Friday, November 16, 2012

Sirens and protests

The alarm sounded when we were at the corner of Frishman Street, twenty minutes before the demonstration against the war. The first alarm in central Tel Aviv. I was among those who ran to the nearest stairwell. There is only a small statistical chance the missile will fall exactly where you are. This morning two men and a woman in Kiryat Malachi sitting on their balcony thought they could ignore the sirens. They are dead.

But then, the civilians killed in Gaza:  the three children under the age of four whose photographs were spread widely on Facebook (but not in the Israeli media). Did they even get any warning? Had they any safe place to run to?

In the stairwell we heard a dull explosion, and the radio said it fell in an open area in the Bat Yam suburb. “Is there at all any open space among the crowded buildings of Bat Yam? "Maybe it fell in the cemetery”,  someone thought.

"Will the demonstration be held at all, in such a situation?" "Come on! One missile is not going to deter us who have decided to go against the current and demonstrate against the war. At worst, if there is another alarm, we will run with the signs to a safe place and return after five minutes." However, the new situation did affect my mother, who is 83 and needs a walker but with indefatigable fighting spirit. She had to give up her intention of coming to the demonstration, which considerably frustrated her.

At Dizengoff Square a group of young people were sitting on the benches and debated loudly. "No, I tell you again, you cannot eliminate them. We need another solution" we heard one persistent voice. It would have been interesting to continue listening but we were already late.

Already from a considerable distance it was possible to hear the voices,  resounding through the King George Street: "Jews and Arabs / refuse to be enemies!" and "The people demand / stop shooting!" at the cadence of the Social Justice protests of last summer. Like a breath of fresh air after the ongoing undiluted war propaganda which fills the airwaves. Hundreds of demonstrators on the sidewalk opposite the Likud Party, incessantly chanting: "In Gaza and Sderot / children want to live", "Bibi Netanyahu resign / For the sake of the South", "War is the right-wing government's electoral spin", "Jews and Arabs / refuse to be enemies","No no to war / Yes yes to peace","Arabs and Jews / Together against the war ","Give the funds/To slums and welfare/ Not to new wars"," No to the war of the tycoons ","The people demand / not to be occupiers"," Sderot and Gaza do not despair / we will end the occupation".

On the other side of the street, at the foot of the Likud building, stand  the right-wing counter-demonstrators. It is very hard to hear them. For a moment it was possible to make out that they were singing the National Anthem Hatikva and waving Israeli national flags. There are also some such flags on our side. A young man in a green shirt waves a big Blue and White flag while chanting "Stop shooting!". On the old tree in the middle of the road, which was here long before it was Tel Aviv, press photographers are hanging with cameras aimed both ways.

The Hadash Communist Knesset Members take the megaphone. "We are here, Jews and Arabs, to cry out: Stop the killing, stop the bloodshed! Netanyahu tries to stabilize his rule through war, Palestinians in Gaza and Israelis in Kiryat Malachi pay the price" said Mohammed Barake. Dov Hanin calls out: "War and a cycle of violence are not the solution, they are the problem. This war will not bring peace and quiet to residents of the South nor to the people of Gaza. The only way to break the vicious cycle is through dialogue." Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz was seen in the crowd, but did not speak. "It's better than last time, in 2009 it took Meretz more than a week to come out against the war" said one activist.

People from the south take the megaphone to the sound of prolonged applause. "We are sitting closed at home, hearing the launches and explosions from both sides passing over the roof. Those are our neighbors, five kilometers away. Who decided that they must be our enemies?" Says Ya'ala Ra'anan from Moshav Ein HaBsor, followed by Nir Hefetz of Kibbutz Nirim: "I heard the alarm here in Tel Aviv and before that at my home. My children went to their grandparents to get some rest. I want to say to the Netanyahu Government - stop playing with us, stop playing with our fate, stop conducting power games with us as playing chips!". And Emanuel Yariv of Beersheba: "We in the south are paying the price. It is time to stop this madness. The army has no solution, the only solution is negotiation and a political settlement." After each speaker the chanting arises again, "Jews and Arabs / refuse to be enemies / refuse to be enemies / refuse to be enemies!"

All that was last night. And since then there had been a tense and quiet night (should we return to the routine of the 1991 Gulf War and sleep with clothes on, ready to jump and run to the stairwell?). And again  a missile was fired at Tel Aviv, and today also at Jerusalem, to the chagrin of Jerusalemites who thought that Palestinian East Jerusalem and the Muslim holy places gave them immunity.

The Israeli media reported at very great length the many missiles fired at the south which fortunately did not cause any more Israeli casualties today. Very little report of the Palestinians killed in Gaza (29 deaths so far). The injured Palestinians that fill the Shifa Hospital got no mention at all (about two hundred and fifty wounded). Tahrir Suleiman, aged 22, was this morning at her home in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip. An Israeli aircraft dropped a bomb and the house was destroyed. Palestinian rescue teams extracted five members of the family from the wreckage. Tahrir Suleiman died in hospital a few hours later, doctors continue treating the other four family members. If it were an Israeli family, all this would have gotten banner headlines in every newspaper in Israel with huge news stories full of pathos about the tragedy of this family. But she was a Palestinian, so those who get  their information from the Israeli media will never hear of her. And if by chance they do hear of it, the government has already explained that Hamas uses the civilian population as human shields, so of course they are to blame.

Meanwhile, the cabinet approves calling up 75,000 reservists. and soldiers interviewed on TV all sound very gung-ho and belligerent, waiting  impatiently for the moment they would plunge into street fighting in the alleys of Gaza. A representative sample? British Foreign Secretary warns that a Gaza ground invasion could bring an end to the European backing which Netanyahu so far enjoys. And what would Egyptian President Morsi do, who sent his Prime Minister to Gaza and made angry irritated statements but so far avoided irreversible damage to the peace agreement with Israel?

Meanwhile, on TV tonight former Army Chief of Staff Dan Halutz spoke in a moderate and restrained tone, strongly urging caution in Gaza – very different indeed from the cocksure and arrogant presentation at the time he conducted the 2006 war in Lebanon.

The Combatants for Peace group is holding tomorrow afternoon a joint march and rally of Israelis and Palestinians, calling together for an end to  this murderous madness. The struggle continues.

(...) We, Israelis and Palestinians, oppose the use of violence as a means of resolving conflicts between nations, and see this as the main problem and obstacle on the way to ending the conflict. We share in the pain and grief of the bereaved families on both sides.

Tomorrow, Saturday Novermber 17, we will hold a joint protest event, where we will together call upon the leaders:

Stop shooting!

We will start with two marches, an Israeli an a Palestinian one, from two different points near Beit Jala (in the C Area of the West Bank) and meet at an agreed point for a joint protest rally and a call upon leaders to cease the fire immediately.


Buses will leave from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, according to the following schedule:

Departure from Tel Aviv Arlozorov St. Railway Station, adjacent to the "Shlomo Sixt" parking lot: 14:45
Departure from Jerusalem, Teddy Stadium, near the western tiers: 15:45

Start of the marches: 16:00
Converging of the marches and rally: 16:30
Approximate departure time for the return: 19:00