The Oslo Accords promised a new era of hope. Paul Lester talks to the rock star who saw those hopes dashed late on November 4, 1995
If The Oslo Accords of August 20, 1993, were a new ray of hope for the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then controversial rock star Aviv Geffen's performance during a peace rally in the centre of Tel Aviv on November 4, 1995, saw those hopes dashed in one night.
Before a 300,000-strong crowd, Geffen, the nephew of military leader Moshe Dayan and an outspoken critic of the Israeli authorities, performed his ballad, Livkot Lecha (Cry For You). After the show, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin went backstage to congratulate Geffen. The latter had no idea he would be the last person ever to embrace Rabin.
Within seconds, just metres from where Geffen was standing, the architect of the peace process was gunned down by Yigal Amir. The right-wing extremist - who believed that Rabin was a traitor for agreeing to divide Israel under the Oslo agreement - had managed to get backstage past security by posing as Geffen's driver.
"This is where he fell to the ground. I lay here." More than a decade after the cataclysmic events of November 1995, Geffen still seems shocked. In the square in Tel Aviv where the assassination took place, he points at a spot, then lies down on the ground, to show exactly where Rabin lay shot and bleeding. At the site stands a giant memorial stone bearing the words: "Here at this place the Prime Minister and Minister of Defence was murdered in the struggle for peace. 4/11/95."
Geffen instantly acquired his status as avatar of peace for a new generation, while Cry For You became, like Lennon's Imagine over here, Israel's unofficial national anthem. But even though Rabin's murder effectively launched Geffen's career, he says he has never really recovered from the horrors he saw that night.
"It was really dramatic for me because I was the main witness," he says. "I saw Rabin killed four metres away. I saw the gun, the man who murdered him - everything. I was the last person to hug and kiss him, then this f***ing guy came and killed him, right in front of my eyes."
Geffen draws a comparison to the assassination of JFK in terms of its impact on the Israeli people and its destruction of the Oslo ideal. "The dream was over in one moment," he says. "I was the witness to the death of the dream. He [Amir] really killed everything."
Briefly, Geffen imagined this might be an opportunity for the left to reassert itself, but it was not to be. A week after the assassination, he left Israel to spend 18 months in London.
Geffen's antipathy towards the Israeli administration is focused on the country's macho culture, the compulsory three-year stint in the army - he threatened to kill himself if he was drafted, although eventually he was let off with back problems - and the occupation.
"I'm anti-macho, and they [the right-wing authorities] hate it," he says. "I tell them to withdraw from the occupied territories, and that using guns and missiles is a U-turn in evolution, and they hate that, too. And I said I preferred Pink Floyd's The Wall to the Wailing Wall on national TV. They didn't like that much, either."
The idea of diaspora donations being used to support the settlements infuriates him.
"They get these great houses, all for free," he spits. "It's so ugly. The Jewish Americans who sponsor death, those fat, rich pigs in Brooklyn, make me want to puke."
He says his attempts to talk to the settlers themselves lead nowhere.
"I asked them, ‘Would you give your daughter's life for this land?' And they said yes. It was a real shock for me. I did all I could as a citizen of Israel. But they ended up hating me more than any Arab could. I didn't make peace with them."
The 2006 war proved the final straw for Geffen. "It wasn't about Hizbollah," he says. "It was Vietnam II, a war between the States and Iran. We're f***ing puppets."
His solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is simple: "All East Jerusalem should be for the Palestinians. Where would the Jews live? Somewhere else in Israel. But they prefer to have it paid for by the US government, near Gaza. We have a whole galaxy - do you think God just keeps his eye out for the Jews in Jerusalem? Always if you believe in one God you must hate another. It's stupid. Why bother?
"You should believe in yourself. I don't believe God exists. And I don't believe in a piece of land."