Wife of Rabin’s Assassin Discusses Relationship, Life

An Orthodox woman, wearing a dark outfit and a hat too big for her, rushes into Café Hillel at a very busy Jerusalem mall. Larissa Trimbobler-Amir smiles apologetically and with a strong Russian accent explains how bad traffic was on her way to Jerusalem.

“It took me 90 minutes to drive from Ramle Prison to the heart of this busy city,” she says.

Her smile and soft voice are immediately appealing. Offered some coffee and cake, she accepts with a gentle gratefulness. She has come to talk about her marriage to Yigal Amir, who is serving a life sentence for the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

The conversation took place before the recent announcement that she is pregnant with her husband’s child.

Asked how she became interested in Amir, she smiles with genuine warmth and begins to talk:

“I was following the case of the assassination of Rabin and was very taken by how this man, Yigal, came across. He accepted all responsibility and did not, in any way, try to unload any of it on someone else.

“His integrity shined out as a force irreducible to circumstances in question and a value he would not compromise,” she says. “I saw someone who acted on his judgment, knowing that it will cost him his life or his liberty.”

This Orthodox mother of four is an immigrant from the former Soviet Union who holds a doctorate of philosophy. A few years ago, before she made the commitment to be the wife of Yigal Amir, she was employed by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and conducting scientific research. Asked what created the closeness between her and her husband, she hesitates and then smiles again, as though expecting some sort of cynicism to be building up.

“I want to say that first and foremost it is our philosophy and ideals that created the closeness,” she says. “I have written my doctorate on the philosophy of the Rambam. I have sent Yigal philosophical books, from Kafka to the Rambam, and we enjoy talking about ideas.

“Yigal did all of this reading to hopefully, one day, help me in my future intellectual endeavors. We talk as much about Rilke and Tolstoy as we do on my children and their homework.

“Whenever my son needs help in reading and understanding a certain chapter in the Bible, he waits for Yigal to call, and they do the work together,” she continues. “My daughters, who are 15 and 17, also have a close relationship with him. They all have met with him in prison and have grown to respect and like him very much.”

Asked if the relationship with Amir does not hurts them socially, she responds, “No. Not at all. In the Orthodox community, we find a lot of warmth and support. People might not agree with the killing of Rabin, but they do understand where Yigal was coming from.

“People always ask me how he is doing and if there is something he needs that they could help with,” she says. “As for the non-Orthodox people around, other than the media, I never encountered any hate or verbal disapproval regarding my relationship with him. The only words of hatred came from the media.”

Trimbobler-Amir expresses no bitterness or negativity, even when she talks about how hard it is for her financially, now that she is no longer employed by the Hebrew University.

After receiving a phone call from her daughter, with whom she speaks in Russian, Trimbobler-Amir excuses herself but invites her interviewer to visit her at her home in Jerusalem.

On this second visit, all her children are home. Trimbobler-Amir’s mother, who lives with them to help with the children, lives in a small room at the back of the house. The smell of home cooking and wood burning fills the small living room.

“It took me years to get to see Yigal” Trimbobler-Amir says. “I don’t know if you know that it was not easy at all. After our correspondence was going on for two years and I was already very close with his family, I was granted permission to visit him. His mother, Geula, is a very loving and caring woman. From the beginning, she was so grateful to have me there for Yigal. So happy and supportive.”

When asked about their first meeting and how he proposed, she again gives a gentle laugh of discomfort.

“Well, it was not as though we were strangers in any way,” she explains. “Our first meeting was after hours of talking on the phone and hundreds of letters written. He was everything I hoped he will be. Very calm and thoughtful and totally not self-centered.

“He talked about the hardships I might be facing and helped in giving me the strength to not be threatened by it,” Trimbobler-Amir reveals. “He asked about my children and how they are doing with school work and kids their own age. Also, he told me that he was going to study Russian on his own and wanted me to send him the right books.

“By now, he is fluent in the language and has already translated a book I have written in Russian to Hebrew. Now we have to get the court to grant me permission to get it out of prison. I need to find someone who can read the translation and declare that no hidden words of propaganda were implanted into it.

“The court, however, first has to agree that the man is acceptable by the justice system,” she says. “More and more and forever more complications.”

The phone rings. It is Yigal Amir. He agrees to speak to this reporter. I introduce myself, and he says jokingly that I must know who he is, but in case I don’t, his name is Yigal. After a very short pause, I ask him to explain why he felt that killing Rabin was justified and if he, in any way, regrets it.

“No, I can not regret it,” Yigal Amir says. “It was not a wish of mine or a momentary feeling of no conclusive reasoning behind it. It was my conviction, and I still think it was right. If not for my act, to cut a long story short, you would have had to negotiate peace when the Palestinians were already in your backyard.

Will Sharon Share Rabin’s Fate?

Nov. 4 marks the ninth anniversary of the single-worst moment in Israel’s history: the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. With hindsight — although many recognized it at the time — it is clear that the Rabin murder achieved the goal of its perpetrator.

The assassin, and those who encouraged him, wanted to end the Oslo process. They understood that Rabin was uniquely equipped to achieve the exchange of the West Bank and Gaza Strip for security and peace. They believed that unless he was stopped, the old warrior would take Israel out of the territories, a Palestinian state would arise there and Israel’s isolation (an isolation the extremists welcome) would be over.

So they murdered him and, within a very short time, the peace process was in tatters while Israel’s control of the West Bank and Gaza — and over the lives of nearly 4 million Palestinians — was stronger than ever. Mission accomplished.

This pattern — an assassin eliminates his target and thereby alters fundamental policies — is not common. President Kennedy’s murder traumatized America (perhaps permanently) but the policies he pursued were implemented by his successor, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. LBJ never missed an opportunity to say “let us continue” or to invoke his martyred predecessor as a means of building support for their shared policies.

Unlike Rabin’s, Kennedy’s murder was not political. He was, most likely, murdered by a single unbalanced individual whose agenda, if he had one, remains unknown. He was probably not trying to thwart Kennedy’s programs and the assassination had no such effect. In fact, it had the opposite effect.

It was Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s assassination that foreshadowed Rabin’s; he was murdered by Islamic extremists who opposed peace with Israel. They hoped that Sadat’s successor, Vice President Hosni Mubarak, would repudiate the peace treaty and Sadat’s legacy. They were wrong — 22 years have passed and Sadat’s policy is firmly in place.

There is a certain irony here. Until Rabin’s assassination, and the ensuing collapse of the peace process, a staple of the pro-Israel argument was that Israel had to be very cautious about signing treaties with undemocratic Arab nations like Egypt. After all, it was argued, a single bullet could eliminate Sadat and leave Israel in a situation where it relinquished territory only to have some radical new leader repudiate the treaty and revert to the war policies of the past. It was only in a democracy like Israel that continuity between governments was guaranteed.

It didn’t turn out that way. Egypt’s policies were unchanged by an assassination while Israel’s were up-ended.

The lesson is that in Israel assassination can achieve what politics can not.

So it is no surprise that so many people in Israel are worried that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon might be assassinated to stop the withdrawal from Gaza. Shimon Peres, leader of the Labor opposition, said this week that the atmosphere in Israel today resembles the period just prior to Rabin’s murder. “I am very fearful of the incitement, from the grave things that are being heard,” he said. “I hope the defense establishment … is keeping a close eye on Sharon.”

There is no doubt that it is keeping an eye on him. But Sharon will be in danger right up to the moment that the last settler has left Gaza, because the Rabin precedent demonstrates that eliminating just one man can eliminate the policy.

The fact is that withdrawing from Gaza should not be a big deal. The overwhelming majority of Israelis want out. Even before Oslo, most Israelis said that they would happily give Gaza to the Palestinians. Unlike the West Bank, Gaza is of no religious significance and, in contrast to the West Bank with its 200,000 settlers, only 7,000 Jews live in Gaza. It should not be hard to get them out, once a prime minister has decided to evacuate.

And that is precisely why a Sharon failure to achieve implementation would be so significant. If Sharon is unable to get out of Gaza, imagine how difficult it would be for a future prime minister to get out of the West Bank.

The resistance to Gaza withdrawal — with its threats on the prime minister and calls on soldiers not to follow orders — suggests that the very idea of Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank could become moot.

Even without the assassination threats, the hysteria provides ample evidence that a minority of Israelis who love the “Land of Israel” more than the “State of Israel” are ready to block territorial compromise using any means they can.

Sad to say, some American Jews are joining them. Morton Klein’s right-wing Zionist Organization of America (always ready to fight to the last Israeli) not surprisingly opposes Sharon’s plan, but even the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations has refused to formally back it.

For some supporters of the peace process, Gaza withdrawal seems far from earthshaking. It’s only Gaza and it does not solve Israel’s demographic problem or end the war with the Palestinians.

But Sharon’s enemies know that everything is riding on it. They understand that Sharon’s success in getting out would not make Israeli-Palestinian peace inevitable but only possible. But they also understand that stopping the Gaza withdrawal would preclude any possibility of peace, perhaps forever. After all, if compromise over the West Bank is foreclosed as an option, Palestinians will have nothing to negotiate about. That is why the extremists will stop at nothing to thwart Sharon. They will do virtually anything to prevent negotiations that would result in compromise.

None of this makes Sharon a dove. He is who he always was: a man of the right, probably as unwilling to get out of the West Bank as his opponents. Nevertheless, all those — Israeli, Palestinian, American — who want to see Rabin’s dream realized have no choice but to hope that Sharon prevails. And survives.

M.J. Rosenberg, director of policy analysis for Israel Policy Forum, is a longtime Washington staffer and former editor of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s Near East Report.

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