TEL AVIV — Thousands of people gathered in the square in front of the Habima Theater on Thursday night to protest the “wave of hate” following a difficult week in Israel. The demonstration, organized by Peace Now, was held under the banner “Demonstration for Sanity — No to Revenge, No to Escalation.”
The week began in Tel Aviv with tens of thousands of people in Rabin Square, a tearful plea from the mothers of three kidnapped Israeli teens to stay strong, and a heartfelt thank you from those mothers to the entire nation of Israel, united in the search for the missing youths.
It ended with a hastily organized demonstration held here in response to the killing of 16-year-old Muhammed Abu Khdeir from East Jerusalem on Wednesday morning in what some have alleged was a revenge attack for the deaths of the three kidnapped teenagers — Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach — whose bodies were discovered on Monday in the West Bank.
Jerusalem experienced some of the heaviest rioting in the east of the city in years over Wednesday and Thursday, as Arabs reacted to the killing of Abu Khdeir. Meanwhile, dozens of rockets fell on southern Israel, including one that hit a nursery school building, although there were no injuries.
“The children in Talmon and Sderot, Hebron and Gaza won’t forget this week,” Peace Now director Yariv Oppenheimer told the crowd. “Children are always the first to suffer.”
In opposition to Sunday’s rally, which pointedly made no political statements, Thursday’s left-wing rally was an angry cry against the coalition; even the dovish MK Amram Mitzna, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition for the Hatnua party, almost got booed off the stage.
“When will we say ‘Enough!’?” asked MK Dov Khenin (Hadash party). “After which terror attack? After which murder? After which bombing? After which rocket attack? After which military operation will we say ‘Enough!’? We see a darkness descending upon us from every direction. But when will we learn that instead of cursing the darkness, we should just light a candle?”
The crowd booed every mention of Netanyahu and Minister of Economics and Trade Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home party). Meretz MKs Nitzan Horowitz and Issawi Freij also addressed the crowd.
In addition to a slew of left-wing activist organizations, standing in the back of the rally was a small group of people holding a banner stating “From Pain and Grief Grows a Prayer for Peace,” members of Parents Circle — Bereaved Families Supporting Reconciliation and Peace.
“We’re part of a club, and we paid a very expensive membership fee to get in,” said Rami Elhanan, an activist with the Parents Circle, which includes both Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost loved ones to the conflict. His daughter Smadar was killed in a suicide bombing in 1997.
“We are not going to let them use our pain to enlarge this club,” he said.
Elhanan pointed out the other dozen activists — this one lost a mother, this one a brother, this one a son.
“Every one of the people here has on their back a very heavy weight,” he said. “We paid that price and we know how important it is not to have other people join. Who but us knows how [the families who lost sons this week] are feeling? I cry with them. My daughter was killed 16 years ago, and not a second goes by when she’s not right in front of my eyes.”
“It is terrifying to think what’s happened in the cycle of violence,” said Robi Danelin, the spokeswoman for Parents Circle, whose son David was killed in 2002. “We have to stop this terrible rhetoric. There’s so much hatred and so much fear. Most of these responses are just fear,” Danelin said. “But we cannot share this land by sharing graves.”