Saturday, December 27 - a few minutes to midnight. War in Gaza. It has come.
This morning, some of us got up with anxiety to listen to the early morning news, and go on hoping against hope for a few more hours. This morning, more than two hundred Gazans, whose names we will probably never know, woke up without guessing that it was their last morning. And also in the Israeli border town of Netivot, the 58-years old Beber Vaknin got up and went strolling through the quiet weekend streets of his hometown, not knowing that long before sunset he would become part of statistics. A very favourable body count indeed for Day 1 of Israel's newest war - one dead Israeli to 225 Palestinians, as of this hour. Cheers!
The mass bombing and killing at 11.30 am came as a shocking surprise - even though there had been, in fact, no reason whatsoever to feel surprised. Out of our anger and outrage, sharp texts of angry protest and denunciation were feverishly written and hurled out to other activists, to the media, to anyone and everyone in Israel and the whole world who might possibly be willing to listen: "The Gaza war is the vicious folly of a bankrupt government", "Barak conducts his elections campaign by bloodshed on both sides of the border."
At record speed, a rendezvous for protest was suggested by the Coalition of Women for Peace and quickly taken up by Hadash, Gush Shalom, the Anarchists, Tarabut and also the Meretz grassroots network. The message spread among all by word of mouth and phone and email and SMS and Facebook:
"Stop the War! Stop the War! Gather at 6.00 pm for an open planning meeting at the Tel Aviv Cinemateque Square. We march out at 7.30. Come one, come all!" Friends were contacted in both bombed Gaza and bombed Sderot, both giving their heartfelt support to any effort to stop the madness. Transportation was improvised from Haifa and Jerusalem, and even from the Arab towns of Tyra and Nazareth some came to Tel-Aviv, though there were demonstrations going on in their hometowns.
The police, too, had somehow heard of it. Long before six, the Cinemateque was surrounded on all sides - ordinary police and riot police and mounted police, and more and more patrol cars arriving and unloading additional ones every minute. "Look, these ones don't carry pistols - they have automatic rifles! Do they intend to bring the war here, too?" whispered a girl in an Animal Rights t-shirt.
On the side a dozen youngsters were intensively preparing placards.
"Stop the massacre!" / "Olmert's War - Our Victims!" / "War is not election s spin" / "No to the murder of innocents!" / "We Israelis say: The Government of Israel perpetrates War Crimes!" / "International Intervention Now!" / "EU, Stop the War!". "Livni, Murder is not Feminist!" / "Thou Shalt Not Kill!"
One slogan came up very often: "This is not my war!" It was written again and again in Hebrew, Arabic, English or a combination of these.
Meanwhile, there was an event taking place inside the Cinemateque building, planned long in advance, of the African refugee community in Israel›calling upon the authorities to give asylum to the refugees and not deport them.
A young black woman came over, speaking of children in Congo, her homeland, being forced to work at mines and handle carcinogenic materials. The circumstances didn't allow to go in and give this cause the attention which it also deserves.
By seven o'clock, the Cinemateque Square was crowded with over a thousand present. More than what one would expect in Israel during the very first hours of a war, amidst the kind of war fever which the Israeli media is capable of.
Lines were formed, banners unfurled, and the drummers started their rhythm - but the police stretched their own line after line, blocking all exits. A large-scale violent clash seemed inevitable but organizers called out: Stop! Wait! and began negotiating. After some twenty tense minutes the call was sounded: Forward! and to the wonder of all, the police ranks parted to let protesters through.
The compromise with the police was that the march take a route to the Ministry of Defence avoiding interference with main street traffic. The inhabitants of the normally tranquil Sprintzak Street looked down from their balconies to the ongoing stream of chanting protesters:
"Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies!" / In Gaza and Sderot, Children Want to Live!" / War is a disaster - Peace is the solution!" / Stop the War! Return to the Truce!" / Silence the guns - Save the peoples!" / Barak, Barak, hey, hey, hey - How many did you kill today?" / "Bloodshed will not buy you power!" / "The blood is flowing for the ministers' prestige!" / "The blood is flowing for the polls of the corrupt parties!" / "No to War! - Back to Negotiations!"
Even "No to War! - Yes to Peace!", which on most days would sound like a naive truism, was today a sharp radical message.
For a considerable while, police did not intervene, but at the corner of Kaplan Street there was suddenly a charge of the mounted police directly into the crowd, a scuffle and angry shouts of "Police State!" - "Forward, forward!" called the organizers. "We have an appointment with Olmert at the Ministry of Defence."
Several hundred metres to the right and the Ministry gates appear on the far side of the street. "Ladies and gentlemen of the press - our attack on Gaza today was surgical an pin-pointed", the voice of Olmert on the radio, which some activists put on, is broadcast from the towers across the street. "Liar, war criminal!" rises the shout as if answering from the street, and several young people broke through the police fences, trying to block the street - to be immediately dragged into the waiting patrol cars.
It continued until half past nine when it was announced: "We are finished here for today, but we will continue to come back until it is over. Anyone willing to spend some more hours, join us to picket the police station where our friends are held."
In the bus, on the way home, the radio - amidst all the war reports from the south - carried a short report of the demonstration. The number of protesters was given as two hundred... It was an obvious hostile reporting, a way of trying to diminish the opposition to the war.
But maybe, one should not be too discouraged with getting mentioned at all, on such a day of media-orchestrated war euphoria.
Report for The Other Israel, December-2008--January-2009 issue