The headline hit like a lightning bolt. Could it really be four years since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin?
His death has become one of those "Do you remember where you were?" memories for me, indelible and ever sorrowful. I was in the White House, just sitting down to interview President Clintons top White House political advisor, Harold Ickes, for a piece about the upcoming presidential campaign.
My cameramans beeper went off; and when we checked in with our news desk, the editor gave us the unsettling information that "Yitzhak Rabin has been shot! Theyre taking him to a hospital; we dont know exactly what happened."
Shaken, I hung up the phone and turned to tell Ickes what had happened. He didnt get up and run out of the room, but said, in a steely voice, "Hes going to be OK." And believe it or not, we sat there and finished the interview.
Just then the desk beeped us again. "Rita," the editor said, "we have confirmation that Rabin is dead."
"Oh my God," I said, looking at Ickes. "My office says Rabin is dead." That time Ickes bolted. I later learned that it was he who delivered the news to President Clinton that his friend had been gunned down.
As for me, my eyes filled with tears. I had been witness to the historic Rabin-Arafat signing of the Oslo agreement at the White House. I had sat across the table from Rabin on several occasions when he held informal meetings with reporters in the dining room of Blair House.
I had considered him a visionary leader, who understood that the only way that his region of the world could prosper is that everyone, including his fellow Israelis, begin to let go of their historic suspicions and hatreds.
I had been impressed at his determination to put the long-term security of his people above the short-term satisfaction of revenge for the recurring acts of terrorism. And I had also realized that he knew what an arduous task he faced, with fierce opposition not only from his countrys enemies but from its own citizens.
Within an hour, we were broadcasting live, from the White House lawn, as President Clinton spoke in tribute, giving his now famous, "Shalom Chaver," speech, wishing Rabin both peace and farewell. Then it was on to Israel, for the funeral, another haunting memory.
Not long ago I asked Harold Ickes why he had insisted on that terrible Saturday afternoon that nothing could have happened to Rabin. He said that he could not let himself even consider the possibility, as if refusing to acknowledge it would mke it disappear. Like so many of us, he feared that there would be an end to the process that came to be called "The Peace of the Brave."
Whether that fear was justified is still an open question. But this week it seems that some progress may be at least possible. Meeting in Oslo with President Clinton, PLO leader Yassir Arafat and Israels new prime minister, Ehud Barak, agreed to try to set a framework for a final long-term settlement of how they will co-exist.
The issues, of course go to basic and enduring conflicts including the Palestinians demand for their own state and the Israelis assertion of control over Jerusalem.
It is perhaps too much to hope that the age-old battles will settled by the simple will of two leaders and by just a few strokes of a pen. But Rabin knew that the journey to peace had to start somewhere. And though taking the first step cost him his life, his example has become a challenge that cannot be ignored.