Left-wing conflicted on war with Hizbullah

Although there appears to be broad support for the government's actions against Hizbullah, a small number of demonstrators took to the streets of Tel Aviv this week to protest the conflict in Lebanon. With cries of "Return to the negotiating table" and "All the ministers are war criminals," the demonstration highlighted the difference of opinion within Israel's left-wing, and drew parallels between this war and that which took place in 1982. The rally on Sunday was organized by Gush Shalom, the self-described "hard core of the Israeli peace bloc," along with various other left-wing organizations such as Yesh Gvul, Anarchists Against Walls, Ta'ayush, and the Women's Coalition for Peace. The demonstration was not the first against the current war, as Gush Shalom had organized a rally the day the war began. Gush Shalom's founder, Uri Avnery, was quite outspoken about the current war with Lebanon. "I believe that this war is bad. It's a bad war for Israel, it's a bad war for everybody, it's a bad war for peace," said Avnery. "The real question was, and remains, the Palestinian question, which is the source of all the other conflicts. Hizbullah would not have gone into action if there had not been an Israeli onslaught on the Gaza strip." Avnery said that "the real aim in Gaza is to destroy the elected Hamas government and this has created the situation which has brought Hizbullah into the conflict." Other Israeli leftist groups, however, are supportive of the war. Peace Now chose not to participate in the rally on Sunday. According to Yariv Oppenheimer, the organization's director-general, "most people support the conflict and this is why we didn't take part in the demonstration..." Oppenheimer added that there were still varying opinions among Peace Now's membership. "In general, not all the people in Peace Now think the same. Some people support the actions of the Israeli government and think it's the right think to do... Others think it was necessary, but we are doing too much. Others yet, think that we shouldn't have gone on this operation and should have operated only the diplomatic channel," said Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer hopes that the military operation will lead to a diplomatic solution in the peace process. "If after the operation we are going to have a situation with moderate Lebanese and Palestinians, and we can show them that they have a partner and not just an enemy, then something will have come from this operation. But, if there will be only a cease-fire with nothing after it, then we didn't get the maximum from this operation," he said. Avnery, on the other hand, believes that "there is no peace process until Israel says it is ready to negotiate with the elected Palestinian government, which is Hamas." Many groups feel that the current situation in Lebanon mirrors that which took place there in 1982. According to Yana Knopova, a member of the Coalition of Women for Peace, the current situation is "the same" as in 1982. "We will have another week, two weeks, three weeks, why not? It's our soldiers being killed in Lebanon because our government doesn't have a plan," said Knopova. Avnery seconded the idea, saying that the recent demonstrations have only strengthened his belief that this war is very much the same as the 1982 war. "The first demonstration was 100 people, yesterday was 600 people," he claimed, "and the next one will be in Rabin square on Shabbat, where there will maybe be a thousand people... for me this is d j vu. We were in the same situation in 1982. In the beginning we were a 100, after a week 1,000, on the third of July there were 10,000, and after Sabra and Shatila there were 400,000 people,"Avnery claimed. While certain groups, such as Gush Shalom, have opposed the war, an overwhelming majority of the country is still quite supportive. "The same thing happened last time. When Begin invaded Lebanon in 1982 he had 99.9 percent of support. It always happens at the beginning of the war, and the bombardment of Israeli cities hardens Israeli opinion. It is a natural reaction," said Avnery. Despite this, protesters feel that demonstrations, even during the early stages in the war, are necessary. "I think it's never early for the voice of peace, the voice of negotiations. For me, it's very late right now, we should have been doing this a couple of weeks ago," said Knopova.