Demonstrators Demand Referendum on Gaza Disengagement (CNS-CYBERCAST NEWS SERVICE) By Julie Stahl JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 01/31/05)
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Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - The Israeli people should decide whether to
proceed with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon´s disengagement plan,
protestors said on Sunday, as they gathered at one of the largest
demonstrations ever held in Jerusalem.
More than 100,000 Israelis gathered here on Sunday evening, urging
Sharon to hold a national referendum on his disengagement plan. That
plan calls for the evacuation of 21 Israeli communities in the Gaza
Strip and four small settlements in the northern West Bank.
Several hundred protesters continued the 24-hour rally on Monday in
front of the Knesset, where a section of the road was closed for the
"Sharon is dividing the people; Let the People Decide," read one
Sharon, who has vowed to remove all Jewish settlements from the Gaza
Strip later this year, says a referendum would only delay the
Knesset member Uzi Landau, who has led the struggle against the plan
within Sharon´s own Likud party, was among those addressing the crowd.
"We demand a referendum; let the nation decide," Landau said. "One
can support the disengagement or be against it, but we must agree on
the rules of the democratic game...Ariel Sharon you have no mandate
to evacuate Jews."
Ruth Lieberman, a member of the regional council of Gush Etzion, a
large settlement bloc just outside Jerusalem, said the demonstration
was part of an ongoing protest outside the Knesset.
"The idea is to continue to show that we will stand fast, the
majority of the people in the country, until the democratically
elected leadership actually listens to their public," Lieberman said.
There have been calls for civil disobedience and for religious
soldiers to refuse to carry out orders to evacuate the settlements.
Lieberman said that holding the referendum would help prevent a
growing rift in Israeli society.
"I think it would certainly prevent the terrible split we´re talking
about, that we´re afraid of," she said. "It would help because the
people who are calling for a referendum are saying, ´All sides will
honor the decision.´ That´s already a step towards unifying the
nation and returning democracy."
While most of the participants at the rally were religious Jews, many
in the crowd, particularly those from America and Western nations,
were just as upset about the removal of Jews as hey were by the
perceived violation of democratic norms.
One American-Israeli who gave her name only as Marcia said she was
troubled by the effect that the disengagement plan was having on the
"I don´t like what´s happening in the country in general because this
used to be a much more democratic country," said Marcia, a
grandmother, who comes from the Tel Aviv area and has lived here for
Sharon´s plan, which was voted down by his own Likud Party last year,
caused Sharon´s government - one of the most broad-based and stable
coalition governments in Israeli history - to fall apart. He recently
brought the left-wing Labor party, headed by Shimon Peres, into the
government to prevent the government from collapsing.
Marcia said she believes the disengagement plan is a "terrible
mistake," because Israel would "pay in blood... That scares the hell
out of me."
Marcia said that although almost all the people at the demonstration
were Orthodox Jews, she believes there is a large segment of the
general Israeli population that is silent but also opposes the
disengagement plan - a sentiment expressed by many settlers
"There´s a very large segment that´s not represented," Marcia
said. "I think there are an awful lot of people who just don´t know
what to do because they´re confused. I think there are diehards on
(One observer noted that there is an unwritten rule that the vast
majority of secular Israelis won´t turn up at a demonstration that is
perceived to be organized by the religious minority in the country,
although not all settlers are religious Jews.)
If a majority of Israelis decided in favor of the disengagement plan
through a referendum, Marcia said, she could accept the decision in
the context of a government mistake.
Leah Kochanowitz, 48, lives in Karnei Shomron, a settlement in the
center of the West Bank.
"What Ariel Sharon is doing is undemocratic and he´s trying to give
away land that he has no right to give away," said Kochanowitz.
"He was elected by saying that he was not going to do exactly what
he´s trying to do right now. If people voted for him because he said
he wasn´t going to do it, and now he´s doing it, that´s not
democratic. I grew up in America. That´s not what it´s based on.
You´re supposed to keep your promises," she said.
At the rally, large screens aired video of Sharon making pledges not
to uproot settlers.
Kochanowitz, referring to Sharon, said, "There´s a difference between
not keeping your promises and giving away your land. There´s no place
in the world that would do something like this - no place where you
have land that belongs to a nation and they give it away to the
"Everybody´s talking now about [Palestinian Authority Chairman
Mahmoud Abbas] Abu Mazen, who´s going to bring peace. Did you hear
the first thing he said after he was elected? ´The little jihad
[Muslim holy war] is over, now the big jihad is going to start.´ This
is who we´re going to make peace with? What´s wrong with us? It
doesn´t make sense," she said.
Ilan, who was born in Morocco, grew up in Paris, then moved to Israel
25 years ago and now lives in the northern Israeli city of Haifa. He
thinks there should be new elections in the country.
"Mr. Sharon has to ask the people their decision because what he
proposed before the elections is very different what he´s doing now,"
said Ilan, a father of eight.
As Cybercast News Service previously reported, one of Sharon´s senior
advisers has been quoted as saying that the disengagement plan is
intended to put the peace process on hold and prevent the
establishment of a Palestinian state.
In an interview with Ha´aretz in October 2004, Dov Weisglass said the
significance of the disengagement plan "is the freezing of the peace
Sharon has said the plan will boost Israel´s diplomatic position,
improve its ability to protect its citizens, and ease the suffering
of the civilian population until a valid Palestinian negotiating
partner emerges. (copyright 1998-2005 Cybercast News Service.
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