Israel rally: We are one people, one heart

JERUSALEM — Tel Aviv came to a standstill Sunday night as more than 250,000 people flocked to the memorial rally for slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Ibn Gvirol Street, one of Tel Aviv's main north-south traffic arteries, was closed to traffic, and the sound of cars was replaced by the sound of thousands of footsteps as a seemingly endless stream of people walked to the square.

An enormous poster of Rabin hung in front of Tel Aviv City Hall with the words "Shalom, Haver," "Goodbye, Friend," the phrase President Bill Clinton used in eulogizing Rabin. Giant video screens and a vast sound system broadcast the events to people who could not get near the stage. Some climbed bus shelters and monuments to get a better view.

Participants at the rally came from all over the country, and although the majority was secular, there were many young religious people as well.

Eighteen-year-old Ofer Landau from Rehovot came with his B'nei Akiva youth group, on a bus with members of the religious scouts and with two left-wing youth groups, Hashomer Hatzair and Noar Meretz.

Dudu Aharoni, a 21-year-old religious man from Ofakim, said he believed many right-wingers stayed away from the rally because "the left might think they have come to give political support."

Tzadik Tzadik, 62, from Ramat Gan, said the enormous crowd was "a show of support for the peace process started by Prime Minister Rabin.

"It's like having a referendum. It shows we want a policy of living together in peace in the Middle East. The awful murder will bring good results for the people of Israel."

There was also a group of religious women from Rishon Lezion. Yael Cohen, 22, said, "It took me a long time to decide whether to come or not. But I am against the violence."

Her friend, Hana, 19, said: "We came to show that in spite of the differences we are one people with one heart."

Amid tight security measures, Rabin's widow, Leah, was the only speaker at the event.

At the ceremony, held after the completion of the seven-day mourning period for Rabin, the city of Tel Aviv renamed the site where the premier was slain only one week earlier "Yitzhak Rabin Square."

Acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who attended the ceremony despite warnings from security officials to stay away, sat far back on the stage, away from the crowd.

In her remarks, Leah Rabin thanked the nation, in particular its youth, for the outpouring of support voiced in the wake of the Nov. 4 assassination.

Addressing the gathering from the same spot from which her husband addressed a peace rally the week before, Leah Rabin said the utmost tribute to him would be the continuation of the peace process.

She called on Peres to continue the work of her late husband.

"I appeal to you, Shimon Peres, to continue to guide the Israeli nation to peace in the path and spirit of Yitzhak," she said.

Rabin, who in the days after the assassination said supporters of her husband's peace policies had not been vocal enough in rejecting the often harsh rhetoric of his critics, returned to the same theme at the rally.

The late prime minister's supporters, she said, had left him "alone in the turret" even in the face of "the writing on the wall, insults and terrible hatred" directed at his peace policies by members of the extreme right.

But, she added, "now the silent majority will be silent no longer."