Lili Galili, Mazal Mualem and Tsahar Rotem / Haaretz – 2004-05-16 09:02:57
ISRAEL (May 16, 2004) — More than 150,000 people attended a left wing demonstration at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening under the banner ‘get out of Gaza and start talking.” Event organizers assessed that some 250,000 were present, Army Radio reported.
The rally opened at 8 PM with a minute of silence to commemorate the 13 Israel Defense Forces soldiers killed in the Gaza Strip over the past week.
Amid frequent outbreaks of applause and cheering, opposition leader Shimon Peres told the crowd that 80 percent of Israeli want peace and just one percent is trying to block it.
“We will not allow them,” Peres said. “We must not support a puppet government that follows the delusional ideas of the right.”
Yahad Chairman Yossi Beilin said that for the past three years the peace camp has been dormant that today it finally awoke.
One Nation chairman Amir Peretz called for a resumption of peace talks, saying that diplomatic and social affairs could not be seperated. “as a resident of Sderot [near the Gaza Strip] we do not fear disengagement and we fear neither dialogue nor a peace process.”
The event took place under heavy security with some 1300 police officers and volunteer security guards patrolling, and the streets around the plaza were closed from 4:30 P.M.
A delegation of 50 Palestinians, supporters of the Geneva Initiative, were also expected to attend the rally.
The Real Religious Zionist Movement, an organization of moderate observant Jewish youths said late on Saturday that they would have participated in the demonstration had it not been held during the Sabbath.
Groups members said the organizers should been more sensitive to the religious public, but in a statement they said they joined the call for a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and an end to the occupation.
A Yesha Council of Settlements statement said on Saturday that the “leftist extremists” who organized the rally were dancing on blood of the Gaza victims. “The heads of the left are responsible for the bloody Oslo Accords which cost in over 1,200 Israeli lives and turned the Gaza Strip into the explosive pit it is.”
Speaking at the rally were opposition leader Shimon Peres, Yahad Chairman Yossi Beilin, One Nation Chairman Amir Peretz, Peace Now leader Tzaly Reshef and Yochi Brandes, on behalf of the Geneva Initiative, and former Shin Bet head Ami Ayalon, former head of the Shin Bet for the People’s Voice. Former GOC Southern Comman chief Yom Tov Samia was also set to speak at the demonstration.
Singers Danny Sanderson and Dana Berger performed at the rally, along with the band Nikmat Hatraktor.
Ahead of the demonstration, the organizers rejected calls from politicians on the right to postpone the rally in the wake of the recent events in the Gaza Strip.
Likud MK Ehud Yatom argued that the protest would demoralize soldiers serving in the Gaza Strip, Army Radio reported Friday.
MK Gila Finkelstein of the National Religious Party said Friday that holding such a demonstration while the bodies of IDF soldiers were still lying in Rafah dishonors the fallen and their bereaved families.
United Torah Party MK Meir Porush told Army Radio that political discourse should be put aside at a time when the country is mourning the death of its soldiers.
The rally was scheduled by a new forum, Mate Harov (Majority’s Coalition), after the Likud referendum rejected the prime minister’s plan for a pullout from the Gaza Strip. The forum includes left and center-left groups such as Labor, Yahad, One Nation, Peace Now, the kibbutz movements, the Geneva Initiative organization, youth movements and the Forum of Bereaved Parents.
Minister of Social Affairs Zevulun Orlev (NRP) asked Peres on Thursday to postpone the rally, saying it was not appropriate to hold a political demonstration while fallen soldiers were being buried. The organizers responded that national unity was not an issue considered by the prime minister when he decided to leave the decision on going ahead with his disengagement plan solely in the hands of Likud members.
Thousand attending a Tel Aviv rally on Saturday, calling for a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. (AP)