A few weeks ago, while filming outside the knesset, my cameraman, Lior Cohen, and I came across a small protest. The protesters carried signs with Yigal Amir’s name, and it made me curious to see what it was all about. As we approached, a petite woman stepped out of the crowed to greet me. She said her name was Larisa Trembovler and I realized that I was speaking to the wife of Yigal Amir, the man who assassinated Israel’s prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. I took the opportunity to interview her:
What is the point of this protest?
Yigal Amir is being denied his basic rights as a prisoner.
How are his rights being denied?
He has only one son, who is 11 years old, and we and Yigal’s parents are never allowed to see him and to talk to him by telephone.
But you do talk to him by telephone. There was a whole documentary about him talking to you and his son a few years ago.
Yeah, yeah, you’re right. But now in this period, it’s been more than four months that he is not allowed to talk to us at all. The Israeli authorities have found an excuse to not let him speak to us.
What’s the excuse?
They claim he spoke to a blogger and they say that this is a political activity and he’s not allowed. But him speaking about his life to a blogger is not political.
We have formed a movement to get the Yigal Amir law (that was passed in 2001) cancelled. This is not a legal law. Israel doesn’t have a law that says that a person who murdered another person will sit in jail for the rest of his life. The most you get is 25 to 30 years, but with Yigal it’s different. Even Arab terrorists who murdered Israelis are released after they served their time. Why is Yigal any different? Is the blood of terrorist victims more important than that of a prime minister?
(Ed. note: Yigal Amir contacted right wing rapper “The Shadow,” in hopes of having him take part in a new political party. The rapper said he had no interest in speaking and dealing with someone like him. On Dec. 19, 2001, the Knesset approved the Yigal Amir Law, which prohibits a parole board from recommending pardon or shortening time in prison for the murderer of a prime minister.)
This a rare case of a man who murdered a prime minister, that’s also something that never happened before.
Look, what happened didn’t happen under normal circumstances. Everything that happened back then, during the Oslo agreements wasn’t a normal time period. Rabin went against the wishes of at least half of the people. He disregarded all of the protests and voices that opposed him. He went through with a very undemocratic process and people forget that now, or pretend to forget. Yigal Amir was a very normal person. He did what he did out of despair.
That makes very little sense to me. You can’t excuse a murder because of that. Murder is not a legitimate political tool in a democracy.
I’m not saying it’s legitimate, but half of the people in this country felt that the country is headed into an abyss. He didn’t do it because he was a fanatic. He did it because day after day people were dying here. There were constant horrific terrorist attacks. There was a feeling that this country was in imminent danger.
The elections were a few months to a year away, why not wait and have Rabin lose in a democratic way?
Because the left wanted to try and pass everything before the elections and if that would have happened, no Israeli government would have dared and renege on existing agreements.
So this is your justification to the murder?
This is the reason why a man would do everything he can to stop the murder of more people. There are times when a man sacrifices everything to save others. He knew he was either going to be killed or sit in jail.
What you’re describing sounds to me like a shahid (a martyr).
Maybe. Maybe it does.
So basically he’s no different than a Hamas or PLO terrorist?
No, no. I think you need to really look at what the goal was. Blowing up a bus means trying to terrorize people. That’s terror.
And shooting someone in the back to terrorize a nation isn’t terror?
Look, Rabin was the main person. People thought of him as if he was Mr. Security. But he didn’t provide security.
We can argue about what he did or didn’t do, but this is a democratic country, murder is not a way to settle political disagreements.
In a democracy, you can’t just win an election and do whatever you want.
Actually, yes you can. If your side wins and you want to pass laws, as long as you can legally, then that’s how it works. That has always been the case here.
But not when it comes to such drastic decisions, like giving back land.
Menachem Begin gave back land during the Egyptian peace process, should he have been murdered?
It wasn’t the same thing. There were protests against giving back Yamit, but it wasn’t a crucial part of our land, that would affect the future generations of this country.
Do you think your husband will ever be released?
I really hope so. He should be released like every other prisoner. We should all be equal in the eyes of the law. The blood of a prime minister isn’t redder than that of every other citizen. Why is this murder worse than a murderer killing someone? We should all be equal in the eyes of the law. I also want to point out that when it comes to the murder, there are many issues.
Are we really going to get into the whole conspiracy that he didn’t do it?
He pulled the trigger. However…
Did your husband kill Yitzhak Rabin?
No, no he didn’t. He attempted to assassinate him. He did shoot, but it looks like he didn’t die from those bullets.
And how do you know that?
These are things that I always also thought to be false, but I changed my mind.
And what does Yigal say? Does he admit to murdering Rabin or not?
He doesn’t know. He had the motivation to do it. He didn’t necessarily want to kill him. He wanted to disconnect him from political life. To take him out of the game.
We are going around in circles here. Did your husband, Yigal Amir, murder the prime minister of Israel?
He doesn’t know. He shot him. After the first bullet, he saw him starting to fall. He then shoots again, by the time he finishes shooting the third bullet, everyone jumped him, so he didn’t see what happened. Do you understand what I am saying?
I do, but you’re really just voicing conspiracy theories and trying to pass them off as something legitimate, which they are not.
Let’s move on. Many blame current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the incitement that led to the murder. Was your husband influenced by Netanyahu to murder Rabin?
No, no, no, no. There isn’t any issue of incitement here. This didn’t influence him at all. This is all nonsense. It’s simply a political agenda to try and pin it on Netanyahu and bring him down. Yigal wasn’t the only one who wanted to stop this process. Half of the nation was against it. They viewed it as a disaster. This wasn’t motivated by incitement. No one told him to go and do it. He decided to do it on his own. He never said that he wasn’t responsible for it or that someone else sent him. This was his decision.
Did your husband change the face of Israeli democracy?
First of all, there was never any democracy here.
What do you mean? Israel isn’t democratic?
Look, I came to Israel from the former Soviet Union. They also claimed to be a democracy and there wasn’t any. I’m not saying it’s exactly the same here, but there are elements of that. My husband has been held in solitary confinement for the last 24 years. According to international agreements that Israel has also signed off on, holding anyone for more than three years in solitary confinement is considered torture. He has been held for the past 24 years. There isn’t any other person who has been held for this long.
Yigal Amir has been a taboo issue in Israel for the past 24 years. Anyone who speaks about him can lose their job and be considered a pariah. I want Israeli society to have an honest discussion about everything that happened back then, not hide from how Oslo passed and what happened as a result, really deal with this issue. Why are they trying to silence anyone who wants to discuss these issues? Why is my husband being silenced and not being allowed to speak to anyone? What are they so afraid of? I am against political violence. If back then (during Oslo) people in Israel were allowed to speak against the agreements in a way that they would have been listened to, all of this would have never happened.
Yigal Amir elicits many strong emotions from people in Israel and abroad. I spent several weeks contemplating whether or not I wanted to publish this interview. There’s no denying that Yigal Amir is a murderer and a terrorist. The facts give no credence to any rumours or conspiracy theories around this. Amir injured us as a nation, inflicting a deep cut on our psyche, shattering our perception of unity, hopes of long-awaited peace, and even what we Jews are capable of.
However, there’s also no denying that Amir has spent an inordinate amount of time in solitary confinement and held to a different standard in his communications – certainly more so than Palestinian terrorists. For comparison’s sake, Palestinian master terrorist Marwan Barghouti was convicted for the murder of dozens of Israelis in six different terror attacks. Yet he enjoys a much more comfortable lifestyle in Israeli prison.
The impact of the night on Nov. 4, 1995 still reverberates in Israeli society today. After covering the Israeli election for almost a year now, I realized that Israel’s society is deeply fragmented. The murder of Rabin is a major reason for that. The path to healing as a nation is not to censor and avoid discussion about the time and the murder. Now more then ever, there needs to be an honest and open dialogue about why and how it all happened, and how to unify and move forward.
This interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity