§ The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Michael Heseltine)
I am sure that all Members of the House will join me in expressing deep sorrow at the tragic death of Yitzhak Rabin.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, no one has done more for peace in the middle east. Under Rabin's leadership, Israel took the historic decision to pursue land-for-peace and to cease her rule over the Palestinian people. That was a difficult decision, but a right and a brave one. The success of the peace process so far with the Palestinians, and with Israel's neighbours, is very much his achievement and his memorial.
Rabin was a hero for Israel in war and in peace. We join the people of Israel, and Jewish people everywhere, in mourning that great loss.
Britain has every confidence that the peace process will continue under the leadership of Shimon Peres. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary is touring the middle east this week, to reaffirm our support for the peace process and to encourage the countries that he visits to do the same.
§ Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)
On behalf of the Opposition, I echo the Deputy Prime Minister's words in paying tribute to Yitzhak Rabin.
Yitzhak Rabin was a brave soldier, an outstanding leader and a great statesman. The House extends its condolences to his wife Leah and their family at this time of personal grief, and to the whole Jewish community. We share in the universal shock and disbelief that a man so committed to the cause of peace could be taken from us in such a terrible and violent manner.
Yitzhak Rabin took huge personal and political risks in leading Israel down the path to peace, and he paid the ultimate price; without Yitzhak Rabin, the peace process would not have happened. He was a national hero—trusted, respected and admired. Only Rabin, as a military man, could exchange the battlefield for the conference table. He put away his gun and shook hands with his enemy.
Yitzhak Rabin has laid the foundations for a lasting peace between Israel and her neighbours. There is surely no greater testament to the determination of the peoples of that troubled region to live together than the fact that so many Arab dignitaries were among the world leaders attending his funeral today.
The opportunity for peace in the middle east must not, and will not, be lost because of an assassin's bullet. The world will remember Yitzhak Rabin's last words, at Saturday's rally for peace in Tel Aviv:I was a military man for 27 years. I waged war as long as there was no chance for peace. I believe there is now a chance for peace, a great chance, and we must take advantage of it".Israel has lost a distinguished Prime Minister and the world has lost a great worker for peace. May his last words guide those he has left behind and strengthen the peace that he gave his life for.
§ Sir Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup)
I join my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and the 598 deputy Leader of the Opposition in paying tribute to the late Prime Minister of Israel. I got to know him at the time of the six-day war as a soldier and then during his first period as Prime Minister. He always commanded the utmost respect. One admired his integrity and his straightforwardness and one always knew that one could trust him in what he said. It is a great blow to Israel.
It was Yitzhak Rabin's brilliant service as a soldier that later led him into politics and his experience in war led him to work in such a determined way for peace. There is much to be learned from that: those who have prominent positions in war are not, afterwards, those who want still more war. They are the people who want peace.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)
On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I should like to add our expression of sorrow and grief at the death of Yitzhak Rabin. He was a man in whom there was the rare union of physical heroism, moral courage and excellent intellectual judgment—a combination rarely found anywhere, let alone in politicians, soldiers and diplomats. Although he was an elderly man when he died, he nevertheless managed to inspire a young generation of Jews, particularly Jews living in Israel. He will be sorely missed on the world and domestic stage.
§ Mr. Douglas Hurd (Witney)
Perhaps I may add a word to what has already been, worthily, said. A man of war became a man of peace, not because he lost courage, but because he built a new courage on what he had already achieved. In Israel and in London, I watched Yitzhak Rabin build that new dimension to his life. He kept the directness, the frankness, the self-discipline of a military man, but used those talents for success in peace rather than war. His concern was for Israel's safety, not his own safety.
Although it is nothing to do with me, I hope that there will not be too much investigation into the arrangements for Yitzhak Rabin's personal security. For a democratic politician in such a position, the risks are great. He deliberately and rightly ran those risks—for such men, there is no such thing as total security.
Wars nowadays tend to be quick in their results; they are achieved in days or even hours. Peacemaking is long, slow and tortuous; the peacemakers are open to doubts, criticism and assaults of all kinds, as Yitzhak Rabin found. Those who inherit his task will inherit those risks; they have to carry on where he left off. What has been achieved must not be allowed to unravel. I do not think that there is any single task that is more important in the world today.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
I knew Yitzhak Rabin for nearly 30 years and I came to admire and respect his integrity and, at the same time, his flexibility. When, at the beginning of the Palestinian intifada, I suggested to him that the time should come for the Israeli Government to have discussions with the Palestine Liberation Organisation, he at first said that that was not possible. He eventually came to agree that it must be done because, as he said to me when I put the question to him, not only had he never expected the west bank territories that he had conquered as Chief of Staff in 1967 to be retained for a generation by the Israelis, but he did not want those territories to be retained and he did not want his young men in the army to risk their lives to retain them.
599 Yitzhak Rabin would want two things in particular to be placed on record. First, he was a committed socialist who came up in politics through a left-wing affiliate of the Israeli Labour movement, the Achdut Ha'avoda. He was not a chance soldier who happened into politics; he was a complete politician throughout. Secondly, as he put it to me on a number of occasions, he loathed fundamentalist fanaticism. In the past two days, we have seen that Jewish fundamentalist fanaticism can be as evil as Muslim fundamentalist fanaticism. As a Jew, Rabin always knew and acknowledged that fact.
Those of us who love the state of Israel—and I am one who does—must regard it as our duty to work with the majority of good, decent people in Israel in order to extirpate that fanaticism from their country and restore it to total democracy. I think that Rabin would want that, just as I know that he would want the peace process to be brought to a conclusion.
§ Mr. Winston Churchill (Davyhulme)
As one who first met Yitzhak Rabin during the six-day war and later during the Yom Kippur war, I join in the tributes that have been paid to a great Israeli patriot, a distinguished soldier and a great statesman. Valiant in war, he was courageous in peace and, for that, he paid with his life.
Through you, Madam Speaker, we convey to our fellow democracy, the state of Israel, the deep feelings of the entire Parliament and of the nation at what has befallen Israel. As a true democrat, Yitzhak Rabin shunned the added security that is all too often interposed between leaders and the electors and he paid for that risk-taking with his life. The greatest memorial that could be erected to him is the continuation of the peace process, and we wish Shimon Peres, the people of Israel and the people of the middle east well in their endeavour.
§ Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)
To us all, Yitzhak Rabin epitomised a great statesman, leader, soldier and champion of peace. But he was much more than that. He fought for a Jewish state before there was one; he was one of the creators of Israel. He led the in-gathering of the exiles, bringing people—the survivors of the Holocaust—into Palestine and then Israel. Some of us remember how lonely the world was for Jewish people when there was no Jewish state. When that state was established, Yitzhak Rabin led its defence again and again.
Yitzhak Rabin's people trusted him, but his vision was not of war but of peace. Those who knew him know that his vision grew with his stature and with time. He believed in peace for the people of Israel within a peaceful middle east and a peaceful world. The people trusted him on the battlefield, and most of them trusted him on the democratic path to peace. They trusted him with their security and that of their families, especially their children. That trust enabled Yitzhak Rabin to bring his nation along the road to peace.
For those of us who knew Yitzhak Rabin, he was a genial companion. To me, he was a model and a hero: a man who symbolised service to his nation, whatever the risk to himself. It is almost exactly a year since I joined him in Oslo, where he received the Nobel peace prize. In a tranquil half hour, he unwound with a series of cigarettes, saying how weary and how tough the trail to peace was, but how he was determined never to leave it.
I know that all hon. Members join me in sending a message of profound sympathy to Leah Rabin and to her family. To our colleagues in the Knesset—because Israel 600 is one of the rare democracies in that part of the world—to acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who now must bear a double burden, and to his wife, Sonia, who knows that the assassin would not have stopped at Rabin if he had had the chance, we say, in the biblical language of Israel, "Anachnu itchem betsara hameshutaf'—we are with you in a sorrow that we all share.
§ Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)
As chairman of the British-Israel parliamentary group, I should like on behalf of all its members to be associated with the tributes paid to Mr. Rabin.
Since Saturday, the world has been overcome by shock and sadness at the loss of a statesman and a sense of irony that one who sought peace should have been gunned down so brutally.
Yitzhak Rabin's entire life was devoted to the state of Israel. As a young man, he was a member of the Haganah and fought in the war of independence. Subsequently, he was Chief of Staff in 1967. Like Moshe Dayan, the old soldier decided to become a man of peace. He recognised that the only long-term security for Israel lay in the eradication of old bitterness and hatred in the middle east.
The assassination of President Sadat did not derail the peace process between Egypt and Israel. Let us hope that the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin does not derail the peace process in the middle east. The best legacy that he can give the world is the continuation of the peace process.
The world has lost a statesman, Israel has lost a great leader and his family has lost a great man. Our hearts, minds and thoughts are with his family and his people. May God be with them today.
§ Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North)
In joining the tributes to Yitzhak Rabin, I send condolences from the parliamentary Labour party to his widow and family and to all the people of Israel. When I heard the news on Saturday, I was stunned and shocked, as were many people in Britain and throughout the world, that a man who believed in peace as much as Yitzhak did has been taken from us.
As has been said, Yitzhak Rabin was a politician first and a military leader second, but as a great military leader in the eyes of the people of Israel, he led them along the path to peace in a way that no one else could have done. It was not the easiest way to take. As a former soldier, he could no longer foresee that Israel would benefit from continued outbreaks of wars or ever have secure frontiers, so he began to work for peace. Some of what has happened cannot be reversed, but there is still a long way to go.
I hope that, in sending this message to the people of Israel, we inspire all those there who followed the lead of Prime Minister Rabin to redouble their efforts to achieve a peace that will bring security not only to the people of Israel, but to all the Arab states that surround it.
§ Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)
Almost all nations have at some time a statesman who can come to their aid in their hour of need, but it is rare for a nation to have someone who did so twice—first as a brilliant soldier defending Israel in the six-day war, and subsequently as a statesman who was able to further the peace process as only he could do. Only he could give his people the reassurance that he knew and understood their defence needs, while recognising—as everybody who has visited Israel recognises—that ultimately Israel can be defended only by reaching peace with its neighbours.
601 It is a tremendous loss not just for Israel, but for the entire world. I hope that hon. Members will be aware that there is a book of remembrance at the Israeli embassy.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
The sense of desolation and horror that was felt on Saturday night by many of us is difficult to convey. Yitzhak Rabin was a man whom I have known for a long time and, although we speak of statesmen, I think of him as a warm, witty and clever man with a strong sense of commitment. He was a man who understood the needs of Israel at every stage of its development; who fought for it when it was necessary to fight; who was a politician when it was necessary to lead; and who, throughout his career, put Israel first.
I send to my colleagues in the Israeli Labour party and the Knesset my deep condolences and my feeling of utter waste. I strongly believe that the values that Yitzhak Rabin fought for and knew to be paramount will not be allowed to be forgotten; and that, in his name, the future will be a peaceful one for Israel. The people, although they know that they have had reason to fear, were well served by a man of imagination and genius, who will be as sadly missed by his family as by his friends.
§ Mr. Hartley Booth (Finchley)
Many of us have constituents who are now grieving. It is right that we should stand for them and express their grief. Yitzhak Rabin exemplified courage and it is right to praise that. His courage was that of a man who dealt not just with ordinary matters of peace and war, but with deeply entrenched positions that went back centuries. For a man to face those entrenched positions and risk his own life was the epitome of real courage. We praise that in the House today.
When we go back to our constituencies and meet with grief, we should also praise and support the man who will take over from Mr. Rabin, his successor Mr. Peres.
§ Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East)
Yitzhak Rabin was a remarkable man who sought peace and inspired everyone. On behalf of the Scottish National party, I offer our condolences to the people of Israel and the Jewish community throughout the world. Israel's loss is shared by all humanity.
§ Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South)
On behalf of my constituents of all religious backgrounds and the members of the Manchester Jewish community, I thank my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and all right hon. and hon. Members for their generous tributes to Yitzhak Rabin. He fought for his country's freedom and died for his country's peace.
Will my right hon. Friend convey to the Government and people of Israel the fact that the people whom I have mentioned and, I hope, all Members of the House, stand with them at this tragic time? The country will come through this hour and, as we remember this weekend those who gave their lives for our freedom and our peace, we will remember Yitzhak Rabin, who did the same for the people and the nation of Israel.
§ Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green)
In 1967, I had started my secondary schooling at the Jewish 602 Free school in Camden Town. I remember the six-day war as a tense period for all of us in the Jewish community, a community of which I am extremely proud to be a part. In our school, there were many children of officials at the embassy of Israel. Many of the older pupils volunteered to fight with the Israeli defence forces, and during those few days we believed that the very existence of Israel was at stake.
I remember what a hero Yitzhak Rabin was to us and to the whole community. At the beginning of the peace process, when we saw the part that he and the Israeli Labour party played in it, my heart and the hearts of many people in the community were full of pride that such events could take place in our lifetime.
My sympathy and the sympathy of many people in my constituency go to Yitzhak Rabin's widow and family. Also, we extend to the Government of Israel our best wishes for the peace process, in the hope that it will continue and succeed. That would be the surest tribute to the memory of a very, very brave man.
§ Sir Timothy Sainsbury (Hove)
My many right hon. and hon. Friends who are, like me, members of the Conservative Friends of Israel, would like to be associated with the many eloquent tributes paid by both sides of the House to a most remarkable and brave soldier and statesman. Those of us who had the privilege of meeting, talking with and hearing Yitzhak Rabin were as convinced as I am that, when he committed himself to the peace process, he was seeking—as he did with dedication throughout his life—the security of the state of Israel. The achievement of that security through the peace process must be Yitzhak Rabin's best and most lasting memorial.
§ Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)
Reference has already been made to the many right hon. and hon. Members whose constituents will be grieving at this time. Millions of people all over the world will be extremely sad at the events of the weekend.
I met Mr. Rabin in 1991, when the Labour party in Israel was in opposition. I was struck by his total honesty and resilience. The best testimony, and our best hope for the future, is to redouble our efforts in supporting internationally Mr. Rabin's successor and fellow Nobel peace prize winner, Shimon Peres, the people of Israel and the Palestinians in continuing the process of negotiation, dialogue and, we hope, achieving a lasting peace.
§ Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)
The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) referred to Yitzhak Rabin's earlier premiership. My recollection of him goes back to that time, and to his resignation in 1977 over a non-event. Yitzhak Rabin might have retired from politics at that time. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said, Mr. Rabin had a strong political will, founded on his socialist faith. He also had a strong belief in his country. He made the long trek through the political wilderness until he reached the premiership again, in 1992.
The right hon. Member for Hove (Sir T. Sainsbury) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) mentioned the impression that Mr. Rabin made on those who met him. I remember a conversation that I had with Yitzhak Rabin in 1991, when Scud missiles were falling on Tel Aviv. Mr. Rabin told me of a visit that he had made to Denmark and to the castle of Elsinore—made famous by Shakespeare's "Hamlet" and built to withstand 603 invasions from Sweden, just across the water. Yitzhak Rabin asked his Danish friends, "How long were you at war with Sweden?" They answered, "One hundred years." Yitzhak Rabin knew that it would be a long haul to peace in the middle east, but he knew also that if a journey begins with a single step, the journey to peace had to begin with a single stride.
The hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) mentioned that Israel is a democracy. From this democracy and the mother of Parliaments should go the message to Israel that we support her peace process, democracy and people.