To Israeli settlers and their backers, Ariel Sharon’s support for the “road map” peace plan and a Palestinian state come very close to treason and betrayal.
On Wednesday, just after the Israeli prime minister concluded his summit in Jordan with President Bush, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah, as many as 75,000 settlers and supporters rallied to express their defiance of Sharon’s statements supporting a Palestinian state and pledging to tear down settlement outposts.
“It is imperative not to be afraid in a time of war,” Dov Lior, chief rabbi of the West Bank enclave of Kiryat Arba, told the rally, which was held in an atmosphere that mixed festivity and resignation.
“God will let us stay strong against all the pressures of the goyim,” he said, using a derogatory term to refer to perceived U.S. pressure on Sharon.
A young crowd filled the capital’s Zion Square to protest Sharon’s statements at the summit that it is in Israel’s interest “for the Palestinians to govern themselves in their own state” and that Israel understands the Palestinian need for “territorial continuity” in the West Bank.
“This is basically the de facto retirement ceremony for Sharon as the nationalist camp leader,” Adi Mintz, a leader of the Yesha settlers council, told JTA before the rally. “You cannot be the head of the Zionist movement and intend to install a Palestinian state on the Land of Israel.”
The rally brought together throngs of young men in yarmulkes and teen-aged girls whose bare midriffs were plastered with stickers reading, “We cant let them have a state.”
Several signs expressed support for Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish U.S. Navy analyst who is serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison for spying for Israel.
Moshe Feiglin, wearing a T-shirt proclaiming his support for slain extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane, described Sharon as a traitor.
“This whole process is a lie,” said Feiglin, 19, referring to the road map peace plan that was the focus of the summit.
Several young protesters came on stage during the rally carrying a trash can marked “the trash heap of history.” They proceeded to rip up a number of booklets, including one marked as the road map, which calls for a Palestinian state within three years.
Perhaps because several members of Sharon’s Cabinet spoke at the rally, however, criticism of the prime minister took a backseat to opposition to a Palestinian state.
“There already is a Palestinian state, and its capital is Amman,” Jordan, Tourism Minister Benny Elon said to the roars of the crowd.
Several right-wing politicians, including Yuval Steinitz and Uzi Landau of the Likud Party and Avigdor Lieberman of the National Union bloc, declined to attend the rally.
Several coalition politicians who did speak were met with chants of “traitor, traitor” from activists with Kach, Kahane’s movement, who see participating in Sharon’s government as villainous.
Israeli security sources told Reuters that security around Sharon will be increased due to fears of an assassination attempt by right-wing extremists.
“We are concerned that a fringe group of extremist settlers will make good on declarations to fight evacuation with weapons,” one security source was quoted as saying.
Extremist incitement — including a huge rally in Zion Square — was blamed for creating the atmosphere that led to the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Officials with the Yesha council have vowed to keep this demonstration and all subsequent actions peaceful. True to their word, when a protester put up a placard reading, “Sharon is betraying the state,” the sign was confiscated.
But sentiment against Sharon’s actions was crystal clear.
A man who introduced himself as Benjamin from the West Bank settlement of Beit El told the crowd that “any leader who gives up the settlements can’t be prime minister.”
Using Sharon’s nickname, the crowd chanted in response, “Arik, go home. Arik, go home.”
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.