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'It's a Very Deep Pain . . . That We Still Feel'

Ten years after Israeli Prime Minister Rabin's assassination, 200,000 gather in the Tel Aviv square where he was gunned down.

November 13, 2005|Laura King | Times Staff Writer

TEL AVIV — Pushing babies in strollers and singing peace songs, tens of thousands of Israelis gathered Saturday in memory of Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister assassinated 10 years ago by an ultranationalist Jew.

At the square in central Tel Aviv where Rabin was gunned down -- now named for him -- the mood was subdued and somber.

But the estimated 200,000 in attendance erupted into a rock star's welcome for former President Clinton, who helped bring about the famous handshake between Rabin and the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn in 1993 that ushered in the landmark Oslo interim peace accords.

A husky-voiced Clinton paid emotional tribute to the 73-year-old Israeli leader, telling the crowd, "I loved him very much."

"He had a lot of life left, and those who shared it loved him for what he shared with us," the former president said. "However many days he had left, he gave them on this spot for you and your future. And make no mistake, he knew he risked giving them up."

The assassination took place Nov. 4, 1995, but the anniversary date this year falls on Monday on the Hebrew calendar. The rally in Rabin Square was the centerpiece of a series of commemorative events scattered between the two dates.

"It's a very deep pain, a very deep grief, that we still feel to this day," said Daphne Armony, a 49-year-old Israeli singer who recalled rushing to the square that night with her two toddlers in tow, joining throngs of shocked mourners who turned the vast plaza into a sea of lighted candles.

The rally Saturday also served as a kind of coming-out party for Amir Peretz, who unexpectedly toppled elder statesman Shimon Peres on Wednesday as leader of the left-leaning Labor Party, which Rabin once headed.

Vaulted to sudden prominence on the Israeli political stage, Peretz was to meet today with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The Labor leader is expected to press for elections next spring, six or eight months ahead of schedule.

Peretz already has said Labor will leave Sharon's governing coalition. But in an interview Saturday with Israel's Channel Two television, Peretz said that although Labor would not remain in the Likud-dominated government, it would support Sharon if the prime minister moved to cede more of the West Bank to the Palestinians.

Israeli troops and Jewish settlers vacated a small swath of the northern West Bank in the late summer after Israel's landmark withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Peretz, who was previously best known for his leadership of Israel's largest labor federation, said at the memorial rally that he had considered Rabin his mentor and friend. "Your voice rolled like thunder, until the thunder of the murderer's bullets," he said.

But of the domestic dignitaries speaking at the rally, the place of honor went to Peres, who shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Rabin and Arafat. If the 82-year-old Peres was still smarting from his surprise defeat at Peretz's hands, which could mark the end of his political career, his rousing speech betrayed no sign of it.

"Peace is in your hands," he told the crowd. Rabin, he said, "was not afraid to serve peace, even when people were not ready to accept it."

Many of those listening were young children when Rabin was killed. Orit Elgrabli, a 19-year-old soldier, said she vividly remembered her shock and fear on that November night 10 years ago.

"I still hope for peace," she said. "But I'm also afraid that we didn't learn the right lessons from his death."

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