After ban lifted, hundreds in Haifa protest against war on Hamas

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Demonstrators protest Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza on Haifa's Paris Square on January 20, 2024. (Canaan Lidor/Times of Israel)
Demonstrators protest Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza on Haifa's Paris Square on January 20, 2024. (Canaan Lidor/Times of Israel)

Some 300 people chant against Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza in Haifa’s Paris Square, flanked by a smaller counterprotest of people holding up multiple Israeli flags.

The anti-war protest Saturday, the first licensed one in the northern district since October 7, features an array of flags that reflects the ideological diversity among the 40-odd organizations that teamed up to hold the controversial event despite initial refusal by the authorities to allow it.

Among the flags on display are that of Antifa, the former Communist Party of Israel, the rainbow flag and the Palestinian one. Arab and Jewish participants chant about what they call Israel’s “genocide” against Palestinians and call the government “fascist.”

The protesters “know we don’t agree on everything but we’re united by a single cry,” Amjad Shbita, the secretary-general of the Arab-Israeli left-wing party Hadash, says during a speech at the rally.

He reads out a list of five demands agreed upon by the organizing groups, which include Breaking the Silence, Yesh Gvul, Machsom Watch, Rabbis for Human Rights and Zochrot. The demands include 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,” he says.

The counter-protesters aren’t buying the demands. “This is a rally meant to extract an Israeli surrender. To help terrorism, to harm Israel,” says Yarden Or, who is protesting together with her two siblings and mother against the anti-war rally. “The talk of equality is just the wolf’s sheep clothing,” she says. “It’s a pro-Hamas rally.”

At the anti-war rally, Ayman Odeh, a lawmaker for Hadash, dismisses the allegations by pointing to the slogans and flags on display. “Do you see any Hamas banners?” Odeh, who has in the past called Palestinian terrorists “martyrs,” tells The Times of Israel.

The protest follows a petition filed by the organizers to the High Court of Justice against the police’s initial refusal to allow them to march on Saturday night in Haifa. The rally on Paris Square on Saturday afternoon is a compromise agreed upon by the police following the petition.

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