The song Yitzhak Rabin sang minutes before he was killed was denounced by the military as defeatist and banned from army radio when it was released in 1969.

By September 1993, when Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed their peace agreement, "A Song to Peace" had become an anthem.Since the prime minister's assassination at a peace rally Saturday, the song has played endlessly on radio and television. Young people chant it in low tones at vigils throughout Israel.

"I guess the song gets to the heart of the matter," Yaacov Rotblit, the song's lyricist, said recently.

In 1969, Yair Rosenblum, the director of the entertainment troupe for the Nahal, a combat-farming unit, asked Rotblit to come up with something different from the pleasant folk songs the group was singing.

Inspired by the song "Let the Sun Shine" from the musical "Hair," Rotblit started the song with the words "Let the sun rise," and put it to a wandering bass line melody by Rosenblum.

Sung by male soldiers who let their hair grow just a tad longer than regulation and backed up by a willowy blonde with a powerhouse voice named Miri Aloni, the country's first protest song proved an immediate hit.

With lyrics like "The purest prayer will not bring us back, he whose candle was snuffed out," the song tapped into public confusion over the mounting casualties in Israel's war of attrition along Egyptian and Syrian front lines.

When Gen. Rehavam Zeevi, the commander of Israel's central region, heard the song, he was appalled.

"He lobbied everyone, the chief-of-staff, the defense minister, the prime minister, to have it banned," Rotblit recalled.

Zeevi - now the leader of Moledet, a hard-line anti-Arab party - got the song banned from army radio and from performance on army bases. The military dubbed the song "defeatist" and said it would undermine morale.

But soon afterward, Rotblit recalled, "there was a polemical war on the editorial pages of the newspapers, and the song was reinstated."

In 1978, soon after Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's historic visit to Jerusalem, the song and its controversy was featured in a film called "Halahaka" (The Troupe).

By then the song was no longer controversial, although the youth movement of the right-wing Likud party continues to ban it.

"My kids learned it in school," said Rotblit, now a talk-show host. "They were proud their dad wrote it."

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

`So sing, just sing a song for peace'

Lyrics to "A Song to Peace," the one-time protest song turned anthem, by Yair Rosenblum and Yaacov Rotblit:

"Let the sun rise and give the morning light

"The purest prayer will not bring us back

"He whose candle was snuffed out

"And was buried in the dust.

"A bitter cry won't wake him, won't bring him back.

"Nobody will return us from the dark pit.

"Here, neither victory cheers or songs of praise will help.

"So, sing, just sing a song for peace

"Rather than whisper a prayer

"Sing a song for peace

"With a loud cry."