JERUSALEM — In one scene, a group of Jews wrapped in prayer shawls begin reciting a mystical death curse known as the Pulsa Dinura. A man in a suit who has urged them to invoke the angels of destruction promises that their prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, “will be dead within a month.”
In another scene, an actor plays an Israeli amateur photographer who captured the assassination of Mr. Rabin on video, giving rise to a thousand conspiracy theories. The photographer tells the official commission of inquiry created to investigate the assassination that he had focused on people milling around in the parking lot after a peace rally attended by Mr. Rabin because he “had a bad feeling.”
His lens had lingered on Yigal Amir, the convicted assassin, for long moments before the three shots rang out. He tells the panel he had assumed Mr. Amir was “just another plainclothes cop.”
Such re-enactments and staged scenes, interspersed with original footage and select interviews, make up a new 2.5-hour film, “Rabin: The Last Day,” by Amos Gitai, a renowned Israeli director. It dramatizes one of the most traumatic events in the history of modern Israel.
Based on actual events and documents, such as the unpublished protocols of the state commission of inquiry led by the Supreme Court president, Meir Shamgar, the film pries open the fissures of Israeli politics and society that led to the assassination two decades ago. It also lays bare a wounded Israel that today remains bitterly torn over Mr. Rabin’s legacy.
In the eyes of the diminished Israeli left, Mr. Amir’s act sabotaged the best chance of peace with the Palestinians. The right-wing nationalists of Israel viewed Mr. Rabin’s territorial concessions under the Oslo peace accords of the 1990s as a dangerous capitulation and a stab in the back. Their representatives now sit in the government.
Mr. Gitai, who not only directed the film but was also a co-writer of the screenplay, leaves little doubt about which side he is on.
“I felt for years that I wanted to make a film about the assassination of Rabin more as an Israeli citizen who cares about the country than as a filmmaker,” Mr. Gitai said in a telephone interview from Paris, where he was putting the final touches on the film before the premier on Monday at the Venice Film Festival.
“It is a gesture I needed to do as someone concerned with the direction Israel is taking,” he said. “Unfortunately, and this is my own perception, the only alternative to the current line is represented by a man who is dead, who was shot 20 years ago.”
“Rabin: The Last Day” is scheduled to open in Israel on the evening of Nov. 4 — the 20th anniversary of the assassination — with a screening at Tel Aviv’s largest auditorium, not far from the square where Mr. Rabin was killed.
The film is unambiguous about the forces it holds responsible: The extremist rabbis and militant settlers who damned Mr. Rabin for ceding land to the Palestinians that they considered part of their biblical birthright; right-wing politicians who were accused in the aftermath of having ridden a wave of toxic incitement against Mr. Rabin as they campaigned against the Oslo accords; and the security services that failed to protect him, despite the menacing atmosphere and the warning signs.
Mr. Rabin is almost invisible in the first two hours of the film. Benjamin Netanyahu, the opposition leader at the time, is shown in now-infamous historical footage addressing a feverish right-wing rally from a balcony in Jerusalem’s Zion Square as protesters below shouted for the death of Rabin — the “traitor” — and held up photomontage posters of him dressed in an SS uniform. (Mr. Netanyahu, who won the elections in 1996 after a series of Palestinian suicide bombings and is now in his fourth term as prime minister, has always maintained that he did not see the posters or hear the curses in Zion Square.)
The Shamgar Commission examined only the technical side of the circumstances of Mr. Rabin’s death — the operational failures of the police and Shin Bet internal security agency; the eight minutes it took Mr. Rabin’s driver to reach the hospital less than a mile from the square. The sections of the commission’s report dealing with Avishai Raviv, a Shin Bet agent who moved in Mr. Amir’s circles, and whom some on the right viewed as an agent provocateur, remain classified.
At its heart the film is an attempt to reconstruct the political and religious atmosphere that was a prelude to the assassination, and to hold the kind of broader commission of inquiry that never took place.
Shimon Sheves, the director of Mr. Rabin’s office from 1992 to 1995, who was involved in the conception of the film, said the Israeli judicial and political establishment “ran away” from examining what he described as the root causes behind the assassination, like rampant incitement. “This is the thing that has bothered me all the years, aside from the murder itself,” he said.
The film’s release coincides with a re-emergence of far-right messianic extremism in the Israeli consciousness, adding to the feeling that little has changed. Anarchistic Jewish zealots are suspected in the arson attack on a Palestinian home in the West Bank village of Duma in late July, killing a toddler and fatally injuring his parents. According to the Shin Bet, the zealots want to bring down the democratic system in Israel and replace it with a kingdom based on the laws of the Torah.
After Mr. Rabin’s assassination, “there was a period when Israelis tried to do some soul-searching,” said Eti Livni, a lawyer, former legislator and a peace activist. “I think over time it has dissipated. The fanatical youth, the fanatical rabbis and the extreme nationalism — they are all coming back.”
Ms. Livni said she had introduced Mr. Gitai to Mr. Shamgar, who helped provide access to the unpublished protocols of his report in the state archives.
For many Israelis on the right who condemned the assassination at the time and felt that they had become the subject of a public witch hunt, revisiting that period is no less disturbing, though some view the episode conversely, saying that their legitimate protest against the Oslo accords has been unfairly branded by the left as incitement.
“Oslo brought a great disaster — thousands of Arabs and Jews were killed because of it,” said Israel Harel, a leading intellectual of the settler movement. “The government and media that supported it needed an alibi. When it blew up in their faces with the suicide bombers, they had to find an out and projected everything onto the other side,” he said.
Mr. Gitai said he did not expect his film to resolve Israel’s differences.
“It will be liked and disliked and create a discussion,” he said. “Sometimes we have to look at history to see where to go.”
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(via NY Times)