The first book to tell the complete, explosive story of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
A dramatic tale of treachery and betrayal, Murder in the Name of God investigates and recreates the historic events of November 4, 1995. On that night a twenty-five-year-old student named Yigal Amir assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, an act that abruptly changed the course of Israeli politics. Based on exhaustive research, including an exclusive interview with the assassin, Murder in the Name of God is the first book to give the full story of the people whose words and actions made Rabin's assassination inevitable: the nationalist rabbis who condemned Rabin by invoking an arcane talmudic ruling; the militant settlers and right-wing politicians who launched a sophisticated campaign of incitement against him; and the security experts who saw what was coming but failed to act. In a series of shocking revelations, the book ranges beyond Israel to expose the extent of American supportfinancial and ideologicalfor the movement that produced Rabin's killer.
Far more than the tale of an assassination, Murder in the Name of God is a powerful indictment of a society's failure to examine itself honestly and to bring its own worst enemies to justice.
|Publisher:||Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||6.36(w) x 9.44(h) x 1.05(d)|
About the Author
Michael Karpin is one of Israel's leading journalists and has served as the anchor of Second Look, a 60 Minutesstyle news magazine. Ina Friedman is a translator, journalist, and editor living in Jerusalem.
Read an Excerpt
The first impression Yigal Amir gives is of a polite young man, relaxed, self-possessed, almost serene. He speaks softly and laughs engagingly; in no way does his bearing suggest violence. At first he murmurs just above a whisper, forcing one to listen intently. He sounds like a missionary bent on redeeming a sinner. Those who lack faith or who fall victim to spiritual weakness are the object of his sermon, as are those who fail to grasp his reasoning and appreciate his achievement. On second glance he seems almost euphoric, at peace with himself and imbued with a sense of great power. He has no doubt whatsoever that he has accomplished the deed of the century.
Amir welcomes a battle of wits. Schooled in talmudic argument, he is an agile opponent. He never retreats when his assault is blocked, just attacks from another angle. The words flow easily off his tongue, and he even has a sense of humor, a hint of self-deprecation. At times he will giggle in discomfort, then recover and attack again, jumping from a shallow slogan to tortuous talmudic reasoning. Intoxicated by his own rhetoric, he is convinced he has won the day. His eyes shine with satisfaction as a smug smile spreads across his lips.
Amir identifies with an avant-garde of Jewish zealots: elitists in their own eyes, fanatics in the estimation of others. They have isolated themselves in small yeshivas, in settlements on the hilltops of the West Bank, in the courtyards and alleyways of Hebron, in Joseph's Tomb in Nablus. Like them, he has embraced a system of values that are messianic and anarchistic in the view of society at large. Like them, he feels only contempt for anything that smacks of the establishment, which he accuses of hypocrisy. Orthodox rabbis assail secular Jews for their crassness, Amir believes, but gladly live off their taxes. The settlers, who are widely viewed as defiant extremists, are cowed by the government, in Amir's view. "A settler wouldn't have dared to kill Rabin," he sneered to the police officer who interrogated him. "The settlers are concerned about their image. They're timid, terrified people."
Unlike the settler establishment, the zealots are unwilling to compromise. They are determined to live precisely according to their beliefs, and that is why Amir reveres them. Like them, he is prepared to obey only the law of the Torah, for the Torah is the absolute Truth. One must never depart from its ways or appease those who deny it. Man's laws are fickle and fleeting, but the 613 commandments in the Torah are constant and eternal. At the End of Days the "believers," the Sons of Light, will defeat the heretics, the Sons of Darkness. For the believers obey the halacha, the canon of Jewish religious law, and follow God's dictates. "There's a small minority here," he says of most of his countrymen, "a small group that's completely atheistic, and its aim is to lead to an absolutely secular state," to make "Israel a nation like all the nations." This small minority, he explains, is trying to wrest control of all the instruments of power, especially the legal system and the media. The disaster looming at the gates is that the Jewish people will be destroyed by those who abhor religion. What awaits the people of Israel, Amir believes, is nothing less than a Holocaust.
One of Amir's friends, Yaron Yehoshua--himself a practicing Jew--believes that Amir's faith is particularly powerful. "I had many arguments with him about faith, and his was much stronger than mine," says Yehoshua. "I raised questions and doubts, but he argued that everything set down in the halacha must be followed." If civil law clashes with religious law, Yehoshua heard Amir pronounce, then the civil law must yield.
Amir also believes that there is only one guideline for fixing the borders of the Land of Israel: the Divine Promise made to the Patriarch Abraham: "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates" (Genesis 15:17). Today these borders embrace most of the Middle East, from Egypt to Iraq. But the zealots read this passage as God's Will, and God's Will must be obeyed, whatever the cost. No mortal has the right to settle for borders any narrower than these. Thus negotiating a peace settlement with Israel's neighbors is unthinkable. After all, the manifest destiny of the Jewish people has not been realized, say the zealots, so what is the basis for making peace? The order of action must be reversed: First the territorial conquests must be completed, so as to bring the Divine Promise to fruition. Yet even after their territorial demands are satisfied, the zealots doubt whether it will be possible to reconcile with the Arabs. "Esau hates Jacob," says the Talmud, and you cannot make peace with those who hate you.
Amir echoed that conviction to the Shamgar State Commission of Inquiry that investigated the circumstances surrounding the murder of Yitzhak Rabin. "There can't be peace here," he told them.
[The Arabs are] our antithesis in every way. We can't live peacefully with them. For three years they [Rabin's government] have imposed their outlook in a way that's created new concepts. I mean, peace has received a new meaning. The word "peace" is, to me, first of all peace within the nation. You must love your [own people] before you can love others. The concept of peace has been turned into a destructive instrument with which anything can be done. I mean, you can kill people, abandon people [to their fate], close Jews into ghettos and surround them with Arabs, give guns to the army [Palestinian Police], establish a [Palestinian] army, and say: this is for the sake of peace. You can release Hamas terrorists from prison, free murderers with blood on their hands, and everything in the framework of peace.
Amir tried to persuade Shlomi Halevy, a politically liberal student of philosophy, to join the opposition to the Oslo Agreement signed by Israel and the Palestinians in September 1993. "His line of argument is rational and devoid of emotion," Halevy said after the murder. "There's no such thing as pluralism for him, no nuance, no openness; it's all or nothing. There is only One Truth, and he is privy to it." Halevy describes Amir as "a fanatic of the holy trinity: the people of Israel, the Torah of Israel, and the Land of Israel. He hasn't much use for democracy or the secular State of Israel, its anthem, and symbols. He dismisses what the goyim [gentiles] will do or say. He says that Israel must do what it can and trust that God will take care of all the rest."
The hard-core zealots are roughly divided into two groups: vigilantes and ideologues, those who believe in direct action and those who devote themselves to philosophizing. Among the vigilantes Amir holds in esteem is Dr. Baruch Goldstein, the physician from the settlement of Kiryat Arba, adjoining Hebron, who gunned down twenty-nine Palestinians at morning prayer in the Cave of the Patriarchs on February 25, 1994. Among the ideologues, he especially admires Noam Livnat, a tall, bearded, delicate-faced settler in his forties who walks with a heavy limp (the result of a road accident that initially left him paralyzed from the neck down). He returned to religion as a youth and became intensely pious. Today his name is well known in right-wing circles and among the national religious camp. At one point the Shabak, Israel's General Security Services, had him under surveillance. Since his sister, Limor Livnat, became a government minister in June 1996, the media have swarmed to his door. But the guarded Livnat rarely agrees to give interviews. He defines himself as a "radical right-wing messianist," and many young religious Jews regard him as a figure to be emulated. His soft voice and subdued manner stand in sharp contrast with his political image. Even right-wing radicals consider him an extremist.
Livnat is unquestionably an intellectual. He would be in his element on a university campus, lecturing on history or philosophy. Yet he is more often found in the Palestinian city of Nablus (the biblical Shechem), bent over the Talmud in an old Arab structure--evidently the tomb of a sheikh. A late Jewish tradition identifies the site as Joseph's Tomb, for "the bones of Joseph ... were buried at Shechem (Joshua 24:32)." It now houses a yeshiva called Joseph Still Lives (Od Yosef Chai), and gathered there each day are among the most fanatic religious settlers in the West Bank. So rabid are the students in this yeshiva that at the beginning of 1996, Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun, himself a religious settler, warned his colleagues: "There's a potential for murder in the yeshiva in Shechem. Do not accord it your protection."
Bin-Nun, in fact, demanded that the yeshiva be closed down. He decried the racist ruling of its patron, Rabbi Yitzhak Ginzburg, that "Jewish blood and gentile blood are not the same." Ginzburg defended the act of one of the yeshiva's students who opened indiscriminate fire on Arab laborers standing alongside a highway near Tel Aviv in 1993, and he subsequently lauded Dr. Baruch Goldstein for massacring Arabs in Hebron. He wears a long black coat, dabbles in Jewish mysticism, and is a magnet for "born-again" Jews (nonpracticing Jews who have returned to religion and become radically pious).
A few years ago Ginzburg debated Bin-Nun before the small group of students at the Joseph Still Lives Yeshiva for more than three hours. He explained that he differentiates between the murder of a gentile and that of a Jew because the Torah places a "light prohibition" on the former and a "grave" one on the latter. Bin-Nun argued that murder is murder, plain and simple, and that the murder of a gentile is a desecration of the Jewish religion. Yet most of Ginzburg's students supported their rabbi's view. Some even claimed that the murder of a gentile is an act sanctified by God.
Bin-Nun was aghast. How could the Yesha Council, which represents the Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, accord this racist yeshiva its auspices? Ginzburg was causing immense damage to the settlers' cause by disseminating his racist views. "I have no doubt that Rabbi Ginzburg and his doctrine are a threat to our entire enterprise: to settlement activity, yeshivas, society, the state as a whole," Bin-Nun wrote to the council, demanding that it pressure the government to dismiss Ginzburg and withhold funds from his yeshiva. "If you do not do so," he warned his comrades, "it is clear that the acts of murder will continue."
To this day the Yesha Council has not responded to his plea. The Joseph Still Lives Yeshiva remains open and under heavy guard. It is cordoned by Israeli soldiers who are surrounded by another belt of Palestinian policemen. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has allocated a considerable number to protect this group of extremists studying inside Nablus, which is controlled by the Palestinian Authority. The students are transported to the city every day, likewise under heavy guard, and evacuated again each evening.
Before transferring control of the West Bank's cities to the Palestinian Authority (as stipulated in the Interim Agreement signed on September 28, 1995), Rabin intended to close the Joseph Still Lives Yeshiva, after Chief of Staff Amnon Shahak recommended evacuating it. Then the settlers' lobby went into action, and Rabin capitulated to it. The ramifications of this decision became evident a year later, when Rabin was already in his grave and the newly elected prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, decided to flaunt Israel's control over all of Jerusalem by opening an exit to a tunnel adjoining the Western Wall. The Palestinians, who insisted that the tunnel undermined the foundations of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, responded with rage. On September 26, 1996, rioting broke out throughout the occupied territories, and when Israeli soldiers opened fire on the stone-throwing demonstrators, Palestinian policemen returned it.
One focus of the fighting was Joseph's Tomb in Nablus, as rioting Palestinians closed in on the yeshiva and threatened to overrun it. When the soldiers guarding it issued distress calls, the General Staff issued an order to evacuate the besieged Israelis, but the students refused to budge. Noam Livnat used his special influence with the government by calling his sister, Limor Livnat, on his cellular phone and asking her to have the evacuation order rescinded. She in turn called the office of Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai and was told if such an order existed, it would be canceled. Thus, instead of evacuating the yeshiva, the IDF sent in reinforcements to defend it. In the battle for Joseph's Tomb, 6 Israeli soldiers and 2 Palestinians were killed, and another 8 Israeli soldiers and 181 Palestinians were wounded. As justification for holding this isolated "position" in the heart of Palestinian territory, at such a high toll in human lives, the Yesha Council argued that relinquishing the site, marginal as it might be, would lead to the abandonment of others as well. In any event, it is doubtful that the evacuation order would have been reversed had it not been for the "hot line" between Livnat and his ministerial sister. A few months after the battle for Joseph's Tomb, Livnat told a journalist, "Thank God I have a sister who's a nationalist and that there's no dramatic gap between [our views]. I pass information on to her all the time, and she gives me feedback."
Noam Livnat was born into a family of proudly nationalist but non-observant Jews. His great-grandfather had immigrated to Palestine in 1888, and his parents had been members of the Stern Gang, a faction of the right-wing Jewish underground that fought Britain's mandatory regime in the 1940s. Noam discovered religion as a boy. He later studied under a relative, Rabbi Zalman Shlomo Orbach, the leading rabbinical authority of the haredi community, and became strictly observant. But although his mentor was strongly anti-Zionist, nationalism and religion merged into a potent blend of extremism for Livnat, who now lives in the West Bank settlement of Elon Moreh and is active in the messianic movement called Chai VeKayam ("Lives and Endures").
One of his comrades in that group is Yehuda Etzion, who in the early 1980s headed a band of settler vigilantes that operated in the West Bank and came to be called the Jewish Underground. Amir admired Etzion, as he did all the members of the Underground. In 1984 Etzion was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment for conspiring to blow up a mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Other members of the Underground murdered Palestinian students in Hebron's Islamic University, planted bombs in the cars of two Palestinian mayors, seriously wounding them, and planned to blow up Palestinian buses.
Etzion's plan to "purify" the Temple Mount accords with Livnat's desire to build the Third Temple there, an aim shared by the zealots of the Joseph Still Lives Yeshiva as part of their scheme to accelerate the Redemption. The First Temple was built by King Solomon in the tenth century B.C.E. and was destroyed by King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon in 586 B.C.E. The Second Temple was restored in 520 B.C.E., rebuilt in an elaborate form by King Herod in the first century B.C.E., and destroyed by the Romans in C.E. 70. Telescoping the past three millennia, the zealots dream of rebuilding the Temple, restoring the ancient Kingdom of David, and establishing a regime based solely on Jewish religious law--a halachic state. Livnat defined the borders of that kingdom in an article entitled "Against Peace Now" published in Chai Ve-Kayam's journal, La-Brit ("For the Covenant"). The piece concluded that Israel should seek war with the Arabs. "Candidly speaking, we're not at all interested in peace, as this concept is understood by the general public," he wrote. "As the ultimate of radical right-wing messianists, we look forward to the Redemption, to [ruling over the] true Whole Land of Israel, from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates ... [and] this integrity will undoubtedly be attained through conquest and wars."
Just a few years ago, when Livnat joined the zealots at the Tomb of Joseph, his vision of Redemption was considered a weird fixation. Today he believes that tens of thousands are willing to listen to him, and there are strong indications that his assessment is correct. A great change has overtaken Israeli society in recent years. Broad circles, including most of the Orthodox rabbis in Israel, are no longer reluctant to discuss their belief in Divine Redemption and will not support a government whose policy undermines it. "You can already sense the onset of the Redemption. It's just over the horizon," said Livnat as he drove the authors late in 1996 to a narrow green valley, just south of Nablus, and stopped the car between two high, rock-strewn mountains: the green Mountain of Blessing to the south; the bald Mountain of Curse to the north. "Which of them will win out?" he wondered aloud. "The Mountain of Redemption or the Mountain of Devastation?"
Livnat looks back at the last century, since Jews began returning to their ancestral homeland in numbers, and sees two parallel processes: one positive, the other negative; one congruent with God's Will, the other contrary to it. The first is the process leading to Redemption: a war to conquer the Whole Land of Israel and draw back the Jews from the farthest ends of their Diaspora. The other--the secularization of Jewish life, admiration for the vapid culture of the West, peace treaty with Egypt, relinquishment of parts of the homeland following the Oslo Agreement--only hastens the decline toward total ruin. "We, the people of Shechem, believe that Good and Evil are struggling with each other, and the outcome has yet to be decided," he said. "We, the believers, must act to manifest God's Will."
His view runs contrary to the faith of most of the nationalist rabbis. Echoing the philosophy of their mentor, the late Rabbi Zvi Yehudah Kook, they believe that even if Evil temporarily overwhelms Good, even if barriers are placed in the way of Redemption, God's Will is destined to be fulfilled without human intervention. But Livnat holds that "it's frustrating to see Jews behaving like ostriches. I know that Redemption will come in any event, but if the Oslo process takes over, the State of Israel will be a fleeting episode. It will collapse, and everything that's been accomplished in the past century will be destroyed. But if the Oslo Agreement is nullified, the process of collapse will be halted and the Redemption will move forward.
"Look at these mountains," he says, pointing to the clusters of red-roofed houses in the small, often isolated Jewish settlements of Samaria. They are set amid a sea of Palestinians and are often enclosed by barbedwire fences, like military outposts. Day after day their inhabitants travel dangerous roads in cars reinforced to protect them from stones, firebombs, and bullets. They are determined to cling to these rock-strewn mountains even if it costs them their lives. Above Nablus lives the spearhead of the settler population: a few score bearded young men in tzitzit and crocheted yarmulkes and women draped in head scarves and long dresses to conceal their allure. All are self-styled idealists, "emissaries of the people." "They are protecting the Land of Israel from the curse of Oslo," says Livnat. "You know that when the compromise was signed in Oslo, the Mountain of Curse grew higher and the Mountain of Blessing began quaking."
So says the ideologue that Yigal Amir holds in the highest esteem. His hero among the other branch of the zealot community--the vigilantes--was actually another soft-spoken man. Unlike Livnat, however, he translated his beliefs into violent action and inspired others to do the same. He made his move, without warning, on February 25, 1994, during the feast of Purim. Purim commemorates the rescue of the Jews of Persia from a plot to annihilate them and is traditionally celebrated with throngs of merriment. But on that cold, foggy Friday morning Dr. Baruch Goldstein had another plan in mind. Waking before dawn in his flat in Kiryat Arba, a large Israeli settlement that adjoins Hebron and contains some of the most radical of the Jewish settlers, the physician donned his military reserves uniform, picked up his M-16 rifle, and rode to the Cave of the Patriarchs, a holy site shared by Muslims and Jews. A native of Brooklyn, Goldstein had been a disciple of Meir Kahane, the racist rabbi who founded the Jewish Defense League, and at one point had been the league's spokesman. That morning he was ostensibly on his way to pray with the quorum of Jewish men who meet at the holy site daily. Climbing the steps of the imposing building, Goldstein entered the hall where hundreds of Muslims were praying on their knees with their heads bowed to the floor. Calmly he aimed his rifle at the congregation, switched the safety catch to automatic fire, and pulled the trigger. Within seconds dozens of worshipers had collapsed before him. He did not release the trigger until a number of panicked worshipers jumped him from behind, dragged him to the floor, and began beating him to death.
That morning Yigal Amir was at Bar-Ilan University studying in the kolel, a study group in which students can pursue talmudic subjects in addition to their secular education. As he sat immersed in the Talmud, someone turned on the radio. Amir listened to the report of the massacre and came away with a selective understanding of the event and its perpetrator. "People who knew him described [Goldstein] as a doctor, as a noble soul," he later told investigators from the Shamgar Inquiry Commission. "I was very intrigued by how a man like that could get up and sacrifice his life.... This was a man who left a family and martyred himself."
Shlomi Halevy, who was also at the university that morning, recalls that as word of the massacre spread, cries of joy were heard on the campus. "I was shocked by the response," he says. "The majority said they were against the murder but that they understood Goldstein. Yigal Amir justified his action. He said that on the previous evening cries of 'Allah-hu akbar' ['Allah is great'] and 'Kill the Jews' had been heard in the Cave of the Patriarchs. If Goldstein hadn't killed them, Amir said, the Arabs would have massacred the Jews. I was among the few who denounced the murder," Halevy said.
The Hebron massacre was a milestone for Yigal Amir. From that morning onward he concentrated his efforts on achieving the "spiritual readiness" that Goldstein had displayed. He too aspired to be an agent of God, an emissary of his people. He traveled to Kiryat Arba to attend Goldstein's funeral and meet the community in which he had lived. "I wanted first of all to get to know [them].... So I went there and saw all the thousands who were at the funeral. I saw the love they had for him, and I understood that this is no simple matter. I spoke with the people and began to understand that [they are] not simply fanatic extremists. They are people who are fighting, very hard, for the nation, for whom values are very important.... It began after Goldstein. That's when I had the idea that it's necessary to take Rabin down. I'm sorry about the words. I'm not that kind [of person]. I had never murdered anyone before, and I love this country very much; I love this people."
Amir came to know the zealots in Kiryat Arba and Hebron. He grew close to Rabbi Moshe Levinger, a leader of the settler movement who had been convicted of killing a Palestinian and who had pronounced Rabin responsible for the Goldstein massacre. He met with members of Kahane's Kach movement. The activists of Kiryat Arba turned Baruch Goldstein's grave into a shrine. Two weeks after the massacre, when Kach and its offshoot, Kahane Chai ("Kahane Lives"), were outlawed by the government, Amir thought the country had gone mad. "They're using the Shabak against the people," he later told his interrogators. "What kind of state uses the Shabak against the people? And the media? After Goldstein, the media began a mass assault on the right, and I understood that there was a combined trend here--government plus media--to put the people to sleep, to hide things from them."
This is the intellectual and spiritual world to which Yigal Amir was drawn. These were his idols, mentors, and guides at a time of deep political turmoil. Like the soft-spoken Livnat, Amir insisted that his arguments were based on cold logic. But because he has only scant knowledge of Western philosophy, the border between reason and emotion was blurred in his mind. In conversation, he sometimes sounds as though he were delivering an oration, repeating such phrases as "an offense to the sanctity of the Land of Israel" and "an offense to the sanctity of the people of Israel." At others he chatters almost compulsively, in colloquial Hebrew peppered with "I mean" and "that is," as he struggles to explain his motives. He believes that the reason "outsiders" view him as an extremist is that few have reached his lofty level of "pure faith." He insists that his assault on Yitzhak Rabin was meant to save the Jewish people. He also claims he never planned to murder Rabin at all. He merely wanted to paralyze the prime minister, remove him from the stage, and thereby cancel the Oslo Agreement. He acted, he says, on behalf of rabbis, according to their rulings, following the commandments of the Torah.
Even as a child Amir showed signs of obstinacy. He flouted the authority of his teachers. He sought challenges, however difficult, and pursued them with tenacity. At six he entered the haredi Wolfsohn School near his home in Herzliya, a suburb of Tel Aviv. At twelve he concluded that his talents were not being exploited and looked for a new school. On the recommendation of friends and neighbors, he chose the Yishuv Hadash ("New Community") Yeshiva in Tel Aviv. It was an elite school, attended by the sons of proud and wealthy haredi families whose forebears had come from Eastern Europe and the Russian Pale of Settlement, the heartland of Jewish life prior to the Holocaust.
By contrast, Amir's family came from Yemen and lived in modest circumstances. His parents had serious misgivings about their son's decision. "My husband, Shlomo, tried to discourage him," recalls his mother, Geula Amir. "We were a bit frightened to let a twelve-year-old boy travel alone by bus to Tel Aviv and back. It was very far, and there were no school buses. When [the school administrators] laid eyes on Yigal, a dark Yemenite child, at first they refused to accept him. But he insisted and was [finally] admitted.... He went there alone, and after we brought him home he stayed in his room from morning till night. In the evening I said to Shlomo: 'We have no choice.' [Yigal] studied there for three years and was then accepted into its high school."
Yigal applied the same single-mindedness to Rabin's murder, preparing himself for almost two years. He says that the idea first flashed through his mind when the Oslo Agreement was signed in Washington on September 13, 1993. Watching the broadcast from the White House lawn, he was astounded to see Rabin shake the hand of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. "If there's no choice, it will be necessary to take down Rabin," he thought to himself. (He never used the term "murder," and even after the assassination rarely spoke of having "killed" Rabin, always preferring the idiom "I took him down," as though he had toppled the king in a chess match.)
Amir's hostility to Rabin and the notion of territorial compromise with the Palestinians had become evident years earlier, however. When he voted for the first time, in the 1992 elections, Yigal cast his ballot for the small, radical right-wing Moledet ("Homeland") Party, led by a coarse, racist retired general named Rehavam Ze'evi, who preaches the doctrine of "transfer": the expulsion of the Palestinians and annexation of the occupied territories to Israel. During Amir's service in the army, the men in his unit knew that he hated Arabs. He joined the elite Golani Brigade under a special arrangement for yeshiva students that enabled them, in return for five years' army service, to spend two of those years studying in a special hesder ("arrangement") yeshiva. He registered at the Kerem D'Yavneh Yeshiva, most of whose students were the sons of religious nationalist families. Until then Yigal had studied in haredi schools, which emphasized learning the precepts of halacha and preached contempt for the laws of the secular state. In the Kerem D'Yavneh Yeshiva, he found himself, for the first time, among religious young men whose energies were focused on settling the Greater Land of Israel.
Amir is proud of his stint in the army. He could have legally evaded the draft, for if the graduates of haredi yeshivas can show that they are continuing their religious studies full-time, they are exempt from military service. The parents of most haredi youngsters prefer their boys to exploit that option, so as to avoid "temptation" and not abandon their pious ways when they come into contact with secular youngsters. But Amir's meeting with nonreligious soldiers did nothing to undermine his faith. In the 13th Battalion of the Golani Brigade, he took pains to follow religious strictures down to the letter. He was known to argue with left-leaning soldiers, sometimes raising his voice and banging his fist. During the intifada, the Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories, Amir's battalion was sent to quell the riots. Members of his unit recalled that Yigal beat the demonstrators with relish. Yet his personal file makes no reference to any excesses, and he was promoted to the rank of corporal.
In the summer of 1992, while he was studying at the Kerem D'Yavneh Yeshiva, Amir was sent to Riga, Latvia, as one of a few hundred volunteers selected to work as counselors in summer camps for Jewish youth. He spent three months there and went on to tour in Europe. On a ferry in Germany, he struck up a conversation with some local girls and gave them his address. So strongly had this slight, swarthy Israeli impressed them that they began sending him letters.
Thus Yigal Amir had followed a typical course throughout his childhood and youth. He was not an exception among his peers, and at no point did he display signs of aberrant behavior. When Yigal was seventeen, the principal of the Yishuv Hadash Yeshiva characterized him in his personal file as "unfair, dishonest, and insincere." But no one ever discerned any emotional symptom suggesting that an assassin lay buried inside him.
In September 1993, the same month as the signing of the Oslo Agreement, Amir was released from the army, returned to his parents' home in Herzliya, and registered to study law and computer science at Bar-Ilan University. His room on the second floor of the Amirs' modest house was small and spartan, boasting just a bed, a desk, and a few books. Yigal was rarely at home during the week, as he left for school early in the morning and did not return until nighttime. But on Friday nights the entire family--Shlomo, Geula, their four sons and four daughters--sat down together for Sabbath dinner and, like so many Israelis at the dinner table, inevitably discussed the political affairs of the day. Toward the end of 1993 the hottest topic of discussion was the Oslo Agreement.
Yigal's father, Shlomo Amir, supported the peace process, insisting that Rabin be given a chance. Yigal replied angrily that Rabin was giving away the sacred Land of Israel. Haggai, the Amirs' eldest son, did not join in these exchanges. He was the mechanic of the family, a young man with skillful hands and a head for technical problems; oratory was not his forte. Geula, as usual, would follow the argument, sum it up, and declare: "Yigal is right."
It was Geula, the breadwinner, who made the decisions in the family. She was born in 1949 during a trek across Yemen to the planes that were to carry the forty-nine thousand Jews of the community, which had been cut off from the mainstream of Jewish life, out of their primitive conditions to the newly established State of Israel. Her parents named her Geula ("Redemption") because they believed they were on their way to deliverance in the Promised Land. But the reality they encountered there was a harsh one. Placed in tin huts in primitive transit camps, they froze in winter, sweltered in summer, and subsisted off the meager food rations offered by the struggling state, as it absorbed 645,000 immigrants in the first three years of its existence The Yemenite immigrants were torn between maintaining their ancient traditions of piety and blending into the modern Israeli lifestyle. Geula's father cut off his sidelocks and resolved to give his children a modern, liberal religious education. But in 1954, after the family had finally moved into a home of its own, tragedy struck. His wife fell ill and died, and emissaries of the haredi community came knocking on his door to offer help in the form of free schooling, room, and board for his children. The only price was relinquishing a modern way of life.
Distressed by the prospect of raising his children alone, Geula's father accepted the offer. She was sent to a school in which only religious studies--no science, no history, no literature, and certainly no foreign languages--were taught; in most of these schools the language of instruction was Yiddish, not Hebrew. At age thirteen Geula was registered by her haredi benefactors in a teachers' seminary whose student body was almost exclusively Sephardi young women from disadvantaged families. But Geula rebelled against their decision. She wanted to study in a different, more prestigious boarding school whose dean took few Sephardi students under his tutelage. After single-handedly arranging for a municipal scholarship, she was accepted at the Beit Ya'akov seminary and trained as a kindergarten teacher.
As a poor, orphaned girl Geula was also at the bottom of the social scale among the haredi community. When she was sixteen, a match was arranged for her with Shlomo Amir, another Yemenite immigrant, who studied at the elite Ponevezh Yeshiva founded by haredi Jews from Lithuania. A slight, gentle young man who spoke with a heavy Yemenite accent, Shlomo was seven years Geula's senior. She had hoped to find an open-minded, elegant, Ashkenazi groom, like the "Lithuanian" yeshiva boys who were modern in their outlook and impeccable in their dress. Yet Shlomo was so impressed by her that he broke his engagement to another woman and set to winning Geula's heart by writing her love letters, curling the letters like a Torah scribe and weaving biblical verses into the lines. In time Geula abandoned her dream of a modern, Ashkenazi mate and consented to the match.
Shlomo bought a small house and plot in the lower-middle-class neighborhood of Herzliya, which was populated by both Ashkenazim and Sephardim, both secular and traditional Jews. Behind the house the couple built a well-equipped kindergarten that was classified by the state as "moderately religious." Geula was a success as a teacher, and soon the list of applicants to her kindergarten grew so long that families had to register their children at birth. Most of the parents who sent their offspring to Geula's school were liberals; some were members of the Peace Now movement. Her curriculum was marked by a spirit of openness, pluralism, and tolerance, and Geula was able to relate to secular parents in a language they could understand. Rejecting the dictates of "haredi chic," she wore a wig, rather than the hat or head scarf preferred by many haredi women of her generation, and dressed in mid-length skirts and blouses with elbow-length sleeves, rather than the neck-to-ankle-covering style adopted by many of her haredi counterparts. Her personal lifestyle also bridged two very distant worlds. She belonged to a mixed folk dance circle, went to an exercise group, watched Melrose Place, followed the gossip about television stars, frequented fashionable cafes with secular women friends, and even ran for a seat on the Herzliya City Council--all rare pastimes among haredi women in Israel.
Shlomo Amir complemented his assertive, ambitious wife by fading into the background and letting her take center stage. Short and possessed of a soft voice, engaging smile, and wild beard that gets the better of his finely etched face, he conjured up the image of the town idler in East European Jewish folklore. Shlomo contributed modestly to the family income by working as a teacher and Torah scribe. Well versed in Jewish sources, he readily quoted from the Psalms and believed, above all, in man's insignificance before God. "Everything is in God's hands" was the fatalistic motto he aired repeatedly to his children. As a political moderate and pragmatist, he worked hard to persuade his son that the government's Oslo policy should have an opportunity to prove itself. But to Yigal's mind, there was nothing to wait for; the Oslo Agreement was an unmitigated disaster.
The prime minister had surprised Yigal Amir. Prior to the 1992 elections Rabin had been known as Mr. Security for his relatively hawkish line that Israel must not recognize or talk to the PLO, relinquish the Golan Heights, or release Palestinian political prisoners. After the results of the secret Oslo negotiations were revealed, Yigal wondered what had happened to Rabin. The very thought of surrendering any part of the whole Land of Israel and laying the foundations of a Palestinian state was sheer heresy. Amir believed that either Rabin was a callow fool who had been manipulated by the left or that he had deliberately lied to the people in presenting himself as a hawk, to win support from the moderate right. The possibility that Rabin had changed his approach to the Israeli-Arab conflict never occurred to him. In any case, Rabin's action in forfeiting parts of the Land of Israel, Yigal told his father, was strictly forbidden by the Torah.
In a conversation shortly after Oslo, Shlomo recalled, Yigal had pronounced that it might be necessary to "take Rabin down."
"Everything is in God's hands," Shlomo told his son in reply.
"But this time it's necessary to help Him," Yigal snapped.
"You're entitled to pray and hope that your prayers will be heard," Shlomo patiently instructed his son. "But you must accept the situation as it stands."
Yigal held firm. "There's a Divine Plan," he shouted, "and those who understand God's Will are obliged to help Him effect it!"
Shortly before that quarrel Yigal had read an anthology of articles by Rabbi Zvi Yehudah Kook, a philosopher and mentor of the religious settlers. It was published by two outspoken settlers, Rabbi Benny Elon and his wife, Emuna. Yigal thought that Rabbi Kook's prescriptions were too mild. But in Rabbi Elon's introduction he found an exegesis that spoke to his heart: "Contrary to the secular, activist approach, which holds that history is determined by man's actions alone, and contrary to the passive approach, which holds that Divine Will is the sole instrumentality, we must learn to fathom God's Will and 'come to the help of the Lord' [Judges 6:23] and 'act with God.'" Here was a reading he could embrace and a man willing to explicate the Divine Plan and advocate action to realize it.
The enigma of God's Will occupied Amir's thoughts. Having heard a rumor that autistic children can serve as a medium for relaying messages from the beyond, Yigal volunteered to work with them. One day, Yigal later told his fellow student Yaron Yehoshua, he had been sitting with one of the children at a computer. Yigal had asked the child whether he had been born autistic because his parents did not observe the Sabbath, and the child had directed Yigal's finger to the Hebrew letter [??] for [??] ("yes").
"He was obsessed by this whole business," Yaron related. "We had five conversations about it.... And in the end he said that he had great doubts whether the children were able to relay the Word of God."
Thus Yigal did not know precisely how God's plan for destroying the Oslo Agreement would be conveyed to him or who would tell him specifically how to "come to the help of the Lord." But he did know the basic outline of God's grand design, for the Divine Promise to the Chosen People was no secret. The technical details--how to sabotage the compromise with the Arabs; how to block the surrender of any part of the Land of Israel to foreigners; how to stop the man who was forfeiting sacred soil and endangering Jewish lives--all would come to him in God's good time. He was sure he would receive an omen. In the meantime, at one Sabbath dinner, as recounted by Shlomo, Yigal quoted the verse "act with God" and explained that its meaning was simple: Man must help God implement His Plan.
In the eyes of his friend Avshalom Weinberg, a fellow student who was arrested after the assassination and held for twelve days on suspicion of conspiring with the Amir brothers to murder released Palestinian prisoners, Yigal Amir defied classification. "He's neither black nor white," says Weinberg. "Since the murder the haredim have been saying that he's a religious nationalist and the religious nationalists have been saying that he's haredi, but he doesn't belong to either [of the camps]. He's in the middle, in the Amir camp. Once I was sitting with Yigal in a parked car, listening to the radio, when the national anthem came on the air. I stand at attention when I hear the national anthem, so I got out of the car and stood up. He turned off the radio, and I sat down again. He turned the radio on again, so I stood up again. He drove me crazy and laughed about it. He has no respect for the anthem and the flag."
Amir despaired of convincing his father of his views, but he had greater success persuading his peers. He joined a group of students who traveled on weekends to the occupied territories to witness life in the settlements for themselves. They visited the ancient synagogue in Jericho, where--even after the town had been turned over to Palestinian rule--a group of determined yeshiva students continued to study. They traveled to Gush Katif, a bloc of twelve settlements at the southern end of the Gaza Strip that remains under Israel's control. "Slowly I saw exactly the situation going on in the territories, how different it was from what people think," Amir later told his interrogators. "You live in Herzliya, which seems to you like Switzerland, I mean as though there's peace. But when you get to these places, suddenly you see that it's ... a different country. That's just what it's like, two [completely different] countries, and neither one knows what the other is like. That's all due to the media's coverage and concealment."
Amir also began taking part in demonstrations. When students from Bar-Ilan tried to take over deserted Arab ruins on a bare mountaintop in the West Bank, he was there. In the summer of 1995, when a demonstration was organized on a bare hilltop next to the large settlement of Efrat, near Jerusalem, Amir abandoned his studies, on the eve of final exams, to join it. When he offered passive resistance, four soldiers carried him off the barren hillside. "There [in the territories], I saw an entire nation going like sheep to the slaughter," he later explained.
From a joiner Amir quickly became a leader. He wanted to imbue his fellow students with greater solidarity for the settlers, and he approached the task with vigor.
"I would talk to people. I would debate about what had to be done," he said. "But people are apathetic.... I decided that to arouse identification, you have to start slowly. I [said], 'Come for a Shabbat [a visit to a settlement on the Sabbath]. Not to demonstrate. Listen to a few lectures. Hear what's going on.'... That's how I started, going from one to the next.... I would walk around the university. Really, one by one. I would talk with people, persuade, argue. I have excellent powers of persuasion. Slowly I would convince people."
At first Amir made all the arrangements for these weekends--for the buses, food, housing, lectures--on his own. "The accommodations weren't the most luxurious; people slept on the floor in a large hall, boys and girls separately. At first mainly girls came, because they're always more idealistic or easier to persuade. In general, girls are far more involved in all our activities. The boys are more shallow. Career, money are more important to them. They don't have many values."
Within a few months the whole of Bar-Ilan University had heard about Yigal Amir and the group of activists that had crystallized around him. As his views became known, he drew increasingly larger groups to his Sabbath seminars. Over one weekend, 120 people traveled to the settlement of Kfar Darom in the heart of the Gaza Strip. The last weekend spent with the small Jewish community in Hebron drew five hundred participants. At each seminar Amir would organize a short tour of the settlement, a lecture on the site and its history, and discussions with right-wing politicians and rabbis.
Amir began to receive phone calls from settlers, opposition politicians, and rabbis, all promising to cover the costs if he would continue bringing students to the territories. Even the administration at Bar-Ilan offered him funding. During these weekends Amir would select a few students to cultivate. He talked with them more than with the others, gauged their reactions, decided whom to draw under his wing and whom to reject. He shared his thoughts on Rabin with his close associates, but deliberately defused their impact. "I would say: 'Rabin has to be killed,' and [then] I would smile." Predictably these announcements elicited confused reactions. "They didn't know what I meant. No one thought I would kill Rabin. Even I didn't know I would kill Rabin."
But the idea of murdering the prime minister had burned itself into his mind. He sought guidance from others in how to achieve his goal. At night, in his room, he pored over a biography of the prime minister entitled The Rabin File. Written by a military historian at Bar-Ilan, Uri Milstein, the book was, like its author, the subject of heated controversy. Many historians scoffed at Milstein's scholarship, but Amir decided to audit his seminar on Israeli military history. In his lectures, as in print, Milstein portrayed Rabin as a coward and a weakling, as well as an unmitigated failure as a military and political leader. Amir devoured Milstein's writings, which provided corroboration for his own devastating assessment of the prime minister, and soon recruited Milstein to his anti-Oslo campaign at Bar-Ilan. In midAugust 1995, a few months before the assassination, he invited Milstein to lecture before hundreds of Bar-Ilan students at a seminar in Jerusalem. Speaking before this supportive audience, Milstein sharply criticized Rabin, calling him a "security failure" and branding the Oslo Agreement a "big lie."
Beyond reading Milstein's work, Yigal searched for material on the assassination of national leaders. He wasn't interested in the demented deeds of madmen; he wanted to learn from the experience of assassins driven by political motives. The model of Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat's assassination was useless to him, for it was the work of a group of assassins, and he intended to act alone. His older brother, Haggai, and friend Dror Adani offered to help him, but Yigal did not want to endanger them; he was determined to take the full risk upon himself. "I never wanted to involve people. I would never have used my brother or anyone else. If I was going to do it, I would do it alone."
It was Haggai who told Yigal about Frederick Forsyth's thriller The Day of the Jackal, which was based on an attempt to assassinate Charles de Gaulle. Yigal consumed the book hungrily, fascinated by the character of the Jackal. The situation in France in the early 1960s seemed like a mirror image of what was happening in Israel, almost a dress rehearsal for the drama he was about to stage. For de Gaulle had done to France just what Rabin was doing to Israel. He had withdrawn French forces from Algeria, prompting the right to accuse him of treason. Both leaders were war heroes: de Gaulle of World War II, Rabin of the 1967 Six-Day War. Both were revered by their people as consummate patriots, though Amir, of course, thought otherwise. He identified with the French right-wing underground, the OAS, and its leader, Jean Bastien-Thiry, an officer, an intellectual, and a devout Catholic who read Christian philosophy and found in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas the Christian equivalent of din rodef, the talmudic death sentence passed on Jewish informers and traitors. Three times the OAS tried to assassinate de Gaulle before he signed the agreement granting Algeria independence. All three attempts failed. The fourth, mounted a few weeks after the agreement had been signed, was Forsyth's subject in The Day of the Jackal. De Gaulle was saved yet again, but only a step came between him and the assassin's bullets; his wife, standing beside him, was injured.
Four times Amir tried to get within firing range of Yitzhak Rabin. He told his interrogators that he had repeatedly set out to murder Rabin but held back at the last minute, having received a "sign" that the time was not yet right. In January 1995 Rabin was scheduled to attend a ceremony at Yad Vashem, the memorial in Jerusalem to the victims of the Holocaust. Amir went to the event, but Rabin canceled. The second time Amir went to Jerusalem to target Rabin was for the Maimouna, a folk festival celebrated by Israel's Moroccan Jews on the day after Passover, April 22, 1995. Amir brought a loaded gun to Sacher Park, where Rabin was expected in the afternoon. He lost his nerve, however, and left the site. On September 11, 1995, Yigal made his way to a ceremony dedicating a new underpass along the main highway near Kfar Shmaryahu, just north of Herzliya. But he arrived too early and again lost his nerve.
On the fourth attempt, at the close of a pro-peace rally in Tel Aviv on the night of November 4, 1995, Amir surprised himself by pulling the trigger.
"It wasn't a matter of revenge, or punishment, or anger, Heaven forbid, but what would stop [the Oslo process]," he told the authors. "I thought about it a lot and understood that if I took Rabin down, that's what would stop it."
"What about the tragedy you caused your family?" he was asked.
"My considerations were that in the long run, my family would also be saved. I mean, if [the peace process] continued, my family would be ruined too. Do you understand what I'm saying? The whole country would be ruined. I thought about this for two years, and I calculated the possibilities and the risks. If I hadn't done it, I would feel much worse. My deed will be understood in the future. I saved the people of Israel from destruction."
Table of Contents
|1. THE SAVIOR||7|
|3. ACTION HEADQUARTERS||54|
|4. DIN RODEF||102|
|5. THE AMERICAN CONNECTION||131|
|6. THE LOVER||164|