TEL’ AVIV, Israel —Anti-war protests, in the wake of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, have bubbled and spread like wildfire in Europe and North America. Thousands of demonstrators around the world have turned metropolitan cities into soapboxes, hoping their collective voices might just coalesce to bring about peace. But as far as western media coverage is concerned, none of these voices emanate from Israel.
But, since the onset of Israeli Defense Forces’ Operation Protective Edge, protests in Israel have been becoming more commonplace. In fact, the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Haifa has been holding anti-war demonstrations every Saturday.
On July 26, estimates say that between one and seven thousand protesters congregated in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to form the largest anti-war demonstration since the beginning of the IDF operation. It was organized by Hadash, a leftist political party in Israel, and featured speeches by many intellectuals and politicians who called for a swift end to violence and renewed efforts to establish peace talks. Candles were lit in memory of all those killed in recent weeks — Israeli soldiers and Palestinians alike.
Police initially cancelled the protest in fear that the end of the protest would coincide with the end of the temporary ceasefire agreed upon between the IDF and Hamas. However, after Israel extended the ceasefire by four hours until midnight, the cancellation was rescinded and protesters arrived as planned. Either way, the protest ended early due to outbursts of violence — and perhaps for good measure as Hamas refused the extended ceasefire and resumed rocketfire at 8 p.m. that night.
Anti-war protesters in Rabin Square were met by right-wing counter-protesters who unequivocally supported the IDF and its actions. According to Haaretz, this small group yelled phrases such as “Death to the leftists” and some — despite the pleading discouragement of their fellow protesters — sang “Why is there no school in Gaza? Because no more kids are left.”
While the right-wing protesters were kept from interfering with the larger leftist demonstration by police officers, things turned violent when they penetrated through the police barrier and clashes ensued. Cavalry quickly skirted protesters away, but four protesters were ultimately arrested and the demonstration was forced to come to a premature end.
In Israel, leftist demonstrations usually face such resentment. It has discouraged many from airing their views.
On July 18, during one of Haifa’s routine Saturday night anti-war demonstrations, violence broke out as right-wing supporters of the war threw plastic and glass bottles at leftist activists. Reports have also indicated the use of tear-gas. The clash left deputy mayor of Haifa Dr. Suhail Assad beaten by right-wingers who also burnt the Palestinian flag amidst chants of “Death to Arabs.”
The leftist protesters in Haifa consisted of both Jews and Arabs, many of whom together shouted, “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies!”
“Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies” is the latest name for a social media campaign. And in Israel – and elsewhere — the Twitter movement has been growing as violence against anti-war demonstrators burgeons.
The campaign was started by two students at Hunters College in New York City, Jewish Abraham Gutman and Muslim Dania Darwish.
A flurry of tweets with the appropriate hashtag, #JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies, were sent out in the weeks following the inception of Operation Protective Edge.
The most popular tweet is a picture broadcast by Lebanese journalist Sulome Anderson in which she is seen kissing her Orthodox Jewish boyfriend.
In an article written for the Christian Science Monitor, Abraham Gutman says, “For me, it is hard to watch the current escalation between Israel and Gaza from afar. I wanted to find a way to be more than a passenger, to do something about it rather than just watch the news and hope for the best.”
The campaign’s Facebook page now has close to 50,000 likes and continues to grow.
But for many Palestinians in Gaza — such as 16-year-old Farah Baker whose live tweets of the war have been widely followed — Twitter no longer provides recourse to continued violence.
On July 29, Gaza’s only power plant was shelled and destroyed by an Israeli bombing that also claimed 125 Palestinian lives. As a result, approximately 90 percent of Gaza no longer has power. And since water pumps readily rely on electricity, water sources — that have already been compromised by severely damaged sewage systems — have been further decimated.
The following day, U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos told the U.N. Security Council, “Gaza’s only power plant was struck on Tuesday, destroying the fuel tanks. Parts of Gaza will remain without any electricity while others will only receive 2 hours of electricity a day. Repairs are expected to take months to complete under the best of circumstances.”
Citizens of Gaza now face threats of water contamination as well as bread shortages: lengthy lines at bakeries — that are now doling out rations — have spilled onto streets full of rubble.
– Shehrose Mian