Dismay on Right at low turnout for anti-Bush rallies

Fewer than 1,000 people show up in center of capital to demonstrate for a united Jerusalem.

Bush weirdo 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Bush weirdo 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
In the early morning chill Thursday, half a dozen protesters gathered in a square near the hotel of visiting US President George W. Bush with signs calling for the release of imprisoned Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, the continuation of Israel's West Bank settlement policy and a harsher military response towards Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip. Like many of the other protests that have sprung up throughout the city to mark the American president's first visit to Israel, however, the gathering fell short of the boastful predictions for tens of thousands to march across the city. Right-wing movements thought that this week's visit by US President George W. Bush would be the perfect opportunity to press their campaign for maintaining a united Jerusalem under Jewish control. The results, however, have been disappointing, as the low turnout and changing political messages have distracted from their argument. Marking Bush's final night in Jerusalem on Thursday, right-wing protesters gathered in the middle of the city to demonstrate for a united Jerusalem. Organizers said that thousands were expected to arrive, but fewer than 1,000 showed up. Participants carried signs quoting Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski's statement to Bush earlier in the day that the city is the heart of the Jewish people. The week kicked off with a 2,000-person strong rally Monday at the Har Homa neighborhood in the southeastern part of the city. A plan to further develop that area has been a main point of contention between Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The area is over the Green Line, and therefore earmarked by Palestinians as part of their future state. Olmert, who has expressed strong willingness to evacuate illegal outposts in the West Bank, has remained firm on his stance that Jerusalem has "special status" and that greater Jerusalem should remain in Israeli hands. That message was precisely in keeping with the United Jerusalem movement recently founded by opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu, who claimed that Olmert was willing to give up large parts of the city as part of the negotiations on a final peace agreement. Likud MKs who attended various protests this week continued sounding their predictions that Olmert would divide Jerusalem. "We all know what Olmert has planned, even if he is not saying it at the moment," said MK Limor Livnat. The United Jerusalem movement did not, however, garner the excitement or support that it enjoyed just two months ago, when thousands enthusiastically attended a rally at the City of David to show their opposition to handing back any parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinians. "It might be the cold, or the feeling of a police lock-down of the city. I'm not sure, but this is definitely not the booming voice of the people that we expected Bush to hear from his Jerusalem hotel balcony," said Uri Ephraim, who took part in a protest with several thousand others in an attempt to form a "human chain" around the city of Jerusalem. "We expected tens of thousands to create this stunning visual. Where are the people now that their message can reach such an important world leader?" Many, however, felt that the heavy police presence in the city had deterred protesters from coming out in great numbers. One man reported that police detained two activists and arrested one more who were attempting to distribute pamphlets from the Center of Near East Policy. The protesters were attempting to hand out pamphlets, which argue that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is not a serious partner for peace, around Rehov Keren Hayesod, where many of the journalists are staying. Police said that they had clearly told the protesters that they were not allowed to hand out the material in the area around the hotel, and that they detained them after several people at the Dan Panorama Hotel complained of their presence. The protesters maintained that the police had arrested them without a warrant.