You always hear of distinguished personages lying in state, but I had never actually felt a need to pay my respects in such a manner. After being one of thousands who slowly walked past the casket of Rehavam Zeevi, Gandhi, HYD, I asked myself why I had participated in this ceremony. After all, it is a positive commandment, a mitzvah, to participate in a funeral and to escort the dead to a final resting place, but, on the face of it, there is no commandment to walk past the deceased’s coffin.
Gandhi’s tragic death hit all of Israel very hard, but the murder was especially hard for Hebron. Gandhi had always been very close to Hebron, participating in the return to the city in 1967, as the commander of the Central Region which included Hebron, following the Six day war, and later, throughout his illustrious political career, as a Knesset member and as a minister. He was always available to help and not just by telephone. Countless times Gandhi visited Hebron, coming to consult, to listen to the problems, to witness them first-hand, to do whatever possible to assist.
I remember clearly one of my first encounters with Gandhi, well over a decade ago. I think it is overwhelmingly representative of the kind of person he was. Years ago people from Hebron and Kiryat Arba would conduct Friday morning tours in Hebron, walking through different parts of the city, hearing explanations and showing Jewish presence in areas not always accessible to Israelis. One Friday morning Gandhi showed up to participate with us in one of these hikes. Armed with an Uzi pistol, he joined in the discussion preceding the hike, deciding where to go. One man, waving his arm in a certain direction, negated one particular street, saying, “even the army never goes there.” Gandhi’s ears visibly perked up, and he asked, “where doesn’t the army ever go?” Receiving the answer, he rejoined, “that’s where we are going today.” And we did.
That’s the kind of man Gandhi was. That was the personality that allowed him to be the successful general he was in the IDF. His courage was not only reflected in an absence of fear. We was willing and able to be an example to others, following a truly Israeli way of life – take matters into your own hands, initiate, don’t wait for trouble to come to you.
Many times, both as an MK and as a minister, Gandhi refused to drive in a bullet-proof vehicle, as is offered to VIPs. Not long ago, when coming to visit us at our protest tent, he arrived with two cars, his regular vehicle and an armored car. Of course, he refused to ride in the latter, sitting in the front seat, next to the driver, of a regular car. His philosophy was very simple: everyone else drives in regular cars, why should I be an exception to the rule?
On his final trip to Hebron, during the Succot holiday, he sat with us, describing his efforts to convince Sharon to return to the Abu Sneneh hills surrounding the Jewish community of Hebron. He was overjoyed that the army had finally been given the OK and had returned to the hills, providing real protection for the first time in a year of warfare.
When Gandhi told us that he’d like to take a tour of Abu Sneneh some of the people in his party tried to dissuade him, saying, “Gandhi stop, it’s dangerous up there, leave it, why bother?” Gandhi’s response: “You don’t have to go with me, I’ll go by myself.” When Hebron’s military commander refused to permit the visit, Gandhi didn’t argue. With a fellow officer he would not get into any conflict. That’s simply the way he was.
Since the murder much discussion has centered around Gandhi’s refusal to accept bodyguards. The tone sometimes borders on insinuating that Gandhi himself was responsible for his own death, due to this lack of protection. This is, of course, nonsense. Those guilty of Gandhi’s murder are not only the terrorists who gave the orders and pulled the trigger, but unfortunately also the initiators of the Oslo catastrophe, whose blindness and stubbornness led to the Oslo war, a one-sided war, declared by our enemies, but not yet seriously responded to. They brought about a reality which gave the terrorists the chutzpah to dare kill a minister in the Israeli government, thinking they could murder a public hero and get away with it. There are many people with Gandhi’s blood on their hands, but blaming the victim, turning him into the culprit, is criminal. Gandhi was consistent throughout his life, up to the very end.
Had he been any different, he would not have been Gandhi.
With this in mind, I’m sure that Gandhi, looking down on us, in keeping with his personality, is upset with the fuss being made about him, preferring that we would deal with Eretz Yisrael and with Am Yisrael, with the ?ikar,? with the essence, and not with, in his opinion, that which is secondary. Yet Gandhi personified the essence of Zionism, be it as an officer, a general or as a civilian, as a Knesset member and as a minister. His enormous love for Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael, and also for Torat Yisrael, the heritage of our people, spanning well over half a century, should be a paradigm from which all future generations will learn and should attempt to reproduce, for this is what our return to Israel is all about.
I guess, for all of these reasons, and for more, which are still difficult to put into words, I felt a need to pay my respects to Gandhi, lying in state, to say, not only farewell, but to express thanks, to a teacher, to a hero, to a true fellow Jew.
With blessings from Hebron.