Saturday, November 8, 2008

Israelis gather to honor Rabin

Obama was elected Tuesday, exactly 13 years after Rabin was assassinated. One message in the crowd read: "Obama, make peace now!"

Hoffa, a strong Obama supporter, ended his words by riling the crowd into chanting Obama's campaign slogan: "Yes We Can."

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered Saturday night at the square where Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, to remember the man and his legacy 13 years after his killing.

The square in front of Tel Aviv city hall was the site of a peace rally on Nov. 4, 1995. As it ended, Rabin was gunned down by an ultra-nationalist Jewish opponent of his policy of trading land to the Palestinians for peace.

"Yitzhak. You are missed, the country misses you, you are missed by every one of us, but your way has not been lost," said President Shimon Peres, Rabin's partner in peacemaking, who was by his side the night he was assassinated. "Peace is closer than we think, and we should make every effort in his memory to complete it."

Israel officially marks the 13th anniversary of Rabin's slaying on Monday, according to the Hebrew calendar. But the rally in Tel Aviv has become an annual pilgrimage for ordinary Israelis to show respect for the beloved leader.

Participants filled Rabin Square and spilled over into the surrounding streets, some carrying signs and banners calling for peace and tolerance, others waving flags and lighting candles.

Police would not give an exact number, but organizers said more than 100,000 attended the gathering.

The rally opened with film footage of Rabin addressing the 1995 rally, thanking participants for coming out to support the theme: "No to violence, yes to peace."

Facing the large crowd from the same balcony where Rabin spoke 13 years ago, Israeli singers sang songs of peace linked to the assassination.

Rabin's government negotiated the first interim peace accord with the Palestinians, and he won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. His successor as leader of the Labor party, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, promised to continue in his path.

"We have no other country and we have no other way. There is no alternative to peace," he said.

The assassin, Yigal Amir, an Orthodox Jew, was sentenced to life in prison, but his perceived cushy imprisonment — he has been allowed to marry, have conjugal visits and attend his son's circumcision ceremony — has outraged Israelis.

The killer's saga loomed large this year as well. A week ago, Amir gave his first interviews since the 1995 killing, in which he said he shot Rabin because Ariel Sharon and other hawkish ex-generals warned Rabin's land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians would bring disaster.

Only excerpts of the interviews were aired and the two TV stations that conducted them later decided not to broadcast the full interviews after the excerpts set off an uproar for giving exposure to Amir.

In the months before Rabin was assassinated, hard-liners branded the Israeli leader a traitor for proposing to hand over land to the Palestinians in exchange for peace. Some extremist rabbis called for his death, and leaders of the hawkish opposition Likud Party addressed a tumultuous Jerusalem demonstration featuring posters of Rabin in a Nazi SS uniform.

Critics charged that this climate of incitement emboldened Amir to shoot Rabin. Just this week, the head of Israel's Shin Bet security service warned that extremist Jewish settlers might carry out another political assassination. Extremist Israeli groups periodically press for Amir's release, and the anniversary of the assassination has become a date of deep divisions between right and left, religious and secular.

Peres called over the stage for unity and to heal the divisions in Israeli society.

"This is not a warning, it is a request from a Jew, who is not so young anymore, who has seen and experienced difficult moments but also beautiful hours," he said. "It is a request of a man who knows we can recover."

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and Rabin's daughter, Dalia, also addressed the crowd.

Teamsters Union President James P. Hoffa, on his first visit to Israel, said he brought greetings from U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, whom he called "a true friend and partner of Israel."

Hoffa told Dalia Rabin that he too knew the pain of losing a father. He said he learned to love Israel from his father Jimmy Hoffa, the union's most famous leader, who was last seen July 30, 1975, the day he was to meet a New Jersey Teamsters boss and a Detroit Mafia captain at a suburban Detroit restaurant.

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