Eitan Haber, Rabin Aide and Israeli Wordsmith, Dies at 80
JERUSALEM – At one of the most traumatic moments in Israeli history, it was up to Eitan Haber, the confidante of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, to announce the shocking death of Mr Rabin to the nation.
On the night of November 4, 1995, Mr. Haber appeared at the hospital entrance in front of reporters and an emotional crowd and read the text he had scribbled on the back of the Prime Minister’s schedule for the next week: “The government of Israel is resigning to the death of Prime Minister and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was murdered by an assassin this evening in Tel Aviv, with astonishment, great sadness and deep sadness. “
Mr Haber, who after many years as a journalist acted as political advisor and speechwriter to Mr Rabin, formulated the words that were anchored in the national consciousness at many important points in the country.
He died on October 7th at his home in Tel Aviv, the city of his birth. He was 80 years old.
His death after years of battling colon and pancreatic cancer, Parkinson’s and other diseases was confirmed by Yediot Ahronot, the newspaper that has been his journalistic home for most of the past six decades.
President Reuven Rivlin of Israel praised Mr. Haber as “the knight of the written and precise word”, adding that he had transformed memorable moments in history into “masterpieces that marked the national memory”.
Mr. Haber joined Yediot Ahronot in 1960 and was its correspondent for military affairs for the next 25 years. He sent sharp and haunted broadcasts from the battlefield; He once described the “Kingdom of Silence” near the Suez Canal during the 1973 war, when Israel’s dead soldiers lay with their boots made of blankets that were always too short.
He also wrote about peace when one of the first Israeli reporters was allowed to go to Egypt to cover the talks that led to the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, the first between Israel and an Arab country.
Mr Rabin as Minister of Defense recruited Mr Haber as his communications advisor in 1985. He held that role for five years during the tumultuous period of the first Palestinian intifada, to which Mr. Rabin responded with violence.
When Mr. Rabin resigned in 1990, Mr. Haber returned to his newspaper. He returned to the civil service after Mr Rabin led the Labor Party to victory in the 1992 election and became director of his office. Mr Rabin was both prime minister and defense minister in the new government that signed the Oslo Accords, Israel’s first peace deal with the Palestinians.
Mr. Haber was part of the small team that secretly worked on the 1994 Israeli peace treaty with Jordan.
Then he wrote the words that Mr. Rabin famously brought in his address to the United States Congress that year:
“I, Military ID 30743, a past retired General of the Israel Defense Forces, now consider myself a soldier in the Army of Peace. I, who have served my country as a soldier for 27 years, I tell you, Your Majesty the King of Jordan, I tell you, our American friends: today we are starting a battle that has no dead, wounded, blood and don’t be afraid. This is the only fight one likes to fight – the fight for peace. “
Mr. Haber’s last public mission was to arrange the funeral of Mr. Rabin, which was attended by President Bill Clinton, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, King Hussein of Jordan, and a long list of other world leaders. He described Mr. Rabin in his fearful laudation as his teacher, his guide and a second father and said, “Yitzhak, this is the last speech. There won’t be more. “
He then produced a bloodstained page with the lyrics of a song that hospital staff had fatally shot from Mr. Rabin’s pocket the night he was shot by Yigal Amir, a Jewish extremist who had vehemently opposed the concessions to the Palestinians had fetched.
Mr. Haber read out the words of the hymn “Peace Song”, which Mr. Rabin had sung minutes before his death together with the crowd at a peace rally on the stage.
Mr. Haber was born on March 12, 1940 to Yehuda Haber, who worked for the local Chamber of Commerce, and Tova Haber, a housewife. His father supported the right wing Herut movement, led by Menachem Begin, and Eitan began writing for his youth newspaper as a young teenager. Just as he moved calmly between the world of journalism and the public service, he also moved relatively easily between Israel’s political right and left.
He began his military service at the age of 18, writing for the Israel Army’s Bemachaneh magazine. When he was sent to cover events along the northern border, he first met and became friends with Mr. Rabin, the chief of the northern command. Mr Haber joined Yediot Ahronot the day after he left the army.
He is survived by a daughter, Michal; one son, Ilan; and four grandchildren. His wife Gila died in the mid-1980s.
After the death of Mr. Rabin, Mr. Haber wrote again for Yediot Ahronot and presented radio and television programs. He wrote or penned over a dozen books, most of them with other leading Israeli journalists, dealing with Israel’s military and security affairs.
In a poignant television interview with Kan in September 2019, Israel’s public broadcaster Haber, who was physically but not mentally weakened, appeared to be saying goodbye. He remembered the night of Mr. Rabin’s assassination, and he remembered walking out into the dark – and the excitement at the hospital entrance – to make his announcement.
“It seems to me,” he said, “that from that day on Israel is no longer a normal, ordered country.”
He also spoke openly about his illness.
“I could die of it tomorrow,” he said. “That’s not so bad. We have done our part for 60 years.”