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Despite Worries, Pro-israel Rally in the Netherlands is Peaceful Affair

April 24, 2002
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

For a few hours this week, the activity at one of the main intersections here looked a bit like a scene in Israel.

The intersection was blocked off with concrete and metal gates as Dutch policemen checked the bags of the roughly 1,500 demonstrators — Jews and non-Jews — who came to rally Sunday "against terror, for peace" and show their solidarity with Israel.

Scores of blue vans filled with riot police lined the roads to the square between Amsterdam’s two largest synagogues, and the media was out in full force.

A mixture of secular Israelis, rabbis, businessmen, elderly Jewish hippies — some sporting kaffiyehs — and youths wrapped in Israeli flags quietly filled the square, together with representatives of a group calling itself Christians for Israel and even a few Arabs.

In the heart of the former Jewish quarter, near the statue commemorating the Amsterdam dock workers’ strike against the 1941 deportation of most of Holland’s Jews, they quietly applauded speakers and sang Hebrew peace songs.

With the exception of one tramp who strayed into the event, the protesters observed a minute of silence for the victims of Palestinian terror in Israel, and then sang Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah.

The most eventful moment for the media came when a small group of men rounded off the meeting by holding afternoon prayers. It was easily one of the calmest demonstrations Amsterdam has seen for years.

Considering expectations, the tranquility of the protest came as something of a surprise. The anti-Israel climate is such that Jewish demonstrators did not feel safe even in their own home city.

"I wasn’t afraid of being attacked, but I fully expected to be," said one participant wearing a yarmulka.

"My mother told me to stay away from this demonstration," said award-winning Dutch author Leon de Winter, 48, two days before he was due to address the pro-Israel meeting.

He may have been joking, but there was hardly a child to be seen, and many adults stayed home for fear of violence. Many who did come kept one eye open for trouble.

Just a week earlier, some 200 youths, mainly of Moroccan descent, had clashed with police and left a trail of broken windows marking the route of a large pro-Palestinian demonstration.

They carried and shouted viciously anti-Semitic slogans in Dutch and Arabic, threw stones at one of their own imams who tried to stop the violence and burned Israeli flags, a rare event in the Netherlands.

In its wake, the pro-Palestinian demonstration left swastikas covering the Dutch national monument marking resistance against Nazi occupation.

But among the Jewish demonstrators was Imam Abdullah Haselhoef, the spiritual leader of Moroccan Muslims in Holland — the same imam who had been pelted with stones by Moroccan youths he tried to prevent from rioting a week earlier.

Haselhoef published an open letter to all Muslims just before the demonstration, calling on them to avoid riots. Though he "understands the use of swastikas," they only harm the Palestinian case and our position in Holland, he wrote. Apparently, his call was heeded.

But the possibility of clashes with Muslims wasn’t the only worry.

On Sunday, soccer fans known for their anti-Semitic slogans flooded the city for a match between the Amsterdam team Ajax and rival FC Utrecht.

Even though it currently has no Jewish players, both opponents and fans alike consider Ajax a "Jewish" team — in part because the team’s stadium used to be near Amsterdam’s prewar Jewish district and in part because the city itself has always been the center of Dutch Jewish life.

Utrecht fans shout anti-Jewish slogans every time their club plays against Ajax. These are not aimed against Jews, they say, but against the team. For their part, some Ajax fans sport Star of David tattoos and wave Israeli flags at matches.

But as some 700 FC Utrecht supporters got off their train chanting: "Hamas, Hamas; all the Jews to the gas" — a common anti-Ajax chant — the mayor of Amsterdam and the chief of police, Job Cohen, ordered the police to put the fans back on the train.

A platoon of riot police, with a police helicopter overhead, escorted them to Utrecht.

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