A Jewish state should believe in ideas.

Amos Gitai’s film “Rabin, The Last Day” marks the 20th anniversary of the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s savage killing in Tel Aviv on the evening of Saturday, November 4, 1995.

“Rabin, The Last Day” sheds light on an ever-growing crisis of hate in Israeli society today. Nobel Peace Prize winner Rabin’s killer, apprehended at the scene, turned out to be a 25-year-old Jewish observant. Investigation into his brutal murder reveals the dark and frightening world that made this tragic deed possible.

The Man Who Shot the Prime Minister (excerpt from Rabin, The Last Day (2015) by Amos Gitai)

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Amos Gitai and Yitzhak Rabin

Amos, your new film “Rabin, The Last Day” was shown in Venice and in Toronto, and will be officially launched in Tel Aviv on 4th November, the day Rabin was killed. Why did you feel the need to shoot this film?

First of all as an Israeli citizen, because I am concerned by the way the country is going. I am not a politician, so my way of talking is cinema. I am concerned that, in the last twenty years, since the killing of Rabin, Israel is going in a direction that is more and more isolating itself. They fight everybody without being selective, and it is more and more xenophobic. I think it is concerning for everybody who loves Israel.

The Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, just went to Moscow to sign an agreement with Putin. What do you think about this?

I think he has a very strange taste for who he would like to have as his friends. Putin, and also the most reactionary American republican, Sheldon Adelson, who made his money in the lotteries of Macau and Las Vegas. So he is dropping this project of the Jewish state into a very negative zone. In addition to racist statements that he made, as did some other ministers.

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The rush to the emergency room.

Let’s go back to Rabin. How do you tell the story of his last hours?

Twenty years ago Rabin put me on his plane to Washington and also to Cairo, and I interviewed him extensively in Jerusalem. Rabin was not a soft lefty, as people like to describe him. He understood that to stabilise Israeli existence in the Middle East it was needed to make inroads to the Arab world. He also understood that the most important of all the regional conflicts is the Israel-Palestinian one. Israel has to find ways to reach a new form of co-existence with the Palestinians. This conflict is both real, in the sense that there is occupation of the Palestinian areas for more than forty years, but it is also a pretext for the arabs and muslim countries to defer from the real problem into this conflict. Rabin understood that if Israel could succeed in dismantling this minefield this would help the security of Israel a lot.

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Yitzhak Rabin and Amos Gitai

But wasn’t he killed for his ideas by the Jewish extremists, by the right wing?

Yes, when he started to negotiate with the Palestinians there was a very well organised campaign, supported essentially by three forces against him. The first one by hallucinating rabbis, who put on him all sorts of Talmudic, Haganic witchcraft colleagues to kill him; by the very lobby of the settlers who don’t want to give any ground to the Palestinians in the Holy Land; and by the parliamentary right wing, led by Likud and Netanyahu, who wanted to destabilize the Rabin government.

Did he know that they were trying to kill him?

No. He says, and this is in the film, that he does not think that they will kill him, and he has confidence in the security forces of Israel.

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The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin

Are we now very far from there?

Yes, very.

Do the facts that Syria has imploded, that there is a war against ISIS, that the whole region is in trouble, that there is a new opening of the US and the West vis-a-vis Iran, change something for Israel?

We are in a very dangerous neighbourhood. But the question is if we should only believe in the rapport de force, and I think that being a Jewish state we should also believe in ideas.

But what does this mean?

Israel has first of all to keep its democratic structure, which is menaced by the extreme right that is now part of the Israeli government. They want to interfere, even in the judicial system. Judges will not advance in their career if they don’t impose the most severe punishment possible on the Palestinians. The Minister of Culture wants to interfere with Israeli culture, and so on and so forth.

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Amos at work on the film. Photo: Barry Frydlender.

As an artist and a director, how do you feel in your country?

I feel continuous pressure on my colleagues and me, to be conformist and not to say anything that disturbs the current regime. This is a disaster and can destroy the Israeli project. Israel is strong because it has an open society and the young generation feel that they can be creative and free. If this project is menaced it will weaken society.

But Netanyahu was elected by the Israelis?

He was elected by being the son of a historian who learnt Machiavelli very well. He was elected by pushing one group against the other.

How do Israelis perceive the different relationship that there is today with the US, which has traditionally been the strongest ally to Israel?

I performed a play some years ago about the conflict between Judaea and the Roman Empire, in which the ultra-nationalists in Masada wanted to beat the Roman Empire. And we know how this episode ended. Exile for centuries.

You sound very pessimistic.

I cannot afford to be pessimistic, but we are not in a good period, and hopefully making this movie will make some people think.

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Yitzhak Rabin Monument, Tel Aviv

Do you believe that the Israeli government is going to interfere and bother you about this particular film?

I am looking forward to the release of the film on 4th November, exactly 20 years after the killing of Rabin. It will be released in the big auditorium of the Philharmonic Orchestra building in Tel Aviv, just 200 metres from where Rabin was shot.

Therefore you believe that cinema is still a way to express political ideas?

You and I are meeting today on a very special day, Yom Kippur. For all the Jewish world this is a day of memory and contemplation. For me it was also the day I was shot inside a burning helicopter, 42 years ago in the Golan. We were flying to try to save an Israeli pilot who was shot down. On Yom Kippur the helicopter was shot by Syrian missiles. I was an architecture student, and I was supposed to continue the work of my father who was a Bauhaus architect, but when I came back from the hospital I decided to become a filmmaker and not an architect. I said to myself that I will tell what is on my mind. And since then I only made films that I thought were worth doing.

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What Amos Gitai was doing on Yom Kippur 42 years ago – he is on the right of the picture.

Why do you live in Paris?

I live between my hometown Haifa and Paris. I came to Paris in the eighties when I made documentaries which were not very much liked by my countrymen. I came for a few weeks and these few weeks became seven years. After Rabin was elected in ’92 I went back to Israel. During my Paris years I extended my knowledge, thanks to people like Jack Lang, the Minister of Culture, who facilitated my work.

What is your feeling about the relationship between the diaspora Jews and Israel?

There is a very strong feeling of solidarity, and anywhere I travel in the world I find people of the Jewish community with great compassion. I think this link is impressive.

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1994 Nobel Peace Prize Winners: Arafat, Peres, Rabin

Is this new film very important for you?

It’s part of my body of work, which is telling the story of this big drama called Israel. In my mind it is a big story which deserves strong cinema.

Do you have any other new projects?

Some related to the film. For instance they will publish my interviews with Rabin, and I will also do a play on the same subject in Avignon next year. And then the actress Isabelle Huppert has proposed to me the idea of doing a film with her about a Jewish Marrano called Doña Grazia Nasi.

Paris
23rd September, 2015