MASSIVE DEMONSTRATION AGAINST THE WAR
Preparing to start: hoisting the big Gush Shalom transparent
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 kilometres 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.
Circumstances made it impossible to hold the planned public rally at the end of the march. No speeches were made. Here is a translation of the speech Uri Avnery was about to make on behalf of Gush Shalom:
They tell us We are traitors.
They tell us We are destroyers of Israel.
They tell us We are criminals.
But we tell them: The criminals are those Who started this Criminal and unnecessary war!
An unnecessary war Because it was possible To stop the Qassams By the government stopping the blockade On the million and a half Inhabitants of Gaza.
A criminal war Because, on top of everything else It is openly and shamelessly Part of Ehud Barak’s and Tzipi Livni’s Election campaign
I accuse Ehud Barak Of exploiting the IDF soldiers In order to get more Knesset seats.
I accuse Tzipi Livni Of advocating mutual slaughter In order to become Prime Minister.
I accuse Ehud Olmert Of trying to cover up Rot and corruption With a disastrous war.
I call upon them From this tribune, On behalf of this Courageous and decent audience: Stop the war at once! Stop shedding the blood of Our soldiers and civilians for nothing! Stop shedding the blood Of the inhabitants of Gaza!
The ground invasion Will cause An additional disaster, A mutual massacre And even more Terrible war crimes!
At the end of this war No general Will be able to set foot On European soil Without fear of being arrested For war crimes.
We are told That there is no alternative. Not true!!! A cease-fire is possible even now, Yes, this very minute, If we agree to lift The murderous siege, If we allow the Gaza people To live in dignity, If we talk with Hamas.
I wish to address
The people of the South, The people of Sderot, Ashdod and Beersheba: We know your anguish – Even though we don’t live with you, We know well. But we also know That this war Will not change your situation. The politicians exploit you, The politicians conduct a war On your back. You too know that!
I call upon Olmert, Barak and Livni: Do not send the soldiers into the Strip! All three of you will be accused of war crimes! All three of you will pay the price!
The masses in Israel Saluting you now Will punish you tomorrow. That happened in the Second Lebanon War That will happen Again this time!
And YOU who are standing here, Women and men, Young and old, Jews and Arabs, YOU who have protested Against this horrible war From the first day, From the first minute, Isolated and cursed – YOU are the real heroes!
You can be proud, Very proud, Because you stand in the middle Of a hurricane of hysteria and ignorance, And are not swept away by it! You are retaining your sanity, Not only at home But here, in the street!
Millions around the world see you, Salute you, Salute each one of you.
As a human being, As an Israeli, As a seeker of peace, I am proud To be here today.