Why is there a monument to a war criminal on our campus?

A statue to Rabin is offensive to both Arab and Jewish students

By Nate Taskin, Collegian Staff

“Force, might and beatings.”

This was the command that General (and former Prime Minister) Yitzhak Rabin gave his officers during the First Intifada—a mass wave of protests where Palestinians took to the streets to protest the well-equipped Israeli army as part of a wider resistance against their brutal subjugation.

Rabin made good on his word. At a 1988 election debate, he boasted about the widespread beatings and massacres that the Israeli Defense Forces carried out under his command.

“Two hundred and sixty Palestinians were killed in the last few months!” bragged Rabin to a cheering audience. “7,000 were wounded! 5,600 are currently in prison! Are these trivial numbers?”

It may sound obvious, but someone who so proudly boasts about military brutality—someone who goes by the ominous sobriquet of “Bone-Breaker”—has no business on a college campus.

Yet at the University of Massachusetts, off to the right of Bartlett Hall and facing the pathway toward the Du Bois library, sits a pretty maple tree. At its base lies a stone monument with the inscription: “In Memory of General Yitzhak Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel, 1922-1995.”

But it’s unclear why a monument to an Israeli politician with no known connections or formal ties to the school exists. The official UMass website contains a list of every monument on its campus, with a brief blurb that explains the individual’s connection to the University or the history of the monument. An explanation for the Rabin monument is curiously absent.

In the wake of last summer’s white nationalist organizing, the University launched a public relations campaign around the idea that “Hate Has No Home At UMass.” If UMass wishes to hold true to these words, then any monument to a man like Rabin should be immediately abolished.

The claim that UMass stands with its marginalized students, especially its Arab students, is preposterous so long as a monument to someone so proudly evil exists.

Despite the gushing claims of figures like Bill Clinton that he had a “vision for freedom, tolerance, cooperation, security and peace,” this same visionary once expressed his wish for Gaza to “sink into the sea.” The harsh reality is that Rabin’s violence could fill an entire book

The extent of his barbarity extends back to the State of Israel’s foundation. As a young officer, Rabin was part of discussions involving the extermination and expulsion of almost the entire Arab population of Lydda and Ramleh for the crime of being the wrong ethnicity in the nascent Jewish state. At the end of a brutal barrage of tanks and gunfire, around 250 Palestinians lay dead. Seventy thousand more were driven from their homes and stripped of their possessions.

Rabin, by his own admission, saw to it that his method of ethnic cleansing would have Palestinians “expelled quickly and without attention to age.” These refugees were not even given water, and hundreds more died of heat stroke and disease under the blazing sun.

And this set the tone for Rabin’s long career. Under Rabin’s supervision during the 1967 Six-Day War, around 1,000 Egyptian prisoners of war were killed en-masse by Israeli troops.

But perhaps the most absurd aspect of an American college hosting a Rabin monument is that not even Americans were spared from Rabin’s ire. Paranoid about potential American surveillance of the aforementioned Egyptian human rights abuses, as chief of the general staff, Rabin oversaw a missile strike against a U.S. Navy observation ship which killed 34 sailors and wounded many more.

Though his crimes against humanity are book-length, Rabin’s most enduring legacy remains the 1993 Oslo Accords—the diplomatic catastrophe that secured Rabin his reputation as a “visionary of peace.” Yet the actual mandate from these so-called “peace accords” stated that Israel would withdraw from some occupied areas and set up local Palestinian authorities to police their own communities—though Israel would still maintain control of these territories from a distance.

Even then, for acquiescing even the slightest bit to the Palestinian people, Rabin was assassinated by a far-right supporter of the expansionist “settler movement”—a predictable outgrowth of the Zionist project that claims Jews have exclusive land rights to “Judea and Samaria” (i.e. the West Bank). It speaks volumes about factions of Israeli society that a man known as “the Bone-Breaker” was considered too moderate. As Malcolm X once said in reaction to John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the chickens indeed came home to roost.

Although the motivation as to why UMass would commemorate such a man is unclear, the most likely mundane, subsidy-related explanation is more or less irrelevant.

What’s more important is to engage with what it means to have such a memorial on this campus. As a Jew, I find it repulsive that such an odious person could be used to represent me. If UMass wants to make it clear to marginalized students—both Jewish and Arab—that they are recognized as human beings worthy of protection, then a monument to Rabin cannot remain standing.

Nate Taskin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @nate_taskin.