September 27. Evening. Here we are again standing outside the Defence Ministry and protesting the army's deadly actions in Gaza. In fact, we could have demonstrated nearly every other day, because every day brings its own ration of nasty news from Gaza. And it had become markedly worse since Ehud Barak became Israeli Labour Party leader, and Defence Minister, and with considerable energy is establishing his credentials as the toughest of hawks. Hardly a week passes without Barak making yet another threat of "a major military operation into the Gaza Strip". Meanwhile, he is authorizing daily "minor incursions" into the Strip, with an increasing death toll. And also meanwhile, the economic siege and blockade of the Gaza Strip becomes ever more tight.
The brilliant idea of cutting off the supply of water and electricity to the Gaza Strip's 1,500,000 poverty-stricken inhabitants brought on a sharp protest from UN Secretary General Ban, and a more muted one from the US-led diplomatic "Quartet".
So, the government (so far?) did not cut off the water and electricity. But they did make a legally binding legal declaration that "Gaza is a Hostile Zone". This had the practical effect of making Bank Hapoalim, Israel's largest, cut off all contacts with the Palestinian banks in Gaza, with devastating results (among other things, making it impossible to transfer money to those Gazans who still get some support from their former bosses). Sherri Arison, multi-millionaire owner of the bank and an eager devotee of "New Age" mysticism, has just a short time ago spent a lot of money on an advertising campaign on the theme that "Peace Begins Inside Yourself"...)
For those who want to, it is not difficult to know what is happening in Gaza. Plenty of detailed of reports are available online. But very little gets to the Israeli public by the commonly used media outlets. (With a few honourable exceptions, such as the Channel 10 TV News, which featured items on critically ill patients desperately waiting for permission to get treatment in Israel, and on the new wing of Gaza's Shifa Hospital whose construction was stopped since building materials are not allowed in through the border passes).
Anyway, most Israelis have little sympathy for Gazans, even if and when happening to hear of their plight. Since Sharon's "Disengagement", official Israel has taken a pose of injured innocence, massively disseminated by politicians and columnists and editorial writers and taken up implicitly by most of the public: Israel has withdrawn from the strip and dismantled its settlements, and the perfidious Palestinians responded with the shooting of Qassam missiles. Therefore, "they brought it upon themselves". Full stop.
Complicating factors are hardly ever mentioned, such as the direct casual relations between the killing of Palestinians (some 700 in the past year, according to the recent proud boasting of PM Olmert) and the retaliatory shooting of missiles (which cause destruction and panic but only rarely kill).
Everybody who listens to Israeli news broadcasts would unavoidably know of the anguish of the inhabitants of Sderot, especially the town's children - who never know a moment of true rest, ever ready to rush to shelter when the dreaded alarm sounds.
This never-ending anxiety in Sderot is all too real, even if there are very few actual casualties. Yet the same media which covers it in heart-rending full-page articles makes hardly any mention of Palestinian children, who live in at least as much fear and who stand a far greater risk of being blown to bits. The 16-year old boy crushed last week under the threads of an Israeli bulldozer, which was engaged in "removing" orchards which "may give cover to Quassam-shooting squads", got a bare laconic remark from the army - "unfortunate collateral damage, he should not have been there".
On the eve of the Jewish New Year, two weeks ago, there was a surprise from Ismail Haniyeh - Gaza-based Hamas leader and Prime Minister of one of the two rival Palestinian governments. Through international mediators, Haniyeh proposed to discuss with the Olmert Government the instituting of an immediate and bilateral ceasefire, and offered to impose such a ceasefire on the smaller groups such as the Islamic Jihad (which do most of the shooting).
Haniyeh's offer was not so much rejected as brushed aside. Indeed, there was an immediate, noticeable notching up of both the military offensive on the ground and the economic offensive through the banking boardrooms (simultaneously with the continuing talks with Abu Mazen and his team).
At least, the group of mainstream dovish writers headed by Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua was aroused to action, prominently publishing a call for an immediate ceasefire with Hamas.
And so we come to this day, Thursday, September 27, at noon, in the lazy midst of the Sukkot Holiday, when some of us were tempted to put off the radio and cut ourselves off from the world for a bit. But the urgent phones broke in: "Did you hear? Eleven dead in Gaza! Eleven! We must do something!"
And the sickeningly familiar routine was on once again: hasty consultations between peace groups, to determine place and time, and then hours of phone calls, composing and sending of email action alerts and press releases, placing of announcements on relevant websites and online forums, drawing of signs and placards, and then off to downtown Tel-Aviv. (At some moment during these hours the number of dead Gazans rose to twelve.) And there we are - the activists of Gush Shalom which initiated the action, and Anarchists Against Fences, and Women's Coalition for Peace, and Hadash Young Communists, and the veteran Latif Dori of Meretz, and quite a few people with no specific organizational allegiance. Altogether, some 120 people turned up.
On the one side, the new Defence Ministry Tower with the distinctive helicopter landing "saucer" on its roof - built at considerable expanse and inaugurated in a festive ceremony last year. On the other side, the Azrielli Twin Towers with their giant shopping mall, Tel Aviv's pride, the very symbol and acme of the rich, uncaring, corporate Israel which emerged in the past two decades. In between, the Begin Road, a major artery through which thousands of cars speed at all hours, and us waving signs and flags and banners and chanting in unison at the top of our voices and some making wild hand gestures at the passing cars and pedestrians: "Blockade - NO! Ceasefire - YES!" - "No Tanks and No Qassams - Ceasefire Now!" - "End the Bloodshed - Ceasefire Now!" - "The Blockade on Gaza is a War Crime!" - "End the Economic Strangulation of Gaza!" - "There is No Military Solution in Gaza!" - "Ceasefire in Gaza and Sderot!" - "Hamass Is a Partner for a Ceasefire!" - "I Am a Gazan, Too!" - "In Gaza and Sderot, Children Want to Live!" - "Barak, Barak, hey hey hey, How Many Kids Did You Kill Today?" - "Israel and Palestine, Two States for Two Peoples!" - "Israel and Palestine, a Brotherhood of Peoples!" - "All the Ministers are War Criminals" - "Ehud, Ehud, You Are Expected at the Hague!" - "Ehud, Ehud, Both of You Are Expected at the Hague!" - "The Occupation is a Disaster, Peace is the Solution!"
Two motorcycle riders who passed at great speed tried to grab a Gush Shalom Two-States flag from a demonstrator. A few minutes later, a young woman was rather dangerously leaning out of an open car window to call "Good luck, I am with you!".
The police which appeared soon afterwards - one patrol car, followed by another two - held short negotiations, and were satisfied with the promise that we would go away after an hour. The parked patrol cars actually created a traffic-free zone beside the pavement, in which press and activist photographers could stand and take photos of the straggling line of protesters. And the police did politely lead away the middle aged man who shouted, his face contorted "Why are you allowing these traitors..."
Towards the end, a short dialogue with a bypassing older couple:
The man: What are you demonstrating about?
Activist: Did you not hear? Eleven people killed today in Gaza.
The woman: Eleven? Of ours?
Activist: We are the ones to blame.
[A short silence.]
The man: Yes, the government, but this will not help.
Activist: Probably not, but somebody has to start shouting.
By Adam Keller