Reports from Jewish Peace News

Gush Shalom report on Saturday night’s demonstration

At the same time as Ehud Barak was ordering the army to start the bloody ground offensive against Gaza, some ten thousand protesters from all over Israel marched in Tel-Aviv in a massive demonstration against the war. All four lanes of Ibn Gvirol St., one of the city’s main throughfares, were packed full of demonstrators who marched the two kiolometres from the Rabin Square to the Cinemateque, chanting and waving banners all the way.

“One does not build an election campaign over the dead bodies of children!” shouted the protesters in Hebrew rhymes. “Orphans and widows are not election propaganda!”, “Olmert, Livni and Barak – war is no game!”’ “All cabinet ministers are war criminals!!” Barak, Barak, don’t worry – we shall meet you in The Hague!”, “Enough, enough – speak with Hamas!”

The written posters were similar. Some of them paraphrased Barak’s election slogans: “Barak is not friendly, he is a murderer!” (The original Barak slogan says: “Barak is not friendly, he is a leader!”) Also: “No to the Election War, 2009!” and “The six-Knesset-seat war!” – an allusion to the polls which showed that in the first days of the war Barak’s Labor Party has gained six prospective seats.

The demonstration took place after a fight with the police, which tried to prevent or at least limit it, arguing that they would not be able to stop right-wing rioters from attacking it. Among other things, the police demanded that the organizers undertake to prevent the hoisting of Palestinian flags. The organizers petitioned the High Court of Justice, which decided that the Palestinian flag is legal and ordered the police to protect the demonstration from rioters,

The demonstration was decided upon by Gush Shalom and 20 other peace organizations, including the Women’s Coalition for Peace, Anarchists Against the Wall, Hadash, the Alternative Information Center and New Profile. Meretz and Peace Now did not participate officially, but many of their members showed up. Some thousand Arab citizens from the north arrived in 20 buses straight from the big demonstration of the Arab public which had taken place in Sakhnin.

The organizers themselves were surprised by the large number of protesters. “A week after the start of Lebanon War II, we succeeded in mobilizing only 1000 demonstrators against it. The fact that today there came 10,000 proves that the opposition to the war is much stronger this time. If Barak goes on with his plans, public opinion may completely turn against the war in a few days.”

The giant Gush Shalom banner said in Hebrew, Arabic and English: “Stop Killing! Stop the Siege! Stop the occupation!” The slogan of the demonstration called for the end of the blockade and an immediate cease-fire.

On the day of the protest, the extreme Right mobilized their forces in order to break up the demonstration by force. The police made a great effort to prevent riots, and the one-mile march from Rabin Square to Cinematheque Square proceeded relatively quietly. However, when the protesters started to disperse, in accordance with the agreement with the police, a large crowd of rightists started to attack them. The police, which till then had been keeping the two camps apart, disappeared from the scene. The rioters then encircled the last of the protesters, harassing them, pushing them about and at a certain point started to besiege the Cinematheque building, where some of the last protesters had found refuge. They tried to break into the building, threatening to “finish off” the protesters, but at the last moment some police arrived and protected the entrance. The rioters stayed around for a long time.


From Tom Pessah, Israeli activist and Jewish peace News reader:

(I am writing in English for the benefit of our friends outside Israel, to encourage them to continue speaking out to get the world to respond to this. I assume most of my Israeli friends can follow this).

There is a huge number of protests going on around the country. This blog mentions some. One of the most impressive was outside a base of the airforce, to remind pilots that they are actually killing people, not just bombing targets. In this protest 21 people were arrested, some of whom have been in jail for several days.

A significant development is that parts of the zionist left, such as Meretz and Peace Now, have joined the calls for an immediate halt to the war. Several thousands protested last night in Tel Aviv , and thousands more demonsrated in Sakhnin earlier that day, in what is seen as the biggest protest in the Arab sector for many years. Not enough to stop the land invasion, but public opinion is turning in our direction.

The counter-protestors yesterday told us we had no right to an opinon, since we don’t live in Sderot. It brought me great satisfaction to tell them of the petition by Sderot civilians against the war (thanks Sarah Anne for posting it on Jewish Peace News.

(I resolved not to let anyone silence me, and the next time someone tries to take my place in the queue at a bank or at a store, I will definitely scream “fifth column!!!! go to Gaza!!! traitor!!!!”. Also, those who weren’t at the rally missed the counter-protestors’ inimitable rendering of HaTikvah, the Israeli national anthem, as some kind of soccer song, to which some us responded quite naturally by screaming stuff about the referee’s mother. I guess you should have been there)

Yesterday I spoke with M., a 20-year old student at the Hebrew university, who is planning a vigil this week in her campus. This is her first semester ever. In Jaffa, Palestinian activists are undergoing serious intimidation, including being woken up at night by the police for trumped up charges, and then released without being accused of anything. In spite of this they are continually protesting: last week they set up a mourning site for the civlians who died in Gaza, on Saturday many of them came to demonstrate in Tel Aviv, and on Tuesday another protest is planned in Jaffa

Here are some testimonies

Maybe remember this the next time someone tells you how lucky Arabs are to be citizens of Israel.

The police initially said that it would ban Saturday’s demonstration if participants were to wave Palestinian flags, and it took a decision by the High Court to allow the protest to happen. This is, of course, the “flag of the enemy”, and Palestinian citizens of Israel are expected to proudly wave the Israeli flag with the Star of David, as an expression of their national identity.

I am constantly impressed by people’s creativity: a party scheduled for Saturday was not cancelled because of the war, but it turned instead into a protest event, with drag kings dressing up as soldiers and parodying the fighting. A group of Jewish and Palestinian poets brought out a collection of anti-war poems (in Hebrew) and organized a reading outside the house of Barak, the Defense Minister, to emphasize his responsibility for the massive killings and these are only a few instances that I am aware of, mainly from my area (Tel Aviv).

The media is barely covering it, but as a Tel Avivian friend told me, she was hardly aware of the protests against the war until 10000 people passed by her house chanting slogans like (my favorite) – Arabs and Jews refuse to be enemies. Since many Arabs bused into Tel Aviv to be present, this felt especially poignant.

Tom Segev wrote in his column this week that “On April 5, 1956, Israel bombed the marketplace in the center of Gaza City. Fifty civilians were killed in that attack, including women and children. Then foreign minister Moshe Sharett thought it was a “savage and stupid” operation. But David Ben-Gurion, the prime minister and defense minister, and Moshe Dayan, the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, believed the Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, sought to destroy Israel and therefore his regime must be toppled, via a defeat in a comprehensive war. Therefore, the ministers followed a policy designed to increase tension and escalation, to the brink of war”. This was 52 years ago! Whereas this market in Gaza was attacked last week.

We can either continue to accept this logic, that killing hundreds of people will “teach them a lesson”, or we can demand a complete change of policy – a real honest attempt to end the occupation in both Gaza and the West Bank, dismantling settlements instead of building new ones, allowing people access to health care, food, higher education, travel abroad and the right to choose their own government democratically just like everyone else. To all those who say “there is no choice” – why is killing 500 people, very few of whom were engaged in firing rockets, even considered a legitimate choice? where is this leading to? only to the death and wounding of more Palestinian and Israeli soldiers and civilians. Enough is enough. Get up, stand up.