Spectacular example of a killing in the name of God

Ahron Bregman reflects on a man who murdered peace


Killing a KingBy Dan Ephron
W W Norton, £17.99
Reviewed by Ahron Bregman

Killing a King is a tale of two stories: Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's efforts to strike a peace deal with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat; and Israeli fanatic Yigal Amir's plans to murder Rabin.

Journalist Dan Ephron, who has reported from Israel for much of the past two decades, has used previously confidential police and court records to reconstruct the story of how, as Rabin's peace efforts gathered pace, Yigal Amir plotted to kill him.

Rabin's peace proposals drew strong opposition in some quarters in Israel, as his deals would require the Jewish state to withdraw from lands seized in 1967, some of which were regarded as being in "Eretz Yisrael".

Amir claimed a religious justification for killing a prime minister - din rodef - which refers to a person who pursues another defenceless person with the intention of killing him. Under certain interpretations of the Talmud, it is obligatory to kill the rodef - pursuer - in order to save the intended victim. In his twisted, brain-washed mind, Amir decided that Rabin fitted the definition of a rodef because the Prime Minister's peace deals would risk the settlers' existence, thereby obliging Amir to step in and save them by killing him.

Shin Bet, Israel's internal security agency, despite having a file on Amir relating to his previous participation in anti-government and anti-peace process demonstrations, failed to register him as dangerous. The agency assumed that potential assailants would emerge either from the Arab camp or from among the settlers, whereas Amir was neither Arab nor settler; though certainly religious, he lived in Herzliya, just north of Tel Aviv.

And he was determined to kill Rabin. Ephron describes how Amir stalked his prime ministerial prey for over two years, waiting for the right moment to strike. At the beginning of 1995, Amir hoped to murder Rabin during a planned visit by the Prime Minister to Yad Vashem to mark the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz; but he left too early for Amir to carry out his planned attack.

Then, in April that year, Amir planned to attack Rabin at the Mimouna, a ceremony held by the Israeli-Moroccan community, where the PM was the guest of honour. This time, however, Amir failed to get close enough to carry out a fatal shooting. Finally, on Saturday, 4 November 1995, as Yitzhak Rabin left the stage at a peace rally in Tel Aviv, Amir succeeded in shooting him from a distance of just two feet with a 9mm Beretta.

Ephron's book, which often reads like a page-turner thriller, is essentially about peace-making and the possibly missed opportunity to establish a treaty between Israelis and Palestinians during Rabin's tenure as Prime Minister.

Having myself researched the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, I doubt whether conditions were ripe in the early 1990s for a final peace deal. But I would agree with Ephron that Rabin stood a better chance of forging an enduring reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians than any leader before or since, and that his killing seriously derailed the peace process.

For me, what Ephron's fascinating study shows above all is the still present extremism in Israeli society constituting a warning that, while the external danger to the nation's existence is gradually receding, the internal danger, from Israelis turning on each other, keeps growing.

Ahron Bregman is the author of 'Cursed Victory: A History of Israel and the Occupied Territories' (Penguin, 2015)

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