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Yitzhak Rabin – from solider to Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

Overview:

1

His parents

2

His youth

3

His studies

4

Fresh into the Army

5

Rabin and the ware of independence 

6

Rabin stays on in the army

7

Chief of Staff in the Six Days War

8

Ambassador to the United States

9

Rabin becomes Minster of Labor

10

Rabin becomes Prime Minster

11

Return to politics

12

Prime Minster for a second term

13

Nobel Peace Prize

14

Assassination

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His parents:

Yitzhak Rabin was born in Jerusalem on March 1, 1922.Yitzhak's parents, Nehemiah and Rosa, were Third Aliyah (immigration wave) pioneers. Nehemiah Rubitzov, who had been born in a small Ukrainian town in 1886, lost his father when he was only a child and the youngster had to help support the family. When he was 18 years old he went to the United States, where he joined the Poalei Zion (Workers of Zion) Party and also changed his surname to Rabin. In 1917 he went to Palestine with Hagdud Ha’ivri (Jewish Legion) volunteers, determined to settle in Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel). Yitzhak's mother, Rosa Cohen, was born in 1890 in Mohilev in White Russia. Her father, a rabbi, was opposed to the Zionist movement. However, he sent Rosa to study at a Christian high school for girls in Homel, exposing her to a wider general education. From an early age she was drawn to revolutionary circles, and was socially and politically active. She arrived in Palestine in 1919 on the ship Rosslan, which is considered the bellwether of the Third Aliyah. She went first to a collective settlement (Kibbuz) on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and later to Jerusalem. There she met Nehemiah and the two married in 1921. When Yitzhak Rabin was a year old, the family moved first to Haifa and then to Tel Aviv. His sister Rachel was born in 1925. Rabin's parents were volunteer activists for most of their lives, and the home had a permanent atmosphere of commitment to public service. Rosa was active in the Haganah defense organization, in Mapai - the Eretz Israel Workers' Party - and was a Tel Aviv Municipal Council member. She died of an illness when Yitzhak was fifteen years old.

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His Youth

Yitzhak attended the School for Workers' Children in Tel Aviv for eight years. The school was established in 1924 by the Histadrut, the General Federation of Labor. It aimed to instill in the city's young people a love of the country and practically, to raise a generation to till the land. Pupils were taught to honor responsibility, sharing and solidarity, and to be actively involved in social issues. The writer Eliezer Smoli, who taught Yitzhak Rabin there, portrayed a year in the life of Rabin's class in his book Bnei Hayoreh (Sons of the First Rain) published in 1936.

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His studies

After completing his studies at the School for Workers' Children, Rabin spent two years at the intermediary regional school of Kibbutz Givat Hashlosha. He then enrolled in the Kadoorie Agricultural School, at the foot of northern Mount Tabor. A number of Kadoorie alumni later became commanders in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and leaders of the new state. The school insisted on old-world principles of honor, trust and truth. This is what Yitzhak Rabin wrote about his days in Kadoorie.

The school was surrounded by Arab villages, and the daily routine at school included defense training and guard duty. While at Kadoorie, Rabin joined the Haganah. There he met Yigal Allon, who later became his commander and a friend for many years.

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First days in the army

In 1940, Yitzhak Rabin completed his studies at Kadoorie at the top of his class. The headmaster helped get him a scholarship to study hydraulic engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. But World War II had just erupted and Rabin turned down the opportunity, saying that it was not right to leave the country at such a time. Instead of pursuing further studies, he joined a Hanoar Ha’oved (Working Youth) training group at Kibbutz Ramat Yohanan, north of Haifa, and became an active member of the Hagana

In 1941 he was one of the first to join the Palmach, (Assault Companies), founded in the same year. In June of that year Rabin took part in his first military operation. As part of a small group of Palmach commanders (which also included Mosche Dayan (left) and Yigal Allon) he served as a scout for Allied Forces units invading Syria and Lebanon. Their mission was to engage French Army units loyal to the pro-Nazi puppet government of Vichy.

Yitzhak Rabin soon became a full-time commander in the Palmach. When Palmach battalions were established at the beginning of 1945, he was appointed deputy commander of the First Battalion. During this period the Palmach developed its combat doctrine. The main principles were independent and original thinking, resourcefulness, and improvisation to meet prevailing circumstances. These were considered superior to a routine of strict discipline and hard training. As a guiding principle, the Palmach emphasized that the commander's authority must derive from personal example demonstrated to those under his command rather than from traditional hierarchy and chain of command.

At the end of 1945, the Palmach attempted to free 200 “illegal” held at the British detention camp of Atlit, south of Haifa. Rabin was the deputy commander of this operation and he led the assault force that broke into the camp. On June 29, 1946, a day that became known as Black Saturday, he and others, including his father, were arrested by the British, and sent to a detention camp. He was freed in November 1946. Yitzhak Rabin was at once appointed commander of the Palmach's Second Battalion, and in October 1947 he became the Palmach's chief operations officer.

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Rabin and the war of independence

On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly agreed to implement the Palestine Partition Plan to set up a Jewish and an Arab state in this territory which was then under British mandate. Dissenting Arabs began attacking the Yishuv (the pre-state Jewish community) to thwart the establishment of a Jewish state. They attacked Jewish settlements and towns and opened fire on Jewish vehicles on the roads. Poorly armed and ill equipped, the Jewish defense forces, especially the permanently mobilized arm of the Haganah, the Palmach, fought back as best they could. The fighting was hard and bitter and many lives were lost. Six thousand Jews fell during the full period of the fight for independence. That was one percent of the entire Yishuv. On May 14, 1948 in Tel Aviv, David Ben Gurion proclaimed an independent State of Israel. The next day, the regular armies of the surrounding Arab states invaded the new born state and the full-blown War of Independence began. 

At the start of the war, Jerusalem was cut off from the center of the country by enemy positions. Yitzhak Rabin's first task was to safeguard convoys of food, ammunition and medical supplies to the beleaguered city. In April 1948, the Palmach Harel Brigade was established, with Rabin as commander. The fiercest battles were on the central front, in the corridor leading to Jerusalem, and within the city. Rabin played a major role in all of them, in which many of his friends and comrades fell.

The first truce was declared in June 1948. Rabin, now chief operations officer on the central front, was also deputy commander to the front's chief commander, Yigal Allon. Operation Danny - the conquest of Lod, Ramle, Lod Airport and more territory southeast of Tel Aviv - was successfully completed and Allon and Yitzhak Rabin moved on to the southern front, which then became the critical one. For the next few months Rabin served as chief operations officer there and masterminded the successful campaign that drove the Egyptians and Jordanians from the Negev desert in Operations Yoav, Lot, Assaf, Horev and Uvdah.
The War of Independence came to an end in 1949 with the signing of the armistice agreements. Rabin took part in the Israeli-Egyptian armistice talks in Rhodes. It was his first brush with diplomacy
.

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Rabins stays on in the army

In the midst of the War of Independence, Rabin married Lea Schlossberg. They had two children, Dalia and Yuval. Yitzhak Rabin decided his fate was with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), and he remained in the armyn. 1963 Yitzhak Rabin was appointed commander of the IDF's first course for battalion commanders and later as head of the general staff's Operations Division. In May 1959 Rabin became chief of the Operations Branch, the second highest position in the IDF, under Chief of Staff Chaim Laskov. It was the first time he was faced with tackling the problems of every facet of the defense forces from a strategic position.

When General Zvi Zur was appointed chief of staff in 1961, Rabin became deputy chief of staff. Three years later he was chief of staff, a position he held from 1964 to 1968. He made great efforts to strengthen the IDF. The structure of the IDF was changed; it developed its own military doctrine along with new training and combat methods. New weapons were acquired and top priority was given to the Air Force and the Armored Corps.
When Yitzhak Rabin was still chief of the Operations Branch, he had tried to reduce Israel's dependence on France, which was Israel's major arms supplier during the 1950s and '60s, in favor of the United States.
He devoted his first three years as chief of staff to preparing the IDF for all possible contingencies. The Arab states were particularly belligerent about the National Water Carrier project (a pipeline bringing water from the Sea of Galilee to southern Israel). Syria even tried to divert the Jordan River tributaries, but failed because of IDF counter-operations under Rabin's command
.

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Rabin as the Chief of Staff in the Six Days War

Tension in the Middle East had been rising steadily since the beginning of the 1960s. Israel built its National Water Carrier, bringing water from the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River to the Negev, despite Arab attempts to divert the Jordan tributaries.
The Palestinian Fatah Organization increased its terrorist raids into Israel. Israeli-Syrian border incidents erupted often, initiated by both sides. At the beginning of 1967 clashes increased on the northern border. Shortly afterwards, the Soviet Union gave the Arabs disinformation about Israeli troop formations along the northern border. This implied that Israel intended to launch an all-out attack on Syria. Damascus turned to Egyptian President Gamal Abdel
Nasser and urged him to start a war with Israel.

In May 1967, President Nasser escalated the tension by massing troops in the Sinai, which contravened the 1957 agreements. He expelled the United Nations forces that since 1957 had been based in Sinai as a buffer between the Egyptian and Israeli armies. They also guaranteed freedom of navigation to Eilat, Israel's sole southern harbor on the Red Sea. Now Nasser declared a full blockade of the Strait of Tiran and a ban on all ships flying the Israeli flag or bringing strategic cargoes to Eilat.
Nasser stepped up his war rhetoric, promising to "throw the Jews into the sea," and to conquer Tel Aviv. Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq signed mutual defense treaties, and Israel again stood alone as the danger of another full-scale Arab attack mounted.
Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin recommended that the government order a preemptive strike. But the government was still trying to gather international support before resorting to force, especially since the United States had promised to guarantee the freedom of navigation in the Strait of Tiran. Public anxiety mounted during the waiting period.
Prime Minister Levi Eshkol was deemed unsuitable to lead in this national emergency. Under public pressure, a national unity government was formed with Moshe Dayan as minister of defense. The new government decided to accept Rabin's advice and attack.

On June 5, 1967, virtually all the Air Force's combat planes took to the air in a massive assault on Arab air forces. Taken by surprise, most of their planes were caught on the ground and destroyed. With total air superiority, the armored and infantry forces had a clear road to invade the Sinai. The Egyptian army was defeated within days and pulled back to the Suez Canal.
The Jordanian army, despite pleas from Israel not to get involved, opened fire on the new front, including Jerusalem. IDF paratroopers stormed and won East Jerusalem, reaching the Western Wall in the Old City. Most of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) was invaded and occupied. With the war with Egypt and Jordan settled, the IDF attacked the Syrians on the Golan Heights. Having plunged into war after an anxiety-filled wait, Israel emerged victorious after only six days. The mood of the Israeli public was suddenly transformed from the pre-war angst and gloom to the joy and disbelief of total victory. This achievement, considered one of the greatest in world military history, was reached under the command of Yitzhak Rabin as chief of staff.
Israel now possessed conquered territories to be used as bargaining chips in negotiations for a permanent peace.

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Ambassador to the United States

Yitzhak Rabin left the IDF at the beginning of 1968, after 27 years of service. He was appointed as Ambassador to the United States of America, a post he held for five years. The two main topics that preoccupied him during his tenure were fostering solid U.S.-Israeli ties, and opening a peace process with Arab states.
During this time U.S. aid to Israel increased dramatically as Washington became Israel's major supplier of arms and military equipment. Diplomatically, Washington deepened its perception of Israel as its most important and trustworthy ally in the Middle East
.

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Rabin becomes Minister of Labor 

When he returned from Washington in 1973, Yitzhak Rabin joined the Labor Party. In the election he won a place as number 20 on its Labor list for the Eighth Knesset (Israeli Parliament). The Yom Kippur War broke out in October 1973 with a surprise attack launched jointly by Egypt and Syria.
Rabin did not serve in any official capacity during the war. When it ended, the Labor Party won new elections and Rabin was appointed minister of labor in Prime Minister Golda Meir's government. The Agranat Commission Report, and civil protests that spread across the country over Israel's lack of military preparedness for the Yom Kippur War, forced the resignation of Golda Meir. Rabin was elected as head of the Labor Party, and went on to become prime minister
.

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Rabin becomes Prime Minister

Rabin conducted stubborn and exhausting negotiations over post-war interim agreements with Egypt and Syria, which were mediated by U.S. Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger in his famous shuttle diplomacy.
The interim agreement with Egypt was the beginning of the process that eventually led to the Camp David Accords. While seeking peace with the Arab states, Rabin continued to employ an iron-fist policy against the PLO. In these years it operated as an international terrorist organization which did not hesitate to attack civilians.
Rabin believed in never negotiating with terrorists, especially in hostage situations. However, he had no problem negotiating with an accepted national leader like King Hussein of Jordan. Rabin accepted territorial compromise on the West Bank in exchange for peace. Israel's refusal to capitulate to terrorism was dramatically demonstrated in the famous Entebbe Operation, when the IDF's long arm reached deep into Uganda to rescue hostages hijacked by the PLO
.

In 1977 a newspaper revealed that Lea Rabin had kept a bank account open in the United States from their time as diplomats there, and Yitzhak Rabin resigned. (At the time, it was a misdemeanor under Israeli currency law to operate a foreign bank account.)
Shimon Peres was elected as the Labor Party candidate for the premiership in the elections of May 17, 1977. These elections brought about the historic 'turnaround.' The Labor Party, which had led the state from its beginnings, was routed by the charismatic new leader of the Likud, Menachem Begin.

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Return to politics

In 1984, a national unity government was formed and Yitzhak Rabin was appointed minister of defence. He held the post for six years, until the collapse of the second national unity government in 1990. One of his major tasks was to disengage the IDF from a war of attrition in Lebanon where it had become stuck since the 1982 invasion – the Shalom Hagalil Operation (Peace for the Galilee Operation).
Rabin and Shimon Peres, who was prime minister from 1984-1986, made a successful staged withdrawal from Lebanon, except from the narrow security zone they established on its southern border.

At the end of 1987, the Intifada erupted. This Palestinian popular uprising in the occupied territories caught Israel completely by surprise and rapidly escalated to alarming proportions. As the Intifada captured huge international interest, Israel's military and political leaders were slow to comprehend its magnitude and significance.
Both Israelis and Palestinians at first assumed it would be short-lived, but the uprising took on a life of its own. Yitzhak Rabin initially adopted an iron-fist policy to suppress the uprising and he told the IDF to respond to Palestinian assaults with determination.
When King Hussein unexpectedly announced that Jordan was relinquishing its sovereignty over the West Bank (Israeli-occupied since the Six-Day War), Rabin realized that only the Palestinians could be the real partners in any settlement. He began to look for credible channels of communication with them.

After the elections of 1988, a second national unity government was formed, and Rabin continued as minister of defence. In early 1989 he presented his plan for negotiations with the Palestinians, which became in time the foundation for the Madrid International Peace Conference and the start of the peace process. The main thrust of the plan was to foster a credible local Palestinian leadership separate from the PLO by calling for elections in the territories. Palestinians continued to regard the PLO as their sole legitimate representative. Following an attempt by the Labor Party to topple the government in 1990, the national unity government collapsed. The Labor Party, including Rabin, returned to the opposition benches.

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Prime Minister for a second term

After its repeated failure to regain power, the Labor Party put Yitzhak Rabin at the helm again. In the 1992 election campaign, Rabin swept up mass support and the slogan "Israel is waiting for Rabin" became the winning one. He became prime minister, and established a coalition government with Meretz (liberal-left), and with Shas (a Mizrahi, ultra-Orthodox, but somewhat dovish party). He himself kept the defense portfolio. Now in office, he immediately moved a peace agreement with the Palestinians to the top of his list of priorities.

The perennial rivalry between Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres over the leadership of the Labor Party, which had lasted since 1974, now came to an end. The two finally came together to cooperate fully in the peace process. Rabin's reluctant journey to accepting the PLO as a partner for peace was a prolonged and painful process. He finally realized that it is with an enemy one negotiates peace, and Israel had no other partner for an agreement except the PLO.
As part of his transformation, Rabin made a distinction between PLO extremists and fundamentalists on the one hand, and PLO moderates on the other. Top-secret negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian moderates gathered momentum. Rabin for long remained skeptical about the PLO's commitment to a peaceful resolution of the conflict and he pressed the organization's undisputed leader, Yasser Arafat, to suppress extremism and violence in order to build trust
.

In September 1993, the historic Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles was signed. This was the Oslo-A Agreement, also known as "Gaza-Jericho First."
It guaranteed Palestinians self-rule in the territories for a period of five years. In the first phase Israel would pull out of the Gaza Strip and Jericho city, and would later leave agreed areas of the West Bank, and the Palestinians would hold elections.
At the now famous signing ceremony on the lawn of the White House in Washington DC, on 13th September 1994, at which an Israeli leader publicly shook hands with Yasser Arafat for the first time
.

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Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Rabin, Peres and Arafat

The 1994 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat. All three politicians had played a large role in the pursuit of peace in the Middle East and were rewarded for their efforts since the Oslo Agreement. In his speech at the award ceremony, Rabin described his own development from war hero to peace hero (to Rabin's Nobel Peace Prize speech). 

Following the signing of the Declaration of Principles, extremists opposed to the peace process began a campaign of terrorist attacks. Yitzhak Rabin vowed to pursue the peace process as if there was no terrorism while fighting terrorism as if there was no peace process. On May 4, 1994 Rabin signed The Gaza-Jericho Agreement, which granted the Palestinians autonomy in Gaza and Jericho. The IDF left Jericho and the Gaza Strip, but continued to defend the Jewish settlements left in the territories. On September 13, 1995, Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo B Agreement, which expanded West Bank areas under control of the new Palestinian Authority. A comprehensive treaty between Israel and Jordan was signed in October 1994, the culmination of this new Middle East peace process.

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Rabin is assassinated

Yitzhak Rabin's peace policy received broad support from the people of Israel, but it enraged many sectors who opposed compromise with the PLO and territorial concessions. These included Jewish settlers in the West Bank, Gaza and to a lesser extent in the Golan, the religious extreme right, and many Likud Party members.
On the Palestinian side, Hamas and Islamic Jihad were more vehemently opposed to the Oslo Agreements and peace process. A series of bomb attacks only increased the frustration, bitterness, and anger of Israelis who considered the peace process a failure.
There were legitimate democratic protests, but a vicious campaign of incitement, violence, and delegitimization of the government gathered force. Prime Minister Rabin took the bulk of the personal attacks. He was depicted as a traitor and at one infamous rally he was depicted wearing Nazi uniform.

On the night of Saturday November 4, 1995, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin traveled to the Kings of Israel Square in Tel Aviv where tens of thousands of Israeli peace supporters massed to assure him of their enthusiastic support. He spoke at the rally (to Rabin's last speech). They rallied with wild enthusiasm under banners that proclaimed "Yes to Peace - No to Violence."
Rabin was deeply moved by the warmth of the demonstration as Israelis thronged to assure him of their love and trust. Still smiling, he descended the steps to his car. The young Jewish student Yigal Amir wheeled out of the darkness and shot him in the back. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the hero of war and the soldier of peace, was critically wounded. A short time later he died of his wounds in Ichilov Hospital. Rabin one of Ireals greatest leaders was buried two days later amidst great participation by the public and in the presence of many world leaders
.

[Taken from: The Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israel Studies - Translator: Uriel Masad, December 1998
English Editor: Thomas O'Dwyer, January 1999]

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