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"A martyr for peace' // Israelis wonder what ties now bind

Yitzhak Rabin's final testament was the blood-stained verses of a song for peace.

Rabin sang the anthem at a peace rally in Tel Aviv Saturday night. Then he carefully folded the words and placed the paper in his jacket pocket. Minutes later, he was shot.

On Monday, a shaken world said its goodbyes to the prime minister in a sun-washed pine grove, laying him to rest with the praise of presidents _ the greatest assembly of foreign leaders ever in Israel _ and the tears of a granddaughter.

The country itself was trying to comprehend how one of its own citizens, a right-wing extremist opposed to Rabin's peacemaking with the Palestinians, had shot him to death at a peace rally.

Rabin was buried with full military honors on Mount Herzl, named for Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism and visionary of the modern Israeli state. Hisgravesite overlooks the city where he was born 73 years ago.

His aide, Eitan Haber, spoke last at the ceremony and read the lyrics from the song sheet, stained red with blood.

"Let the sun rise and give the morning light," Haber read. ". . . Do not whisper a prayer _ better sing a song for peace. . . .

"Yitzhak, we already miss you."

One in five Israelis _ 1-million people _ had filed past the flag-draped casket at the parliament building in the 22 hours it had lain in state. But it was the host of world leaders attending his funeral that testified to the authority of the slain prime minister, a warrior who looked beyond his years on the battlefield to make peace with some of Israel's most intractable enemies.

The dozens of dignitaries from the Arab world who put aside their most fundamental differences with Israel to attend his funeral proved how radically Rabin helped change the face of the Middle East.

Yet from Brooklyn and South Florida synagogues to West Bank settlements, Jews searched their souls, asking whether the rhetoric of hate that has accompanied the peace process led to the murder.

"This is not the act of a loner or a madman," said Moshe Halbertal, a philosopher and lecturer in Jewish thought at the Hebrew University. "This deed has roots in an ideology that delegitimized the government, that put the sanctity of the (holy) land above any value of human life."

The 1967 conquest of Jerusalem's holy sites and the West Bank spurred messianic sentiments among large sections of Israel's modern orthodox population.

While secular Israelis simply aspired to become a "nation among nations," as Zionist leader Herzl once put it, religious-nationalist Jews _ as they increasingly began to call themselves _ have a grander vision.

They see present-day Israeli democracy paving the way to a restoration of the ancient Jewish religious monarchy, governed by religious law and centered in the ancient biblical heartland of Israel _ Jerusalem and the Arab-populated West Bank.

No part of the land, viewed as their God-given legacy, is to be relinquished for peace deals. Jewish settlement in the West Bank is the order of the day.

"When your mindset is messianic, you can't accept a historical compromise," Hebrew University Bible scholar Avi Ravitzsky has noted.

For months, some Jewish "people of the book" in the United States, Israel and elsewhere had coupled their criticism of the peace process with savage attacks on the Israeli leader, calling him a murderer, a traitor and even a Jewish Hitler.

Many Jewish leaders, regardless of political persuasion, are beseeching all to recognize the sincerity of their opponents. For those schooled in Jewish history, the trouble has recalled painful biblical precedents in which disunity among Jews led to their national downfall.

And they wonder what happens next if the rhetoric goes unchecked. More killings? An end to the peace process? Civil war among Jews?

"What has become of us, people of Israel? We should give up the land. We should give up everything only to avoid a situation such as this," said Eliezer Botavia, a resident of Kiryat Arba, a suburb of Hebron and a bastion of religious extremism.

"I'm sorry, I ask for forgiveness. If I spoke ill. If I uttered bad words. They were just words spoken in anger, in concern for the people of Israel. But to murder, to take the blood of a man among men?"

And yet, the slain prime minister had lain in the ground for little more than an hour when Israelis broke into a graveside shouting match over his peace policies.

The fight started after the dignitaries, police and cameras had left, and the cemetery opened to the public. Hundreds swarmed to the wreath-covered grave to lay bouquets and light candles.

A soldier read from the Book of Psalms and the crowd joined in to say Amen.

But shouts soon drowned out the prayers after one man reportedly said that the assassin should also have killed Rabin's successor, Shimon Peres.

Others yelled about the impropriety of the dispute and called for unity after Rabin's death.

Fourteen-year-old Revital Rosen burst into tears.

"I want peace, but how can we reach it when we only fight among ourselves," she asked.

"Utopianists, leftists," snarled someone behind her.

Yigal Amir, who confessed to shooting Rabin, said he acted because the prime minister planned to give land back to the Arabs.

"I didn't want to stop the peace process, since there is no such concept as the peace process," he said in court.

"This is a process of war."

Without even bringing up the topic, Rabin's granddaughter repudiated people with those views by talking about the man only she knew.

"Pardon me that I don't want to speak about peace but about my grandfather," said 18-year-old Noa Ben Artzi as she stood before his coffin on the slopes of Mount Herzl.

"Very few people knew you truly. They can talk about you, but I feel they know nothing about the depth of the pain, the disaster and, yes, this holocaust, for _ at least for us, the family and the friends, who are left only as the camp, without you, our pillar of fire."

"Ones greater than I have eulogized you, but none knew the softness of your caress as I, or that half-smile of yours that always said everything, the smile that is no longer there.

"You were, and still are, our own private hero."

Tears streamed down her cheeks as she left the lectern. She was comforted by her brother, Yonatan, dressed in an paratrooper's uniform and red beret.

The U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, said Rabin's murder makes President Clinton fear for "the kind of environment in which a rhetoric of hatred seeps into the debate and becomes seen, at least by extremists, as acceptable."

"Your prime minister was a martyr for peace, but he was a victim of hate," Clinton said in his eulogy.

"Surely we must learn from his martyrdom that if people cannot let go of the hatred of their enemies, they risk sowing the seeds of hatred among themselves."

Rabin's widow, Leah, dressed in black, stoically welcomed visiting dignitaries but finally broke down, sobbed and buried her head at the sight of the coffin.

"I think the cold-blooded murder of this man, who made such a gigantic contribution to the peace process, will shock many people and perhaps . . . be a turning point in the public conscience," she had told a crowd outside her home.

She blamed right-wing incitement for her husband's death. She included members of parliament among the guilty, saying it was difficult for her to shake their hands during the vigil.

"There was one Knesset member who, when he passed, I told him, "It's too late.' "

To Ehud Sprinzak, Israel's leading expert on Jewish extremism, the assassination is a seminal event in Israel's history, a fall from grace and the realization that "there is intense violence, Jewish violence" possible in the country.

"This is an unprecedented experience in the history of our country _ nothing even close to it has ever happened before," said Sprinzak, a professor at the Hebrew University.

For centuries it was accepted wisdom that the Jews would not hurt other Jews, said Sprinzak, adding that the Jewish people survived in diaspora adhering to that principle and carried it over to the founding of Israel. Now, some wonder, is that feeling splintering?

Throughout Florida, the assassination was a constant topic.

"The hope is that all sides will coalesce in the middle and support the peace process," said Rabbi Gary Glickstein of Beth Sholom Temple in Miami Beach.

"The fear is that this will focus more fear and less leadership on Israel like what happened in this country after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln."

In a day of raw emotion, Rabin's successor, Peres, saw a gleam of hope in the gathering of world leaders. "This is the crowning glory of your efforts, all of us here together," Peres said. "The man who murdered you will not be able to murder the idea that you carried."

The funeral began with a two-minute siren that wailed throughout the country in tribute. Life came to a standstill at the sound of its wail. Drivers stopped their cars, got out and stood in silence.

Eight army generals and police chiefs loaded the casket on an army truck covered with black wood. The vehicle drove slowly to the cemetery.

Israelis mobbed the cortege route to say farewell, including hospital patients who ran toward the street in their robes.

A shy man, Rabin was thrust into the prime minister's job by the resignation of Golda Meir in 1974, and in a second term that began in 1992, made peace with the PLO. For that step, he won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize, sharing it with Peres and PLO leader Yasser Arafat.

Arafat did not come to Jerusalem for the funeral. His presence likely would have set off protests in Israel, so he watched the funeral on TV from his Gaza City office.

Rabin's assassination "must not give a chance for the fanatic enemies of the peace process to achieve their goals," Arafat said. "And we have to continue together."

After the eulogies, Rabin's coffin was carried about 200 yards to the gravesite. A rabbi intoned the prayer, "God, Full of Mercy."

Peres and other dignitaries put wreaths at the grave, and hundreds of Israelis left flowers and pebbles, a Jewish mourning custom.

Sen. Edward Kennedy comforted Rabin's widow, then got down on his knees at the edge of the grave. From a small paper bag, he took handfuls of dirt that he had carried from the graves of his brothers John and Robert and sprinkled it on the casket.

Dust to dust.