BY JAMES M. POWERS
It is interesting how practically anyone, no matter how monstrous his deeds in life, can be rehabilitated in death. We saw a grotesque example of this last year when eulogies rang to the heavens for Richard Nixon; Tricky Dick as Elder Statesman.
The veritable volcano of tribute that has gushed from our major media upon the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin eerily resembles what we saw with Nixon; in both cases, the evil that these men did in their lives was disregarded or minimized, and their dubious accomplishments blown out of all proportion.
Read the eulogies: a "Man of Peace" bravely and uncompromisingly pursued peace and justice, only to be cut down by his own people's religious and political zealots. It's the stuff that martyrs are made of. President Clinton compared Rabin's assassination with those of Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Time magazine ran an especially lugubrious piece that wailed, "the good get shot, the evil die in their beds."
Now, I don't like speaking ill of the dead, particularly the recently departed. My upbringing militates against it as at best impolite, and at worst just downright mean, yet there are highlights from Rabin's military and political career that went unmentioned in the eulogies:
¥ During Israel's 1948 War of Independence, Rabin, while commanding the forces that had captured the towns of Lydda and Ramleh, ordered the expulsion of the entire Arab population of both towns in a notorious operation. The total number is estimated to have been about 50,000. Neither women, children nor the elderly were spared, and many of them died.
¥ In 1967 Rabin ordered the destruction of the West Bank Arab villages, Imwas, Biet Nuba and Yalu. The inhabitants were never allowed to return, and about 9,000 Palestinians were left homeless.
¥ As Israel's defense minister during the Palestinian Intifada, Rabin gave orders to meet resistance with "force, might, blows," and to "break the bones" of the protestors, which the Israeli military dutifully did, much to the horror of the world and especially the victims, mostly children, who still bear the scars.
In part, Rabin was the victim of a situation that he nurtured. While he was known to be contemptuous of the right-wing settlers, for political reasons he did little to impede their settlement activity. This combined with the continued Military Administration of the West Bank encouraged the ultra-right religious fanatics to view Arabs as lacking basic civil (and human) rights, and it created within their ranks a sense of entitlement to the West Bank and Gaza as the historic birthplace of the Jewish people, not as the homeland of the Palestinians. When Rabin offered to make a lasting settlement with the Palestinians, it was hardly ironic that his assassin should come from the ranks of the zealots.
Which brings us to Rabin's accomplishments. If his accomplishment is viewed as initiating the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, then he deserves credit. But it may be premature to say that he brought peace to the conflict, because the Oslo Agreements, as now constituted, leave Israel in firm control over every important issue of Palestinian sovereignty; land, security and economy. Palestinian critics like to say that the peace process is mostly process with little peace, because it is not based on justice and quality, but on power, which is ultimately not a sound foundation upon which to build a lasting peace. Only time will tell.
In Time's eulogy, Rabin was called Sadat's mirror image in the Middle East. A more realistic assessment might be that when we look into the media looking-glass, there is never a true reflection of anything.