Is Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s unilateral plan to uproot dozens of Jewish communities in Gush Katif and northern Samaria in trouble?
If Prime Minister Sharon were to listen to the people, the answer would be ‘yes.’ An estimated 150,000 gathered outside Israel’s parliament building on Sunday evening for a mass demonstration that organizers dubbed “the mother of all Israeli demonstrations.”
Under the theme of “Let the People Decide,” the huge crowd waved placards and Israeli flags and listened to speeches from a long line of politicians and rabbis, all of whom berated the once right-wing leader for his about face on giving away Israeli land.
Several speakers were from Sharon’s Likud party. They warned the prime minister that if the so-called disengagement plan is carried out, irreparable harm would be done to the fabric of Israeli society.
Popular Likud Knesset member, Uzi Landau railed against Sharon’s tactic of bringing the leftist Labor party into the government. “They call this a unity government?” he asked. “It’s a lie. Sharon threw out the parties who didn’t agree with him. This government has no mandate for a one sided withdrawal,” Landau concluded.
David Levy, a veteran Likud Knesset member, told his fellow Likudniks to “wake up!” As the crowd roared its approval, Levy asked how the Likudniks could sleep at night knowing that the plan they narrowly approved is “pitting brother against brother.”
Levy warned that the withdrawal would endanger the whole country, as terrorists will be emboldened and have closer access to Israel’s population centers.
Cheers went up from the crowd, as National Religious Party leader, Effie Eitam declared: "We are telling you Ariel Sharon – you have no mandate to expel Jews. "We are telling you – you have no right to divide this nation.”
Israel’s media repeatedly claims that a majority of the public supports the Sharon plan, but actual poll figures are hard to come by. For protestor Hannah Baum of Netanya, the ninety-minute drive to Jerusalem was worthwhile, just to show that not all those who are opposed to the uprooting of Jewish communities are over the Green Line “settlers.”
Months before Ukrainian democracy supporters started sporting orange, the Gush Katif campaign decided to use the color as a symbol of the sun and sand that marks their region. At the Sunday demo, every speaker on the dais was decked out in orange scarves, and most demonstrators wore at least one piece of orange clothing. At one point, officials asked for the crowd to raise their orange placards over their heads, so that an entire sea of orange would cover the streets directly in front of the Knesset building.
A centerpiece of the protest was a mass pledge to go to Gaza to prevent the evacuation should it take place.
In a series of film clips, demonstrators viewed the ‘before’ and ‘after’ Sharon. Before the last election, Sharon spoke out strongly against his opponent’s ideas of dismantling Jewish communities.
Little more than a year after his election, the new Sharon announced his eviction plan.
As the last clip drew to a close, the chant of “Arik, Go Home,” swelled through the streets. Speaker after speaker called on Sharon to hold a referendum or go to new elections. “This is not about our homes only,” said Gush Katif’s leading rabbi, Yigal Kaminetsky, “It’s about our national home.” Golan Regional Council head Eli Malka, who pledged the assistance of Golan residents for the anti-disengagement campaign, reiterated the theme.
Tens of thousands of mostly religious teenagers were on the streets in a show of commitment to the country. Their representative, 14 year old Neve Dekalim resident Smadar Golan, addressed the gathering. ”I was born in the first intifada,” she noted. “I don’t know what it is to live without terror,” she continued in a steady voice. She told the crowd that her community in Gush Katif is “the security fence for the whole country.”
Speaking to Prime Minister Sharon on behalf of the demonstrators, Golan honed in on what appears to have been one of Sharon’s worst political moves. “You didn’t even come to talk to us to explain what was going to happen,” she complained. “We had to hear about it through the media—and you portrayed us as obstacles to peace.”