Yitzhak Rabin's Lesson

Date: Sun, 5 Nov 2000 04:27:58 -0500 (EST)

Dear All,

"I have only dreams: to build a better world, a world of harmony and understanding, a world in which it is a joy to live. This is not asking for too much."
- Yitzhak Rabin, March 1, 1922-November 4, 1995

Five years ago, Israel's prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, after addressing a crowd of 100,000 that had gathered to show their support for peace, after singing the Song for Peace, was killed by an assassin's bullets. He was murdered by an enemy of peace. The Prime Minister died with the Song for Peace against his chest, soaked with his blood.
As the name of this list, Better World, and much of the philosophy behind it come from his words above, which he spoke to the late King Hussein of Jordan during a joint session of the U.S. Congress, I thought that this evening was an appropriate time for some reflection.
Is it asking for too much, a better world? Harmony and understanding, a world of joy? Five years ago, Yassir Arafat paid a condolence call to the late Prime Minister's widow, Leah, and called Yitzhak his friend. Today, the Prime Minister of Israel and Yassir Arafat do not appear to be on speaking terms, much less friends. Five years ago, many people believed that Oslo would work, that by 1998, there would be a Palestinian state existing in harmony with Israel. It is now November 2000, and there is no Palestinian state. Israeli soldiers and Palestinian policemen were shooting at each other only days ago.
But today in Tel Aviv, up to 150,000 people gathered to remember Yitzhak Rabin, to support peace. Several months ago, for the first time, the Israeli and Palestinian leadership addressed the most difficult issues of the conflict. No, they did not reach an agreement, but at least they discussed these issues, a necessary first step. And despite a series of suicide attacks, despite Netanyahu, despite the recent violence which has left over 150 dead and trust between Israelis and Palestinians at a long-time low, Shimon Peres was able to say at tonight's rally, "Our ship has lost its captain, but it continues on its course," on the course of peace. Efforts are underway to fully end the clashes, and then resume peace talks.
The tree of peace has been planted, and it will not be uprooted, it will not be felled. The better world, the better Middle East, is not here yet. But through all that has gone wrong, it does not seem too much to at least still dream of peace, of justice, of harmony, of understanding.
Of course, the Mideast is just one small part of the world, however large it may loom in the minds of many. Five years ago, I would doubt many of us gave much thought to HIV/AIDS in Africa or in India. Yet even earlier, in 1991, the CIA estimated that by the year 2000, 45 million people worldwide, most in Africa, would be infected with HIV/AIDS. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/world/issues/aidsinafrica/A47234-2000Jul4.html) Today, there are about 40 million people living with HIV/AIDS. The catastrophe the world now faces was foreseen. But the response was indifference, and many millions will pay the ultimate price. The world -- and certainly the Africa -- of 2000 to have been envisioned a decade ago was hellish. And that, for many people, is indeed the world of today.
And the world of tomorrow? Can we still dream of a world of joy when a pandemic turns funerals into a way of life, when mothers must bury their children -- and know that they will soon follow their children to the grave? When the poverty that forms the backdrop of this plague is such that when a visitor brings a home care worker in South Africa two bags of oranges with which she can feed the children she cares for, the home care worker hugs and kisses the visitor, tears in her eyes -- so much do those oranges mean for her?
It is our choice whether we can dream of a world of joy even as today misery is the reality for so many. Because whether years down the road people are still pre-digging graves for their children and crying over a gift of oranges depends on how we live our lives. Do we face those who are suffering, or do we turn our backs on them? Do we open our eyes and our ears, or do we close them? We can dream of a better world, but only if we will work for that world. Yitzhak Rabin dreamed of a better world, and he died trying to create it.
What do we learn from all of this, from the struggle for peace for which Yitzhak Rabin died, from the poverty and disease which, though hidden to most of us in our daily lives, blanket much of our world?
Yitzhak was right. We have to dream.
The surest way to condemn to death the tens of millions of people infected with HIV is to fail to dream that they might yet live. Of course, it will take more than dreaming. It will take hard work, difficult decisions, and even then success it not guaranteed. Israelis and Palestinians who wanted peace did more than dream, they worked. Seven years of negotiations, and there is still no agreement. But there might yet -- will yet -- be an agreement, because people dreamed that peace was possible, and acted on those dreams.
If we dream that the tens of millions who now seem condemned to death from HIV/AIDS will live, then at least there is a chance that they will. If we allow ourselves to picture a world in which they live, then we can begin to figure out how to build that world. It will not be easy, even under the best of circumstances -- even if the international community provides the massive amount of aid necessary to create good health care systems, even if those systems can be well administered and fully staffed, even if steps are quickly taken to train someone in every town and village to be an HIV/AIDS counselor, even if medication is available, even if the national governments treat AIDS with due seriousness, even if educational and economic steps are taken to empower women, even if foreign debt is relieved and the freed money is spent in the best interest of the people. The problem is too complex and has been too long neglected for any quick solutions. But if we condemn those infected to death, if we do not even dream they will live, then surely they will die. And so will many who come after them. Because how can we face such an imposing problem, one of such intricacy and magnitude, if all we can see is death and despair, torment and tears?
But if we dream that those tears of the future will be ones of joy, that parents and children will laugh together rather than cry together, then we will know our destination and yearn to arrive there. Knowing our destination, we can begin our journey. When Yitzhak Rabin started on the path of peace, he had a dream, one of a "better world, a world of harmony and understanding, a world in which it is a joy to live." It was a compelling dream. He lived for it, and he died for it. It is still a compelling dream. And if we share that dream, if it moves us, and if we move toward it, then it is a dream within our reach. It is not asking for too much.



"I have only dreams: to build a better world, a world of harmony and understanding, a world in which it is a joy to live. This is not asking for too much." -- Yitzhak Rabin "Don't say the day will come. Bring the day! Because it's not a dream." -- Shir LaShalom, Song for Peace

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