Leah Rabin certain of one thing: her husband did not die in vain

JERUSALEM — Leah Rabin sits in the sunlit living room of the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem. She is dressed in a black wool pantsuit; the outfit is brightened by her trademark gold jewelry. Sipping lemonade, she seems tired, charming, sad and friendly.

The shiva (seven-day mourning period) was "extremely difficult for me," she recalls, "but somehow I survived those seven days, though I'm not really sure how."

Rabin said she shook 3,000 hands during the shiva in her home, and shook hands with many more outside her home. Also, "I was on two phones at once, talking all the time. This went on from early morning until late at night. Mail? It's passed the 100,000 mark. How does one acknowledge all this emotion?"

Now Rabin is seeing close friends and associates. "People come and talk to me about every topic under the sun and that's good because it's distracting. For example, [Israeli artist] Yigal Tumarkin came the other day, and we got into a long and lively argument about art. On the other hand, I'm starting to wonder about myself. I don't think I've really begun to mourn, cope or realize what has happened to me."

A throng of visitors still petition Rabin for an audience these days.

Noa Ben-Artzi Filosof, the Rabins' 17-year-old granddaughter who delivered an exceptionally moving eulogy at the prime minister's funeral, will remain in Israel, serving her army duty.

"I think Noa has come to symbolize an element of the tragedy here, the bereavement felt by the young people in this country at the loss of their prime minister. Noa is still quite sad, still under the spell of the loss."

But Rabin's own attempt to temper her consistently decorous public role with her deep pain and anger did not go unnoticed. On the receiving line at the state funeral, she was noticeably warm or frosty, patient or agitated, depending on who appeared before her.

Recalling her demeanor at the funeral, Rabin said, "Look. Here I am at this terrible moment in my life, under pressure to shake all the hands of all those people. I am conscious of the fact that there were hands which belong to people who had consistently said horrible things against my husband.

"I did shake [Likud leader] Bibi Netanyahu's hand as well as Mr. [Likud faction chairman Moshe] Katzav's. I also shook [Likud MK] Benny Begin's hand, although I told him, `I'm doing this to honor the memory of your late parents.'

My husband didn't [simply] die," Rabin asserted. "He was killed. And he wasn't killed by lightning either. He was murdered. And I think [songwriter] Yonatan Gefen put it beautifully and correctly when he wrote a `letter' to my husband: `We all killed you, but just one murdered you."'

Rabin does not subscribe to the theory that Yigal Amir was a lone psychotic who should be held solely responsible for her husband's death.

She dismisses the dramatic televised plea by the confessed assassin's mother Geula Amir for Rabin's forgiveness.

"I'm not interested, not in him or his family."

She feels differently about Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasser Arafat, who paid a condolence call to her Tel Aviv home.

"Having Arafat in my house on his first visit to Israel is a symbol of the wonderful thing that has happened since the handshake on Sept. 13, 1993 in Washington," she said.

"Arafat was very warm and sincere," Rabin added. "He kissed all of us: me, my children. `My sister', he called me."

Rabin is certain of one thing: "Yitzhak Rabin did not die in vain." She realized this, she said, "on the evening we had returned home from my husband's funeral and I saw young people standing there in silent harmony by the hundreds. They just stood there crying, with candles and so forth, and it was the most moving sight.

"I felt their pain, their connection with Yitzhak, and I thanked them for coming. And that is when I said quite spontaneously that I was sorry they had not come before, during his lifetime. And since then I keep saying and hoping that people who support my husband's policies will not be silent."