
Hundreds of young people waved Israeli flags or wore T-shirts of Zeevi's Moledet movement. Some read psalms as they rocked back and forth in front of the coffin guarded by soldiers. There were few tears, although some said they were devastated.
"Gandhi's death is to the right what Rabin's death was probably like for the left," said Hannah Baum, 52, a Moledet supporter. "I have the feeling of being orphaned," Baum said, "with no one to speak for me and for what I believe in. . . . He was a truly exceptional man."
Batsheva Sobelman in The Times' Jerusalem Bureau contributed to this report.