Last year the 2016 New York Jewish Film Festival in partnership with The Jewish Museum screened Amos Gitai’s superb Rabin: The Last Day, an important work about the political elements that have contributed to the current events in Israel and have escalated the violence and unsettlement in the region. The 2016 film, is fictionalized with recreations. It is intercut with archival footage of on-the-ground news coverage including excerpts of Gitai’s documentary filming. It explores events leading up to Prime Minister of Israel Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination on November 4, 1995. It also delves into the political atmosphere of the time reviewing those responsible for his death and the follow-up of the trial and events afterward.
His companion piece, documentary Shalom Rabin screened its World Premiere at the 2017 New York Jewish Film Festival which is sponsored by The Film Society of Lincoln Center and The Jewish Museum. Gitai revisits the subject of Rabin and his quest to cover Rabin on his travels to Washington, Cairo, Gaza, and Jerusalem at the critical period of the Oslo Accords. In a tribute that is a diarist’s chronicle, he allows us to understand Rabin in an unvarnished account using his own documentary footage gleaned in the early 1990s as he shadows Rabin. Through Gitai’s pointed documentation, we are able to clearly receive a feel for Rabin, his intentions, and his dedication to creating peace between the Palestinians and Israelis.
The archival footage includes news clips and film examining the events leading up to the negotiations and agreements between Palestinians and Israelis to initiate a lasting accord. With Gitai’s intriguing film visitation we see glimpses of some of the players who assisted in the process (Hosni Mubarak, Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Shimon Peres, President Bill Clinton, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and Yasser Arafat head of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Present at the screening of the film, Gitai discussed that the film is more of an associative collage of memories from the period. It is perhaps like a film notebook of snippets that appear random rather than a linear unspooling of events. The documentary functions beautifully as a portrait of Rabin and the issue of peace, both of which Gitai uses as the central motifs of the film. Like the hub of a wheel, all of the film’s captured footage turns around Rabin. Thus, we are able to view events behind the scenes that we may not have been apprised of. In short as a precursor to Rabin: The Last Day, it is Gitai’s straightforward, first hand account of Rabin at a pinnacle in his life and career as he steps onto the world stage.
The overriding theme of Gitai’s work may be inferred; it is of the tremendous loss the world encountered when Rabin was unjustly killed before he could continue to broker the peace process in the future. Gitai establishes Rabin’s greatness; he reveals Rabin’s active intentions as he travels to Washington, D.C. and Cairo, Egypt. We hear Rabin’s perceptions and attitudes during an extraordinary interview a younger Gitai shot of Rabin at that time.
Gitai’s suggestion of the world’s loss is emphasized at the conclusion of the film. He employs additional footage from his fictional account, Rabin: The Last Day. He includes shots of a stage production also about Rabin. Fictionalized scenes briefly highlight the evening of the assassination. The shots of the play are metaphoric. With both segments Gita calls us to recognize the necessity of uplifting this down-to-earth man who was intent on peace and who was killed because of it. With these Rabin films, Gitai suggests that since the assassination, a time of misdirection darkens the entire region.
What is exceptional about Shalom Rabin is the vital historical footage and pivotal moments including Gitai’s interview of Rabin. He also includes background footage of himself as he attempts to cover the events with other reporters, capturing the unease of Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres chiding Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin’s easier, more relaxed manner as he attempts the impossible. In these shots we recognize the younger Clinton at the beginning of his presidency and a willing Arafat who wishes to gain the world’s positive acclaim which came at the expense of Hamas’ vilification.
For those who do not know of Rabin’s development as a human being, this is a critical time toward the end of his life. During Gitai’s interview we appreciate that despite the death threats against him because he was brokering an agreement with Arafat, he brooked no fear of the conservative Israeli political elements that were ranging against him.
Gitai also includes seminal footage of interviews he conducted of Palestinians and Israelis about the peace process. Many discuss that they hope for an end to the fighting, an end to the chaos and economic deprivations caused by the conflict. Gitai does interview a few who uphold armed rebellion against Israel (Hamas). Indeed, in this on-the-ground-footage, as we apprehend the views of the Palestinians, we are able to empathize with them and focus on the human story. The Palestinians and Israelis he interviewed, like Rabin, hope for no more killing. However, overshadowing these conversations there is always the suspicion, the lack of trust and the dark clouds threatening impermanence even if a measured stability is achieved.
Gitai posits with excerpts in a documentary style which creates an organization of its own, that Rabin’s assassination was the last best hope for a sustained peace in the area. In his introduction to the film Gitai ironically commented to the audience that unlike the U.S., it is very hard to vote the current leadership out. He suggested that the assassination was in effect a coup d’etat, precipitating the worsening events that followed between Israelis, Palestinians, and the Arab states in the region whose actions have now impacted the world entire.
Israel has become less democratic and more repressive; settlements continue to be built and developers enrich themselves. In Gitai’s presentation of Rabin as a determined peacemaker who was sincere in his role, we understand that no one has been able to fill his shoes. It was a role which he paid for with his life; his death has sent a dire message to others who would follow his example. One wonders if he had lived and shepherded the accords in a sustained, progressive work with Arafat, would they have redirected the events from the reality that happened? Would the good will they were attempting to establish have helped to save countless lives that have been lost in wars, bombings, attacks of vengeance and terrorism? Would they have been able to create social economic enrichment so that both Israelis and Palestinians could actually benefit one another and live in tranquility?
Yitzhak Rabin was a controversial icon; he was hated by his conservative countrymen who felt betrayed, called him a murderer, and cursed him praying for his death. He was loved by the young, the centrists and those on the left who were euphoric about the Oslo Accords. And though the Palestinians didn’t trust him, many appreciated the thought of a lasting peace coming so that they would be able to work, have a normal life and be lifted up from their day to day misery.
Gitai’s fitting documentary remembrance of Rabin suggests “What if?” The title intimates the answers. Shalom Rabin, shalom peace, “hello/goodbye” Rabin, “hello/goodbye” peace. When Rabin was assassinated, his murderers intended for peace to die with him. Thus far, they have gotten their wish, but it doesn’t not have to be for always.