Hagai Amir, accomplice in the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was released in May after serving 16 years in jail. He discusses with +972 Magazine his pride in the assassin, his brother Yigal; his contacts with Hamas representatives in prison; his views on a binational state; and more.
My connection with Hagai Amir began in late July when I attempted to befriend him on Facebook. I wrote in this post about my deliberations over connecting with someone who had committed such a crime.
A few days later, Amir accepted my request. Along with other people from the left, including mainstream media journalists, Amir began having discussions on his Facebook wall. He also posted numerous status updates that received some media attention, particularly one on conspiracy theories concerning the night Rabin was murdered.
I did not have any discussions with him until I posted a photo album of pictures that I took at a demonstration I attended against a possible war with Iran. Amir commented on this album, and the discussion that ensued can be read in this post.
I was wondering why I hadn’t seen any interviews with him in mainstream Israeli media, and on suggestion of some of my colleagues, decided to approach him to be interviewed for +972. Amir agreed to a Facebook chat. As you’ll see in the interview below, he explained why he accepted the invitation to be interviewed, for the first time since his release, by me.
The following is a transcript of our conversation, which took place in three sessions over three separate days. Naturally, I had some concern regarding the identity of the person I was chatting with. I used various means at my disposal to determine that the Facbook account indeed belongs to Amir, as various other mainstream media have asserted, and I am confident that it does. The talks took place from 21:30 for about an hour and a half each time. The original Hebrew transcript of the interview can be accessed following the English.
Hagai Amir was released early May this year, after serving 16 years in prison for conspiring with his brother to murder Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on November 4,1995. His brother Yigal received a life sentence. Hagai was also given an additional six months to his sentence for a threatening remark he made with regards to then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. During his imprisonment and since his release, Amir has not shown any remorse for his crime – nor did he throughout our conversations.
Our conversation reveals a man with a developed religious and political worldview. He believes in a Jewish state but not a “state for the Jews.” He doesn’t think that Jewish settlers fight fiercely enough for the land. He claims to oppose violence against Arab civilians, but views Israel as engaged in a sort of perpetual war against them. And he remains proud of his role in the assassination of an Israeli prime minister.
Ami: Have you been approached by all the other papers with interview requests?
Hagai: More or less.
And you didn’t agree because…?
I don’t trust their credibility.
Then I have to ask: you know I’m a leftist, secular, and you know I find the murder of Rabin despicable. Why did you agree to talk with me, of all people?
It’s just a conversation and I speak with many people like you.
Yes, I saw. But I’m going to post this discussion on my blog, and I may be quoted. It will leave the boundaries of Facebook, do you understand this?
I have taken this into consideration.
Well then, let’s start with some standard questions. Tell me, how was it to come out to a world that has changed so much? How are you adapting?
I was very well updated all the time, so I wasn’t really that surprised. Except for how big the trees have grown. I came out the same as I entered.
Really? You don’t feel that you’ve changed? All of us change with the years, inside prison or out. Did you not take something from there? Lessons? Insights?
Of course, one changes. I learned a lot in many topics. But there was no problem in adapting. In two weeks I found a job, and with God’s help I will soon start to study.
What are you working in today?
And what do you intend to study?
Do you already have an academic degree? In something else?
I didn’t manage to. But I wanted to learn physics.
What has changed in Israel in the 18 years since the murder?
Unfortunately, nothing has changed in the regime. There is only more despair from the situation, which causes people to become more cruel.
So, you think there is no difference between the Rabin government and the current Netanyahu government?
There’s a big difference. Rabin’s government is the reason for this situation. Bibi is just trying to survive in it.
Do you think Bibi can bring about any kind of change, for the good?
No one can change anything now. It’s too late.
Too late for what? What do you think is going to happen?
A slow yet steady disintegration of the state.
Which will end in a bi-national state? The end of Zionism?
It depends how it ends. If they reach an agreement on a bi-national state, then Jews will be able to live here. But if there is no agreement, it will end like it did with the crusaders.
Is it even important that there be a Jewish state to begin with?
The Jewish state has importance. But the state of the Jews has no justification to exist.
I don’t understand the difference. Please explain it to me.
A Jewish state is one that cherishes Jewish values – the Sabbath, studying the Torah and so on. The state of the Jews is ruled by people who are only Jews, with no obligation to Judaism, which is basically what this state is. That is exactly why Herzl defined it so. He understood the difference.
Do seculars like me have a right to live in this land?
You have the right to live here on the condition that you are here legally. Meaning, you purchased land legally from its legal owners. Today, a large portion of seculars live on land stolen from its legal owners, which in turned made them refugees, against UN resolutions. And a good explanation for this must be given. I’m a Jew, and I have never heard from you a reasonable explanation, so what do you expect from the gentiles?
Is there a political body or person who you think represents well the people today, and why?
Anyone who has been elected represents exactly those who chose him, for better or for worse. The leader is a mirror image of the people and sometimes it’s not nice to look in the mirror. The people get exactly the person who suits them.
Is there any politician who today represents your views faithfully?
No, there is none. And that is why I don’t vote any more.
The left sees you and Yigal as extreme rightists. Is this true? For example, do you see yourself as ideologically close to Rabbi Kahane?
If the right is about hatred of Arabs, then we are not right wingers. We never had any issue with Arabs, we see them as a foe or an enemy of war on this land, and we respect them for that. That is why we are not ideologically close to Rabbi Kahane. Although, I admit I don’t know his entire doctrine, so there may be some things I agree with.
When you say “we” you mean…?
Me and my brother Yigal.
Despite the long separation between us, our views have stayed the same on various issues.
Then how do you know this, despite the separation?
I can’t elaborate on everything in this forum while he is still in captivity. Anyway, we met about a year ago.
Can you tell me what happened during this meeting and where it took place?
We received authorization from the Supreme Court to meet for half an hour where he was jailed, Rimonim prison. One can’t do much in such a short time, and we were surrounded by prison guards. But we still managed to talk about various things. And he, like me, had many conversations with Hamas leaders.
Who were in jail with you?
What did you talk about?
The struggle for this land and how they perceive – if at all – Jewish existence in the land.
Did you agree on anything? What was the atmosphere like during these discussions?
On the important things we didn’t agree, of course. Too much blood has already been shed. From their point of view there is no way this state can be here. And I no longer know if Jews as individuals will be able to live here. Anyway, the atmosphere was relaxed, they respect us and we respect them and it is clear we are enemies on the outside, but for the meanwhile there is a ceasefire.
What are the names of those Hamas prisoners you spoke with?
Ibrahim Hamed, head of the Hamas in the West Bank, Hassan Salameh and others who were less senior figures.
Going back to politics: Are you politically involved in any way? Considering getting involved or active?
Not at all. There is nothing [to get involved in] and no point.
Who are your authoritative sources, those you respect and admire the most?
There are none, and those who I admire and listen to are not involved in what’s going on.
Meaning, rabbis and spiritual leaders that you admire do not play the political game? I understand this. I’m trying to understand who your role models are, even if they are not politicians.
I admire mostly the Gedolei Yisrael [leading Jewish sages], and their humility and modesty.
In our earlier conversation, you surprised me when you said Rabin was not murdered over returning land. Can you elaborate on that? Are you against returning land?
I am against returning land, especially if Jews live on it – but that is not the reason we acted [killed Rabin – A.K.]. Furthermore, I would fight (literally) shoulder to shoulder with those Jews on their land if they themselves were willing to fight for their homes. But this is not the case, unfortunately.
The settlers today are not willing to fight for their homes? You think they have given up and are willing to leave?
99% are not willing to fight, as you saw in the disengagement. It was clear to me back then that this is what would happen, They are simple bourgeoisie, not tough rebels. In my opinion, you fight for a home with a weapon in hand. He who is not willing to hold a weapon is not fighting for his current home, but for his next one.
Meaning, if and when the day comes, you will use live weapons against an Israeli force coming to evacuate you?
I can’t fight alone. Anyway, I no longer live in Samaria, but in Herzliya.
For some reason I thought you were still in the territories. You live in Herzliya with family?
Yes. The official address is still from Samaria, from 17 years ago.
You say you cannot fight alone. But, if others raise weapons while being evacuated, will you go and join them?
It won’t happen.
From my discussions with you on Facebook, it doesn’t seem like you feel much remorse for Rabin’s murder. Do thoughts of remorse about the murder ever go through your head? For example, on Yom Kippur?
Of course not. It didn’t just happen out of the blue. We thought about it for two years, we acted according to the Jewish halacha, and one must not regret doing a mitzvah.
So please try and explain something to me. In the ten commandments, in a very direct manner (meaning, without halachic or analytical intervention), which cannot be misunderstood, and without any conditions – “thou shalt not kill.” Short and sweet, can’t be any more simple. How are your deeds and your brother’s not a violation of this basic divine commandment?
If so, then why did you kill a handicapped man in a wheelchair, Ahmad Yassin? It doesn’t say “Thou shalt not kill a Jew” only, it says something general, as you noted.
Personally, I am against killing handicapped people in wheelchairs. And also against any kind of murder whatsoever. Should I understand that you killed Rabin because the State of Israel had already killed others? Is this the justification? I still don’t understand why it is OK to violate the basic divine commandment of “thou shalt not kill.”
This commandment is not absolute. Of course there are cases when it is allowed, such as war. For this is the Torah of Israel, not the Torah of Fools. Therefore, there is in the exact same Torah the commandment “one who comes to kill you, kill him first.”
Do you not think you caused great damage to the right, as many rabbis and public figures said after the murder?
Damage to their image, yes. We disrupted their bacchanalia, their fawning and their obsequiousness. That is the only damage we caused them. And I am not sorry for that. Furthermore, we don’t really care what they think.
Did you see Rabin’s funeral? Did you have access to television then? Do you have anything to say to Rabin’s family today? To his children Dahlia and Yuval? To his granddaughter Noa Rothman?
During my interrogation they took me to see the funeral to put mental pressure on me. Of course, this did not work. The Rabin family was never really moved by the blood of the murdered on the Altalena, whom the head of their family murdered. They knew how to live well in his midst. Therefore, the crocodile tears they cry do not move me. This family has earned a living quite well from this whole story. If it wasn’t for us nobody would have heard of them. The blood of the Oslo murdered is a thousand times more dear to me than the tears dropped for the one who killed them, with help from the Arabs.
If Yigal had not committed the murder, do you think you could have done it instead?
I’m more calculated when it comes to that, and I didn’t believe he was going to succeed specifically though this method. Therefore, I thought of other methods that had better chances of success. I would have done it sooner or later, but I admit that my brother had a lot more faith and determination to do it, even if it cost his life, something that at that time I was not yet ready for.
What other methods were you thinking about, for example?
For example (something that came up in the interrogation), with a sniper rifle.
OK. Immediately after he was arrested, Yigal said that he acted upon the advice of rabbis. Can you tell us the names of these rabbis? Were they rabbis Dov Lior, Yitzhak Ginsburg and Nachum Rabinowitz?
In principle I don’t speak of others unless they have done so themselves. I don’t want to hurt anyone, so don’t ask questions like these.
I see. You put the hollow-point bullets in Yigal’s magazine, right? Where did you get the idea for that?
In order to enlarge the penetration in case he was wearing a flak vest. I have a good head when it comes to mechanics and good ideas. Anyway, in the end he didn’t use those bullets but regular hollow-point bullets. [Answer not fully clear – A.K.]
In the national religious public they said after the murder that Shabak [Shin Bet] agent Avishai Raviv was the one who “controlled” Yigal. On the other hand, there were also reports that Yigal despises him and did not take him seriously. What was the true relationship between them?
They were friends from the university. Avishai had money and a car and he helped my brother arrange Shabbat rituals in various settlements to encourage the interest of the students – beyond the tips of their noses – in what is happening in the land politically. In retrospect, it turns out the money that Avishai had was from his salary in the Shabak. Anyway, Avishai is the last person who could control anyone, especially not my brother, except for a few kids that he would let loose on occasional Arabs – something that we frowned upon.
You told me the state is torturing your brother. What do you mean? And how do you think Yigal is coping with life in jail?
With all the crazy conditions he is held in for almost 17 years without any legal justification. The Prison Service makes sure to employ judges who cooperate with it and back up any whim of the Shabak, as dumb as it may be, and all the while judges are aware they are accepting false testimonies, and distortion of justice. By the way, just so the corrupt establishment knows, this conduct is one of the things that made our belief stronger in the righteousness of our way despite everything. For if we are the bad guys, why is it the state that needs lies in order to deal with us? The lie is the main tool of evil.
Can you give me an example of lies? Or of the lie that is most obvious in your opinion and easy to prove it is a lie?
The easiest example is when my brother asked to have conjugal visits with his wife, the Shabak claimed it would be a security risk for the state. The Supreme Court accepted this nonsense with no problem. I have more examples written in verdicts that only expose the shamelessness of this state. They have no shame and they don’t care that the things are written down. Apparently they trust the official media not to embarrass them, and in this aspect they are probably correct.
How did the prisoners treat you? With respect? Anger? Contempt? Hostility? Was there any violence towards you from prisoners or guards while in jail?
From the Jewish and Arab prisoners there was always only respect, and this is what got the Prison Service so angry. And they would threaten prisoners not to talk with us, which didn’t really work, because for prisoners in solitary confinement there’s not much you can threaten with. From the guard’s side there wasn’t regular violence, as is the norm, but harassment and pestering on an almost daily basis. Holding a man in such sub-conditions is state violence. Almost everything that comes out of this country is tinged with its violence, and it is the last country that can complain when violence is directed towards it.
Wasn’t life in prison a risk you took when you went down this path? What are you complaining about?
It’s not the imprisonment but all the extra illegal additions. They criticize us all the time in the name of the law that is violated by them systematically, and in no instance whatsoever do they pay a price for it.
What was the nature of the bond between you before the murder? Were you close brothers? Do you feel responsible for Yigal’s condition today?
We were very close and I indeed feel responsible for his condition. I will not rest until he is released, and this is the reason for all my activity.
What is the difference between you and Yigal, and terrorists?
There is no difference. Anyway, we tried with all our strength not to hurt anyone we thought was innocent at the time.
Did the murder do any good, did it achieve its goal? Because, you said earlier the state is falling apart. You said nothing has changed regime-wise, and that people are becoming more desperate. So, did you fail?
Some of the goals were achieved, some were not yet. Maybe it’s too early to tell, because the situation has changed. Anyway, we did the only single act that could have been done at that particular point in time and in the conditions that were present. We did not do it for us but for the Jewish people, simple as that, and behind the act was a good intention. At the end of the day, a good intention does not go to waste and it will bear fruits.
What are the reactions you got from your circles?
The reactions are favorable in every part of the land I have visited so far. Whoever is against prefers to be silent, because it’s clear that such a thing would extract a response from me and people do not like to make a mockery of themselves. What bothers me is the fear people have to express their opinion, a trait that is characteristic of regimes such as this.
Are there discussions at home about the actions? About Yigal? Is it just a discussion about the man or about the actions as well? What do your parents think about it?
The whole thing fell on the family, and even if they support the action they would have preferred that we had not done it, because they care for us. Anyway, at the moment they are simply dealing with the situation and they are getting a lot of respect and sympathy everywhere they go, which strengthens them.
So, basically you’re proud of him, right?
Why are you on Facebook?
I told you, as part of the struggle to release my brother.
OK. On your wall a picture was posted two days ago with you hugging Bentsi Gopstein of the Lehava organization, who voiced support for the recent lynching in Jerusalem. What do you think of this support and of the lynch itself?
I am against harming of Arabs because they are Arabs, and I have an argument about this with right wingers.
A personal question now. If you see it as an invasion of privacy, don’t answer: I saw on Facebook you went from being “In a relationship” to “single.” What was that? Were you in a relationship with someone while in jail, or after your release?
It was after my release, but I prefer not to go into it.
Is there anything else you want to tell me?
There are many important things we didn’t touch, but I will say this: The public must know that when you are cruel to people in jails, that cruelty will not stay there but will find its way out. The prisons are the mirror through which the face of society is truly reflected. Especially through how the society treats its prisoners, its true face is shown as it is.