Quick Facts: Yitzhak Rabin

September 25, 2020 IMEU
  • Yitzhak Rabin was born on March 1, 1922, in Jerusalem, Mandate Palestine. His father, born Nehemiah Rubitzov in modern-day Ukraine, emigrated to the United States, where he changed his last name to “Rabin” before moving to Palestine in 1917. His mother, born Rosa Cohen in Belarus, moved to Palestine in 1919.
  • Rabin was prime minister of Israel from 1974 to 1977 and again from 1992 to 1995 when he was assassinated by a Jewish extremist. He was also minister of defense from 1984 to 1990 and again while he was prime minister from 1992 to 1995. 
  • In the 1990s, as prime minister, he signed the first of the Oslo Accords with the Palestine Liberation Organization, which define relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which was established as part of the accords and continues to govern parts of the occupied West Bank under the overall control of the Israeli army.   

Ethnic cleansing of Palestinians during Israel’s establishment

  • During Israel’s establishment (1948-49), between 750,000 and one million Palestinians were ethnically cleansed by Zionist militias and the new Israeli army to make way for a Jewish majority state. As an officer in the Israeli army, Rabin led “Operation Danny” in July 1948, which involved the capture of the Palestinian cities of Ramla and Lydd and the expulsion of 50,000-70,000 Palestinians in what became known as the Lydd death march. The military order, signed by Rabin, read: “The inhabitants of Lydda must be expelled quickly, without regard to age.”
  • In his memoirs, which were censored by Israel but leaked to The New York Times in 1979, Rabin recalled a conversation he had with David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, regarding the fate of the Palestinians of Lydd and Ramla, writing: 

"We walked outside, Ben-Gurion accompanying us. [Commander Yigal] Allon repeated his question, 'What is to be done with the Palestinian population?' Ben-Gurion waved his hand in a gesture which said 'Drive them out!’... I agreed that it was essential to drive the inhabitants out."

Helping establish Israel’s illegal settlement movement on occupied Palestinian land

  • While Rabin professed dislike for radical Jewish settlers, considering them dangerous extremists and a “cancer” on Israel, under his watch as prime minister in the 1970s some of the first Jewish settlements were established, including in strategic locations around occupied East Jerusalem, on stolen Palestinian land. Ironically, he warned at the time that if Israel didn’t relinquish its control over Palestinians in the occupied territories it would be an “apartheid” state. Today, more than four decades later, there are upwards of 650,000 Israeli settlers living on occupied Palestinian in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in violation of international law, in more than 200 official and unofficial settlements. They cause enormous suffering and hardship for Palestinians and make living a normal life, and the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state in the occupied territories, all but impossible.  

Israel’s alliance with Apartheid South Africa 

  • In the 1970s, while the international campaign to end apartheid in South Africa was ramping up, then-Prime Minister Rabin deepened Israel’s alliance with the country’s racist white government, which began in the 1960s and included working together to build nuclear weapons. In 1975, they established a "Joint Secretariate for Political and Psychological Warfare,” including "propaganda and psychological warfare,” part of a $100 million South African propaganda campaign to rehabilitate the country’s image. According to a report from NBC News:

“Under terms of the agreement, championed by [Shimon] Peres, then-Defense Minister, and Yitzhak Rabin, the Prime Minister, Israel would help South Africa burnish its international reputation. South Africa would supply the money, with each country appointing a secretary to look after its interests.”

  • In 1976, South African Prime Minister John Vorster, who was imprisoned by the British during World War II for pro-Nazi sympathies and activities, was welcomed warmly in Israel. At a state dinner, Rabin praised Vorster for creating a “prosperous atmosphere of cooperation” between their two countries. 

Brutal repression & war crimes during the First Intifada against Israeli military rule

  • In late 1987, while Rabin was minister of defense, Palestinians in the occupied territories (Gaza, West Bank, East Jerusalem) began the First Intifada (uprising) against Israel’s oppressive military rule, which was then two decades old. Palestinians employed mass popular tactics including peaceful protest, rock throwing against soldiers from Israel’s occupying army, commercial and tax strikes, and other acts of civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance. In response, Israeli soldiers under Rabin’s command used brutal violence to suppress the mostly unarmed popular rebellion, including Rabin’s infamous "broken bones" policy, ordering Israeli forces to break the limbs [WARNING: Graphic video] of Palestinian protesters.
  • Between December 1987 and 1993, when the uprising tapered off in the face of brutal Israeli repression and political co-optation by the Palestine Liberation Organization, more than 1,000 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces, including 237 children. Many tens of thousands more were injured. Rabin was prime minister and/or defense minister most of this time. According to an estimate by the Swedish branch of Save the Children, as many as 29,900 children required medical treatment for injuries caused by beatings from Israeli soldiers during the first two years of the Intifada alone, nearly a third of them aged ten or under. Save the Children also estimated that between 6,500-8,500 Palestinian minors were wounded by Israeli gunfire in the first two years of the Intifada.

Oslo & Apartheid

  • In 1993, then-Prime Minister Rabin signed the first of the Oslo Accords with the Palestine Liberation Organization. The Oslo Accords were supposed to be interim leading to a permanent peace deal within five years. Even though Palestinians formally recognized "the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security” and were led to believe the endgame of negotiations was an independent Palestinian state in the occupied territories, in return Israel only acknowledged the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Pointedly, Rabin’s government did not recognize or accept the notion of a Palestinian state.
  • Although Rabin publicly agreed to a settlement freeze, Israel continued to build illegal Jewish-only settlements on occupied Palestinian land unabated, undermining Palestinian confidence in Israel’s good faith, a situation which would only get worse over time. Over the course of the Oslo negotiations process (1993-2000), Israeli leaders massively accelerated their expansion of settlements and deepened their oppressive military rule over Palestinians, even while they were supposed to be negotiating an end to both.
  • In 1994, an Israeli-American settler massacred 29 Palestinians as they prayed in the historic Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron in the occupied West Bank. Instead of taking advantage of the situation to evacuate the small number of extremist settlers from Hebron, thereby reducing tensions and demonstrating goodwill during negotiations, Rabin temporarily disarmed a few of the most dangerous before rewarding them, including increasing their access to the mosque. At the same time, Israel clamped down on Palestinians in Hebron with severe restrictions on their movements and other measures, including forcibly dividing the Ibrahimi Mosque to create a separate prayer space for Jewish settlers with a separate entrance. Hundreds of Palestinian shopkeepers on Shuhada Street in the heart of Hebron were also forced to close their businesses, which were welded shut by the Israeli army, under the pretext of securing settlers living on the busy commercial artery. Palestinians were restricted, at first from driving and later from walking as well, on a large section of Shuhada Street, prompting its nickname of “Apartheid Street.” More than 25 years later, Palestinians in Hebron still live under this draconian regime. 
  • On November 4, 1995, Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Jewish extremist who opposed granting Palestinians any rights or control over any part of historic Palestine. He was succeeded as prime minister by Benjamin Netanyahu, who many blamed for inciting Rabin’s killer. Netanyahu would spend the next several decades systematically undermining all attempts to establish a Palestinian state in the occupied territories.
  • In 1994, Rabin won the Nobel Peace Prize along with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, and Shimon Peres, for the Oslo Accords, which at the time were perceived by many as a historic breakthrough for peace. However, during the Oslo years (1993-2000), as its settlement enterprise expanded rapidly, Israel began to impose severe restrictions on Palestinian movement between Israel and the occupied territories, between the occupied West Bank and Gaza, and within the occupied territories themselves. Today Palestinians live in a series of isolated ghettos in the occupied territories, surrounded by Israeli walls, military checkpoints, and bases, and settlements, under a system of racial segregation, discrimination, and apartheid, all based on the Oslo Accords.

Photo Credit: Jean-Claude Coutausse, GAZA, Ahli Arab hospital