Fighting the Cynicism of Escalation

In Israel, opponents of the military campaign in the Gaza Strip are starting to make their protest heard. The era of the old guard of the 'Peace Now' movement would appear to have come to an end; a new generation of activists is rising up to take their place. Joseph Croitoru reports

Anti-war protesters in Tel Aviv on 3 January 2009 (photo: AP)
The anti-war demonstration was organised by a group of young intellectuals associated with a number of left-wing cultural magazines, some of which are more Socialist and others more pro-Palestinian in their outlook

​​ It took those Israelis who are opposed to the war several days to take their protest against the military campaign in the Gaza Strip to the streets. The first demonstration was held in Jaffa, Tel Aviv's Arab district, on 27 December. However, only very few took part and the demonstration attracted little attention. Significantly, a second demonstration four days ago was organised by Israeli Arabs.

The call to demonstrate came from the mayor of the Arab city of Sakhnin and this time, a large part of the Arab population heeded the call. It is estimated that over 100,000 Arab Israelis of all political persuasions took part in the demonstration. The Arab international television channel Al Jazeera even broadcast the mass demonstration, at which the Israeli government was described as terrorist and bloodthirsty, live.

Demonstration against the peace demo

A much more modest demonstration took place last Saturday evening at Rabin Square in downtown Tel Aviv. Most of the estimated 1,000 opponents of the war who assembled in the square were left-wing Jewish Israelis. However, they had to share the square with right-wing Jewish counter-demonstrators who came determined to prevent the left-wingers from demonstrating against the war.

The Israeli police kept the two groups apart. The left-wing demonstrators had prepared their protest well. In order to avoid creating the impression that they were solely pro-Palestinian, half of their protesters arrived bearing Israeli flags and the other half bearing Palestinian flags. However, the police assumed that anyone carrying an Israeli flag was a right-wing demonstrator and did not allow them to pass. This explains why the anti-war demonstration was held almost exclusively under the Palestinian flag, which was not the intention at all.

The emergence of a new peace movement

Protests in Marseille against the war in Gaza (photo: AP)
Like here in Marseille, people around the world have taken to the streets to demonstrate against Israel's military campaign in Gaza

​​ The anti-war demonstration, which has nothing to do with the Israeli peace movement 'Peace Now', which has been in decline for quite some time, was organised by a group of young intellectuals associated with a number of left-wing cultural magazines, some of which are more Socialist and others more pro-Palestinian in their outlook.

Before the demonstration, the editorial teams of these magazines used the Internet to call on people to submit creative contributions highlighting their opposition to the Israeli military campaign. The response was overwhelming. A selection of the works submitted has now been published in a brochure printed by an Arab company; no printers in Tel Aviv were willing to print it. It is entitled 'Out!', an unambiguous appeal to the Israeli military to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.

Calli for an end to the massacre

Although those responsible for the campaign are roundly accused in the foreword of cynicism and obsession with power, an illustration of the divided response of Jewish Israelis to the current situation, the authors also express their regret at the 'sacrifice' being made by the Jewish population in the south of the country, which is also affected by the war.

The authors are calling for an end to the massacre and the killing and appeal to both sides to negotiate a ceasefire. The brochure contains contributions from a total of 67 Jewish and a number of Arab artists. Some two-thirds of the contributions are poems.

Cynical logic of the war

The painter Ido Bar-El submitted a sheet of white paper featuring only one word: ceasefire. The fact that the word is printed in standard font size on an otherwise blank sheet of paper makes it all the more explosive. A poem by the Israeli Arab Salman Masallha describes how an Israeli tank crushes the dreams of a Palestinian girl.

In her poem, the Israeli Zeela Katz highlights the cynical logic of the war by caricaturing the way in which both the military and the media calculate the number of victims. Her colleague, Osnat Skovlinski, brings a new Middle East to life in which tunnels are no longer used to wage war, but as a joint playground for the children of both nations.

This anti-war anthology, to which Israeli newspapers actually dedicated a few inches of column space, was read out at another demonstration in Tel Aviv. The demonstration was held outside the high-rise building which is home to Israel's defence minister, Ehud Barak. Whether he took any notice of the demonstration is, however, questionable.

Joseph Croitoru

© 2008

Dr. Joseph Croitoru was born in Haifa in 1960 and is an expert in political Islam. In 1988 he began working as a freelance journalist, initially in Israel and since 1992 for German-language newspapers. His most recent book, Hamas. Der islamische Kampf um Palästina (Hamas: The Islamic Battle for Palestine) was published by C. H. Beck in 2007.

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