More than 20,000 Jews and Israeli Arabs marched together here last
night demanding that the government withdraw from the West Bank and
immediately resume peace talks with the Palestinians.
"There is a black flag waving over this war. We must get out of the
territories and return to the 1967 borders. (Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon
wants to take us back to the 1967 war," said Zahava Gal-On, a lawmaker from
the leftist Meretz party whose speech was greeted with wide applause and
Hundreds of Israeli Arabs came out in force for the first time in many
months, marching alongside Jewish Israelis and chanting, "Yalla, yalla, Sharon
get out of Ramallah." Yalla means "come" in both Hebrew and Arabic.
Israeli peace demonstrators participate in a peace rally in front of the Israeli Defense inistry in Tel Aviv Saturday, April 6, 2002. President Bush, who hosted British Prime Minister Tony Blair at his Texas ranch on Saturday, again called on Israel to end the incursion and withdraw its troops "without delay." Main banner center left reads "Peace Now," banner behind in red reads "Peace Justice and Equality," banner front near flag right reads "Get out of the territories and get back to ourselves." (AP Photo/Elizabeth Dalziel)
"I think it was after the (suicide) bomb in Haifa last week, in which so
many Arabs died, too, that made people from Sakhnin want to come out tonight
and demonstrate," said Maher Tawsiq, an Arab Israeli from northern Israel,
shouting to make himself heard over the noise of the demonstration.
Although the numbers did not match the crowds that the peace movement once
commanded, the march from Rabin Square, in the center of the city, to the
defense ministry a mile away provided a boost to Israelis on the left.
"It's very important to come out now and show our opposition. I really
think the anti-Sharon movement is growing," said Ruth Zwecker, a Tel Aviv
mother of three who has come to every rally since the Palestinian intifada, or
uprising, began 18 months ago. "The fact that I see my neighbor here who does
not usually come to these rallies is a very good sign. It shows that people
who have been apathetic are starting to wake up."
After months of inertia, the Israeli left started to revive a few weeks ago,
just as Palestinian suicide bombers began a wave of deadly attacks inside
Israel. That makes it harder for Israelis on the left, the staunchest
supporters of a two-state solution to the conflict, to get their message
But some demonstrators said last night that they were propelled to come
precisely because of the violence. The rally was a chance for Israelis who are
opposed to Sharon, and his belief in a military solution to the conflict, to
try to change the situation.
"What's going on in the West Bank is absolutely terrible, and I'm utterly
opposed to it. So the very least we can do is demonstrate against it," said
Paula Kelman, a Jerusalem filmmaker.
The main organizer of last night's rally was Peace Now, Israel's largest
movement committed to withdrawing from the West Bank and Gaza. Peace Now
stepped up activities to end the occupation more than two months ago,
maintaining a 12-hour-a-day vigil outside Sharon's office and staging weekly
demonstrations in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Peace Now is entering a new phase leading up to a mass rally in Rabin
Square on May 11, organizers said.
"Between these events, there will be many local and national activities,
which will all call on the Sharon government to present a political path which
offers a way out of the current crisis. The government of Israel should
respond to the Saudi initiative positively and as an historic breakthrough in
Israel's relationship to the Arab world," said Moria Shlomot, director of
The Saudi Arabian plan, since endorsed by the Arab League, calls on
neighboring Arab countries to grant Israel full recognition in exchange for
Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights.
"We'll work to influence the Israeli public toward accepting these
positions and working toward the establishment of a government which advances
them. But if the government does not offer such an alternative, we intend to
create massive street presence in opposition," Shlomot said.
Also present at last night's rally were the Kibbutz movement, several youth
organizations, the Forum of Bereaved Parents and the Democratic Choice party.
Other groups are still active in the search for peace.
The Coalition of Peace Movements organized a rally at an Israeli army
checkpoint Wednesday in which 3,000 people -- both Jews and Arabs -- protested.
They also organized trucks of food and medical supplies for Palestinians in
the besieged West Bank city of Ramallah, and they managed to get across the
checkpoint where the rally was held.
The Jewish-Arab Center for Peace at Givat Haviva, in Galilee, has worked
for 40 years as a place of dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis.
"Our very existence as the center promoting cooperation and joint work
between Palestinians and Israelis is a living proof that an alternative way
can be achieved," said its press director, Mohammad Darawshe. "Even in the
midst of these crazy days, we are trying to conduct a sane discussion, to keep
ties between Israelis and Palestinians alive and to continue to strive for
alternatives to the current situation."
Other Israeli organizations working with Palestinians include the
Association for Civil Rights in Israel; B'Tselem, Israel's largest human
rights group; HaMoked (the Center for the Defense of the Individual); and
Physicians for Human Rights.
Despite the turnout at last night's rally and the commitment of the
activists, it is clear that this is not yet a mass movement. During the
Lebanon War two decades ago, 400,000 people -- a tenth of the country's
population at the time -- rallied in Tel Aviv's downtown square. That kind of
protest movement has not been kindled.
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle