JERUSALEM (Nov. 3)
Peace fever seized the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem and throughout the administered territories over the weekend.
Crowds, among them scores of former security prisoners, marched through streets bearing olive branches. Israeli security forces stood by, but for the most part did not interfere.
The Palestinians’ jubilation was over the appearance of their delegation at the Middle East peace conference, which opened Oct. 30 in Madrid’s Royal Palace.
Although it is officially a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, the 14 Palestinian delegates representing the territories were in the limelight of the world news media.
For the first time in history, the Palestinians had a validated identity. Thousands at the peace demonstrations saw it as the herald of independence.
Israeli authorities cooperated to the extent of lifting the curfew in Gaza and removing the roadblocks that had kept West Bank Palestinians from entering Jerusalem during the opening of the Madrid conference opening.
The curfew and the barriers were aimed at the anti-peace element, notably the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas, which exhorted Palestinians to continue the armed struggle.
Clashes between pro- and anti-peace activists left 50 wounded in the Gaza Strip over the weekend.
The biggest peace demonstration was held Friday afternoon in a schoolyard in Ramallah. The main speakers were such Palestinian notables as Dr. Sari Nusseibeh and Ziyad Abu-Ziyad.
They could very well have gone to Madrid as part of an unofficial group advising the Palestinian delegates. But they preferred to stay home.
Nusseibeh appealed to the superpowers to take an active role in the peace process, not be mere observers.
The common theme of the speeches was to urge the populace to take to the streets with olive branches, the universal symbol of peace, instead of rocks, the principal weapon of the intifada, which will be four years old next month.
Observers noted that the leaders of public opinion in the Palestinian towns mostly were former inmates of Israeli prisons. Having earned their spurs, they are now influencing policy.
The rally ended with a large parade down the main street, which was awash with olive branches.
Similar demonstrations took place in other West Bank towns, though on a small scale.
The only confrontation was in East Jerusalem, where police dispersed peace demonstrators outside the Rockefeller Museum and detained several Palestinians who “violated public order.”