JERUSALEM (Jul. 25)
They’ve already spoken out against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal plan. This week, they took the battle to the streets.
Joining hands in a human chain that stretched from the Gaza Strip to Jerusalem, some 130,000 protesters — both young and old, from the political fringes and from the mainstream — gathered on Sunday to send Prime Minister Ariel Sharon the clearest message of dissent yet from a camp he long considered his own.
And although the chain was peaceful, its timing — amid Shin Bet warnings of growing anger among radical Jews at Sharon’s plan to disengage from the Palestinian territories — appeared likely to unnerve the government.
“I think what is happening today is a message by the real, beautiful Israel to those people in mainstream Israel who have lost their will to fight, and therefore I came to say thank you to the wonderful people of Gush Katif,” said demonstrator Kfir Shachar of Ris! hon le-Zion, referring to the main Gaza settlement bloc.
In a grim twist, Palestinian terrorists wounded six Israeli children and a soldier in two separate attacks Sunday on Gush Katif, demonstrating the vulnerability of the heavily fortified enclaves.
Sharon, who has vowed to remove all 8,100 Gaza settlers in 2005 under his disengagement plan, did not immediately comment on the demonstration.
But in a Cabinet briefing leaked to the media, the head of military intelligence gave a boost to the unilateral plan that has caused a rift so deep in Israel’s right-wing camp as to pit Sharon against fellow senior members of the ruling Likud Party, including Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Disengagement will be beneficial in terms of containing Palestinian terrorism and even raising the chances of restarting peace negotiations,” Maj. Gen. Aharon Ze’evi-Farkash was quoted as telling Cabinet ministers.
A longtime Sharon confidan! t, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, cast the human-chain demonstration a s a show of pride by settlers, rather than a show of political force.
“I see this as a matter of solidarity rather than a protest, by a community of pioneers that long did the country’s bidding and has recently been subjected to a process of delegitimation,” Rivlin told reporters at the Western Wall, as shofars were sounded and psalms read to signal the end of the demonstration.
But some assessments of the dissent from Jerusalem were less rosy.
Internal Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi noted mounting concern at the possibility of a groundswell of targeted attacks on Palestinians by far-right Jews.
“The threat level against the Temple Mount by Jewish extremists and fanatics in order to disrupt the entire peace process has risen in the past few months, and especially in the last few weeks, more than ever before,” Hanegbi told Israel’s Channel Two television in an interview broadcast Saturday.
Other media said Jews could go so far as ramming an airplane, a ! la Al-Qaida, into the two Muslim shrines on the Temple Mount in hopes of sparking an Arab jihad against Israel that would sweep away the disengagement plan.
But Hanegbi said the Shin Bet had no hard evidence against any specific suspects, prompting members of Israel’s right-wing to accuse him of needlessly alarming the Israeli public.