In the latest news on the disengagement front, police seem to be wavering on whether or not to allow the massive anti-disengagement march from Netivot to Gush Katif to continue. After initially blocking roads in the West Bank and turning back up to 100 buses full of anti-disengagement protestors, the police have allowed those who successfully arrived in Netivot to march on towards Kfar Maimon. After being barred from entry at the gate, an emergency session of the Yesha Council and the Israeli Police reached an agreement to allow the marchers to enter Kfar Maimon for the night. The future of the march is uncertain – as Gaza is now closed, entering without a permit is a violation of Israeli law, but the marchers insist on making their way to Gush Katif, in order to (according to the police) set up a massive tent city in order to stop or interfere with the disengagement.
I was interested in marching, not because I’m anti-disengagement (I’m not, although I do have my reservations), but because like it or not this is the biggest thing happening in Israel right now and I wanted to get a feel for it. However, when the police declared the march illegal and the Yesha Council declared that they would march on to Gush Katif regardless, I decided that violence started by either the marchers or the police was a possibility and that I wasn’t especially interested in getting beaten for a cause I didn’t support. So far, no violence has broken out, but it seems the potential is there. After all, it only takes one jittery policeman or one extreme marcher to start a conflagration.
Right-wing MKs and settler leaders, including MKs Effi Eitam (National Religious Zionist Renewal) and Zvi Hendel (National Union), and Binyamin Regional Council head Pinhas Wallerstein, were at the front of the march to ensure that the protest remained nonviolent.
Wallerstein, along with other settler leaders, met with Police Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi as the march started in an effort to reach an agreement on continuing the protest with police approval.
Wallerstein, speaking to The Jerusalem Post, said that the meeting concerned “a mode of conduct.” He explained that there would be no violence and no efforts on the part of anti-disengagement activists to break through police or IDF checkpoints.
I’m encouraged that the leadership of the march is committing itself to nonviolence and trying to keep things under control, but with somewhere between 10000 and 50000 marchers (one number according to the police, one according to the Yesha Council), attempts by activists to resist police are not only likely, they have already happened.
As protestors waiting by the thousands outside of Kfar Maimon, several dozen stormed the police barricade and managed to break through, but scattered nearly immediately. An anti-disengagement activist who was among those who broke through the police barrier told The Jerusalem Post that police responded without violence.
Fortunately, it was nothing major and the police responded admirably. However, Wallerstein’s promise has already been broken, and he ended the promise with a vague threat, and a small amount of extreme right protestors threatened outright war:
Wallerstein also insisted, “we will march to Gush Katif and the police will not be able to stop us.”
Far-right activist Baruch Marzel said, “Let’s hope that the Yesha Council will finally understand that there can be no dialogue with Sharon, it’s time for war.”
Demonstrators strolled with their backs and backpacks bedecked with bumper stickers distributed by the National Jewish Front, which read, “In a war, we’ll win.”
I realize that the vast majority of the marchers and the organizers have only peace in mind, but as I said before, it only takes one person to start violence.
Personally, I am against the blocking of the march in theory. It is the right of citizens to peacefully protest as long as they do not turn to violence and do not violate the laws of the country. However, I can sympathize with the dilemma of the police, as at least a small number of marchers are vaguely threatening violence, and even the march’s leadership has committed to the mass breaking of law – entering Gaza. I hope the Yesha Council decides to stop the march at Kissufim, and I hope the marchers don’t try to break through what will likely be massive police buildup at the crossing. It is the right of the marchers to protest, but I truly do not want to see anyone get hurt or chas v’chalilah die at the hands of the police force dedicated to the protection of Israeli citizens. There is a lot riding on this, including the sympathy of non-marchers for the anti-disengagement movement as a whole, and certainly the Yesha Council realizes this – I just pray they realize that people will get hurt if they try to break into Gaza, and violence with the police all over Israeli and world news will likely not help their cause. The anti-disengagement movement needs to prove to the world that it is not controlled by the kind of people threatening all-out war with the Israeli government, that it is instead a grassroots movement of normal people who are (only) willing to peacefully protest the removal of Jews from the territories. This is its big chance, and it can either go right or terribly wrong.
Meanwhile, in other anti-disengagement news, the recent dummy bomb scare in the Jerusalem Tachanah Merkazit bus depot (a propane canister with timers and a wire was discovered in a stall in the men’s bathroom) was discovered to be the handiwork of two religious soldiers, who were allowed to bypass the normal security checks at entry because they were in uniform. Now, I don’t care what your attitude is towards disengagement is, this is absolutely horrifying behavior on the part of the soldiers. To exploit the deepest fears of every Israeli and close down one of the busiest bus stations in Israel is not valid protest, it is irresponsible and twisted. Planting fake bombs is not a good way to drum up further grassroots support for disengagement, it is only a way to increase support for the other side out of sheer disgust.
And as for me, I’m getting away from it all. I’ll be going to the Karmi’el Dance Festival, a…well…really huge festival of modern dance with Israeli music and orchestras and all that jazz. Not really my thing, but a friend insisted that it was the coolest thing ever and that I had to go with her, and since she got leave for it and bought me a ticket and everything, who am I to say no? After that, I’ll be disappearing into the Arava with a friend on a kibbutz there for a few days. So although I wasn’t able ultimately to get a first hand look at the kinds of Israelis who attend protest marches, I will be able to report on the kinds of Israelis who go to 3-day dance festivals and the kinds of Israelis who camp out in the middle of the desert, look at the stars and smoke hash. Just because I’m such an, um, fearless reporter. So I’ll be gone for awhile, and please, please, I don’t want to come back and see 189,000 posts about how this post shows that “Michael clearly hates anti-disengagement protestors/the religious/Charedim/the police/the government/Arab/puppies.” ‘Cuz I don’t. Especially not puppies.