There are so many things that I remember about living in Israel between the years of 1993-1994: the smell of salt water mixed with fresh raw fish in the ancient port of Jaffa, weekend hikes in Ein Gedi, the crackle and hiss of falafel balls frying in vats of piping hot oil in the street food stands of Mahane Yehuda in Jerusalem.
But what I remember most is this: there was hope. It was tangible this hope, spread wide and spanning the length of the entire country, stretching itself like a gentle, soft yawn all the way across the Mediterranean, across the Atlantic, to our families back home in the United States.
Peace was on the horizon.
On September 13, 1993, Yitzhak Rabin, prime minister of Israel, and Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, stood on either side of President Bill Clinton and shook hands on the White House Lawn. They had signed an agreement that granted limited autonomy to Palestine and were laying the foundation for peace talks in the Middle East.
That now-iconic photo of the “White House Handshake” was plastered across major newspapers around the world. And we were in the thick of it. We hustled through the hallways of Hebrew University with a renewed sense of possibility: peace could be achieved. At long last. There was promise in the air that school year. Perhaps we were naive; we were young and idealistic, to be sure. But what we felt was undeniable.
But by November 1995, that dream felt dead. Yitzhak Rabin had been assassinated at a campaign rally by a Jewish right-wing fundamentalist named Yigal Amir. The spirit that had once buoyed a collective unit of sprightly and feisty young dreamers was now as heavy as a cement block, yanking us to the depths of the ocean floor. Pure, unadulterated heartbreak.
Like the rest of my Hebrew University classmates who had since returned to the United States, whether to start graduate school or forge new careers, I watched Rabin’s funeral on a small, square-shaped TV in my studio apartment in Los Angeles. It was the middle of the night in California, but in Jerusalem it was day, bright and sunny but with a thick mist of grief blanketing not only the Mount Herzl cemetery, but the entire Jewish world. And like anybody that’s lived in Israel and fallen in love with it — because of and not in spite of its innumerable messy imperfections — an electric current of longing pulled me toward Jerusalem, aching to be transported back to the place that felt more like home than that place in America where I had actually been born. It was the same for all of us that day.
Now, 24 years after Rabin’s murder, “Incitement,” Yaron Zilberman’s dramatic feature film and Israel’s international film Oscar entry, chronicles the year leading up to Rabin’s murder, serving as a painful but necessary reminder of that period in time and all of its complexities. It’s a daring film, an important one, with a sharply drawn villain — Yigal Amir — who is played with both great passion and masterful restraint by the young Israeli actor Yehuda Nahari Halevi.
For Yitzhak Rabin’s daughter, Dalia, “Incitement” is a film that not only preserves the political legacy of her father, but one that can be used to educate today’s younger generation, those who never got a chance to experience that shortlived era in which Rabin symbolized the prospect of peace in a part of the world fractured by constant discord.
Dalia Rabin shared with Variety her thoughts and reflections on “Incitement.”
Where were you when you found out your father had been assassinated?
I was not at the rally. I was home because I was sick and my mother called me and told me that he had been shot but that it could not possibly be real. I asked her, “Where are you?” She said she was taken to the security organization headquarters. And I asked her, where is my father? And she said, “I don’t know. We’re going to find out.” And the rest is history. We went to the hospital, and they were still trying to keep him alive but the wound was too serious and he died on the operating table. An hour later we were informed they couldn’t save him. And of course it changed all of our lives.
In his campaign rallies in the mid-1990s, Benjamin Netanyahu called your father a traitor for attempting to make peace with the Palestinians. Do you hold Bibi accountable for the murder of your father?
I will be politically correct and I think the movie does the work for me in answering that question.
What was your reaction upon seeing “Incitement”? It must have been quite emotional.
I would like to stress that the movie was initiated by the producers. It’s not a film from the family. I was asked to give them my blessing, but the initiative to deal with this tragedy [came from] the producers. I let them have my blessing and any involvement from there on was minor. But I was very, very pleased with the outcome. I thought it’s very, very well done. When you see it, and you see all the documentary parts, it reminded me of the days I was sitting with my father at home watching TV and seeing all those terrible, terrible demonstrations that were totally focused on him personally. It really brought me back. And what’s so interesting about the movie is that you watch the process of the assassination, how he moves forward with the idea [to murder my] father and you know the end. But you still hope until the every end that it will end differently. So when it ended, I cried a lot.
Can the film be used as a learning tool?
Absolutely. In my position as head of the Rabin Center, the official memorial site for my father, this film dealing with the incitement during that year that lead to the assassination is very helpful to me in terms of preserving my father’s legacy. Because people in Israel tend to forget. And there are a lot of [people] in politics who want them to forget what really came before the assassination, to forget how a guy like Yigal Amir could think that he was doing the right thing by killing the prime minister.
Could someone like your father be elected in Israel today do you think?
No doubt. You see what’s happening, you see see who got the majority vote in this last election — Benny Gantz. And he is in a way [a politician] in the same model as my father — an ex-chief of staff, a very, very honest and modest person, and not this polished politician type. And I think this is what people in Israel want today. But hopefully enough people want this.
Do you still believe there can be peace between Israel and the Palestinians?
Yes, I think so. First of all, I don’t think I can afford to give up. We have one country that we love that we all need and we are committed to make it better. This is something I am doing today and my kids are doing. We want our homeland to remain a place that we love and be a democratic state. I believe in the two-state solution.
What are some of your most beloved memories of your father?
That is a question that I find very difficult to answer because we were always very happy when we were together. We had a very, very warm and secure childhood. He was a very, very warm and loving father and he protected us from all possible evil. He never forced us to follow in his footsteps; we could all choose our own paths in life. He never exposed us to the media. But he was always there for us when we needed.