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Demonstrators Demand Referendum on Gaza Disengagement (CNS-CYBERCAST NEWS SERVICE) By Julie Stahl JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 01/31/05)Source: http://www.cnsnews.com//ViewForeignBureaus.asp?Page=\ForeignBureaus\archive\200501\FOR20050131d.html CNS} CYBERCAST NEWS SERVICE CNS} CYBERCAST NEWS SERVICE Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
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 demonstration.

"Sharon is dividing the people; Let the People Decide," read one banner.

Sharon, who has vowed to remove all Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip later this year, says a referendum would only delay the inevitable.

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 country.

"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 27 years.

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 themselves.

"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 both sides."

(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 enemies.

"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 process."

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. 01/31/05)

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