Evening J'lem protest evokes contention

May 31, 2010 21:44

Left-wing rally in capital draws bitter exchanges, counterprotest.

2 minute read.

Counter-demonstrators hold signs near Jerusalem's

2 protests in Jerusalem. (photo credit: Laura Weisman)

Counterprotesters and angry passersby faced off against more than 100 left-wing demonstrators who had gathered in Jerusalem’s Paris Square on Monday night to rally against the IDF naval raid off the coast of Gaza and what they called “the ongoing illegal blockade” of the Hamas-run territory.

Members of the Hadash party, its Hebrew University student branch and activists who frequent the weekly Sheikh Jarrah protests in east Jerusalem turned out for the spontaneous rally around 7 p.m.

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“We’re here to protest the violent takeover of the Gaza flotilla ships,” a Hebrew University student who gave his name as “Tzachi” told The Jerusalem Post. “And in general, we wanted to voice our strong opposition to the illegal blockade of Gaza.”

Tzachi said word of the spur-of-the-moment protest had gathered steam via the Internet, on Facebook and through e-mails, and that he was “satisfied” with the crowd that had shown up on such short notice.

Police cordoned off the square and prevented protesters from disrupting traffic at the busy intersection just south of downtown, although at various points throughout the evening, police were seen pushing people back behind the metal barricades that had been set up to keep the demonstration orderly.

Still, the sight of placards decrying “Israeli State Piracy” and protesters clad in keffiyehs waving a large Palestinian flag proved to be too much for many Jerusalemites who passed by, both on foot and in cars, and heated exchanges with the protesters erupted frequently.

At one point, a man who had been inside the cordoned-off square lunged for the large Palestinian flag, snatching it away, breaking free from the crowd and bolting for the street. Police and Border Police officers ran after him and caught him.

Protesters said they understood they were holding a “provocative rally” in the heart of the city, but that the day’s events had demanded such a response.

“Something terrible has happened and I feel provoked,” Jerusalem resident Yosefa Raz, who said she was an active Sheikh Jarrah protester, told the Post.

“Every week we protest in Sheikh Jarrah, which is out of the public eye,” Raz continued. “And after what has happened, I think people felt that something more public needed to be done. We wanted to be seen and heard.”

Nonetheless, counterprotesters who had gathered in front of the Prima Kings Hotel on an opposite corner were also being seen and heard, yelling, “Go try and protest in Gaza!” and, “Peace activists don’t carry guns and knives!” at the demonstrators, who fired back with slogans of their own.

Police and Border Police officers formed a line between the groups, and the raucous exchanges carried on throughout the evening.

“It makes me sick to see this,” Toronto native Josh Salmon, on a visit to the country, told the Post.

“These people say that Israel isn’t a democratic state, yet here they are, protesting freely. This is democracy in action.” he said.

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