'Rabin: the Last Day' chronicles the death of a peacemaker

Recently a former editor of the progressive Israeli newspaper Haaretz wrote an open letter to American Jews pleading with them to help save Israel from the disastrous future into which it was plunging with its refusal of the two-state solution with Palestine. Meanwhile Secretary of State John Kerry warns that settlers building on Arab land and demolishing Palestinian homes is reigniting a culture of violence.

Twenty years ago, under the leadership of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the new Oslo Accords calling for two independent states seemed a step on the road to peace, but a coalition of religious extremists and settlers saw Rabin’s peace as a betrayal of Israel and branded him another Hitler. So on the evening of Nov. 4, 1995, after Rabin had addressed an enormous political rally in Tel Aviv, as he entered his car, three shots rang out. The profusely bleeding Rabin died as he was rushed to the hospital.

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In the spirit of other recent Israel political films, like “Censored Voices,” which features interviews with veterans of the Six-Day War, Amos Gitai, with “Rabin, The Last Day,” is still convinced that Israel has a conscience and forces it to face its sins.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, a coalition of right-wing religious leaders and settlers, has scuttled the ship of peace. Gitai’s documentary, mixed with historical reenactments, explains how they did it. Structurally, the film is framed by footage of the enormous political rally with both sides marching, yelling and waving their signs, and climaxing with Rabin’s speech and murder. The body of the film alternates with scenes of Rabin’s enemies plotting his destruction; sessions of the Shamgar Commission set up to investigate why security had failed to protect the president, including testimony from his killer; and returns to scenes of that terrible night when security was lax and anger—indeed bloodlust—was high.

The two most chilling scenes are the cult-like synagogue ceremony in which the rabbis and congregation call down a curse on Rabin because the Oslo treaty would require giving up “Israeli” land, and a conspirators’ meeting in which a female “ethical psychologist,” striding around the room, convinces the men around the table that Rabin is schizophrenic, out of touch with reality. Their political-historical justification rests on comparison with France, where the Vichy government cooperated with Hitler’s occupying army. With that in mind their posters feature Rabin, who has won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, wearing a Nazi uniform.

The Shamgar Commission brings in Rabin’s driver, his bodyguard, doctor, attorney general, security guards, and finally his 25-year old assassin, student activist Eyal Yigal Amir. He shaves and changes his shirt to look handsome before his interrogators, slouches and chuckles when he is amused. He has no regrets. Told that killing someone breaks the law, he responds, “I don’t care about the law. I care about the Jews. Rabin sacrificed the Jews. I sacrificed myself to kill Rabin.”

In a fascinating encounter a woman staff member tries to convince the commission that the settlements violate international law and human rights; the settlers steal land and destroy olives orchards, convinced that religious ideals justify the land grab. However, the purpose of the committee was only to evaluate the security at the rally, not the murder.

The film opens with a contemporary interview with Shimon Peres, who describes Rabin as a colleague and friend. Maybe, but a review of the new book Killing A King, by Dan Ephron, on Rabin’s assassination, describes Peres, who temporarily succeed Rabin as prime minister, as “manipulative and a schemer” who delayed the next election so he could create his own legacy (America, Feb. 1).

Gitai ends with a brief interview with Rabin’s wife, who concludes, “Israel will never be the same.” He also offers three telling images: two of Netanyahu, one of the future prime minister wielding a megaphone in a crowd of protesters yelling “Death to Rabin” and a scene where the chairman of the Shamgar Commission walks out into the rain where posters of Netanyahu cover the walls. We also see Rabin’s last words to his fellow politicians, calling for an end to schism and deploring the use of violence to solve our problems.

"Rabin, The Last Day," an Israeli film directed by Amos Gigtai and written by Gital and Marie-Jose Samselme will open on Friday Jan. 29 in select cities.

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