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Marching Through Empty Jerusalem

Marching Through Empty Jerusalem

The Other Israel - briefing March 2, 2002.

As it happened, we heard tonight's explosion. It happened just as a crowd was gathering at Tzion Square in downtown Jerusalem, in preparation for the protest march called by Peace Now. From a distance of some two kilometres it seemed no more than a dull thud, this fatal moment in which nine lives were snuffed out - but the immediate appearance of ambulances and police cars in high gear, with sirens blazing, told that something serious had happened.

During Ariel Sharon's year in power, whenever a peace initiative dared rear its head, the government and the army were quick with a major bloody provocation - which never failed to precipitate an also bloody retribution from the Palestinians side, which entailed a new revenge and then a new cycle of revenge upon revenge upon revenge, until the peace intiative is drowned in blood and forgotten.

So it had been when the Mitchell Commission made its report, and when Tenet came to offer suggestions how to implement Mitchell, when the mediator Zinni was due to arrive in the region, and for that matter when Arafat made a real effort to sustain the December cease fire.

This week the Saudi Crown Prince suggested having the whole Arab world recognize Israel in return for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. Sharon responded by sending two full infantry brigades, plus numerous tanks and helicopter gunships, to invade and occupy two refugee camps, killing more than twenty "armed miltants" in two days and wounding several hundred more. (Many of the dead and wounded turned out, on closer examination, to be unarmed civilians, among them children and aged civilians - not surprising when the invading forces adopted the practice of "spraying" houses with indiscriminate fire before entering them).

The result could have been predicted - was, in fact, predicted by quite a few respected commentators - and tonight it happened: a revenge-filled young Palestinian refugee blowing himself up amidst a randomly-chosen Israeli crowd, killing nine and wounding dozens of others.

The police used it to pressure the Peace Now organizers to call off the march. After some initial hesitation it was however decided to go on with it. The message had only become more meaningful.

By 7.45, we were all picking up memorial candles and prepared black- bordered signs reading :"We mourn the death of 1114 Israelis and Palestinians, Sharon's idea of peace and security". It seemed entirely appropriate, even if the number had just become obsolete.

And so, there were thousands marching through the nearly-empty streets of central Jerusalem, past the sites of past suicide bombings, past shops and restaurants closed down for lack of customers, up the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall and to the left on King George Street. Then, we came to the Prime Minister's residence, in front of which the whole street was blocked off to traffic. There, a moment of silence was observed, and several speeches made from the podium, in which blame for the cycle of bloodshed was placed squarely where it belongs - upon the ongoing occupation and upon the government which insists upon perpetuating that occupation.

At the end of the rally, more than a hundred participants chose to board buses chartered by Ta'ayush and go - not home but to Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem, to donate blood for the Palestinians in the the refugee camps. It had been arranged in advance. The hospital was expecting us - though, as turned out, they were not really prepared for such a number. While standing in line and seeing our friends already connected to the tubes, our thoughts went to the other hospitals in the western part of the same city, where we knew now were also long lines of blood donors.

Adam Keller & Beate Zilversmidt ------

The Other Israel - bi-monthly peace movement magazine pob 2542, Holon 58125, Israel; ph/fx: +972-3-5565804; for free sample hardcopy mailto:

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