The cemetery sits, fittingly, atop a hill overlooking Jerusalem's suburbs and surrounding communities. We found Rabin's grave, in the "national leaders" section; Golda Meir is buried two graves down. While all the other graves have identical black-stone monuments, Rabin's stands out, a point of controversy among some, but deeply appropriate, it seems to me, for a man whose martyrdom touched a nation so deeply.
His graveside monument sits atop a foot-high platform. On each of the front two corners of the platform sits a basket filled with stones; according to Jewish tradition, visitors to a grave leave a stone on the monument because the stones' substance is reminiscent of each human's fate and their circular form is reminiscent of the circle of life.
The monument itself is beautifully moving in its simplicity: a stone semi-circle consisting of two distinct halves identical except for color--one is black and the other is white. Rabin's name is etched on the black stone, with the dates of his life etched on the rear. The white stone will mark the grave of Rabin's widow, Leah, when she passes away. In the middle of the semi-circle lies a wreath with a ribbon saying it was a gift from Croatia.
We stood silently for a minute before discussing what we thought of the symbolism of the elegant monument. The two halves could signal the coming together of two peoples, a cause to which Rabin dedicated his later years and for which he was ultimately assassinated. The two halves likewise, we theorized, could symbolize the two divergent halves of Rabin's own self--the fearless military warrior and the equally bold man of peace. After our return home to the U.S., we'd learn another explanation: The white half, made of Jerusalem stone, represents the religious elements of Israeli society, while the black half, of basalt native to Tel Aviv, represents Israel's secular side; together, they symbolize Rabin's bridging of this major divide in Israeli culture.
As Stephanie explored other parts of the cemetery, I remained transfixed by the gravesite, unable to shake the thought that, considering the collapse of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at Camp David, the man whose grave lay before me might have been the only leader able to truly broker an agreement to end the decades of hostility between Israel and its neighbors. The years since Rabin's death have not been kind to Israel, making his assassination all the more heart- wrenching. Since Rabin and Yasser Arafat inaugurated the Oslo peace process, for which Rabin paid with his life, "we have been tearing ourselves apart over this peace process," wrote Jerusalem Report editor David Horovitz. "With every twist and turn, every interim agreement, every bus-bombing and shooting, we have dug deeper into our own mindsets, rejected other viewpoints with ever greater force, justified our own intolerance by observing that the stakes are so high and the consequence of failure, of the wrong decisions, so grave."
And there at Mt. Herzl lay the only person whose credibility and respect could have convinced Jews and Arabs to make the necessary compromises and take the necessary risks to end the perpetual state of war. Instead, Israel's prime minister, from Rabin's own party, was denounced in the Arab world for refusing to surrender to all the Palestinian demands and called a traitor in his own country for offering to give in on many of those same demands.
From our vantage point, it was obvious why splitting this space is so difficult, so emotional; stone upon stone, house upon house, neighborhood upon neighborhood, the Old City seems stiflingly cramped. In maps, the four quarters of the Old City--Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Armenian--are conveniently coded in different colors. But from atop the ramparts of old Jerusalem, we saw only Jerusalem stone, with but oblique clues--the language of signs, the most prominent houses of worship--hinting at which neighborhood lay below. I wondered whether even Rabin could have navigated the Camp David negotiation, though I would like to think he could have--and that some successor to his legacy will do likewise.