"Is this the last week?" people asked each other. Since the jets went streaking northwards to rain death over Beirut and the missiles came shrieking back southwards to an ever-widening number of Israeli communities, Israeli activists had been gathering every Saturday evening and marching in protest through the streets of Tel-Aviv. According to the confident predictions emanating from Condoleezza Rice's entourage at the beginning of the week, by today a ceasefire should have already been in place. But Saturday was at least as bloody as the preceding days, with the end of the killing seeming an ever-receding horizon. As thousands streamed to the rendezvous at the end of Ben Tzion Boulevard (accustomed place of the weekly Women in Black vigil) the prospects of a ceasefire were a major subject of conversation. "To us, 'ceasefire' and 'cessation of hostilities' seem the same, but the diplomats hide a hell of a lot of meaning between nuances of this kind. It could make a life or death difference on the ground afterwards, we have to look very carefully at what the Americans and French are up to, over there in New York" said a white-haired man with a big sign reading "We are not Bush's puppets!"
To the mother and her two daughters, killed this morning at Arab el-Aramsheh from the direct hit of a Katyusha missile, it will no longer make any difference. (Like nearly half the Israeli civilian casualties, they were Arabs, in whose community the government never thought of installing air-raid shelters or alarms). And whatever the final formulation of the UN resolution, it will also come far too late for the 33 farm workers (35 in other accounts) killed by a single Israeli bomb near the Lebanese-Syrian border (most of the Israeli media did not even bother to mention it).
Here in the heart of Tel-Aviv we had to contend with a fortunately non-lethal kind of missile: a salvo of eggs suddenly plastered the gathering activists. The police somehow failed to notice the perpetrators, despite being present on the scene in great numbers (there had been extensive and exhausting negotiations on the route of the march, the authorities rejecting the organizers original proposals on various bureaucratic grounds).
"Damn, I worked on this placard for nearly three hours" cried a young man from Jaffa. Under the caption "Stop the carnage - start negotiating peace!" there were two hand-painted pictures: on one side airplanes dropping bombs and great flames bursting from the ground, on the other birds flying above a meadow with children playing happily. Three girls rushed to help, thoroughly scraping the poster with their tissues until all signs of the dripping yolk were removed.
Our malevolent "friends" were far from through. The activist who brought a great bundle of 300 black flags, newly produced for this march, made the mistake of leaving them for a minute on the pavement. Suddenly a car stopped, three youngsters got out, seized the flags by force and disappeared. The police, some of whom were a short distance away, failed to notice this act of flagrant thievery, too.
The black flags were intended to convey mourning for all the victims, on whatever side of the physical borders and the ethnic and religious divide, and also to remind of the Supreme Court ruling half a century ago that "It is not only the right but the duty of a soldier to disobey a manifestly illegal order, on which the Black Flag of Illegality flies".
The thieves had robbed us of having the mass of black at the head of the march as organizers envisaged. Still, a group of traditionally-dressed Arab women from the north got off their bus with black flags they had prepared in their village, and the Anarchists naturally also has quite a few of them. The black flags mixed with the red ones of the Hadash Communists, and the yellow flags of the Arab Renewal Movement of KM Ahmad Tibi, and the round Gush Shalom two-flag signs, and the numerous printed and hand-made signs: "Occupation and War are a disaster!" - "Just Peace = Security!" - "39 Years are enough - End the Occupation!" - "There is no military solution!" - "Cease-fire NOW!" - "Stop the war! Stop the massacre!" - "No more Unilateral Acts, Open Peace Negotiations Now! - "Negotiations with Syria - the Key to Peace in Lebanon!". A middle-aged woman walking at the side held a small carton sign with the words "Stop, please!".
The narrow King George Street through which we passed is in the downtown area of Tel-Aviv, rather rundown though bustling - the area which had been the heart of the city back when it was part of the British Empire, and which has a considerable right-wing element but also enclaves of students and bohemians. Demonstrators chanted "We shall neither die nor kill / in the service of the USA!" - "Children want to live / in Beirut and Haifa!" - "Peretz, Peretz, resign / peace is more important!" - "A million refugees / that's a war crime!" - "Olmert, Peretz and Ramon / Get out of Lebanon!" (originally, this slogan had Sharon's name). But the slogan repeated again and again, in alternating Hebrew and Arabic, was "Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies!". A small child, riding her father's shoulders, clapped hands merrily to the rhythm of the slogans.
The two most popular stickers circulating in the crowd were Gush Shalom's "Bring the Soldiers Home" (from a model dating back to the 1982 invasion of Lebanon) and the Bereaved Families' Forum's "It will not End - Until we Talk!". An enterprising activist had produced at his own expense a sticker reading "We shall all lose!" - a faithful replica of the colours and graphic style of "Together we shall win!", the sticker mass-produced and distributed in the past weeks by the patriotic/commercial Leumi Bank. Quite a few participants wore Che Guevara t-shirts, and there were some with the face of Nelson Mandela. But also one participant's shirt had blazoned in English:
"Conference of Jewish Communities, Seattle".
The Likud Party headquarters, which the march passed, seemed deserted and lifeless. "They can afford to be lazy, Peretz is doing the dirty work for them" remarked an activist, who shortly afterwards furiously tore down a poster of the Labour Party leader, left over from the elections of four months (just four months!) ago. A bit later on, on a balcony, two bare-chested youths waved Israeli national flags and made rude gestures, shouting something which was inaudible over the din. A demonstrator silently waved towards them his own Israeli flag - one draped in the black of mourning. A neighboring balcony bore a large Animal Rights poster - "Meat is Murder!" - and from it a woman in a red flowered dress was enthusiastically waving in support.
Crossing the busy Allenby Street, we got to the designated site of the rally - Magen David Square, at the entrance to the Carmel Market. "Welcome to the Demonstration of the Ten Thousand, the largest demonstration to date against the criminal Lebanon War! Move along, move along!" boomed the loudspeaker from the podium. (Various press accounts later credited the demo with between 3000 and 5000 participants). The thousands that did not find place in the square flowed over into the Nahlat Binyamin pedestrian mall and other neighboring streets.
In the back there was, however, a constant motion and hubhub.
"We call upon everybody to cross Allenby and file into the square, we want to begin! Please cross the street, don't linger!" called moderator Khulud Badawi on the loudspeaker, and a little later: "We call upon the Tel-Aviv police force to stop molesting our people, to stop shoving and pushing! The agreement was that problems will be dealt with by demonstration marshals! Policemen, please hold to the agreement!"
In the densely packed crowd, it was difficult to see clearly even a short distance away, and impossible to establish how the confrontation started and by whom. Some objects, such as bottles and sticks, have certainly flown through the air, and two demonstrators ended up in detention. None of many who were asked during and after the demonstration, have seen (or smelled) the throwing of feces at the police - but the police spokesperson announced it as a fact to the press, even while the demonstration was going on, and on Y-net the feces incident - true or fabricated - took up the headline and a large portion of the news item published.
In fact, however, the entire confrontation with the police took part on the outer edge of the rally, which started after a few minutes' delay. Besides Gush Shalom, participants included the Women's Coalition for Peace, Ta'ayush, Anarchists Against Walls, Yesh Gvul, the Israeli-Palestinian Forum of Bereaved Families, feminists, many parents with their children, veteran and young peace activists as well the political parties Hadash, Balad and the United Arab List.
A sign of the ferment in the political system was provided by members of Meretz, who took part in spite their party's pro-war position. They were led by former MKs Naomi Hazan and Ya'el Dayan.
Dayan at first got wild applause when she called for the immediate return of the invading troops from Lebanon and for a prisoner exchange to free the ones captured by Hizbullah and Hamas. But when she also sent greetings to the fighting soldiers there was a chorus of angry protests and catcalls. Defiantly, she added that the war had been justified to begin with, "though it had now gone on too long and too deep", and some activists tried to storm the podium, pushed back with difficulty by marshals.
Naomi Hazan, the other Meretz dissident, was more pleasing to this audience: "Each and every one of us came here because of being totally against this war. We have come here to make a united voice of protest against this terrible monstrous madness and call for an immediate ceasefire, to protest the destruction and mourn the killings. And not only in Lebanon - let's not forget the Palestinians, let's not forget the blood which was shed this morning in Rafah! We have come here to struggle for life, to oppose the war with all our power - and we will win!"
The keynote speech was delivered by Saul Feldman, a person hitherto unknown to most of his listeners. "I live in Nesher, which as you know is a suburb of Haifa. Until three weeks ago, this was just a geographical detail, a quite comfortable house to live in. On the day this war broke out, I and my wife went to the demonstration in Tel-Aviv. On the following day we were sitting in a back room when there was this whistle and explosion, quite near, and our dog came running, shaking and very frightened. Our front room was in shambles, broken glass strewn everywhere. I tried the piano to see if it was working, that was when the press photographers arrived."
Here, a group of extreme-right people, waving flags, arrived on the scene and tried to break into the podium, to be thrown back after a few minutes' struggle. Unperturbed, Feldman resumed his speech:
"I should have thought that the photo of a man playing the piano in a ruined house should have sent a message of peace. But I saw the photo with all kinds of very warlike captions, which implied that I want revenge from the inhabitants of Lebanon. I called the press and protested and told them I had participated in the anti-war demonstration. They said: oh, but did you not change your mind when your house was bombed? Change my mind? I have protested against the stupid wanton destruction of war, and then the war and destruction came to my own home. Should that make me change my mind?"
"Olmert, stop this madness!" cried Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom. "The war has gone to your head. You are war drunk, a war junkie. Nothing good will come of this war. Stop it, before it is too late! And you, Amir Peretz - you have lied to your voters and cheated them. Some people in this rally have voted for you, or at least seriously considered doing it. People who would otherwise have never thought of voting Labour supported you because you presented yourself as a radical social reformer, because you promised to divert a large part of the defence budget to education and health and social improvement, because you said you were a dove and a peace-seeker. What is left of that? You have a become a monster, a real monster!"
"Jews and Arabs pay the price in blood, the price in dead and wounded, of this miserable criminal war. We are in this together. Jews and Arabs together stand here in this this square, stand together and protest together and demand together the immediate end of this terrible carnage" said Shauki Khatib, Head of the Arab Monitoring Committee, the leadership of Israel's Arab citizens, and the audience responded with prolonged chanting of "Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies!".
"The main victims of this war are the poor. The well-to-do can afford to run away. The poor stay, exposed to the bombs and the missiles. The poor in Northern Israel and the poor in South Lebanon. This is the war of the rich and the generals, and the poorer you are the higher the price you pay" said Prof. Gadi Elgazi, historian and central activist of Ta'ayush.
"This war must stop. We here have to stop it. It is a war for Israel's control and domination of the Middle East, a completely unjust war. There are people who like to oppose a war after it is over, after they have cheered the soldiers on. I say: the time to oppose the war is now - now when the blood is flowing, when the bodies are buried, when the war crimes are committed and perpetrated. The time is now!" was how anarchist Adar Grayevsky, veteran of the prolonged struggle at Bil'in, put it.
After her, a young man mounted the podium. "My name is Zohar Milgrom. I am 26 years old, an activist in Yesh Gvul. I have got an emergency call up up order. Tomorrow I have to show up at the army and get sent to Lebanon. I will go there to declare that I am refusing. This is the only thing I can do in face of the public silence, in face of the war crimes committed in our name, in face of the leaders who have sent soldiers again into the Lebanese swamp. I will dedicate my time of imprisonment to all the people who suffer in this war, the Jews and the Arabs, the Israelis and Lebanese and Palestinians, to stopping the madness and saving their lives. Before I finish I would like to read to you the words of my friend, Isma'il abdul A'al of Gaza, who would have liked to stand here in Tel-Aviv and address you, were it possible. This is what he asked me to tell you: Stop this war now! This war is the mother of terrorists and extremists! We are all in danger! We have to struggle together, to end this horror, to live together in peace, in two states!"
After he went down, to the sound of applause, a Yesh Gvul speaker announced a solidarity demonstration for next Saturday outside Military prison 6 at Atlit - where refusing Captain Amir Pester has been for more than week and where Milgrom will probably soon join him.
Epilogue: we dispersed last night with a rather uplifting feeling - even though when most activists dispersed, the right-wingers seized the chance to attack the podium and cause some damage (once again unstopped by the police). This morning we got up with the diplomatic arena taking the center, following the agreement between the Americans and French on the ceasefire terms, and commentators endlessly analysing and dissecting it and most coming to the conclusion that it was "good for Israel". Then, at noon came the news of twelve Israelis being killed by rocket fire in the north, the largest number of casualties Israel suffered in a single day of this war (though for Lebanon this number would be rather below average). It took many hours before the confirmation that the twelve were reserve soldiers, called up in preparation for a possible extension of the ground offensive into Lebanon and encamped - by the height of folly - under the open sky in a daily targeted area, though the nearby Kibbutz offered them its air raid shelter. And towards the evening, the new missile attack on Haifa, covered live on TV, with the commentators visibly goading each other into greater and greater frenzy: "Four falls detected in Haifa"; "Seven falls"; "Do you see these clouds of smoke?"; "A house has collapsed"; "There are children there, small children, a woman was giving birth just when the missile hit!"; "This is an Israeli Qana, now the international public opinion will see that our civilians are also suffering, all these Europeans who demonstrate and accuse us of destroying Lebanon!"; "What do you say, gentlemen? You in the studio here are all ex-generals with a lot of experience, what would you advice the government to do?"; "I say we must send the tanks forward, immediately, if possible already this night, take all the territory until the Litani river and perhaps beyond, clean up all the hidden missiles in the villages"; "No, no, that's wrong, Hizbullah will then ambush our soldiers, they are guerillas. I say use our air power really to the full, every village from which missiles are shot should just be totally destroyed, totally! No more humanitarian considerations!"; "But what about the ceasefire, gentlemen? The Security Council will convene tonight or tomorrow!"; "What ceasefire? Do you think we can let the war end this way, to give them the last word?"
The last which we heard on TV, about ten minutes ago. (9.15 pm Israeli time) was unconfirmed rumors about an emergency cabinet meeting, to authorize the army to do...what?
(en) Israel, third Saurday demonstration in Tel-Aviv - 5-8-06 http://www.ainfos.ca/06/aug/ainfos00044.html