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The Israeli Peace Movement is Back

05/15/2004

A giant rally in Tel-Aviv's Rabin square signaled the return of the Israeli mass peace movement after almost four years of silence. For the first time in a very long time, sizeable crowds came to ask the government to get out of Gaza renew the peace process. There were a lot of people there. Police estimate about 120,000 demonstrators. Channel 2's Rina Mazliah estimated about 200,000 and organizers claimed an attendance of 250,000.

Veteran (perennial) Labor party politician Shimon Peres told the crowd they represent the majority, and asked the government to go ahead with disengagement from Gaza. However, Peres said disengagement should include abandoning the infamous Philadelphi patrol road, which separates Gaza from Egypt. Sharon and the Israeli defense establishment want to keep the road in order to prevent smuggling of arms from Egypt. This week 11 IDF soldiers were killed in operations along that road, and two more were killed trying to retrieve the bodies of dead soldiers.

The disengagement plan would require uprooting Israeli Gaza settlements and sealing off Gaza. The settlements require extensive subsidies to maintain and an inordinate number of soldiers to guard them. They are a visible and maddening symbol of the occupation to Palestinians, an easy target for infiltrators and a constant source of friction.

The demonstration of the long moribund peace movement succeeded because at last they have found an issue on which most Israelis agree - getting out of Gaza.The issue is beset with paradox. The disengagement proposal was advanced by Likud PM Ariel Sharon, but defeated in a poll of his own Likud party, because a majority of members are loathe to give up settlements. This gave the left the opportunity they needed, since disengagement is supported by a decisive majority of Israelis. So this was, in a way, a "support the PM" demonstration, rather than a protest demonstration against the government.

The Israeli mass peace movement really got its start in the 1980s, when a massive demonstration in the same square was organized to protest the massacre in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in Lebanon, and to demand the resignation of then defense minister Ariel Sharon. During the years of the Intifada, the peace movement was marginalized. Now the peace movement has finally returned, but with Shimon Peres and Peace Now demonstrating in support of a plan proposed by Ariel Sharon. Strange things are happening.

What fuels the popularity of the disengagement plan? Most Israelis understood from the start that the Gaza settlements were just bargaining chips for a future peace agreement. Gaza, which holds over a million Palestinians in its tiny 143 square mile area, was always a hellish experience for soldiers. People usually returned from reserve duty muttering "Eyn lanu ma lehapess sham" - "There is no reason for us to be there." As it became increasingly evident that the peace agreement is not coming any time soon, and the settlement bargaining chips became increasingly burdensome on the IDF, Israelis, even hawkish PM Ariel Sharon, understood that it was time to get out. Most Israelis have also become tired of the total lack of progress in negotiations. Sound bites and photo-ops and peace plans come and go, but the killing and brutality and routine dehumanization continue unabated. Announcements and stories about removing illegal outposts come and go, along with promises to the Americans, but not a single inhabited outpost has been removed. Many agreed with Yahad party's Yossi Sarid that Sharon's disengagement plan might be a bluff, and that he never intended for it to succeed, submitting it to the Likud for a vote with lackluster support in order to kill the plan, after getting a letter from US President Bush backing Israeli stands on right of return for Palestinian refugees and on retaining at least some settlements in the West Bank. But the people at the demonstration came there to force Sharon to follow the plan for once. Disengagement represents an opportunity to break the stalemate.

Not all the demonstrators favored unilateral disengagement. A large contingent carried signs calling for a negotiated settlement and support for the Geneva Accord hammered out by dovish Yahad party leader Yossi Beilin and Israeli and Palestinian representatives. However, the demonstration was impressive proof that the peace movement is not dead in Israel, and that in the right circumstances, it could be a potent political force. The organizers vowed that this demonstration is only the start of a campaign to get Israel out of Gaza.

Ami Isseroff


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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000259.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 5 comments

THIS COUNTRY HAS BECOME TOTALLY CONFUSED AND SCHIZOPHRENIC. IF THE GAZA COMMUNITIES WERE ONLY 'BARGAINING CHIPS' FOR A PEACE AGREEMENT THEN WE SHOULD WAIT TILL THERE IS ONE SOME DAY. DISENGAGEMENT FOR ABSOLUTELY NO POLITICAL GAIN IS NOTHING BUT DEFEAT AND RETREAT AND WILL BE TREATED AS SUCH BY THE ENEMY AND THE WORLD. WE HAVE BECOME EXPERT AT MAKING HUGE CONSCESSIONS FOR ZERO GAINS. NO WONDER THE WORLD HAS ZERO RESPECT FOR US.

Posted by MIKE LEVINE @ 05/16/2004 07:32 AM CST

Maybe the world lacks respect because you type in all caps! Not the way to go...

Seriously, however, anything unilateral is bound to fail eventually. Israel, as the more powerful side between the two, has to commit itself to bilateralism and refuse to fail. I have faith in Israel that they can succeed if they perservere.

Unilateralism will not work over the long term. Bilateralism will work, but only if Israel has a lot of patience. I'm not talking about 2 years, or even 5. It's going to take decades. But it can work.

Posted by trj @ 05/16/2004 10:51 AM CST

I came to Rabin square the other night with a ready-made nausea.
Being in the same demonstration with turncoats such as Avnery's Gush Shalom bunch, always ready to lie down at Arafat's feet, and the pro-European, post-Zionist Left led by Beilin was certain to cost me in terms of health.
It was also quite difficult to be there listening to some good music after so many nice Jewish boys had died so horribly in the Gaza strip.
I did not listen very carefully to what the speakers had to say, but I do agree with Peres.
The majority of Israelis want something to change.
There's no benefit with staying in the Gaza strip and the Westbank, only costs, and we are now already paying dearly for more than 30 years of an irresponsible settlement policy.
After more than 3 years of bitter fighting, the IDF has only succeeded in reducing the frequency of the massacres by the Arab terrorists.
Now it is time to take care of not losing the entire war, and the best way would be to obtain a respite from it by retreating behind a Wall for a while, so as to make sure that the Israeli people gets a chance to strengthen the country's society and economy until this war of extermination inevitably resumes.

Posted by Daniel @ 05/26/2004 06:23 PM CST

my name is jean and my son and 3 grand children are jewish.i am horrified at the sheeding of blood on our sweet planet earth. this is gods'world,not mans.we were to share it and take care of it.in truth the u.s.a.belongs to the indigious indians.please,let us all stop this maddness. if our children acted this way they would be put in time out.i love all humanity.we are all citizens of the same world. peace my brothers and sisters.love,a mom and grand mother in the u.s.a.

Posted by jean jones @ 06/28/2004 06:14 PM CST

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Posted by zKd5SJdsbW @ 01/30/2006 04:51 PM CST


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