Some 300 people took part in a protest rally in Haifa on Saturday afternoon against Israel’s war on the Hamas terror group in Gaza, as a smaller counter-demonstration was held nearby.
The anti-war protest, the first one authorized by police in the northern district since October 7, featured an array of flags that reflected the ideological diversity of the 40 or so organizations that teamed up to hold the controversial event.
Among them were the flags of the left-wing American group Antifa and the former Communist Party of Israel, the rainbow flag and the Palestinian one.
On display were placards with slogans echoing those commonly seen at anti-Israel rallies abroad, including charges of genocide in Gaza and the notorious chant “From the river to the sea Palestine will be free.”
Several dozen police officers, including a horse-mounted platoon and a water cannon unit, separated the rally from the counter-protesters. The events ended without major incident.
Amjad Shbita, the secretary-general of the Arab Israeli left-wing political party Hadash, acknowledged the diversity of participants during a speech at the event, which brought together radical feminists and gay rights activists alongside Russian-speaking anarchists and Palestinian ultranationalists, including some devout Muslim ones.
“We know we don’t agree on everything but we’re united by a single cry,” said Shbita, referring to the organizing groups, which included Breaking the Silence, Yesh Gvul, Machsom Watch, Rabbis for Human Rights and Zochrot.
He read out a list of five demands they agreed upon: an immediate end to the fighting in Gaza; a comprehensive prisoner exchange with Hamas; an end to the “political persecution” of Arabs in Israel, as Shbita put it; “full equality” for Arabs; and recognition that it is “legitimate to live as an Arab and have opinions.”
“Haifa and Gaza are sister cities,” Shbita declared. “They share the same sea and they share the same pain and they share the same future.”
He did not elaborate on what shared future he envisioned.
Protesters shouted and carried placards accusing Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians and of being a colonialist, racist, and fascist entity. Many of the participants in the rally were Jewish Israelis and most of the speeches were delivered in Hebrew.
One of the Jewish speakers at the anti-war rally was Michal Brody-Bareket, founder of a group called The Mothers’ Cry for mothers of soldiers in Gaza who want the war to stop immediately.
She encouraged her listeners to “choose life,” as she put it. Brody-Bareket, a veteran left-wing activist for Palestinian rights, said that last week her son returned from Gaza. She recalled finding him playing the piano at their home, grieving over a friend who had fallen in Gaza. More than 180 Israeli soldiers have died fighting in the ground offensive there, which began in late October.
Counter-protesters holding Israeli flags around the corner from the anti-war rally said it was a thinly veiled anti-Israel event.
“This is a rally meant to extract an Israeli surrender. To help terrorism, to harm Israel,” said Yarden Or, who protested together with her two siblings and mother. “The talk of equality is just the wolf in sheep’s clothing,” she said. “This is a pro-Hamas rally.”
Back at the anti-war rally, Ayman Odeh, a Hadash Knesset member, dismissed the allegation that the rally was in support of Hamas. “Do you see any Hamas banners?” he asked.
The protest followed a High Court petition filed by organizers against the initial police refusal to allow them to march on Saturday night. The rally at Paris Square on Saturday afternoon was a compromise agreed upon with the police following the petition.
The war that erupted on October 7 began with a cross-border rampage by some 3,000 Hamas-led terrorists who murdered 1,200 people in Israel and abducted another 240, amid brutal atrocities.
Israel invaded Gaza in response to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza and retrieve the hostages; 130 are believed to still be in terrorists’ hands.
The Gaza health ministry, run by Hamas, says the death toll in the Strip has reached nearly 25,000 people, though figures from the terror group cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, some as a consequence of the terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 9,000 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on and immediately following October 7.