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Imagine All the People
Gila Svirsky, Israel
February 10, 2002
We knew there would be a big turnout for the peace demonstration last
night just from the deluge of pro-peace ads in Ha'aretz the day before—page after page of statements and petitions, all critical of the
occupation. Some excerpts:
***"There is a choice!" An expanded new list of 200 combat officers and
soldiers who refuse to serve in the army of occupation.
***"There's a limit!" Support for the new soldiers, and the names of
others who have consistently refused to serve, placed by Yesh Gvul.
***"We support the soldiers who refuse to serve the occupation"—a
petition placed by civilian supporters.
***"Peres, you are a collaborator in war-crimes!" placed by Gush Shalom.
***"Do not say 'we did not see, we did not know'—the price of keeping
the territories"—placed by the Israel Committee Against House
***"A Recipe for National Suicide"—placed by a private citizen.
And a huge, blood-red ad, "The Occupation is Killing Us All", signed by
the 28 organizations that came together to hold last night's impressive
rally in Tel-Aviv (full list below).
This was the largest pro-peace rally since this Intifada began in
September 2000, with an estimated 10,000 participants—Jews and Arabs
from all over Israel filling the large Tel-Aviv Museum plaza. The mood is
clearly swinging in Israel, and the homemade signs of people who had not
attended a demonstration for years reflected the new thinking—"Stop
Sharon before he kills us all", "More conscientious objectors!",
"Occupation itself is a war crime", and all permutations of "Share
Jerusalem", "Dismantle Settlements", and "Bring our soldiers home".
By the time veteran peace activist Yehudit Harel opened the ceremony, the
crowd was a mass of people amazed and buoyed by each other's presence,
with a great deal of hugging by people glad to be sharing the moment. And
then Yehudit's opening words in fluent Hebrew and Arabic set the tone for
the entire evening—we Israeli Jews and Arabs together will no longer
abide the crimes that the Israeli government is carrying out. "There is
only one flag held aloft here today," said Yehudit, "and it is the black
flag of pain, mourning, death, bereavement, and the immorality of war
crimes that are being committed in our name." At her words, hundreds of
black flags were raised high by the crowd, symbolizing the statement made
years ago by an Israeli court that if a military order has "a black flag
of immorality" hanging over it, the order must be refused.
This was a rally in which the young men who refused to serve in the army
of occupation were the heroes of the evening, receiving ovation after
ovation at every mention. "I once disagreed with refusal to serve in the
army," said Uri Avnery to the crowd, "but today I salute those who will
not serve. Refusal is the beginning of the end of the occupation." Some
of these brave young men have been stripped of their command, demoted, and
face court martial, but continue to answer to their conscience. "How can
we serve in an army that kills children?" asked Yishai Rosen-Zvi, an
Orthodox tank corps sergeant in the reserves, "How can we serve an army
that demolishes homes, does not allow the sick to get medical attention,
seeks to humiliate an entire population, and reduces them to hunger and
Between speakers and sometimes during them, the crowd broke into chanting of familiar slogans: "Fuad, Fuad, Minister of Defense, How many kids did you kill today?" "Occupation, No! Peace, Yes!", "Money for the poor, not
It was a rally in which the stage was shared by Arabs and Jews, women and
men, Mizrahim and Ashkenazim, young and old, religious and secular.
Distinguished elderly author Sammy Michael pointed out the futility of the
ongoing occupation: "Death is not a threat to people who willingly give
their lives for a cause." And Shulamit Aloni, former government minister
and perennial conscience of Israel, called out her message of hope, "All
of you here today are the harbingers of a mass movement that already has
begun. You will be the teachers of democracy to this government. You
will set an example of morality. We shall clean out the crimes of this
country and fill it with peace!"
There were many moments that brought tears to my eyes last night. I will
tell you of two: Famed singer Ahinoam Nini (known as "Noa", I believe, to
her American fans) took the risk of alienating her Israeli right-wing
fans, and sang to the crowd a Hebrew, Arabic, and English version of
"Imagine" by the Beatles: "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the
only one; I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will be as one."
And the other was the transformation of a beloved Zionist song "Ein li
eretz aheret". Reciting this song in two languages, Hebrew and Arabic,
suddenly infused it with new meaning: "I have no other country to go to.
And even if the land is burning under my feet, this is my home." For the
Arabs in the crowd, the song suddenly became theirs, too, and for the
Jews, it meant a land we both love deeply.
I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will be as one.
Association of Arab University Students / Baladna / BANKI / Bat Shalom /
Coalition of Women for a Just Peace / Druse Initiative Committee / Du
Siach / Gush Shalom / HaCampus Lo Shotek, Tel-Aviv University / Hadash
Youth / Israeli Committtee Against House Demolitions / Kol Aher BaGalil /
Kvisa Sh'hora: Lesbians and Gay Men Against the Occupation / Left Forum,
Haifa University / MachsomWatch / Meretz Youth / Monitoring Committee of
the Arab Population in Israel / NELED / Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salaam / New
Profile / Noga / TANDI / Ta'ayush: Arab-Jewish Partnership / Tajamu Youth
/ WILPF / Women and Mothers for Peace (formerly Four Mothers) / Women in
Black / Yesh Gvul
Gila Svirsky is an Israeli peace and human rights activist.