Welcome to 70 Faces of Israel. To celebrate 70 years since the establishment of the State of Israel, we’re looking at 70 people whose remarkable stories have changed our country and the world.
Name: Yitzhak Rabin
Date of Birth: 1st March 1922, Jerusalem, Mandatory Palestine
Date of Death: 4th November 1995, Tel Aviv, Israel
Claim to Fame: Assassinated Israeli Prime Minister
In 1974… Yitzhak Rabin was elected as the fifth Prime Minister of Israel
As Israel’s first native-born prime minister, Rabin grew up in Tel Aviv. A shy child, he received excellent grades in school and soon enrolled in agricultural school. Aged just 14, Rabin joined the Haganah and learned to shoot a pistol; a few years later, his growing interest in the military and the ongoing Israeli-Arab war saw him reject a scholarship to the University of California in favour of staying in Mandatory Palestine to fight.
In 1941, Rabin joined the Palmach. He fought against Vichy French forces in Lebanon and Syria. By 1947, he rose to Chief Operations Officer of the Palmach. In the 1948 War of Independence, Rabin directed Israeli operations in Jerusalem, and against Egypt in the south. He also directed large-scale operations in the centre which captured Ramle and Lod.
Throughout his military career, Rabin headed both the southern and northern frontiers. He led Israel to victory over Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in the Six Day War and was among the first to visit the Old City of Jerusalem.
An early socialist, Rabin had ties to both the Ahdut HaAvoda and Mapam political parties. He served as the Ambassador to the United States for five years; in this time, America became Israel’s major weapon supplier. At the end of 1973, Rabin was elected to the Alignment party. He served as Minister of Labour in Golda Meir’s government.
After Meir resigned, Rabin became the Alignment party’s leader. He succeeded her to become the fifth Prime Minister of the State of Israel with a secular coalition government. As prime minister, Rabin worked for peace between Israelis and Arabs. He laid the groundwork for the Camp David Accords and Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt, as well as overseeing Operation Entebbe.
Rabin resigned from the premiership amid financial scandal when it emerged he still had a US bank account (this was illegal then). He served as an opposition member of various committees until 1984, after which he became Minister of Defence. He held this position through the First Intifada and encouraged dialogue with the PLO to reach a truce.
In 1992, the Labor Party elected Rabin as its chairman. Rabin subsequently began his second term as Prime Minister of Israel. He signed the Oslo Accords and made peace with Yasser Arafat despite protest from both Israelis and Palestinians. Rabin also signed a peace treaty with Jordan in 1994. Later that year, Yitzhak Rabin – together with Yasser Arafat and Simon Peres – received the Nobel Peace Prize.
Additionally, his second term saw significant change and growth for Israel’s economy, education system, and healthcare system. This included the introduction of universal healthcare and an increase in doctors’ and teachers’ salaries.
The Oslo Accords caused dissent on both sides. Many Israelis praised Rabin as proactively seeking peace and working to create unity in the region. However, some saw him as a traitor for giving away what they believed to be sovereign Israeli land. They also blamed him for the increase in terror attacks (notable suicide bombs) launched against Israelis.
One such “blamer” was right-wing extremist Yigal Amir. On the evening of the 4th November 1995, Rabin attended a rally in Tel Aviv. As the rally drew to a close, Rabin left the city hall steps and walked to his car. Amir shot Rabin, who was evacuated to Ichilov Hospital. He died on the operating table. Amir is serving a life sentence in prison.
Rabin’s assassination shocked the world. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis came to the scene of the shooting to light candles and sing songs about peace. Prominent world leaders attended Rabin’s funeral on 6th November. President Clinton ended his eulogy with the famous words, “Shalom, chaver” – goodbye, friend.
The square where he was shot was renamed Rabin Square in his honour. Many Israeli streets and public institutions also bear his name. As well as creating an official memorial day for him, the Knesset founded the Yitzhak Rabin Centre. It teaches about peace and democracy to continue his legacy. Cambridge University Israel Society hold its annual lecture in his memory. In addition to his 1994 Nobel Peace Prize, Rabin posthumously received an award for human rights.
Yitzhak Rabin rests on Mt Herzl alongside his wife Leah. His two children survived him.
Previously: 1973: Ephraim Katzir
Up next: 1975: Uri Geller