Issue 192 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published December 1995 Copyright © Socialist Review
The assassination last month of Yitzhak Rabin stunned the world, but few Israelis will have been surprised that there was an attempt on his life.
The country has become increasingly divided over the peace process with the Palestinians. Rabin's government was pressing ahead with a majority of only one in parliament.
During the summer a group of 15 influential rabbis, headed by a former chief rabbi, ruled that evacuating military bases in the Occupied Territories--Gaza and the West Bank--posed a danger to Jewish life.
In effect this was an unprecedented call for religious soldiers, who make up a significant part of the armed forces, to mutiny against the peace process.
Israel's president, Ezer Weizman, jockeying for position before next year's elections, joined the ferment. He claimed that Rabin had exceeded his powers in signing even the extremely limited deals with Palestine Liberation Organisation chief Yasser Arafat.
In the months leading up to the killing the country had been plastered with stickers proclaiming 'Rabin is a murderer' and 'Rabin is a traitor'. At rallies of the main opposition party, Likud, extreme right wingers carried posters of Rabin in Nazi uniform, in Arab headdress or with rifle sights targeting his head. Such displays never provoked a word of reproach, let alone condemnation, from the platform.
Just a few weeks before the assassination, Rabin's Labour Party accused Likud and its leader, Bibi Netenyahu, of inciting fascist groups and even harbouring 'fascist elements inside Likud'. This message was repeated by Rabin's widow after her husband's funeral.
The initial response of most commentators after the assassination was to claim that the perpetrator, Yigal Amir, was a lone madman.
Exactly the same excuse was used 18 months ago when Baruch Goldstein--a fanatical right wing settler--massacred around 30 Palestinians praying in the Hebron mosque.
However, Mordechai Beck, a columnist on the Jewish Chronicle, spelt out the reality after Rabin's killing:
It has since been disclosed that Amir is a former security agent with the Israeli secret service and worked for them in Latvia in 1992. And it was by using his identity card issued by the secret service that enabled him to penetrate the security cordon around Rabin. No wonder a BBC reporter could note that Israel had taken a long, hard look at itself and did not like what it had found.
Mainstream Israeli society cannot escape blame for creating the likes of Goldstein and Amir. The country was carved out of Arab land, leading to the displacement of masses of Palestinians. Successive Israeli governments have encouraged the establishment of settler communities in the West Bank and Gaza strip-areas which were conquered in the 1967 war.
Rabin himself pioneered the process, calling for settlements as a way of controlling the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Billions of dollars of US aid were used throughout the 1970s and 1980s to create armed colonies in land belonging to Palestinians.
Both Labour and Likud governments armed the settlers, turned a blind eye to their attacks on the Palestinian population and used the full might of the Israeli Defence Force against Palestinian protesters.
The settler movement claimed to be the true inheritors of the founding fathers of Zionism, colonising the land and creating 'facts on the ground'. And the settlements were often populated by racist zealots like Rabbi Meir Kahana and Rabbi Moshe Levinger who preached a form of mystical fundamentalist Zionism.
Rabin's murderer, Yigal Amir, is a member of Eyal, an offshoot of the racist Kach group formed by Kahane. Kahane was born in the US. He became a rabbi but was dismissed by his congregation for 'excessive religious zeal'. He then went on to work for the FBI as an informant and for the CIA promoting the Vietnam War.
In 1968 he founded the Jewish Defence League, supposedly to defend working class Jews, but in reality to inflame tensions between blacks and Jews in New York at a time of rising black militancy.
From there, guided by future Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, the JDL launched a wave of terror attacks on Russian targets aimed at highlighting the demand of Jews to emigrate from the Soviet Union.
In the early 1970s Kahane moved to Israel and helped spearhead the settler movement and the campaign for the 'transfer'--a euphemism for ethnic cleansing--of the Palestinian population of the Occupied Territories. The Arabs, he said, 'will come to me, bow to me, lick my feet and I will be merciful and will allow them to leave. Whoever does not leave will be slaughtered.'
Kahane never got more than a few percent of the vote in elections, though it was enough to get him elected to parliament under Israel's extreme system of proportional representation. And though Kahane's Kach party was outlawed in 1988 for being racist and he was murdered soon afterwards, wide layers of Israeli society agreed with his message about 'transfer'.
The 'transfer' of the indigenous Palestinian population was, after all, the basis on which the state of Israel was created in 1948. Rabin himself boasted in his memoirs of commanding an operation that expelled 50,000 Palestinians and, in the past, had called for the 'transfer' of the Palestinian population of the Occupied Territories.
Rabbi Levinger is equally loathsome. He tried to expedite the 'transfer' of Palestinians by sanctioning a spate of terror attacks on Arab civilians.
In the early 1980s settler terrorists used car bombs to badly wound the elected mayors of Nablus and Ramallah. They machine gunned a group of Palestinian students eating lunch in the courtyard of a Hebron college, killing three.
The Israeli authorities only intervened when settlers tried to blow up five Palestinian buses and destroy the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
Levinger was clearly implicated in the violence but only his footsoldiers were charged. He was eventually charged with the murder in 1988 of a Palestinian and sentenced to five months in jail. Three months later he was out and free to organise increasingly violent settler attacks on Palestinians during the intifada.
These are the spiritual leaders of the communities that created monsters like Goldstein and Amir. And the settler communities are not isolated from the mainstream of Israeli life or its institutions.
Gush Emunim (Block of the Faithful) represents the majority of settlers in Israel's Occupied Territories. It says that fighting and training to fight are a religious duty and it provides a steady supply of officers in the elite units of the Israeli army.
Its members excelled in the repression of the intifada, the Palestinian uprising, and in Israel's military operations in Lebanon.
One leading Gush Emunim rabbi said last year, 'By fighting the Arabs, Israel carries out its divine mission to serve as the heart of the world. Arab hostility springs, like all anti-Semitism, from the world's recalcitrance' to being saved by the Jews.
Despite such views, some Gush Emunim leaders were close friends of Rabin and were repeatedly invited to his home and he had no intention of 'selling them out to the Palestinians'.
The peace which Rabin was pushing with Arafat offered nothing for the Palestinians who had been driven from their homes when Israel was carved out of Arab land in the war of 1947-48.
It offered the Palestinians living under Israeli domination in the Gaza strip and West Bank little more than South African style apartheid Bantustans.
It was certainly not a threat to the bulk of Israeli settlement in the Occupied Territories. Settlers' 'rights' were enshrined in the latest agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organisation signed in September.
There are now 20,000 more settlers in the Occupied Territories now than when the 'peace process' with the PLO began.
Rabin was still sanctioning the expansion of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories and preparing for the annexation of Jerusalem on the day he was killed. The shock after Rabin's killing has temporarily isolated the settlers and strengthened calls for peace.
David Grossman, a leading Israeli author, summed up the mood of some, writing bitterly:
However, equally large numbers believe in a Greater Israel or that the peace process is too risky. Certainly the current political truce will not continue.
The problem is, even doves like Grossman only see peace in terms of separating Arab and Jew, not creating a secular democratic society where both can live side by side without privilege or prejudice.
Even if this separation were to lead to an independent Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank, it would be no guarantee of peace.
Any Palestinian state would be economically and militarily dominated by Israel and this means the poverty and despair that bred the intifada would continue. So too would the resistance.