A CITY MOURNS : FAREWELL TO A PEACEMAKER : In Jerusalem, Heartache Binds People of All Faiths


Amir Zilka, a Jew, remembered him with Psalms at the Western Wall. Omran Siyam, a Muslim, prayed for him at the Dome of the Rock. Sister Katrina, a Christian, lighted candles to his memory in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Thus did common purpose settle over the holiest places of three great religions Monday in the fractured city that is the cradle of their faith.

It was the parting gift of Yitzhak Rabin, the warrior who died making peace.

At 2 o’clock on a crystal afternoon, sirens screamed a nation’s pain. Then began Rabin’s funeral, and with it came a fragile unity of misery among the people of a capital city where he ruled in quicksilver search of a better tomorrow.


The people who live in the storied alleyways of Old Jerusalem shared a grief that touched all communities.

In a city cursed by the centuries to be less than the sum of its parts, all stand to lose by Rabin’s death.

“For the first time since the 1967 war, there is something on which the great majority of Israelis and Palestinians can agree. Rabin’s death was terrible for both of us,” said shopkeeper Munir Barakat in Arab East Jerusalem.

Zilka, a young community worker, came from a town near Tel Aviv to pray at the Western Wall of King Solomon’s temple.

“Many people loved Rabin, and even if they didn’t he was still leader of the country. It’s shocking to think of Jew against Jew. Now we must start again from the beginning,” Zilka said.

Siyam, a Palestinian and a retired police officer, went to a service at the Dome of the Rock with his brothers. They had praying to do.

“People are fed up with fighting. Perhaps something good can come of it. Jews, Muslims, Christians--different names, but we all believe in that same great Supreme Being. I prayed for Rabin today,” said Siyam.

So did his brother Slim, who emigrated long ago to the United States and is visiting from Arcadia.

“People were very upset in my brothers’ family when they heard of the murder. Some cried,” said Slim Siyam. “Rabin did good things for this land. He was the first Israeli leader who dared to put himself in jeopardy by trying to find peace.”

Said Father Rafael, a Coptic Orthodox priest at Holy Sepulcher: “Here we are praying for a man who gave his life for peace.”

As the funeral began Monday, a quiet fell over the Old City, where flags drooped at half-staff.

Shopkeeper Mohammed Lasa dragged an antenna-less television set into a steep alley to watch flickering images of the funeral cortege.

“A sad day for we Arabs who are against violence and for peace,” said Lasa.

There was only a skeleton staff at Holy Sepulcher and the nearby Lutheran church, because the priests and pastors were watching the funeral on TV or attending it.

Israeli police in olive drab lounged with their rifles on ancient stone steps, the young officers gossiping about Rabin’s murder. When the sirens announced a national moment of silence at 2 p.m., 11 men and a boy were praying at the Western Wall. There were 10 women at their own segregated part of the wall.

They all stood in frozen tableau, as did the tourists and police, when the sirens rang. One religious Jew, an old man in black, made a statement of protest by walking through the plaza facing the wall while everybody watched, immobile.

His counterpart was the imam at the Al Aqsa Mosque, who said that while it was sad that Rabin was dead, “you do realize that it was a Jew who killed him.”

“I thought about Rabin as I prayed today,” said Orthodox rabbinical student Ycheskal Milworm, an immigrant from Brooklyn. “It is hard to find the right attitude. I didn’t care for him . . . but his murder by another Jew is a slap in the face for the whole country.”

What particularly troubles the communities of Jerusalem is the same thing that preoccupies the global community: Can the stressful peace process survive its architect?

“Every day I pray for peace; too many children and husbands and wives have died. That man didn’t just kill Rabin. He tried to kill the peace,” said Mohammed Kuteneh, a caretaker at the Dome of the Rock.

Said Yossi Mimran, a yeshiva student, after praying at the Western Wall: “It’s shattering, terrible, what has happened. I came today to pray for Rabin. We have to pray a lot for everything to work out. . . . I guess it’s up to God.”

At the Holy Sepulcher, Sister Katrina, a nun who has cared for the Greek Orthodox altar there for 31 years, voiced a wounded perplexity shared by followers of all faiths here.

“Why did they kill this man of peace?” she asked.