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The Disengagement Summer Ahead of August’s Gaza Pullout, Color War of Sorts Rages in Israel

August 4, 2005
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An orange wave symbolizing Israel’s anti-withdrawal movement has rolled onto the country’s shores — orange T-shirts, orange ice pops, orange flags, orange ribbons, even orange-draped chupahs, or wedding canopies, and orange stretchers at funerals. In its wake is a smaller blue ripple from those who support the government’s plan to evacuate settlements in the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank in mid-August — mostly in the form of blue ribbons flapping from car antennas and hanging from backpacks.

Seeing the orange “gives a sense of how many people are against” the withdrawal. “It’s like a poll,” says Nomi Cohen, 18, passing out orange ribbons at a busy intersection near the entrance to Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem, a right-leaning city with a large religious population, one sees mostly orange ribbons tied to car antennas and rearview mirrors. In left-leaning Tel Aviv, there appears to be a roughly even number of blue and orange ribbons.

“We need to show a contrast to orange,” says Oded Muiraz, 24, a student racing among the cars near Tel Aviv’s main train station distributing blue ribbons. “I think it’s very important to be out here because otherwise it gives the impression that everyone is orange. If we are apathetic, it will give the impression that the minority is the majority.”

According to polls, most Israelis support the government’s withdrawal plan.

At first, pro-withdrawal activists were divided about which color to choose in response to the defiant orange: Green for the “Green Line,” as the 1949 armistice line that served as Israel’s de facto border until 1967 is known, or blue for the country’s flag?

After about a week of debate, blue sometimes mixed with white, mirroring the colors of the flag — was chosen.

In recent years the right wing had succeeded in associating itself most strongly with the Israeli flag. But an unforeseen consequence of the anti-withdrawal camp’s decision to wrap itself in orange — after the orange groves of Gaza’s Jewish settlements — has been that the Israeli left has reclaimed the country’s traditional blue and white.

Though the profusion of day-glo orange and royal-blue ribbons may make for a more colorful commute, underneath the color war is the serious question of where Israel is heading and whether the society can handle a move as controversial and divisive as the withdrawal.

In a bid to soothe flaring tempers and foster dialogue, Gesher, an organization that works to bridge the gap between religious and secular Israelis, launched a telephone-dialogue campaign in late July, posting a central number which so-called Oranges and Blues can call to discuss the withdrawal with each other.

Publicized under the slogan “We have to keep in touch,” the venture is being advertised in Israeli newspapers and on billboards with a picture of an orange ribbon and a blue ribbon tied together.

“It is the opportunity to actually talk to someone with different opinions than yourself in a way that will help humanize the issues and open up dialogue,” said Aryeh Halivni, Gesher spokesman.

Meanwhile, in Tel Aviv, shopkeepers are having a hard time selling any clothing that happens to contain orange, even though outside of Israel it’s one of the hippest colors of the summer.

“I can pack up all the orange clothes and store them until further notice,” fashion designer Raziela Gershon told Ha’aretz. “The color orange is the trendiest color this year. And since it has turned into a symbol of protest, the customers are protesting against it.”

At a recent wedding outside Jerusalem, orange bunting was draped across a chupah, and revelers waved orange flags and orange ribbons on the dance floor.

The wedding invitations even included a prayer for Gush Katif, the main Jewish settlement bloc in Gaza — trimmed, of course, in orange.

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