LONDON (May. 6)
British Jewry has marshaled one of its largest crowds ever to show support for Israel.
Some 50,000 demonstrators from all over Britain filled Trafalgar Square on Monday afternoon, carrying Israeli and British flags and banners reading “Yes to peace, no to terror” and “Suicide bombers kill people and the peace.”
A small but noisy pro-Palestinian demonstration was held nearby, carrying banners supporting the intifada and denouncing the “Zionist state.” Two people at the counter-demonstration, which drew about 300 people, were arrested for public order infractions.
Thousands of police officers were deployed in the square and neighboring streets to prevent clashes between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian demonstrators, but apart from a little pushing and shoving, the rally ended without incident.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the main speaker, said Israel should not allow Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to head a state because it would be a terrorist state, not a peaceful one.
He also drew comparisons between the British stand against Nazism and Israel’s struggle for survival.
Were it not for Britain’s resistance against the Nazis, the course of history might have been very different, Netanyahu said.
“But now Britain stands before another road, and it must choose between two opposing paths — the path of appeasing terror or the path or confronting terror,” he said.
Netanyahu also called on the international community to support Israel.
“Israel is determined to fight,” Netanyahu said. “The question isn’t whether Israel will fight, but whether we will fight alone.”
A number of high-profile speakers addressed the rally, including Labor Party legislator Peter Mandelson, Conservative Deputy Leader Michael Ancram and Orthodox Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.
Sacks noted that Monday’s turnout was the greatest gathering in the history of British Jewry.
“It is important that Israel knows that it’s not alone,” he said in his speech.
Mandelson, formerly the Cabinet secretary for Northern Ireland, said a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute could not be imposed from outside, but could only be reached through negotiations between the two sides.
“Violence and terror will only delay and obstruct the just outcome they seek,” he said. “Politics, not violence, secures peoples’ lives.”
Mandelson added that a vision of peace benefiting all had sustained the peace process for years.
“In the Middle East, this vision is of an Israel secure within its borders, its existence unchallenged, its people never with their bags packed, never prepared to run again,” he said. “And it is the equivalent for the Palestinian people — a viable, independent state, one that brings not just freedom but responsibility too, fulfilling all the obligations of international law.”
Approximately 350 buses brought tens of thousands of Jews from all over Britain, including thousands of pupils, students and members of youth groups. The equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars were collected, mainly from the budgets of the United Jewish Israel Appeal, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Jewish National Fund in England, as well as from private contributions.
A small number of Jewish peace activists, including groups called Just Peace and Jews for Justice to Palestine, staged a small vigil opposing the main rally.
Peace Now boycotted the rally, claiming that it was a show piece to support the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.