Sunday, January 30, 2005

This is what democracies do

Settlers hope for 100,000 at rally

Film clips set to dramatic music of scuffles between police and settlers during past evacuations of outposts in the territories will highlight Sunday night's planned anti-disengagement rally outside the Knesset, which is expected to draw more than 100,000 people.

"We will say, you can stop this, if you let the nation decide," said Emily Amrusy, a spokeswoman for the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, of the planned event, to be held at 7 p.m. under the twin slogans "Let the nation decide" and "Call for new elections."

"It's a cry for the democratic process," said Amrusy.

Protesters are asking Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to "legitimize disengagement" by either holding a national referendum or by calling for new elections. Should there be a national referendum, the council would respect the results, said Amrusy.

Among the speakers at the rally will be Yonatan Abukasis, the father of Ayala, 17, killed this month by a Kassam rocket that fell in Sderot. MKs, including those from the Likud who oppose disengagement, will speak, said Amrusy, but the exact list has not been finalized.

The council had also turned to personalities on the Left in hopes that they would join them in the call for a democratic process, but got no response, she said.

Film clips to be shown at the rally will include statements by Sharon, showing how he has "flip-flopped" on the issue.

The event is set to last for 18 hours, but it's expected that only a small group will stay overnight and into the next day, when the gathering is to end at 3 p.m.

Binyamin Regional Council head Pinhas Wallerstein said he hoped it would be the largest such protest ever staged outside the parliament building.

The Council of Jewish Communities has rented 1,200 buses to bring anti-disengagement protesters to Jerusalem from all over the country, he said.

"The true test of the rally's success is not in the speakers but in the number of people that attend," Wallerstein said.

He has not been deterred, he added, by the growing spirit of optimism that has brought Israeli and Palestinian leaders together, nor by the continual progress of the plan to evacuate all the Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip and four more in northern Samaria.

"We will not stop protesting," he said, explaining that settlers were planning many more events, including a conference of Orthodox leaders from around the world in a few weeks.

At the start of January, settlers set up a protest camp outside the Knesset. They plan to stay there until the government reverses the disengagement decision.

Ami Applebaum, a computer scientist from Bnei Brak who plans to attend the rally, said he was not the typical protester in that he supports the principle of giving up land for peace. But, he said, disengagement should only happen within the context of a negotiated plan.

He said he believed that Sharon aborted the democratic process by campaigning on one platform and acting on another once in office. Nor does he believe that the Knesset vote supporting disengagement is indicative of the nation's or even the politicians' true feelings.
"If a secret vote were held in the Knesset, it's not clear that the majority would support it," he said.