TEL AVIV - Left-wing supporters of the Gaza disengagement plan gathered under the heading “Israel is leaving Gaza” in Tel Aviv Saturday.
While rally organizers said more than one hundred buses were expected to make their way to Tel Aviv, police officials said only 10,000 people had arrived.
Demonstrators marched from Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to Dizengoff Circle, where Interior Minister Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor), Knesset Member Ran Cohen (Yahad), and a number of left-wing organization representatives addressed the crowd.
'Greatest test of Israel's democracy'
I am calling to all disengagement opposers
to respect the majority’s will, the government’s will and the Knesset, said Interior Minister Ophir Pines-Paz during his speech at the rally.
“This is the greatest test of Israel’s democracy,” he said. “ The rally stands for three “no’s”, no to disobedience, no to incitement and no to violence.”
Pines-Paz directed his speech to national referendum supporters and said he would not allow them to “torpedo” the Gaza pullout.
“We don’t need a referendum because the majority supports a withdrawal from Gaza,” he said. “I’m calling on the Likud and Israeli government to come to your senses. I say to Sharon – don’t be afraid, continue on your way, it’s our way and it's the correct way.”
Knesset member Ran Cohen (Yahad) told the crowd at the rally they had gathered to oppose those who threaten to destroy the country and its democracy.
“Those who burn tires on the Ayalon say they are
brothers, and that one must not desert a brother,” he said speaking about the settler opposition to the Gaza pullout. “But brothers don’t point a gun at you and afterwards threaten their fathers, with brothers like you, who needs enemies?”
Peace Now General Secretary Yariv Openheimer said at the rally that whoever proclaims a war between brothers should know that the left would be prepared for battle.
“We are ready for battle, a battle for education, a battle for Zionism, a battle for peace,” he said. “Whoever lays a hand on the prime minister needs to know that we will be there.”
'Satisfied at the turnout'
Labor Knesset member Yuli Tamir said she was satisfied with the turnout.
“Usually less people come to the “pro” rallies compared to the “apposed” demonstrations”, she said. “But the crowd at home is larger, they know he (Prime Minister Ariel Sharon) will continue with the disengagement so they see no reason to leave.”
In response, the Yesha Council said the weak turnout of left-wing supporters proves that most Israeli citizens are against Sharon’s plan.
“The organizers planned the rally at Dizengoff Circle and not at Rabin Square where the weak turnout would have been more apparent,” an official announcement read.
While demonstrators held signs saying "The 11th commandment - Thou shalt not remain silent", flyers reading "stop the mistake", explaining how the Gush Katif settlements in the Gaza Strip never belonged to Egypt, were handed out in opposition.
Some 700 police officers, Border Guard troops, and volunteers are expected to secure the event.
Likud members not eager to join rally
The rally is organized by several left-wing groups to display their support for the planned withdrawal from Gaza, but Openheimer said earlier the organizers approached a number of Likud party members as well.
“(Transportation) Minister Meir Sheetrit did not reject the idea and expressed his willingness to participate, but later changed his mind,” he said.
“People from right are a bit apprehensive about showing their support for the disengagement, but we believe this is not a classic leftist, but a demonstration that represents the majority’s views,” he said.
Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc) members said that during the rally they will hand out leaflets saying “Gush Katif today – Ariel and Beit El tomorrow.”
“We decided to come to the demonstration despite the fact that Sharon continues with the settlement activity in the West Bank in order to emphasize the message that a pullout from Gaza is not enough – the entire occupation must end,” a Gush Shalom member said.
- Attila Somfalvi and Avi Cohen also contributed to this report