Some 50,000 Israelis opposed to a peace accord with the Palestinians poured into Jerusalem on Tuesday night, clogging roadways and bringing parts of the city to a virtual standstill.
More than 2,500 police were on hand to maintain order at the demonstration, which had been planned by right-wing opposition groups and had been heralded with much advance publicity.
The demonstration, which was held near the offices of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, followed a rally Saturday night in Tel Aviv for supporters of the proposed peace agreement.
According to the police, some 40,000 Israelis had attended the previous demonstration, although estimates on both rallies varied widely, with some sources reporting up to 200,000 at each.
The agreement, which was endorsed last week by Israel’s Cabinet, calls for Palestinian self-rule in Gaza and Jericho as a first step toward extending Palestinian authority to the administered territories.
It was reached after months of secret meetings by high-level Israeli and Palestine Liberation Organization officials.
While a helicopter patrolled from above, police made several arrests during the latest rally. They also confiscated tires, gasoline and firecrackers that had been hidden by the demonstrators, apparently to be set afire during the demonstration.
Hours before the rally began, police began closing off several major roads around the city. Others were jammed with buses bringing settlers from the territories.
Among those arrested, according to police officials, were several activists with the militant Kach movement who had threatened to provoke civil unrest.
“Is there anyone among us who believes Yasir Arafat?” asked Likud chief Benjamin Netanyahu, one of the headline speakers at the rally, referring to the leader of the PLO.
“Is there anyone here who is ready to sacrifice Israeli security to the PLO? You say no. But there is someone that is not concerned with what you say. It’s Mr. Rabin,” he said, referring to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
One of the demonstrators told Israel Radio that if land is given to the Palestinians, “there will be a (civil) war here and this government will fall.”
“This government had no right” to enter into the agreement, she said. “It is a treacherous government that did it all behind the backs of the people, in secret, because they knew the people are against it.”
Rabin reportedly was planning not to go to his office Wednesday, because the protests were scheduled to continue through the night Tuesday and into the following morning.
PROTESTERS PLANNED TO SLEEP ON STREETS
The protesters planned to sleep on the streets and surround Rabin’s office as well as the nearby Knesset building in order to disrupt regular government business Wednesday.
A day before the rally here, Rabin sharply attacked his hard-line critics, dismissing them as “tellers of lies” and “prattlers.”
“I am ashamed when I hear leaders in the Likud and in the extreme right comparing our situation today to the period of the Holocaust,” Rabin said at a Labor Party rally in Rishon le-Zion on Monday.
“How can anyone talk of a Palestinian menace with Jews who have such a strong IDF?” Rabin asked, referring to the Israel Defense Force.
Elsewhere in Israel, Jewish militants were anticipating their own response to the proposed peace agreement.
In one such case, Baruch Marzel, a Kach activist from Hebron, reportedly said that he could not wait for the IDF to leave Hebron — a step not immediately envisioned in the draft agreement for Palestinian self-rule — so that the Jews of Hebron “could take care of the Arabs.”
Palestinian extremists were meanwhile planning their own response to the peace initiatives.
In a meeting of 12 Palestinian and Islamic fundamentalist organizations held in Lebanon on Monday, militant Arabs vowed to unite and defeat the proposed peace accord.
And on the same day, Palestinian terrorists struck in Jerusalem.
Three fire bombs were thrown at the Mt. Zion Hotel swimming pool during a bar mitzvah reception.
There were no fatalities, but one child and two women were slightly wounded.
The attack took place shortly before midnight. There was an explosion, and suddenly the dance floor was on fire.
The hotel is located on a hill overlooking Mt. Zion and the Old City, adjacent to the Arab neighborhood of Abu Tor.
It was the first terrorist attack in Jerusalem in several weeks, and was immediately linked by observers to the proposed agreement for Palestinian self-rule.
The attack served as a reminder that extremists on both sides were determined to prevent progress in the peace process.
(Contributing to this report was JTA correspondent Gil Sedan in Jerusalem.)
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.