In a show of solidarity, Jews and Palestinians from Israel and the territories rallied on Saturday night to demonstrate support for the peace process and to denounce the murders of Palestinian worshipers that took place in the West Bank town of Hebron.
Sponsored by Peace Now, the rally attracted an estimated 10,000 Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druze, many of whom had traveled by the busload to attend the demonstration.
Placards proclaiming “Dismantle the Settlements” and “There is a Mandate for Peace” were held aloft during the demonstration.
Following a moment of silence in memory of the murdered Palestinians, peace activists such as Dr. Ahmed Tibi, an Israeli Arab confidante of Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, and Chanah Meron, an Israeli entertainer who lost her leg in a terrorist attack, spoke in favor of the peace accord and called for an end to violence by both Jews and Palestinians.
Across the street, several hundred right-wing demonstrators burned a Palestinian flag and brandished placards depicting Arafat leading Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by the nose.
A large police contingent equipped with riot gear formed a human barrier between the two groups of demonstrators, preventing clashes.
For the most part, a feeling of good will prevailed at the rally. Palestinians and Jews mingled before and after the speeches, and it was clear that many had come to the rally together.
“We’re here to support the government,” said Baruch Shifman, who attended the demonstration with his wife and 13-year-old daughter. “The country is undergoing a difficult period, and we have to show our support and solidarity.”
Like many demonstrators, Shifman’s wife, Judy, called on the government to remove all Jewish settlers from Hebron, where on Feb. 25 Dr. Baruch Goldstein, an American-born resident of Kiryat Arba, gunned down at least 40 Palestinians praying at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a place holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians.
“It’s about time we stopped fascist activities by right-wing settlers in the territories, especially in Hebron,” Judy Shifman said. “The government must stop them from bullying Arabs in their homes.”
Asked whether she is in favor of removing all Jewish settlements in the territories, Shifman shrugged her shoulders and said: “I’m not certain. I think that most settlers should leave, but we must let the peace process decide this question.”
“After what happened in Hebron, I felt I had to do something to show the government how upset I am,” said Gagu Eshet, an 18-year-old soldier from Tel Aviv.
Attending the rally with her friends, Eshet, wearing jeans and a Peace Now T- shirt, said: “We want to change the situation in the territories. People need to know that not all Israelis behave like that psychopath in Hebron.”
Of her army service, she said, “When I served in Jerusalem, I felt very uncomfortable, as if I was some kind of conqueror. I’ve always wanted peace, but the feeling has become even stronger since I became a soldier.
“We will have peace,” she added. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe that.”
Hanna Khoury, a Christian Arab from Jerusalem, said he was “very happy to see so many people working toward peace.”
Holding a sign declaring “Peace Is the Way” in Hebrew, English and Arabic, he said, “Peace is going to happen, despite what happened in Hebron. Revenge, by Arabs or Jews, won’t solve anything.”
According to Khoury, “The majority of the Palestinians support the peace accord. It’s a small majority, maybe 55 percent, but I’m convinced that most Palestinians desire peace.”
While he conceded that the Hebron incident has hurt the peace talks, he said, “If the Israeli army begins to withdraw from the territories, I think the momentum will increase.”
Ali Mosbah, a Muslim from Hebron, agreed that the Palestinian people back the peace plan, despite the murders at his local mosque.
“The people of Hebron aren’t opposed to the peace process, although they are overwhelmed by grief,” he said.
“There is no word to describe the despair we are feeling right now. Still, we want peace instead of terror. We want to be able to live in our homes and sleep soundly at night, knowing that no one will attack us,” he said. “Parents make their children stay indoors after dark, fearing that settlers will attack them.”
Pausing to gaze at the rally, Mosbah said, “There are too many Baruch Goldsteins, but not all Jews are the same. This rally is proof of that. I have Jewish friends. I’m not saying I can’t live with Jews – just not religious ones.”
Referring to the army’s closure of the territories since the murders, which prohibits Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip from entering Israel proper, Mosbah said, “I’m a student in Jerusalem and therefore have a Jerusalem identity card. Without that card, I could not be at this rally. Believe me, thousands more Palestinians would have attended this rally if they could have.”
Hamzeh, a 23-year-old Muslim from eastern Jerusalem, admitted that “there are many people who would like to see the peace process die. I believe this is our only chance for peace, and we can’t afford to lose it. I honestly think we won’t get another opportunity.”