'He lived as a soldier. He died as a soldier of peace'

The world's leaders gathered to mourn Yitzhak Rabin. Patrick Cockburn reports from Jerusalem Grief unites Israeli political factions
Click to follow
At two o'clock, as Mr Rabin's body reached Mount Herzl where he was to be buried, a siren sounded across Jerusalem. Cars stopped and drivers got out. People on buses stood in silence for two minutes.

On the Mount itself, most of the mourners looked young - many of them teenagers - though one old man, who arrived too late, was waving his army papers, saying that he had fought beside Mr Rabin 50 years ago. The crowds were quiet, as if still shocked and bewildered by the Prime Minister's assassination two days' before.

Helicopters bringing President Clinton and other leaders clattered overhead. Mr Clinton wore a black kippa, or skull-cap. He was accompanied by former presidents Jimmy Carter and George Bush, by John Major, President Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

President Mubarak of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan were also there, making their first visits to Israel. Last night they were talking to Shimon Peres, the acting Prime Minister, about how to preserve the momentum - or maybe even capture the new momentum - for peace in the Middle East.

In a day of many eulogies, the mood was perhaps best captured by King Hussein, who spoke, haltingly but elegantly, of his surprise at finding himself in the heart of the former enemy's camp, sincerely mourning an old adversary.

The King said: "He was a man of courage, a man of vision, and he was endowed with one of the greatest virtues that any man can have. He was endowed with humility." He continued: "You lived as a soldier. You died as a soldier for peace, and I believe it is time for all of us to come out openly and to speak of peace."

President Clinton said: "Legend has it that in every generation of Jews, from time immemorial, a just leader emerged to protect his people and show them the way to safety. Prime Minister Rabin was such a leader."

Some 4,500 mourners stood beneath the pines and cypress trees of the Mount Herzl National Cemetery where Rabin's wooden coffin was lowered into a sandy grave. Eytan Haber, Rabin's aide and friend of 35 years, read from the blood-soaked song sheet Rabin had in his pocket when he was killed. "So sing the song of peace, don't whisper a prayer. It is better to sing the song of peace with a great shout."

Rabin's son Yuval said kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead. Many of the mourners were reduced to tears as Rabin's 18-year-old granddaughter, Noa Ben-Artzi Philosof, delivered a wrenching farewell. "Great men have already eulogised you but no one has felt like I have, the caress of your warm and soft hands ... and your half-smile which always told me so much. I harbour no feelings of revenge because the pain, and my loss, are too great." The only harsh words of the day came from Yigal Amir, 27, the law student who shot Rabin dead with two dum-dum bullets as he left a peace rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday night. He explained in court: "The entire nation didn't pay attention to the fact that a Palestinian state was being created." He said he "acted alone, but maybe with God". Police believe, however, that he was helped more materially by his brother Hagai, who has also been charged and who is said to have given Yigal 20 bullets. For the moment the assassination has silenced the Israeli right, which is frightened that its verbal violence will be seen as having provided encouragement to Amir. Settlers on the West Bank, never popular in Israel, also fear it will be difficult for th em to gain sympathy as the Israeli army withdraws from the main Palestinian towns over the next two months. The peace process, about which Israelis had been evenly divided, is suddenly, maybe temporarily, popular, as it is seen as Mr Rabin's political legacy. Mr Rabin's transformation into a martyr for Israeli-Palestinian peace has been rapid, aided by the repeated tributes of world leaders. Mr Peres said: "Goodbye, older brother. We will continue to carry the message of peace as you wanted in your life and bequeathed in your death." After the funeral in a television interview, he insisted Israel would resume its promised withdrawal from the West Bank this morning: "We stopped for a couple of days for the funeral. But it was for the man who led the peace, not a funeral for the peace. " He was not as specific when asked whether a new proposal was in the works regarding the Golan Heights, taken from Syria in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. "We are very serious in our attempt to make peace with Syria," he said. At a bus stop at the edge of an ultra-orthodox suburb of Jerusalem four women sat staring straight ahead, the tracks of tears drying on their cheeks. Vora Bar-el was still crying. "I never thought there was a Jew who could kill another Jew like this," she said. "Rabin killed many people and I guess he had to expect this. But oh, it's awful." In an empty office, Yogit Shashani, 22, worried for the future of Israel. "I don't know if Peres will continue the peace process," she said. "He's not a strong man like Rabin was." The solemn mood in West Jerusalem extended into the Palestinian side of the city. Rabin had few admirers in East Jerusalem, but many people support the process he began. "Death is never a good thing, no one is happy about the death of Mr Rabin, the human being," said Munther Caqqaq, 29. "But we cannot forget the orders Mr Rabin gave during the intifada. We remember the live bullets fired into peaceful crowds."