10,000 At Tel-Aviv Rally For Peace
'The occupation itself is a war crime!' - 10,000 at Tel-Aviv rally
- pob 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033
The rally was a good one, and the square was full.
During the negotiations with the Tel-Aviv police we had asked a permit for 5,000 people. About a year ago, in a rally called by much the same peace and human rights groups, only some hundreds showed up. But we knew that something has changed by now and we were reminded of that fact by a daily stream of supportive messages and monetary donations from all over the country and the world - many of them from recipients of this email list, to whom we are very grateful. Still, we told each other: as long as there will be "thousands" we can declare success. Without the participation of Peace Now we didn't dare to hope for the ten thousand that in the event did turn up.
We had been right that the time was ripe. The Israeli people didn't altogether forget that during the December cease-fire, maintained by the Palestinians for over three weeks, there were virtually no Israeli casualties. And part of the public even realized that this cease-fire was rudely broken by Sharon in a series of deliberate provocations and assassinations, which started a new and still ongoing cycle of bloodshed.
No more is there the atmosphere of "National Unity" with hardly any expressions of dissent. The discussion on war crimes became fashionable (for which we take some credit). Critical views became frequent in the media, also from politicians not noted for bravery or radicalism. Above all, there was the spectacular success of the petition by reserve soldiers and officers refusing to have any further share in the occupation - whose number mushroomed from the original 56 to more than two hundred at present (and continues to rise daily) and whose act got wider and more sympathetic publicity than anybody could have dared to expect the traditionally militaristic Israeli society to give soldiers and officers flagrantly disobeying the orders of their superiors. (The Yediot Aharonot opinion poll of Feb. 8 found no less than 26% of the Israeli public sympathizing with the officers' refusal to serve in the Territories; the paper noted that even at the height of the anti-war movement of the 1960's and early 1970's, there had never been such a percentage of American in support of the soldiers who refused to fight in Vietnam.)
It was the refusers who were undoubtedly at the center of the rally. This was evident as the thousands started pouring into into Museum Plaza.
Among the colorful medley of printed and hand-made flags and signs and banners in Hebrew and Arabic and English, there were many expressing warm support for the refusers. And there were prolonged cheers whenever a speaker mentioned the refusers, and even more so when a refuser mounted the improvised podium set up on the steps of the Tel-Aviv Public Library.
There were three of them among the twelve featured speakers: Yishai Rosen-Tzvi, fresh from a term in military prison; Yishai Menuchin, a veteran refuser who was already imprisoned during the Lebanon War twenty years ago; and Noa Levy, one of a group of highschool kids who are determined to follow in these two's footsteps upon reaching conscription age.
Those of us who had carried on the struggle in the past year and half, who more then once reached the edge of despair in lonely vigils of a few dozen which were so woefully inadequate for what we were protesting against, felt a bit delirious. A large and heterogenous crowd - outspoken gays and lesbians from cosmopolitan Tel-Aviv, side by side with villagers from rather conservative Arab communities; the moment of silence, with hundreds of black flags of mourning held aloft; and except for that moment, the continuous chanting, sometimes rising to drown out the speaker "Fuad, Fuad Sar Habitachon - Kama Yeladim Haragta Ad Hayom?"(Fuad Minister of Defence, how many children did you kill onto this day?); the catcalls and whistles which greeted any mention of Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, once the darling of dovish crowds; the voice of well-known singer Ahinoam Nini rapt in John Lennon's words "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one"; Uri Avnery thundering "Once we thought that there are war crimes perpetrated in the occupation - now we see that the occupation is a war crime!"; Shulamit Aloni reciting Nathan Alterman's poem denouncing the killing of civilians by the army in 1948 - a classic of modern Hebrew poetry - and adding "If Alterman had written it today, Army Chief of Staff Mofaz would have started investigating him as a leftist agitator"; Yasser Arafat's greeting, sent out of besieged Ramallah: "Only the peace of the brave will ensure our children and yours a future without violence and bloodshed"; writer Sami Michael's observation: "We must all free ourselves of the occupation, the Palestinians from occupation by the army, we from occupation by the angel of death; Abed Anabtawi of the Arab Monitoring Committee: "The occupation does not distinguish between Jewish Blood and Arab blood; we all stand to be its victims, we all must fight it - together!"; Writer Ronit Matalon: "Sharon's train is taking us to total war and total destruction. We must derail it - and the refusers' letter is a good start"; Jamal Zahalka: "A specter is haunting this country's political and military leadership - the specter of soldiers' refusal, a specter which refuses to be exorcized however much they try"; Yehuda Shenhav: "The occupation is financed by our tax money. The tanks, the helicopter gunships, the bulldozers, the war crimes are all financed by out tax money. This money should go elsewhere - to the poor, to the disabled, to the creation of a just society!"; the cheering and wild clapping which punctuated each and every speech, especially when someone made a particularly daring or militant remark. None of the speakers had been officially designated keynote speaker. The one who may have come closest to that description was Yishai Rosen-Tzvi - not because of a superior rhetoric skill, but because of the recent intense experience which was clearly still fresh in his mind. "I want to tell of how people come to take this act of refusal. In the past year, since I was in prison, I met many people who stand on the very threshold, people who - above anything else - feel terribly cheated. A soldier gets to the Territories and is confronted with a terrible situation. thousands upon thousands of people sunk in deep misery, poverty, humiliation. And then you get your orders and find out what your job is. Your job is to push these people deeper into misery and poverty and humiliation, to keep them caged in towns and villages, not to let them get out, not to let them earn a living, not to let them live a normal life. And then two things happen.
First you look around in disbelief, you take your had into your hands and ask: God, can this be true, is this really what I am supposed to do, how did I get here, how did I come to get such orders, to be asked to do such things? And the second thing which happens is that you cry out "I've been cheated!". All the propaganda arguments collapse - that we are a peace-loving people, that the war was imposed on us, that we do what we must in order to fight terrorism. Everything collapses, all these specious arguments, collapse like a house of cards. And then you are faced with the reality, the cruel reality. Fighting terrorism - what a joke! They are maintaining a hothouse of misery and poverty and hopelessness, our army does, a hothouse where the plants of terrorism have the ideal conditions for growth. The government policy is keeping the terrorism hothouse going and flourishing. And the conclusion is very simple. There are things which a decent person just does not do. A decent person does not starve people, and does not humiliate people, and does not treat people as if they were dirt. A decent person JUST DOES NOT DO THAT. Not under any circumstance.
And there are more decent people in this country then we thought. And every day more people discover that they are decent, and start behaving as decent people should. And when there are enough of them, then the occupation will just come to an end."
NB: Full transcript of the Dec. 9. 2001 war crimes panel available on the Gush site
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