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20 Mar, 2013

Historic Pictures: Israeli PM Who Hailed Peace at Hotels Confab, & Shot 2 Days Later

I want the global travel and tourism industry to take a good look at these historic pictures. A reminder of an event that changed the course of human history for the worse, they are intended to stoke some soul-searching about what must be done to reset the course, hopefully for the better.

These pictures are of critical importance to the future of travel and tourism, global peace and stability and the emerging generation of young people.

2 Nov 1995: Mr. Rabin inaugurating the annual convention of the International Hotel & Restaurants Association. Note the emblem at the podium. Copyright: Imtiaz Muqbil.

Between 2 – 6 November 1995, the International Hotel Association (now known as the International Hotels & Restaurants Association) held its annual convention in Tel Aviv. The Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, inaugurated it on November 2. Sitting barely 20 m away, I took these historic photographs. Look closely at the emblem on the podium. It clearly indicates the cyclical, inter-connected linkage between peace and tourism.

Mr Rabin spoke passionately about the peace process he was pursuing with the Palestinians at the time, and the legacy of peace he wished to leave for future generations. As a career military man who had seen the tragedies of conflict, it was his hope and dream that the young people of both Israel and Palestine would not have to repeat those mistakes. He called travel & tourism a part of the solution and stressed that it would be a primary beneficiary of peace.

On 4 November 1995, he conveyed the same message to a huge gathering of young Israelis in the central square of Tel Aviv. (A translation of his final speech can be found here.)

As Mr Rabin was leaving, one of those young people, the terrorist assassin Yigal Amir, in his mid-20s at the time, shot him.

A leader who had passionately pushed peace the night the IHA conference opened was dead on the day it ended.

I did not leave my hotel that night, fearing further conflict if the terrorist assassin turned out to be a Palestinian. But no, Rabin had been shot by a Jew, one of his own.

4 Nov 1995: The spot where Mr. Rabin was assassinated after his delivering his final speech at the central Tel Aviv square. Copyright: Imtiaz Muqbil

The following night, together with one of my fellow journalists, Nancy Cockerell, and some of the IHA staff, I visited the fateful square and took more pictures of the candlelight vigil. Young people were everywhere. Their faces bore grim reflections of destroyed hopes, despair and incredulity that this act of violence was perpetrated by one of their own.

The Foreign Minister at that time, Mr Shimon Peres, is now the president of Israel. He too had addressed the IHA, conveying the same message of a better future for the entire region.

Today, he is alive but his policies are dead. I have always wondered to what extent he thinks that the terrorist assassin Yigal Amir, and the people who indoctrinated, incited and funded him, are responsible for the mess.

These pictures have been published to coincide with U.S. President Obama’s visit to Israel. He came to power by brandishing the promise of “change you can believe in.” Mr Rabin was trying to bring about such change long before Mr. Obama, and walking the talk. By contrast, Mr Obama promised change, but has delivered none. Why?

In the early 1990s, change that the entire Middle East could believe in was well under way. Peace talks were making slow but steady progress. Violence was down. Today that change has backtracked. The terrorist Yigal Amir appears to be winning. Palestine is close to being wiped off the map. Thousands have died and thousands more have lost hope. The ripple effect is incalculable.

The Middle East went spiralling downhill after Mr Rabin’s death. As all events in the Middle East are inter-related in some shape or form, the attack on Iraq, launched exactly 10 years ago today, is part of that ripple effect.

The world was lied to. Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction. It was all about trying to prop up the geopolitical interests of the Jewish fundamentalist fanatics in Israel and the oil interests of the United States to ensure that it never again gets hit by an oil embargo such as that which accompanied the Oct 1973 war.

If truth is the first casualty of war, lies have to be dressed up as the “truth.” The Nazis knew that best. So strong was the propaganda campaign that for a while, the world actually believed that Saddam had WMDs. Similarly, in the conflict over Palestine, a propaganda campaign of equivalent intensity pushes the Israeli viewpoint as the “truth” — Israelis/Americans/Europeans/Australians are the “good guys” and the Palestinians/Arabs/Muslims the “bad guys”.

Just as the attack on Iraq disproved its supporting narrative, so does the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

Jewish fundamentalist fanatic “bad guys”, such as Yigal Amir, exist everywhere. They are active across many fronts in business, diplomatic circles, academia, international organisations and many more. They are all working surreptitiously to advance the dreams, hopes and aspirations of Yigal Amir and wipe Palestine off the map. Their names are all in the public domain.

They may appear to be close to succeeding. But they will not. Because Satyamev Jayate, the truth will always triumph, and these pictures that I am printing today are intended to ensure that people never forget. The public must have zero tolerance for lies and liars.

Such zero tolerance existed in the 1970s, when the U.S. media stunned the world by 1) forcing the resignation of a President for what may now seem to be the comparatively insignificant sin of bugging the headquarters of a rival political party and then trying to cover it up, and 2) ending a draining, debilitating war in Vietnam by exposing the truth about what was really happening there.

Today, the U.S. has reversed course. Its leaders are free to lie to the public, cover up the truth, get involved in distant wars, and never be held accountable. The mainstream media has joined the bandwagon.

Unless these lies are exposed, conflict will continue. As Bradley Manning and Julian Assange are discovering, the liars are dangerous, powerful people. They will fight exposure and accountability. At the same time, the millions of people who swallowed the lies will not want to be seen to be looking stupid and gullible.

But if the liars win, so will the fanatic terrorists. Both will continue to kill at will, free of accountability.

As Mr. Rabin told the IHA convention, the travel & tourism industry has a huge stake in the outcome. The pictures of Mr. Rabin at the podium should encourage the travel & tourism to re-think its fence-sitting, three-monkeys attitude.

The night he died, so did his hopes for peace. For the travel & tourism industry to become a continued victim of the ensuing geopolitical conflicts and the lies that sustain them, is also a travesty and a tragedy.

The media is often berated to inject a sense of “responsibility” into its reporting. That is exactly what I am doing now. In turn, I challenge the travel & tourism industry and its leadership to also show a commensurate sense of responsibility and side with those trying to do a public service by telling the truth.

It was my destiny to be the only journalist from Asia in Tel Aviv that night. It is also part of my destiny today to publish the historic pictures I took. I have waited a long time to do so. My message is clear, to ensure that the dreams and aspirations of Mr Rabin (as well as other courageous leaders such as former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, also assassinated in 1981 by Arab fanatics) live and those of fundamentalist fanatics of all ilks perish.

Future generations must not pay for the mistakes of the present generation. Indeed, they should hold them accountable for these tragic and costly mistakes.