1922 - 1995

Yitzhak Rabin: A Life of Public Service

Yitzhak Rabin Center

Childhood, Soldier, Statesman and Prime Minister

The Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv is the national institute established in 1997 by the Government of Israel – the Knesset – that advances the legacy of the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a path-breaking, visionary leader whose life was cut short in a devastating assassination.

The Center, in a similar vein to a presidential library, presents Yitzhak Rabin’s remarkable life and tragic death, pivotal elements of Israeli history, through its Israeli Museum, archives and educational programs. The Center’s mission is to ensure that the vital lessons from this story are remembered, and are used to shape an Israeli society characterized by open dialogue, democratic values and social cohesion.

The centerpiece of the Yitzhak Rabin Center experience is The Israeli Museum. Comprised of nearly 200 short documentary films, visitors explore the history and makings of the State via exhibit halls, each focused on historical turning points in the country’s development. The exhibits – presented chronologically from 1922-1995 – present the conflicts, social challenges and dilemmas the country faced, as well as her successes. Along the inner corridor and interwoven with the exhibits’ narratives is the life story of Yitzhak Rabin, the connecting thread in the country’s history and development.  The milestones of Yitzhak Rabin's life – Childhood, Soldier, Statesman and Prime Minister – are aptly illustrated in the on-line exhibition entitled “Yitzhak Rabin: A Life of Public Service”.

We invite you to visit us during your next trip to Tel Aviv, Israel.

A Sabra, a native-born Israeli Jew - 1922-1941

Yitzhak Rabin was born in Jerusalem, raised in Tel Aviv and educated at the School for Workers’ Children and in the Hanoar Haoved youth movement. He was the eldest child of Third Aliyah immigrants to Israel, pioneers Rosa Cohen and Nehemia Rabin. His mother, “Red Rosa,” served in the Histadrut (General Federation of Labor), on the City Council and in the Haganah, an underground military  organization set-up by a group of Jewish immigrants during the British Mandate (1920-1948).  His father was active in the trade union and the Haganah. At the age of fifteen, Yitzhak Rabin realized his dream of attending the prestigious Kadoorie  Agricultural School where he first met Yigal Allon and Haim Guri, legendary military figures that he admired. He completed his studies in the summer of 1939, graduating with honors. During his studies , he was recruited to the Haganah.When it seemed as though World War II would reach Palestine, Rabin gave up a university scholarship and committed himself to defense work.

With his mother Rosa, 1923
 At the Kadoorie School,1938
 School Football Team, 1940
 With his father Nechemia and sister Rachel, 1934. IDF.Arc

"In those childhood years [...] I developed an inner sense of responsibility for the task at hand, a love of the land and its landscapes, a sense of comradeship.“

Yitzhak Rabin

Ready to Serve - 1941-1947

Yigal Allon, a commander of the Palmach, the elite combat force of the Haganah , recruited Rabin to serve as a fighter. Rabin served in command and training positions. He headed the strike force that liberated Jewish refugees being held at the Atlit detention facility. During the struggle against the British, he was imprisoned in the Rafah detention camp. Upon his release, he served as a commander during Palmach maneuvers in preparation for the possibility of war.

Official portrait from the Palmach years, 1946
Combat Exercise, Palmach, 1942
Together with Company A of the Palmach, 1942

“The Palmach way of life reflected [...] a true and innocent readiness on our part to sacrifice ourselves for our people.”

Yitzhak Rabin, 1991

Defending Jerusalem - 1947-1949

Yitzhak Rabin was elated and joyous on the historic night of November 29, 1947, following the United Nations vote in favor of the Partition Resolution the calling for Palestine to be partitioned between Arabs and Jews, allowing for the formation of the Jewish state of Israel

The next day he was at war.

At 25 years of age, he was responsible for guarding the supply convoys to Jerusalem and commanded the Harel brigade that fought hard for many months. The Brigade’s battalions operated in Jerusalem and its surroundings from the outbreak of the War of Independence, its losses were among the highest in this cruel war. As second-in-command to General Yigal Allon in Operation Dani, Rabin took part in the conquest of Lydda-Ramle.

 

As operations officer on the southern front, Rabin was involved in planning the major campaigns to crush the Egyptian forces and liberate the Negev ,Israel’s  southern region .

David Ben-Gurion, the prime minister and defense minister, disbanded the Palmach, a move that distressed Rabin and attended the Palmach convention in defiance of Ben-Gurion’s orders.

Motivated by a sense of national responsibility, Rabin decided to remain in the military, a decision that determined the course of his life.

With Yigal Alon, during Israel’s War of Indpendence, 1948. IDF.Arc
Members of the Harel Brigade, 1948. GPO
Together with Palmach Commanders, 1948
With Israel’s first prime minister  David Ben Gurion, 1948. GPO

“The most difficult moments of my life were as commander of the Harel Brigade.”

Yitzhak Rabin

Home and Family:

In August 1948, Yitzhak Rabin married Lea Schlossberg. The couple lived with her parents in Tel Aviv where their daughter, Dalia, was born. Four years later, they purchased their first home in Zahala, an IDF subsidized neighborhood, where their son, Yuval, was born. Lea Rabin was wholly devoted to her family.

With his daughter Dalia in Kimberly, UK, 1950
With Lea Schlossberg (Rabin), 1948. GPO
With his grandson Yonathan, 1977. GPO
With his daughter Dalia, 1970. GPO

“When I look back on our twenty-four-year marriage... among those we know, [I am hard put] to find a finer couple.”

Yitzhak Rabin, 1972

Chief of General Staff - 1964-1967

During his years in the military, Rabin filled a variety of staff, training and command positions. He was among those who determined the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) war theory, drawing on the experiences of the Palmach, the British Army and other armed forces around the world. He worked to equip the IDF and raise the standards of training for what he regarded as the “citizen army”. His appointment to deputy chief of general staff marked him as a candidate for the top position.

At the age of forty-one Rabin became chief of general staff. His term was marked by the growing might of Egypt and Syria due to the supply of advanced Soviet arms, Syria’s attempts to divert Israel’s water sources and its sponsorship of terrorist activity. Rabin increased the IDF’s deterrent power, both quantitatively and qualitatively, to avoid war while formulating a strategy to deal with possible escalation.

IDF Commanders, 1964. IDF Arc.
Yitzhak Rabin and David Ben Gurion, 1953. IDF Arc.
Military exercise,1959. IDF Arc.
With kids living by the border, 1966. IDF Arc.

“Our might, which has sustained us until now, will continue to sustain and ensure our survival.”

Yitzhak Rabin

Six Days in June 1967

When Egyptian armor advanced to the Sinai Peninsula , Chief of General Staff Yitzhak Rabin called up Israel’s reserve forces. The government discussed the possibility of going to war. Rabin found himself torn between the military advantage of a preemptive strike and his recognition of the government’s duty to exhaust diplomatic channels. The weight of the responsibility  was utterly exhausting. However, after a 24-hour rest, he recovered and returned to work. The army he commanded was ready to go to war.

 During the battles, Rabin commanded the battleground from “the Bunker”, IDF headquarters, where he updated combat plans according to the continually shifting situation. He also toured and inspected the battle fronts. One of the greatest moments of his life was when he entered the Old City of Jerusalem together with General Moshe Dayan and General Uzi Narkiss.

Following the War, the Hebrew University awarded Rabin an honorary Doctorate of Philosophy in recognition of his achievements as chief of general staff. 

In his address, without pride or glee, Rabin spoke of the heavy price paid by both the victors and the vanquished in this war.

Love and support from wounded IDF soldiers, 1967. IDF Arc.
Entering the old city of Jerusalem, with Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan and General Uzi Narkiss, 1967. GPO
With PM  Eshkol & Shimon Peres, 1967. IDF Arc.
At the Wailing Wall, Jerusalem, 1967. IDF.Arc

“Our soldiers’ deeds, above and beyond the call of duty, did not spring from force of arms, but from their awareness of a higher mission, from their recognition of the rightness of our cause, from a deep love of their homeland and from the realization of the great task they faced to protect the existence of their people in their land.”

Yitzhak Rabin

Discovering America - 1968-1973

 

In February 1968, after twenty-seven years of military service in the IDF, Yitzhak Rabin retired and was appointed Israel’s ambassador to the United States.

During his term of office, he strengthened Israel’s bond with the American Jewish community and laid the foundations for the special relationship between Israel and the United States. He learned to appreciate the U.S. system of government, as well as America’s economic and social capabilities. Upon his return to Israel, Rabin joined the Labor Party and was elected to the Knesset. He served as Minister of Labor in Prime Minister Golda Meir’s government.

With his wife Lea, 1968. GPO
At a govt. press conference 1970. GPO

“I became convinced [...] that our relations with the US and with the myriad Jewish communities in the mightiest country in the Western world would only increase in importance.”

Yitzhak Rabin, 1973

Prime Minister - 1974-1977

  Following the political turmoil caused by the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Yitzhak Rabin, who had not been involved in that “blunder”, was appointed prime minister. Interim agreements that he reached with Egypt and Syria were the first steps toward a peace. Rabin also sought to reach an agreement with Jordan and opposed the idea of “political settlements”, but refrained from evacuating the settlers of Sebastia.

During his three-year term of office, he also made a major effort to rehabilitate the country’s war-torn economy. Israel’s international image improved significantly following Operation Entebbe, the IDF’s successful rescue of an Air France passenger plane hijacked to Uganda.

Operation Entebbe, 1976
With Minister of Defense Shimon Peres, 1975. GPO
With Henry Kissinger finalizing the interim agreement with Egypt, 1975 

“Peace will come when Arab leaders finally cross the Rubicon and move from belligerent confrontation to peaceful coexistence.”

Yitzhak Rabin

Resignation - 1977-1984

Following a coalition crisis with the National Religious Party, and believing that new elections would strengthen his position, Rabin resigned as prime minister. During the ensuing election campaign, the press revealed details of a then-prohibited US bank account in his wife’s name.

Rabin decided to stand by his wife, sharing responsibility for the offense, and withdrew his candidacy for premiership.

After the election victory of the political party of Likud, Yitzhak, a member of the Labor party, Rabin found himself in the Opposition. During this period, he published The Rabin Memoirs, in which he attacked his party rival, Shimon Peres. Rabin supported the peace treaty with Egypt, viewing it as an extension of his earlier policy. Deeply worried by the PLO’s entrenchment in Lebanon, he supported “Operation Peace for Galilee” (the Lebanon War), but when the IDF deviated from the original battle plan, he adamantly opposed it.

Election day, 1977. GPO
With MK Shimon Peres, 1990. GPO

“The Opposition is a very important institution in democratic states, certainly in ours. If there is no alternative, one must bide one’s time in the Opposition and do the work from there.”

Yitzhak Rabin, 1991

A Statesman Again - 1985-1991

As defense minister in the National Unity Government, Yitzhak Rabin regarded the conflict with the Arab states as the key threat facing Israel. Despite this, routine internal security concerns occupied most of his attention. He did not shirk from forceful action against terrorism, while simultaneously easing the daily lives of Palestinians. Despite public criticism, the “Jibril Deal” went through, leading to the release of 1,150 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for three Israeli prisoners of war. He also instructed the IDF to carry out a phased withdrawal in Lebanon to a security strip along the border. 

The Palestinians’ uprising convinced Rabin that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could not be resolved by force. The Intifada’s negative impact on Israeli society, soldiers and the IDF’s status as a “citizen army” persuaded Rabin to pursue a political track. In the peace initiative which he published, he called for elections in the territories to be followed by final-status negotiations with the newly elected government.  After the dissolution of the National Unity Government, Rabin attacked Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's government for diplomatic foot-dragging. In tandem, he saw the collapse of the Soviet Union as an historic turning point for the Middle East, one which could possibly provide the region with unprecedented opportunity. He also saw a threat to Israel’s existence in the efforts by some regional states to acquire nuclear arms. Israeli public’s fear and anxiety during the Gulf War intensified and reinforced Rabin’s perception that the nation was ready for peace and its price.

With Chief of Staff Moshe Levi on a tour of Lebanon, 1984. IDF.Arc
On a tour of the Gaza Strip, 1987. GPO
Meeting about the establishment of a national Unity Government, 1984. GPO
With Haim Bar Lev, Minister of Police,1988. GPO

“We are in a dangerous period during which non-conventional weapons […] will enter [...] the Middle East. Therefore, looking ahead seven to ten years, we must advance the political process.”

Yitzhak Rabin

I Will Lead - 1992

 

After winning the elections, Rabin once again became prime minister and defense Minister and hastened to include Israel in the process of international reconciliation. He changed national priorities by cutting the settlement budget and increasing the budgets for education, welfare, infrastructure, the Arab sector and peripheral communities. Resources were allocated for absorbing the mass of immigrants from the former Soviet Union as well as for creating jobs.  

Rabin resumed multilateral talks in Washington with Palestinian delegates and with representatives from Syria and Lebanon. He advanced negotiations along the Syrian track even though he was convinced that the Palestinian problem lay at the heart of the conflict. Although he tried to ease the daily lives of the Palestinian population, Rabin employed firm measures to quash the Palestinian uprising, the Intifada, imposing closures and deporting hundreds of Hamas terrorists. In retaliation for the “Katyusha” rockets fired at Israel, he launched Operation Reckoning in Lebanon. Despite his doubts, Rabin approved back-channel talks with the Palestinians in Oslo. He signed the Declaration of Principles that laid the groundwork for a permanent settlement, including the establishment of a Palestinian national entity alongside Israel. 

Aware of the risks inherent in an agreement, yet utterly believing in its opportunities for peace, he recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people.

With neg. team enroute to  D.C., 1995. GPO
Minister  Deri in  Kiryat Shmona, 1992. GPO
Labor Party volunteers, 1992. GPO
With students in the Jezreel Valley,1995. GPO

“One makes peace with one’s enemies."

Yitzhak Rabin

The Historic Handshake - 1993-1994

 The Declaration of Principles known as the “Oslo Accord” was signed on the White House lawn and sealed by Rabin’s historic handshake with Arafat. The DOP intensified the dispute between supporters and opponents of the peace process in Israel. The massacre by an Israeli extremist of Muslim worshipers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron reflected the mounting tension in Israeli society. However, Rabin rejected calls to dismantle Hebron’s Jewish community after the massacre in order to avoid intensifying internal discord. 

The Oslo Accord paved the way for a peace treaty with Jordan. Bilateral relations developed over many years through clandestine contacts matured into a treaty that defined the final borders between the two states. For Israel, the treaty opened a door to ties with other Arab and Muslim states.

With King Hussein of Jordan, 1994. GPO
At the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony,1994. GPO
With  President Clinton and Eitan Haber,1995. GPO
Signing the Oslo Agreement, U.S.A., 1995. GPO

“There is no agreement that satisfies everyone. There is no agreement without concessions on both sides, and there is no agreement free of dangers [...]”

Yitzhak Rabin

Soldier for Peace - 1995

 

Receiving the Nobel Peace Prize together with Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat symbolized international recognition of the peace process. The ceremony took place prior to the conclusion of a final-status agreement and in the shadow of ongoing terrorist activity, and a sharply divided public. Rabin returned home buoyed by the admiration of the international community and determined to promote the resolution of outstanding issues.

 Oslo II set a time frame for implementing the first Oslo agreement. Its signing in Washington did not put a stop to Palestinian terrorism. Israel’s right-wing camp mustered to oppose Oslo II, and Rabin, although convinced that he was on the right track with the peace process, now became the target of an unprecedented personal attack. 

Vitriolic rhetoric was directed against Rabin at the mass demonstrations and rallies organized by opponents of the Oslo Accord. Supporters of the peace process walked his road, and worried about his safety. On November 4, 1995, as he was leaving the Kings of Israel Square (now Yitzhak Rabin Square) in Tel Aviv after a huge rally in support of peace and the prime minister, a lone assassin ended Rabin’s life.

Candle lighting vigil following the assassination, 1995
With King Hussein of Jordan at the U.S. Congress, 1994. GPO
Incitement leading up to the assassination, 1995
The blood-stained sheet of Shir LaShalom lyrics, 1995. GPO

“Violence erodes the foundations of Israeli democracy”

Yitzhak Rabin, November 4, 1995

Credits: Story

Photos:  —
Rachel Rabin-Yaakov, Personal Collection; Israel Defense Forces Archives; PALMACH Museum; National Photo Collection Israel State Archive; Israel Sun —
Editor in Chief: Dany Danosh —
Content Editor: Annie Eisen —
The Yitzhak Rabin Center: Adv. Michal Strugo, Dorit Ben Ami, Naomi Rapaport —
Curator: Dr. Nurit Levinovsky —

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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