On 4 November 1995 Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was shot dead as he was getting into his car following his participation at a left-wing political rally in Tel Aviv that supported the Oslo Accord. His assassin was a religious, right-wing radical university student Yigal Amir. The Accord had been finalized in Oslo just over two years earlier and was intended to be a framework for future relations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Not unexpectedly the killing of Yitzhak Rabin sent shockwaves through all Israeli society; religious and non-religious, left and right-wing. Here was a prime minister who, even if you disagreed with him, was regarded by most Israelis as an honorable and dedicated politician, a man of principle and integrity, who had played a central role in all of Israel's recent history. As IDF Chief of Staff he had masterminded the capture of east Jerusalem in 1967, but now as prime minister he expounded more dovish than hawkish views. In 1993, during his second term as prime minister, he recognized the PLO and its leader Yasser Arafat.
The Oslo Accord was regarded by many at the time as being the catalyst that would allow the Israelis and Palestinians to forge ahead and create, after a five-year interim period, a lasting and productive peace between the two people. Equally many people regarded the accord as a sellout and a prize for the Arabs for constant aggression against Israel.
This week, twelve years after the event, the Israel Police released for the first time video tapes from the interrogation of Amir recorded shortly after his arrest. Amir, responding to questions from a police official, made it clear that his deed in killing Rabin was carefully thought out and that he had no regret whatsoever for his action. "Do you have regrets or remorse?" asked the investigating officer. "Absolutely not," replied Amir.
The former Bar Ilan University law student had for long time been active in organizing protests against the signing of he Oslo Accords. Following a long trial Yigal Amir was sentenced to life imprisonment, with no chance of parole. In effect this meant that Amir would remain in solitary confinement for the rest of his life. This aspect of 'life' imprisonment was enshrined in a Knesset law passed after the assassination that stipulated that anybody who was found guilty of murdering a prime minister would remain in prison all his natural life and, further more, could not receive a pardon from the president.
There were and continue to be many anomalies over the conditions of Amir's incarceration. On one hand Amir seems to be given privileges that a convicted murderer should never have. On the other hand, concerning the length of his sentence he is being treated by a set of criteria that apply to him alone, and not to other cold-blooded murderers serving their sentence for their crime. Should the fact that Amir murdered a prime minister make the court proceedings and any subsequent punishment any different from a murderer who killed somebody who was not in the public eye? Has the heinousness of his crime created a Jewish standard of law that does not give any hope at all to Amir that one day he might, under certain circumstances of genuine repentance and remorse, become a free man.
One has to make a comparison with another terrible crime committed in 1990. Ami Popper was a former dishonorably-discharged IDF soldier who shot dead in cold blood seven Arabs waiting at a bus stop in Rishon Lezion. He was caught, charged and convicted of the crime and given a life sentence. In February 1999, on appeal, Popper's sentence was commuted from life imprisonment to forty years, meaning that in 2023, at the age of fifty-four, Popper, with good behavior, will in all probability be released on parole.
The condition of Amir's incarceration has made many fair minded people express great concern. Amir despite being a convicted murderer in solitary confinement, managed to marry Larisa Trembovler in August 2004. Trembovler, a former divorcee with four children, met Amir in prison in her capacity as prison visitor. The marriage was arranged by a Rabbinical court when Amir's father was given 'power of attorney' to transfer a wedding ring to Trembovler. It appears that the bizarre marriage was according to the minimum requirements of Jewish law; however the Interior Ministry would not register the marriage, a point that does not seem to worry Amir or Trembovler too much. The Justice Ministry also defined the marriage as 'problematic'. Amir also wanted to have permission for conjugal visits with Trembovler so that he might father a child. This, for some inexplicable reason, was granted at the end of last year and it is reported that she is now pregnant with their first child.
Perhaps it would not be unreasonable to stipulate by law that any convicted murderer serving a prison sentence can neither get married nor have conjugal visits during the period of their incarceration. The law makers had no problem in enacting a special law just for Amir to say that he would never in his life time become a free man. As for the rabbis who facilitated the Amir-Trembovler marriage, the least said about them, the better.
The untimely and violent death of Yitzhak Rabin left a deep scar on the psyche of all Israelis. They continue to ask themselves why the political circumstances at the time produced such violence and hate. It is not clear what Yigal Amir thought he could accomplish by his irrational, terrible deed. If the assassination produced a winner and a loser, then the Palestinians were the winners, by dint of the fact that Israeli society was now completely divided and in disarray. The losers were the Israelis who tried to right a wrong by hasty ill conceived legislation. Amir deserved to be punished severely for his despicable murder, but at the same time be given a glimmer of hope for some time in the distant future – that would be in the best tradition of Jewish jurisprudence.
© Copyright – Edgar Asher – Isranet. October 2007