While one man planned political deals that he hoped would one day bring peace, another man plotted his shocking murder.
In Killing A King: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel, award-winning writer and journalist DAN EPHRON lays bare the parallel stories of the Israeli prime minister and his stalker, Yigal Amir, over the two years leading up to Rabin’s brutal death.
Based on Israeli police reports, confessions and interviews with all the key players, including members of Amir’s family, Ephron charts how Rabin, a former general who led the army in the Six Day War of 1967, embraced his nemesis, Palestine Liberation Organisation leader Yasser Arafat, and set about paving the way to peace.
At the same time, 25-year-old law student Amir formulated a plan to strike a fatal blow to the peace efforts, which he believed amounted to a betrayal of Israel and the Jewish people.
Twenty years ago this week, the men tasked with protecting their leader ultimately failed following a series of shocking security blunders – but more significantly, the shape of peace-making in Israel was changed forever by the untimely death of Rabin at the hands of a Jewish extremist.
In this compelling extract from Killing A King, Ephron narrates the very last hours leading up to the assassination on 4 November, 1995:
Amir slipped out of the house at 7:45pm without saying goodbye, and made his way to the bus stop. If agents had somehow been on to him, he thought, better to avoid traveling by car, which they could tail. He took the 247 line and got off two blocks from the plaza.
To blend in, Amir took off his black skullcap and stued it into his pocket. In dark jeans and a T-shirt, he looked like every other demonstrator.
Amir had no real plan. But as he drew closer to the stage, he spotted the prime minister’s two cars parked in the lot, the Cadillac and the Caprice.
The lot teemed with people, including policemen and security guards but also roadies and drivers, and just bystanders hoping to catch a glimpse of some famous person.
The police barricade blocked the entrance only partially and the men who guarded it seemed to come and go. Amir was about to make his way in when he spotted a fellow law student from Bar-Ilan, the careful note-taker Amit Hampel, and quickly retreated.
Hampel would wonder what he was doing at a peace rally and why he was not wearing his skullcap, Amir thought. He might become suspicious.
Instead, Amir pressed into the crowd. Onstage, the performers and politicians alternated at the microphone, grating on him equally.
In the square, he bristled at these Hellenizers, the peaceniks.
To Amir, this was the other Israel, the one with no regard for biblical warrant, no reverence for Jewish heritage.
He walked the length of the plaza and then turned back toward the parking lot, approaching it this time from the west.
At the electric gate, he had no trouble getting past policemen. Once inside, Amir walked to within fifteen feet of the Cadillac, leaned on one of the equipment vans, and waited. From there, he had a clear view to the staircase where Rabin would likely descend from the stage.
Now Amir gave himself over to God. If a policeman approached, he told himself, he would walk away. But if no one questioned his presence there, it would be a divine signal.
If God wants a person to commit an act, He lets him commit the act.
For forty minutes, Amir lingered, either leaning against the van or sitting on a planter at the base of the stairs.
The policemen around him seemed to mistake him for a roadie or a driver.
To allay possible suspicions, he chatted casually with one of the cops about the musician Aviv Geffen, a rocker in white face makeup. “What a weirdo,” Amir remarked when Geffen came down from the stage.
Twice, he noticed another policeman coming toward him but veering away at the last moment.
The Shabak officer charged with maintaining a sterile environment in the parking lot stood less than two car lengths from Amir, leaning on the Caprice.
He’d been privy to the intelligence about a “short Yemeni guy with curly hair” wanting to kill the prime minister. And yet he paid no attention to Amir.
At a moment when the threat to Israel’s leader loomed larger than ever, Shabak’s seam zone – the very place where assassination attempts were known to occur – was unsecured.
Onstage, Rabin huddled with the other men in suits and waited for his turn to speak, trailed constantly by the bodyguards Rubin and Glaser.
Leah Rabin looked out at the crowd and noticed a few dozen young people standing waist-deep in a fountain at the front of the plaza, shouting, “Rabin, King of Israel.”
It was a pleasant alternative to the chants she’d been accustomed to hearing outside her window.
While she scanned the square, the wife of an Israeli journalist approached and asked her if Rabin was wearing a bulletproof vest.
Though Leah had certainly been aware of the growing threat to her husband, the question seemed somehow out of place to her.
Rabin’s turn came after Peres finished his speech and as the two men intersected at the podium, they lingered for a moment facing the plaza.
In an unscripted and uncharacteristic display, Rabin threw an arm around Peres’s waist and Peres reciprocated, prompting cheers from the crowd.
The speech had been written to include references to the growing danger posed by right-wing extremists.
Though Rabin lacked the theatrical impulse required to be a rousing orator, he now found his rhythm.
“Violence is undermining the foundation of Israeli democracy,” he said into the microphone, a staccato echo bouncing off the low-slung apartment buildings around the square. “I was a military man for twenty-seven years. I fought as long as there was no chance for peace. I believe there is a chance now, a great chance, and we must take advantage of it.” • Killing A King: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel by Dan Ephron is published by W W Norton, priced £17.99.