More than 30,000 demonstrators came to Tel Aviv's Kikar Rabin on Saturday evening to demand the establishment of a full-blown state commission of inquiry, rather than a governmental inquiry, into the government's handling of the second Lebanon war. "We must do soul-searching, examine ourselves and 'purify the camp,'" Movement for Quality Government Chairman Eliad Shraga told the protesters, setting the tone for a series of angry speakers.
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The event was organized by IDF reservists groups, which have been demanding action - including high-level resignations - from cabinet ministers to correct what they see as failures in strategic and logistical planning that hindered the army's ability to wage the war. The Movement for Quality Government joined the reservists in organizing the event.
Other speakers included former education minister Yossi Sarid of Meretz, former defense minister Moshe Arens of Likud, family members of soldiers killed in the war against Hizbullah, political activists, politicians and artists. All spoke under the event's banner, "State Inquiry Commission Now!"
"We saw on the home front how Finance Minister [Avraham Hirchson] and the government of Israel refused to declare a national emergency, abandoning the residents of the North," declared Shraga. "And we saw on the war front how the political echelon made decisions without a decision-making process and without setting realistic goals."
While Shraga praised "the brave soldiers and the wonderful commanders in the regular army and the reserves," he told demonstrators that the IDF's top brass "forgot the principles of war, the spirit of battle, deception, perseverance and logistics."
He called for a state commission of inquiry to be "not from the government's camp, but from the Supreme Court's camp."
Arens followed Shraga at the podium.
"In the history of Israel there has yet to be such confusion in war, such a defeat," Arens said. "We've never seen so severe a blow to Israeli deterrence, so severe a threat to the Israeli home front or a government that did not order the IDF to first of all remove that threat."
Regarding Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Arens said, "The first step is a comprehensive inquiry." He warned the prime minister that "those being investigated must not be the ones to appoint the investigators."
The mother of Sgt. Yonatan Einhorn, who was killed by an anti-tank missile in Ayta a-Sha'ab, southern Lebanon, couldn't understand the government's opposition to a state commission.
After describing her final phone call with her son, in which he told her he had hardly eaten for days, she railed against "missing and rusting equipment, unsorted navigation maps, [operational] uncertainty and contradicting orders."
"Lebanon was not destroyed and Beirut did not burn as we were promised," she told demonstrators. "Hizbullah exists and Nasrallah continues to torment the families of the kidnapped soldiers!"
She said, "We have satellites, advanced planes and a determined army. So you explain what happened to us. Why is all this not enough for a state commission of inquiry?"
Demonstrators carried signs calling on Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz to resign.
"You didn't deliver the goods! The nation demands leaders who can win," read one sign. Another echoed the sentiment, demanding that "Olmert go home!"
Some signs focused on the demand for a state commission. One, carried by protesters who came all the way from Kiryat Shmona, predicted that "Out of the North shall break forth the investigation," a play on Jeremiah's prophecy of evil coming "out of the North." Another demanded "a real investigation," while a third asked, "What do you have to hide?"
One of the artists who performed at the rally, Nimrod Lev, sang a song written by Karnit Goldwasser, whose husband, Ehud, is one of the soldiers kidnapped by Hizbullah on July 12. Singer-songwriter Etti Ankri, singer Dani Litani and poet Yankele Rotblit, author of the "Song for Peace," performed at the event.
Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On on Saturday called on Peretz to go to the cabinet's regular Sunday morning meeting with a proposal to establish a state inquiry commission.
The protest came a week after thousands gathered in the same
spot to rally in support of the three IDF soldiers held captive by Hamas and Hizbullah.