TEL AVIV – Israeli actors, politicians and dignitaries gathered in Tel Aviv Wednesday evening for the red-carpet Israeli premiere of “Rabin: The Last Day,” director Amos Gitai’s metatextual treatise on the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the legal investigations that came in its wake.
Gitai intentionally chose Nov. 4. as the date for the Israeli unveiling of his film, which bowed in Venice and later played the Toronto International Film Festival as well. As he took the stage at the Charles Bronfman auditorium at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, he reminded the packed hall that it was at nearly the exact same moment 20 years earlier – the evening of Nov. 4, 1995 – that Rabin was fatally gunned down by an Orthodox Jewish extremist as he exited a peace rally celebrating the signing of the Oslo Accords and a potential peace deal with the Palestinians.
It wasn’t just Rabin who died that night, Gitai said, echoing a narrative held by many left-wing Israelis. It was the dream of peace in general.
“This movie is not an intimate film. It is a movie that I did for a generation of Israeli citizens who love this place but are very worried about the things that have been passed down to them,” he said before asking the nearly 2,000 audience members to stand for a moment of silence. “Rabin died at almost exactly this moment, exactly 20 years ago, not far from here.”
The Israeli bow of “Rabin: The Last Day” capped off a week of media events to commemorate two decades since the death of Rabin, an event that for Israelis holds the significance of the Kennedy assassination or 9/11. Any Israeli citizen who was alive on Nov. 4, 1995 can tell you exactly where they were when those three shots were fired, and on Saturday, Oct. 31, 100,000 Israelis returned to the exact location of the murder for a massive memorial rally of their own.
President Bill Clinton flew into Israel for the event and gave the keynote address at Rabin Square, the huge public plaza in Tel Aviv that at the time of the assassination was called Kings of Israel Square but has since been renamed. He was joined on stage by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, and President Barack Obama also offered remarks via a pre-recorded televised speech.
In the lead up to the rally, Israeli news channels offered sweeping coverage of the anniversary, with special reports on the state of the peace process since Rabin’s death, speculation with experts, and intimate interviews with members of Rabin’s own family about how the nation might have looked today should Rabin have lived.
Gitai’s film, which opens with a never-before-seen interview with Israeli President Shimon Peres, who stood just a few feet from Rabin on that fateful night and immediately succeeded him as prime minister, is unwavering in its opinion. If Rabin had lived, Peres tells Israeli actress Yael Abecassis in the interview, there may not be peace, but the situation would undoubtedly be brighter than it is today.
But while Gitai paints a blistering picture of the furious religious incitement that drummed up gunman Yigal Amir and his right-wing peers, Peres also reminds the audience that no political leader is immune from potential attacks.
“When you send a soldier out to battle, there is also a risk he will not come home,” he tells Abecassis. “The same is true for a leader.”