Israelis hold peace rally in memory of Rabin

16:09, November 08, 2009      

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Tens of thousands of Israelis, men and women, old and young, gathered Saturday night at and around Rabin Square in Tel Aviv for the annual peace rally to commemorate late former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated 14 years ago.

The mournful crowd at the largest non-official memorial assembly listened attentively to appeals for peace coming from a stage. The stage featured a large portrait of Rabin's head as a backdrop and a striking slogan: "14 Years After the Murder."

The rally, which had initially been scheduled for one week earlier but was delayed due to inclement weather, began with a video of Rabin's last speech, an address against violence, delivered at the square one hour before he was shot dead.

Rabin, born in 1922, was the fifth Israeli Prime Minister from 1974 to 1977 and held the post again from 1992 until his assassination at the square on Nov. 4, 1995. His assassin was Yigal Amir, a right-wing extremist who vehemently opposed Rabin's signing of the historic Oslo Accords with the Palestinians in 1993, which created the Palestinian National Authority and granted it partial control over parts of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

For his role in the signing of the Oslo Accords, Rabin was awarded the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize, along with the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and then Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who is now Israeli president.

Among a variety of memorial events, the Israeli government held a state ceremony at Rabin's graveyard in Jerusalem late last month, and the parliament also convened a special session in his memory.

Peres, who was Rabin's top diplomat and just a few steps away when Rabin was gunned down, appeared at the stage decorated with a large streamer saying "Yes to Peace, No to Violence."

"Yitzhak is not with us, but he lives in our midst as a figure, as a policy, as a purpose: a joint purpose of a just society and comprehensive peace -- two inseparable goals ... The three shots that caused his death were aimed at the peace process, and they were fired to kill hope," said a mournful and indignant Peres at the ceremony, which also featured performances by Israel's leading artists.

While stressing that his country wanted true peace, the 86-year-old political veteran called upon Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has recently voiced his frustration with the unwieldy peace process with Israel and declared to retire from politics after the Palestinian presidential election in January, "not to give up."

"The path (to peace) is not an easy one, and we will suffer obstacles and victims, but it is because of this that we must persist," said current chairman of Rabin's Labor Party and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Speaking after Peres, he invited Abbas and Syrian President Bashar Assad to come to the negotiation table.

Remarking on Rabin's quest for peace during his life, U.S. President Barack Obama said in a pre-recorded video message broadcast at the rally that Israel would not find true security while the Palestinians were gripped by hopelessness and despair. Obama therefore urged the Jewish state to move forward on the peace track.

Obama, who vowed to be personally involved in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, added that the answer to all the doubts that accompanied Rabin's quest for peace had to be "yes" as everyone was working toward a lasting peace for Israel and its neighbors.

Meanwhile, the U.S. president reassured the crowd that the bond between Israel and U.S. was unbreakable and that the U.S. commitment to Israel's security would never be undermined.

"To all who seek peace I say tonight, you will always have a partner in the United States of America and in my administration," Obama promised. "That's why we've been working aggressively for our clear goal, two states living side by side in peace and security."

Meir Honigbaun, a 55-year-old Tel Aviv resident who listened attentively to Obama's message, told Xinhua: "It is very good for Obama to pursue peace in the region." He added that he was attending the rally to send the message of promoting peace to the Israeli government.

Lazar Asia, who lives near Tel Aviv, echoed Honigbaun's words, saying that "by coming here, we want to express our hope for peace."

"Most Israelis want peace, and Palestinians also want peace," said the 52-year-old man, adding that only by peace talks and mutual compromise could Israel and the Palestinians attain peace.

Yet 14 years after Rabin's peace declaration, the harsh reality is that peace remains elusive. The peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been suspended since the Israeli army's "Operation Cast Lead" in Gaza in January, and there are few signs of an early resumption of the peace talks.

While admitting that the chances for peace in the near future were "not good," Pnena Albaz, a woman living in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, told Xinhua that she believed there would finally be peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

"I took my son to the event to let him know the importance of peace," Albaz said, adding that her son, who had learned a lot about Rabin at school, respected the former Israeli prime minister greatly for his devotion to peace.

"We hope in our generation, there will be peace," Asia chimed in optimistically.

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