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The first political assassination in the nation's short history left Israelis in utter shock. First there was the prospect of a Jew killing a Jew. In a land where every Jewish life is counted precious, there could be no greater horror. And when the victim was also the Prime Minister whose brave policies of peace have torn the populace in two, the act seemed almost literally unthinkable. The assassin had apparently been driven by the simplistic idea that if he could kill this one man, he could kill the whole process of peace. The true tragedy would be if he were proved right, and so the nation's grief was charged as well with the fear that something even more profound than one man's life had been ended. In the aftermath, Israelis seemed to be asking themselves, "What kind of a people have we become? What rot has infested our national soul?"
Paradoxically, in a country preoccupied with matters of security, assassination was a largely unexamined possibility. Israelis assumed they were safe among one another--the entire point, after all, of the founding of the Jewish state. With hindsight, of course, the foreshadowing could be discerned. In the two years since Rabin embarked on his controversial peace with the Palestinians, the farther reaches of Israel's radical right had grown bold in their threats to subvert the process and preserve their dream of a Greater Israel to the Jordan River. Yigal Amir may have acted alone, as he told police, but he had many ideational conspirators.
Rabin's departure has profound implications for the entire Middle East, since he was the Israeli who made rapprochement possible. Was his removal sufficient to still the process? The early consensus was that it was not. But no one really knows how long shared grief will paper over Israel's deep division over the wisdom of giving up land for promises of peace.
The reaction to Rabin's murder in some parts of the Arab world was not hopeful. Mohammed Zahhar, a leader of the terrorist organization Hamas, told the Associated Press, "He practiced all forms of violence against us. I'm joyful because he was punished." And in Beirut the Hizballah television station showed film of locals celebrating "the death of the Zionist criminal Rabin" as a news anchor told viewers, "The gunfire you hear is in celebration, but please keep your bullets for the Israeli oppressors" in southern Lebanon. When the station, Al Manar (The Lighthouse), showed footage of an Israeli TV journalist weeping, the anchor laughed out loud.
In Israel news of the assassination sent thousands to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the wall that Rabin had helped capture as the Israeli army's chief of staff in the Six-Day War of 1967. Scores of mourners brought candles to stand sentinel over both Rabin's private home on Rabbi Ashi street in Tel Aviv and his official residence in Jerusalem. Said one mourner in Jerusalem, pharmacology student Dganit Safrai: "This is the end we can expect for someone who makes peace. He was so strong, it seemed as if nothing could happen to him."