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The Tel Aviv Peace Rally
Last uploaded : Wednesday 20th Feb 2002 at 21:28
Contributed by : Hillel Schenker



Last night's peace rally was very successful, all things considered. Thousands of people convened at Rabin Square in the heart of Tel Aviv, and at about 7:45, we began marching with placards and lit torches (not flashlights, but fire on top of a stick) down Ibn Gvirol St., especially reserved for the peace march, turning at the corner of London Mini-Stores into Shlomo Hamelech Blvd.. continuing on to the plaza in front of the Tel Aviv Museum. There was a real sense of camaraderie along the way, with a mixture of veteran peace activists, families and youngsters. Someone wondered aloud if a grenade might be thrown at us by a right-winger, like at the end of the famous march in Jerusalem following Sabra and Shatila, which killed Emil Grunzweig, but then added, "that sort of thing probably happens only once".

The plaza was packed, with the organizers announcing that at least 20,000 people were there, clearly the largest rally since the outbreak of the second intifada and Sharon's election.

This created a sense of escalating protest, since last Saturday's rally, organized by the more radical elements of the peace movement, had about l0,000 people.

The two major speakers, opposition and Meretz leader Yossi Sarid, and leading Labor dove and innovative thinker Dr. Yossi Beilin, gave, as usual, excellent and stirring speeches.
However, to my mind, the highlights of the evening were:
l) The presentation by Dr. Sari Nusseibah, introduced as President of El-Kuds University in East Jerusalem and the holder of the Jerusalem Portfolio in the Palestinian Authority. In an unusual gesture of communication with the Israeli public, he decided to make his presentation in Hebrew, a language which to the best of my knowledge he doesn't know. He emphasized the importance of the Peace Coalition which has been formed by leading Israeli and Palestinian doves (Sarid & Beilin included), and the need to demonstrate that there are partners for peace on both sides, despite Sharon and the suicide bombers. He read out the founding declaration of the Peace Coalition (in English), and went on to say that he believed a solution could be found based on essentially the mutual right to self-determination, i.e. that the Palestinian refugees would find a home within the Palestinian state, while the settlers would return to Israel.

While this is his answer to the question of "the right of return", he added that it should be accompanied by an apology on the part of the Israelis acknowledging the pain caused to Palestinians as a result of the establishment of the Jewish state. This did not preclude the fact that Palestinians live within Israel as citizens, and that Jews could live in the Palestinian state.

2) The other particularly significant presentation was given by MK Roman Bronfman, who broke away from Sharansky's party to form a two man left-wing Russian immigrant party. He is a member of the Peace Coalition, and this was the first time he ever appeared at such a rally. Bronfman said that, contrary to the assumption that all Russian immigrants are on the right, there is a growing number of immigrants he feel as he does, and who do not want to send their sons to risk their lives on behalf of the settlers.

He was also the only speaker who saluted the reserve officers who signed the refusal petition. As someone who served in the Lebanon War, he said that he could not advocate refusal from the podium, but added that he respected the courage of the officers, who were justifiably protesting an immoral situation. He also went out of his way to attack both Sharansky & Lieberman.

Another noteworthy element in the evening was the fact that the moderator expressed appreciation for the efforts of the more radical elements the previous week, and cited the presence of Gush Shalom and other factors at the evening.

The other speakers included a Peace Now spokesperson, who emphasized the need to end the occupation and disband the settlements, a fiery student from the new group Green Line, which emphasizes the need to...return to the Green Line, and Arab author Salim Jubran, who emphasized the need to reeestablish, within Israel, a Jewish-Arab coalition for peace. Unfortunately, the only prominent Eastern/Mizrachi Jew at the rally was popular singer Zahava Ben. Still much to be desired in that respect.

Of course, the mood at the rally was tempered by the fact that, just an hour or two before it began, a suicide bomber blew himself up near the commercial center of the Karnei Shomron settlement, killing at least two l5 year old youths and wounding over 30. The rally began with a minute of silence in their memory, and in memory of all Israelis and Palestinians killed since the outbreak of the intifada.

The attack, and the blowing up of an Israeli tank, along with the accident which killed an Israeli commander, dominated the media today, cutting down the space allotted to the demonstration, limited essentially to a photo and a paragraph, in the 3 major dailies. The same thing happened after last Saturday, when the killing of a 25 year old kibbutznik student at Haifa University in Jerusalem, reduced the demonstration to a brief mention in the paper.
Still, there is a growing sense that a serious debate has begun within Israeli society.

* * * Jewish Comment ackowledges and thanks Keren Lewin and British Friends of Peace Now for permission to reprint this article.

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