Yitzhak Rabin

Background

Jewish people begin to return in numbers to their historic homeland in Palestine at the start of the 20th Century. The numbers steadily increase during the 1920s and 1930s, partially based on a commitment by the British Government to "the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish People", and partially due to growing antisemitism in Europe. By 1936 the Jewish population of Palestine numbers 400,000, or approximately 31% of the total. As the Jewish population increases, so does the acquisition of Arab land. By 1930 30% of the Arab population is landless. Arab resentment mounts. The Palestinian Arabs revolt against the British administration in April 1936. The Arabs demand the cessation of Jewish immigration, an end to all further land sales to the Jews and the establishment of an Arab national government. The British appear to be ready to accommodate the Arabs when the Second World War breaks out. More background.

Mini biography

Born on 1 March 1922 in Jerusalem. Rabin's mother, "Red" Rosa, is a central figure in the Jewish socialist movement and military underground. The family live in Tel Aviv.

1939 - In May the British announce their support for the establishment of an Arab Palestinian state within 10 years. The British also propose limits on Jewish immigration to Palestine and restrictions on the sale of land.

Four months later the Second World War begins. The war in Europe lasts until May 1945. Approximately six million European Jews are murdered during the war in an organised slaughter that comes to be known as The Holocaust.

1940 - Rabin graduates from Kadoorie Agricultural School, in the Lower Galilee. Rather than taking a scholarship to study hydraulic engineering at the University of California, he joins a Hanoar Ha'oved (Working Youth) training group at a kibbutz north of Haifa.

1941 - He joins the Palmach, the secret commando unit of the Haganah (the main Jewish militia), shortly after its formation and participates in actions against the Vichy French in Syria and Lebanon.

He is appointed deputy platoon commander in 1943, battalion commander in 1944 and deputy commander of the Palmach First Battalion in 1945.

The Palmach considers Arab Palestinians to be an obstacle to the creation of a Jewish homeland. Its mission is to expand Jewish-held territory with the use of offensive warfare if necessary.

Rabin travels the country and gets to know it closely while serving in the Palmach.

1946 - The Jews in Palestine rebel against the British administration. The British are forced to abandon their support for the formation of a Palestinian state and refer the problem to the United Nations (UN) for resolution.

Rabin, his father and others are arrested by the British in June and sent to a detention camp. Rabin is freed in November. He is immediately appointed commander of the Palmach's Second Battalion.

1947 - Rabin becomes the Palmach's chief operations officer in October, earning the nickname Analytical Brain for his ability to plan tactics.

On 31 August 1947 the UN announces its support for the partitioning of Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states. The plan is adopted by the UN General Assembly on 29 November 1947.

The plan fractures Palestine into six zones, three to be controlled by the proposed Jewish state and three by its Arab counterpart. The Arabs will also control the port city of Jaffa, which neighbours Tel Aviv within one of the Jewish zones. Jerusalem is to be under international control.

On 30 November the Palestinians call a general strike. Open hostilities between the Jews and Palestinians begin.

1948 - The independent state of Israel is proclaimed by David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, on 14 May. The surrounding Arab nations (Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Syria) invade the next day, beginning the War of Independence.

Rabin directs the defence of Jerusalem and fights the Egyptians in the Negev in Israel's south.

He also leads an operation to open and secure the road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, along which Israeli convoys have been coming under regular attack from the Palestinian villages and towns lining the route.

Between 400 and 600 villages are destroyed during the exercise. All the residents of the villages are driven from their land. About 60,000 Palestinians are forced from the towns of Lod and Ramle alone.

The war ends in 1949, following the signing of a series of armistice agreements. Jordan is left with control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Egypt controls the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. Israel occupies about three-quarters of Palestine, including West Jerusalem. The area now occupied by Israel is significantly larger than that agreed to under the UN partition plan.

Approximately 750,000 Palestinians have been displaced during the course of the war. About 300,000 have found refuge in the Gaza Strip. Another 450,000 have settled in camps on the West Bank of the Jordan River. Only about 170,000 Palestinians are left in Israel.

Meanwhile, the Jewish population continues to grow. Between May 1948 and December 1951, approximately 684,000 Jewish immigrants arrive in Israel, doubling the state's Jewish population.

The Palmach is dismantled after the war. Rabin continues his military career in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), rising to the rank of general. In 1956 he is appointed as operations commander of the IDF's Northern Command. In 1959 he is made chief-of-operations. In 1961 he is promoted to deputy chief-of-staff. He becomes chief-of-staff in 1964.

Rabin, who is noted for his attention to detail, now begins to professionalise the military.

1967 - Egypt moves 100,000 troops and 1,000 tanks across the Suez Canal into the Sinai Peninsula in May. Rabin starts preparing for war. Believing the Arabs intend an all-out attack, he advocates a preemptive blow against Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq.

On 5 June, two weeks after the Egyptian troop deployment, a massive air strike is launched against the Arab nations. Rabin coordinates the following Six-Day War.

The Arab air forces are wiped out within hours. The Egyptian ground forces are overwhelmed and pushed back across the Sinai and the Suez. The IDF occupies the Sinai, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and most of the Gaza Strip. Israel has tripled the size of the territory under its control, united Jerusalem and increased the number of Palestinians living in Israeli-occupied land to over one million.

About 16,000 Arab soldiers have died in the war. About 800 Israeli soldiers have perished.

In recognition of his contribution to the victory, Rabin is presented with an honorary PhD in Jerusalem on 29 June. Accepting the award he says, "The soldiers cannot rejoice wholeheartedly. Their friends fell next to them bleeding to death. I also know that the terrible price the enemy paid touched many of them very deeply. On behalf of all the soldiers I proudly accept your recognition."

Rabin does not consider the newly occupied territory to be a permanent possession of Israel. He sees it as a temporary acquisition for use in negotiations with the Arabs, arguing that Israel should withdraw from the territory as part of a general Middle East peace settlement.

At the same time, the legal counsel for the Israeli Foreign Ministry secretly advises the government that the building of settlements on the occupied land "contravenes the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention".

The UN Security Council calls for the "withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict" and the "acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the area", passing a formal resolution to this effect (No. 242) on 22 November.

However, at a meeting in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, the Arab states unanimously adopt a "three nos" resolution, stating there will be no peace with Israel, no recognition of the Israeli state and no negotiation with Israel over Palestinian territory.

Palestinian Arabs begin to form an organised resistance. The movement is led by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and its chairman Yasser Arafat. The PLO initially uses Jordan as its major base for operations but is expelled from the country in late 1970 and 1971, along with large numbers of Palestinian refugees. Both the PLO and the refugees then shift to Lebanon.

1968 - Rabin retires from the IDF on 1 January. Soon after he is appointed Israel's ambassador to the United States. He forms a solid relationship with US President Richard M. Nixon and his National Security Adviser Henry A. Kissinger and is able to raise the profile of Israel on the international stage and secure arms packages from the US without any reciprocal commitments.

"Israel's willingness to cooperate closely with the US in protecting American interests in the region altered her image in the eyes of many officials in Washington," he later writes.

"We were considered a partner - not equal to the US, but nevertheless a valuable ally in a vital region during times of crisis."

1973 - Rabin returns to Israel in March and becomes active in politics under the patronage of Labor Party leader and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. At elections held in December he wins a seat in the Knesset (parliament) for the Labor Party.

On 6 October Syria and Egypt launch a surprise attack against Israel on two fronts. During 18 days of bloody fighting, the Israelis drive the Syrians back and surround the Egyptian Third Army. A cease-fire is declared on 22 October and hostilities finally end on 25 October.

1974 - In March Rabin is appointed to Cabinet as minister of labour. When Golda Meir resigns in April he assumes the party leadership. In June he is appointed as Israel's fifth prime minister. He is the first native-born or "sabra" Israeli and the first former general to attain the post.

One of his first tests comes when members of the Israeli settlers movement attempt to establish an illegal settlement on West Bank land captured during the 1967 war. Rabin is opposed to the settlers' occupation of the land and has them evicted but is unable to prevent them from returning.

Finally, in a decision that has a far-reaching impact, he reluctantly allows them to stay in a military camp on the West Bank. From there settlements spread to cover every hill on the West Bank. By 2006 over 240,000 Israeli settlers live in the area. About 40% of the settlements are on privately owned Palestinian land.

Settlements are also established in East Jerusalem, bringing the total number of Israeli settlers in the occupied territories to roughly 450,000.

1975 - The Lebanese Civil War begins on 13 April. The war pits Lebanese Christians against a coalition of Muslims, Druze, leftists and sections of the PLO. Israel forms an alliance with the Lebanese Christians soon after the start of the war. Significant Israeli aid is provided to the Lebanese Christians, including military equipment and training.

1977 - Rabin is forced to step down as leader of the Labor Party when it is revealed that he and his wife have maintained bank accounts in the US in violation of Israeli law. He is replaced as party leader by Shimon Peres.

Labor is defeated by the Likud bloc at the 1977 general elections. The new prime minister, Menahem Begin, favours the settlement of the occupied territories. Under the Begin administration, settlements rapidly grow in number and reach into areas with large Arab populations.

1978 - Menahem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat sign the Camp David Accords on 17 September. The Accords provide for the return of the Sinai to Egypt, although the actual hand over does not occur until May 1982. In March 1979 Israel and Egypt sign a Treaty of Peace.

1982 - In a bid to halt PLO rocket attacks on its northern border districts, bolster it's Lebanese Christian allies and squash Syrian influence in the region, Israel invades Lebanon on 6 June.

The invasion has mixed results. The PLO is forced from Lebanon but Syria's influence remains undiminished. The invasion also contributes to the rise of Hezbollah (Party of God), a Shia Muslim militia with links to Iran.

Israeli forces withdraw from all but a 15 km-wide "security zone" along Lebanon's southern border in 1985.

1984 - Rabin serves as defence minister in the Labor-Likud coalition governments in power between 1984 and 1990.

1987 - The Intifada (Palestinian uprising) erupts in December. Rabin at first takes a hard line, saying, "The security forces' first priority is to stop by force and by beatings the violent demonstrations."

As the conflict drags on, Rabin begins to meet with average Palestinians and visit refugee camps in the Gaza Strip. When Jordan relinquishes its sovereignty over the West Bank, giving the Palestinians greater responsibility for the area, Rabin realises that the Palestinians must be included in the peace process.

At the same time, PLO chairman Yasser Arafat accepts UN Security Council Resolution 242, acknowledging "the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence" of Israel.

1989 - The Israeli Government adopts Rabin's plan for a gradual reconciliation with the Palestinians.

However, when the coalition collapses in March 1990 following disagreement over a proposal to hold direct discussions with Palestinians about a peace plan, Rabin returns to the opposition benches.

1992 - Rabin regains the leadership of the Labor Party. In the run-up to a general election held in June he campaigns on a promise to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians within a year. Labor wins enough seats to lead a coalition government and Rabin becomes prime minister for a second time. He also serves are defence minister.

Rabin quickly places a freeze on the establishment of new Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and begins negotiations with the PLO.

1993 - The Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles, or Oslo Accord, is finalised on 13 September. Rabin publicly shakes hands with PLO chairman Yasser Arafat for the first time at the signing ceremony on the lawn of the White House in Washington DC. The declaration brings official recognition between Israel and the PLO and paves the way for limited Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with Israel maintaining security over all the territory.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, Rabin says, "It was not easy. Neither for myself, as a soldier in Israel's war, nor for the people of Israel, who are watching us now. We, the soldiers who have returned from battle, stained with blood, we who have seen our relatives and friends killed before our eyes, we say to you today enough of blood and tears. Enough."

The accord, while acclaimed internationally, is rejected by the Israeli settlers, who fear they will be forced from their settlements. They consider Rabin to be traitor and publicly denounce him.

Meanwhile, the Oslo Accord receives a potentially lethal blow on 25 February when Baruch Goldstein, a fanatical Jewish settler, takes a machine-gun into a mosque in the West Bank town of Hebron and murders 29 Palestinians before he too is killed.

Rabin calls the massacre "a despicable crime" but is unable to prevent the rioting by Palestinians that follows. Palestinian resistance also now takes a sinister turn with an upswing of suicide bomber attacks on Israeli civilian targets.

Despite the turmoil, Rabin fails to evacuate the Jewish settlers from Hebron. A freeze is placed on new developments, but all existing settlements across the occupied territories are allowed to remain.

Rabin and Arafat are named 'Time' magazine's persons of the year for 1993, along with South Africa's Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk.

"Peace is not yet a fact between the Israelis and the Palestinians," the magazine notes. "But Rabin and Arafat are Men of the Year because they have taken those meaningful steps from which it will be difficult to turn back. The idea of peace, once planted, is a powerful incentive to two peoples who have lost so many lives, so much time, so much prosperity in bloody wars."

1994 - Rabin negotiates and signs a peace treaty with King Hussein of Jordan.

At the end of the year, Rabin is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat. According to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, the award is intended "to honour a political act which called for great courage on both sides, and which has opened up opportunities for a new development towards fraternity in the Middle East".

"Hatred and violence breed hatred and violence," the Chairman of the Nobel Committee says at the award ceremony held in Oslo.

"The Middle East was deep in that vicious circle; more and more minds seemed possessed by it. But, as we see, there are some who are strong enough to break out, who manage to stop to think, who turn around and go back on their tracks in search of a basis for peaceful coexistence. Perhaps they are the most deserving of respect and admiration. Were we not taught that such homecomings should be the cause of the greatest rejoicing?"

Full copy of award ceremony speech.

Presenting his Nobel lecture, Rabin says, "We are in the midst of building the peace. The architects and engineers of this enterprise are engaged in their work even as we gather here tonight, building the peace layer by layer, brick by brick, beam by beam. The job is difficult, complex, trying. Mistakes could topple the whole structure and bring disaster down upon us.

"And so we are determined to do the job well - despite the toll of murderous terrorism, despite fanatic and scheming enemies. We will pursue the course of peace with determination and fortitude. We will not let up. We will not give in. Peace will triumph over all our enemies, because the alternative is grim for us all. And we will prevail."

Full copy of the lecture.

Meanwhile, Arafat is allowed to return to the West Bank and Gaza.

1995 - Rabin and Arafat sign the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (the Oslo II Accord) on 28 September. Under the accord, Israel will withdraw from seven Palestinian towns in the West Bank and elections will be held in the Palestinian territory.

However, protests by Israelis opposed to the Oslo Accords begin to increase and support to slip. In response, a large pro-peace rally is organised for Tel Aviv on 4 November. Rabin is to be the headline speaker.

The rally ends in tragedy. After addressing the 200,000-strong crowd Rabin is shot in the back as he leaves the venue. He dies shortly after. His assassin is Yigal Amir, a Jewish religious extremist intent on stopping peace.

Comment

Shortly before his death Rabin addressed the Israeli Parliament. "We returned and built a nation here in the land of Israel," he said, "But we didn't return to an empty land. There were Palestinians here who fought against us for over a hundred years of pogroms and blood. Thousands on both sides have been killed fighting for the same piece of land. We can continue to kill and be killed or we can try to stop this endless cycle of bloodshed. We can give peace a chance."

It all seemed so hopeful back then. It seems like such a long time ago. The peace process unraveled after Rabin's death. Distrust between Israelis and Palestinians grew to new heights. The handshake between Rabin and Arafat turned to dust. We have new images now. Palestinian civilians shot dead in the street by Israeli forces. Israelis blown to pieces by Palestinian suicide bombers. The building of walls to exclude the unwanted. Extremist political organisations voted into power. Illegally occupied land marked never to be returned.