Middle East

Eitan Haber, Rabin Aide and Israeli Wordsmith, Dies at 80

JERUSALEM — At one of the most traumatic moments in Israel’s history, it was up to Eitan Haber, the trusted confidant of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, to announce to the nation Mr. Rabin’s shocking death.

Emerging to face reporters and an emotional crowd at the entrance of the hospital on the night of Nov. 4, 1995, Mr. Haber read out the text he had scrawled on the back of the prime minister’s schedule for the next week: “The government of Israel announces, with astonishment, great sadness and deep sorrow, the death of the prime minister and defense minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who was murdered by an assassin tonight in Tel Aviv.”

Mr. Haber, who after many years as a journalist served as Mr. Rabin’s political aide and speechwriter, crafted the words that became lodged in the national consciousness at many of the country’s key junctures.

He died on Oct. 7 at his home in Tel Aviv, the city of his birth. He was 80.

His death, after a yearslong battle with colon and pancreatic cancer, Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses, was confirmed by Yediot Ahronot, the newspaper that was his journalistic home for most of the last six decades.

President Reuven Rivlin of Israel eulogized Mr. Haber as “the knight of the written and precise word,” adding that he had turned unforgettable moments of history into “masterpieces that shaped the national memory.”

Mr. Haber joined Yediot Ahronot in 1960 and served as its military affairs correspondent for the next 25 years. He sent sharp and haunting dispatches from the battlefield; he once described the “kingdom of silence” near the Suez Canal during the 1973 war, where Israel’s dead soldiers lay with their boots sticking out of blankets that were always too short.

He also wrote of peace, as one of the first Israeli reporters allowed into Egypt to cover the talks that led to the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty, the first between Israel and an Arab country.

Mr. Rabin, as defense minister, recruited Mr. Haber in 1985 to serve as his communications adviser. He filled that role for five years, spanning the tumultuous period of the first Palestinian intifada, to which Mr. Rabin responded with force.

When Mr. Rabin stepped down in 1990, Mr. Haber went back to his newspaper. He returned to public service after Mr. Rabin led the Labor Party to victory in the 1992 election, becoming director of his office. Mr. Rabin served as both prime minister and defense minister of the new government, which signed the Oslo Accords, Israel’s first peace agreements with the Palestinians.

Mr. Haber was part of the small team that worked secretly on Israel’s 1994 peace treaty with Jordan.

He then wrote the words that Mr. Rabin famously delivered in his address to the United States Congress that year:

“I, military I.D. Number 30743, retired general in the Israel Defense Forces in the past, consider myself to be a soldier in the army of peace today. I, who served my country for 27 years as a soldier, I say to you, to Your Majesty, the King of Jordan, I say to you, our American friends: Today we are embarking on a battle which has no dead and no wounded, no blood and no anguish. This is the only battle which is a pleasure to wage — the battle for peace.”

Mr. Haber’s last public mission was arranging Mr. Rabin’s funeral, which was attended by President Bill Clinton, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, King Hussein of Jordan and a long list of other world leaders. Describing Mr. Rabin in his anguished eulogy as his teacher, his guide and a second father, he said: “Yitzhak, this is the last speech. There won’t be any more.”

He then produced a bloodstained page with the lyrics of a song that the hospital staff had retrieved from Mr. Rabin’s pocket on the night he was fatally shot by Yigal Amir, a Jewish extremist who vehemently opposed the concessions made to the Palestinians.

Mr. Haber read out the words of the anthem “Song of Peace,” which Mr. Rabin had been singing on the stage along with the crowd at a peace rally minutes before he was killed.

Mr. Haber was born on March 12, 1940, to Yehuda Haber, who worked for the local chamber of commerce, and Tova Haber, a homemaker. His father supported the right-wing Herut movement, led by Menachem Begin, and Eitan began writing for its youth paper as a young teenager. Just as he switched with aplomb between the worlds of journalism and public service, he also passed between Israel’s political right and left with relative ease.

He began his obligatory military service at 18, writing for the Israeli Army’s Bemachaneh magazine. It was when he was sent to cover events along the northern frontier that he first met and befriended Mr. Rabin, who was 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; a son, Ilan; and four grandchildren. His wife, Gila, died in the mid-1980s.

After Mr. Rabin’s death, Mr. Haber went back to writing for Yediot Ahronot and presented radio and television programs. He wrote or co-wrote more than a dozen books, most of them with other leading Israeli journalists and dealing with Israel’s military and security affairs.

In a poignant television interview in September 2019 with Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, Mr. Haber, weakened in body but not in mind, seemed to be taking his leave. Recalling the night of Mr. Rabin’s assassination, he remembered walking out into the dark — and the commotion at the hospital entrance — to make his announcement.

“It seems to me,” he said, “that from that day Israel ceased to be a normal, orderly country.”

He also spoke openly of his illness.

“I could die from it tomorrow,” he said. “That’s not so bad. We’ve done our part for 60 years.”

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