Renowned Israeli director Amos Gitai s new film on the incitement campaign before the 1995 assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin revisits a form of Jewish radicalism that still poses major risks, he said.
The film, “Rabin, The Last Day,” premieres on Monday at the Venice Film Festival just ahead of the 20-year anniversary of the assassination by a rightwing Jewish radical.
It also comes at a time of renewed attention to such extremism following the July firebombing of a Palestinian home in the West Bank that killed an 18-month-old boy along with his mother and father, as well as a string of nationalist hate crimes.
Gitai has said that “the men that made possible the killing of our prime minister are still around… I am alarmed by the growing existence of a violent Jewish religious underground in the heart of Israeli secular society.”
The 64-year-old director, whose previous films have explored the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other aspects of the Middle East, told AFP in an interview the November 4, 1995 assassination of Rabin was “an open wound in Israel s contemporary history.”
Rabin was shot after giving a speech to tens of thousands of peace demonstrators in Tel Aviv. His killer, Yigal Amir, was a rightwing extremist opposed to the Oslo peace accords with the Palestinians, for which Rabin won the 1994 Nobel peace prize.
“My goal wasn t to create a personality cult around Rabin, neither to replace him by an actor,” Gitai, who was born in the northern Israeli city of Haifa and has lived in France, told AFP.
“My focus was on the incitement campaign that led to his murder.”
The director of films including “Ana Arabia,” “Kadosh,” and “Kippur” added that he “did this movie not only as a filmmaker but as a citizen.”
– Hallucinating rabbis –
“The state commission of inquiry that was set up only investigated the operational failures: the big Israeli mess, the bodyguard who looked in the wrong direction, the driver who forgot to put the alarm on the roof of the car delaying the evacuation of Rabin by several precious minutes,” Gitai said.
“They didn t investigate what were the underlying forces that wanted to kill Rabin. His murder came at the end of a hate campaign led by hallucinating rabbis, settlers who were against the withdrawal from territories, and the parliamentary right, led by the Likud (party), already then headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, who wanted to destabilise Rabin s Labour government.”
The director, wounded during the 1973 Yom Kippur war when his helicopter was hit by a Syrian missile, obtained minutes from the commission of inquiry that were used in making the film.
He also relied on documents, photos and videos, particularly from the months before Rabin s assassination, including those showing speeches from politicians such as Netanyahu at rallies against the Oslo accords where Rabin was depicted in a Nazi uniform.
“The entire script rests on facts — events or speeches — even if the film is a combination of archives and staged scenes,” said Gitai. “The challenge was to find the right balance between the two.”
Gitai said that looking back 20 years later, he considers Rabin “a real Israeli patriot, even if the word patriot has been since hijacked by the right.”
He said that Rabin had been particularly prescient when it came to discussions about a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, which would eventually happen in 2005 under prime minister Ariel Sharon.
Islamist movement Hamas is now in charge in the Palestinian coastal enclave that has seen three wars with Israel over the last six years.
“In my movie, there is a sequence showing Rabin giving a press conference in Gaza 10 years before the withdrawal. He then said that a unilateral withdrawal will create chaos and that the worst elements will take power, a premonitory vision of what happened.
“Today, 20 years after his murder, we are still in the crisis created by the disappearance of Rabin and his political wisdom from the political map.”