Birthday of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, 1922
Updated: Mar 5, 2021
On This Day in Jewish History: March 1, 1922
On this day, 1922, we honor the memory of the legendary warrior who brought Israel and the Palestinian people one step closer to peace, the late great Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The first Sabra (Native Israeli) to become Prime Minister of Israel, Rabin was born in Jerusalem in what was then British Occupied Palestine in 1922 to a family of Jewish immigrants from Europe, his parents were strong Zionists with a firm foundation living and working on kibbutzim (Israeli social communes). He eventually joined the Palmach (elite fighting force of the Haganah) and served under the leadership of historic figures like Yigal Alon and Moshe Dayan. Rabin led a 27 year long military career, having fought from before the war of Independence to the Six Day War in 1967. He served as Israel’s ambassador to the United States between 1968 to 1973 and went on to be elected Prime Minister from 1974 until he resigned in 1977.
He was Israel’s Minister of Defense throughout the 1980s right up until the First Intifada. He was re-elected as Prime Minister in 1992 and made history, risking everything to shake hands with his mortal enemy Yasser Arafat (former chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization) in 1993 in the famous Oslo Accords, a dramatic effort to achieve peace for both Israel and the Arab world, his efforts would win him the Nobel Peace prize and another peace deal, this time with King Hussein of Jordan in 1994 before Rabin was assassinated in 1995. His father Nehemiah immigrated to the United States from the Pale of Settlement (Modern Day Ukraine) and then to Palestine, having served in the Jewish Legion of the British army during World War I. His mother Rosa had immigrated from Belarus to British Occupied Palestine and was also a fighter; in fact Rosa was one of the first members of the Haganah (Jewish Resistance later to become the modern Israel Defense Forces). After graduating among the top of his class, Yitzhak Rabin volunteered for the Palmach. His time fighting for the independence and defense of Israel would take up roughly 27 years, finishing his time as IDF Chief of Staff retiring after he led his forces to victory during the 6 Day War in June of 1967, together with legendary generals such as Moshe Dayan and future Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
After retiring in 1968, he was appointed Israeli Ambassador to the United States. Rabin made considerable progress in forging a stronger alliance with the US, returning to Israel in 1973 when he became heavily active in Israel’s Labor Party. Following the miraculous Israeli victory in the Yom Kippur War in October 1973, Israeli elections were held in December that year. Golda Meir won another term but lost the government in June of 1974 when the Knesset(Israeli Parliament) voted in favor of a new government headed by none other than Yitzhak Rabin. Prime Minister Rabin focused on improving Israel’s economy, solving social problems and strengthening Israel’s army. Aided by the United States, Rabin concluded an interim agreement with Egypt in 1975 and as a result, the first Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the governments of Israel and the United States. In June of 1976, PLO and German terrorists hijacked a commercial airplane and held the hostages in Entebbe, Uganda. It was Yitzhak Rabin who ordered the daring rescue of the Entebbe Operation to be carried out by a special unit of Israeli commandos headed by Yoni Netanyahu (brother of future Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu), who was sadly killed in action along with three of the hostages, 103 hostages were successfully rescued. When the Labor Party was defeated in the 1977 election, Rabin went on to serve as a member of the Knesset’s opposition and the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee until 1984 when a National Unity government was formed. He was Minister of Defense until March 1990. In 1992 Israel’s Labor Party elected Rabin as its Chairman and in June that same year he was elected for a second term as Prime Minister of Israel.
On September 13th, 1993, Rabin decided to take a huge risk by shaking hands with Yasser Arafat, a known terrorist responsible for the deaths of many Israelis, and then Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. They met on the White House lawns mediated by former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Together with then Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO Executive Committee Member Mahmoud Abbas, they signed the Declaration of Principles as part of the historic Oslo Accords, which sought the implementation of a two state solution between Israel and the Palestinian people. The documents called for the PLO to renounce the use of terrorism and violence, one of several conditions the Palestinian Authority and Hamas failed to meet. Following the perceived breakthrough in negotiations with the Palestinians, Rabin received the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize together with Shimon Peres and Yaser Arafat. On October 26th, 1994, Rabin also signed a peace deal with King Hussein of Jordan in the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty which remains in effect to this day.
One year later, on November 4th, 1995, Rabin was joining Shimon Peres at a peace rally in Tel Aviv’s Kings of Israel square for a performance by Israeli singer Miri Aloni in her “Shir La’Shalom,” (Song for Peace). Later that night, as Rabin was leaving the rally, he was fatally shot by a young Israeli radical Yigal Amir. One hour later, Yitzhak Rabin was pronounced dead. Amir was tried and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Yitzhak Rabin and for injuring one of Rabin’s personal bodyguards. When questioned as to the motives of his actions, Amir stated he believed Rabin had betrayed the Jewish people by negotiating for peace with the Palestinians. Rabin was buried on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, visited by leaders from all over the world including Bill Clinton, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan. Though his life was so violently cut short, Yitzhak Rabin led a long life of devotion and service to his people and his nation of the Jewish State of Israel, the legacy he left behind stands today as a model for current and future world leaders, and to this day many Israelis mourn his loss.
Although the Oslo Accords were not very effective in making peace with the Palestinians, they did provide a channel for peace talks between the two communities, peace talks which have yet to resolve several key issues. As more and more Arab countries begin to normalize peaceful relations with Israel, the missing link still seems to be an illusive yet meaningful peace deal with the Palestinian people. The torch has fallen from the hands of legends like Yitzhak Rabin, and is now left to us today to continue the search for a peaceful solution that will bring the long bloody conflict which has claimed so many lives on both sides, to their long awaited conclusion. Who knows? Maybe some of you reading this might be the ones to lead the way.