Thousands protest freeze in J'lem

Thousands gather in Jle

freeze protest 248.88 (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
freeze protest 248.88
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Settlers are not the ones who should be evacuated from their homes, thundered MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) as he addressed the thousands of anti-settlement freeze protesters who braved the cold to gather in Paris Square on Wednesday night. The 10-month moratorium is just the first step toward an eventual withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, warned Ben-Ari. "The message from here has to be very clear," he said. "The Jews have been exiled enough! If there is a people that has to be evacuated and should not be here, it is not the Jewish people." He compared the Security Cabinet's decision two weeks ago to impose a 10-month moratorium on new Jewish construction in the West Bank to a "noose" and a "poisonous pill." The settlers and the right wing has learned a lesson from the 2005 Gaza withdrawal, he said. "The story of the settler as a sucker ended five years ago," he said. "What are we? Schnitzel that Netanyahu cooked in his kitchen?" Now, he said, "We have an opportunity to teach Netanyahu, [US President Barack] Obama and [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy and the world that Jewish building cannot be frozen." The rally followed two weeks of almost daily emergency meetings by settler leaders and clashes with civil administration inspectors who have visited every community in Judea and Samaria to issue stop-work orders. It was the largest protest mounted by settlers and right-wing activists since Netanyahu took office. The Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, which helped organize the event, hired 200 buses to bring people to the rally from all over the country. They estimated the crowd at some 30,000. Participants, many of whom were teens and young adults, chanted, sang and held signs that promised to break the freeze and to continue building. One sign read, "Bibi you are Israeli, stand with your people!" Another said, "Stop Iran's Nukes, Not our Homes!" When he addressed the crowd, MK Arye Eldad (National Union) warned, "When Bibi says freeze, he means disengagement. "Netanyahu intends to withdraw from all of Judea and Samaria and to create a Palestinian state in the heart of Israel. Do not believe him when he says the freeze is temporary? Do you trust him?" he asked the crowd. "No!" they yelled back. Likud Minister Bennie Begin does trust him, said Eldad, as he attacked the politician who many believed would stand firm against any attempts to freeze West Bank construction. "In his name, many of us believed in Netanyahu," said Eldad, who expressed his disappointment that Begin had supported the freeze. "But you have stood the test, you are not frozen," Eldad told the crowd. "Jews are not popsicles," he added. To Netanyahu, he said, "You will not freeze or best us so quickly. We will give you a simple Zionist answer. We will build everywhere!" MK Danny Danon (Likud) held up a sign with a White House phone number and urged everyone there to call Obama to tell him not to harm the settlements. The settlements are not a stumbling block to peace, said Danon. What the freeze does, he said, is to point a finger at the settlers and say, "You are the problem." Netanyahu has to tell Obama that he is not compromising when it comes to the land of Israel, Danon said. MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) warned that the freeze compromised the status of Jerusalem. In the past Israel had the kind of leaders who could stand up to the international community, she said. On this date 60 years ago, David Ben-Gurion declared that Jerusalem was Israel's capital. He did this against the will of the United Nations, which sent him a message that Israel was the sole vote in the international arena in favor of that measure. Ben-Gurion responded that "our voice was the only determining voice," said Hotovely. This battle is much larger than building rights. It is not just a fight for Jerusalem or for Judea and Samaria, she said. "It is a fight for Israeli sovereignty. It is a fight for us to determine our own fate and not cave to foreign demands," said Hotovely. Ma'aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel, a long time Likud member, appealed to the man who had once been his comrade in the battle to develop Judea and Samaria. "We worked together for 18 years. And for 18 years you instructed me to build the land. Do not change your path today. We will be by your side to help you withstand American pressure," said Kashriel. The Gaza withdrawal in 2005 started with the evacuation of the Yamit in 1982, he said. The path to the freeze started with the destruction of the Gaza settlements. The path to halting building in east Jerusalem, starts with this freeze, said Kashriel. Concessions have been taken for weakness, which has only lead to more concessions, he said. "If we had not made any concessions we would not be in the situation where Obama asked us to stop building in Gilo, in the heart of Jerusalem," said Kashriel. Dani Dayan, who heads the Yesha Council, said that settlers did not have any intention of obeying the freeze, not for 10 months, not for 10 days, not for 10 minutes and not even for a second. "We will continue to build the land. We say in a clear voice, we want to do it together with a Jewish government," Dayan said. "But if the government is tired and does not have the power to stand up to foreign influence, we will push on without it." The council, he said intends to brook no compromise with regard to the freeze. "We want the government to rescind the freeze," said Dayan. In the last week, he said, civil administration inspectors have come to the settlements with magnifying glasses to check building sites to see if home foundations have been laid. "We want to say to them, we have foundations, because we are the foundation," said Dayan. "These are days when the heart is anxious. I want to tell you we are certain that we will win this battle,"said Dayan. South Hebron Hills Regional Council Chairman Tzvika Bar-Hai said, "I want to say to our brothers in Tel Aviv, 'wake up in Gush Dan.'" The public has been fed false slogans, he said. "It is not two nations for two peoples, it is a terror state in the heart of Israel," said Bar-Hai. To Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, he said, do not involve the army in the work of the civil administration inspectors. "The army belongs to all of us," said Bar-Hai. No ministers addressed the rally, but earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Israel Beiteinu), who lives in the settlement of Nokdim, said the Jerusalem protest was legitimate. "If someone came to you and froze construction on your house while you were building it, you would also object," he told Israel Radio. "I just hope the struggle and the resistance remain within the framework of a legitimate political protest that is acceptable in a democratic state." Settlers have complained that the 10-month moratorium is anti-democratic. During a faction meeting Wednesday afternoon, Netanyahu rejected a request by Danon to vote on the decision to put a moratorium on settlement construction. "It is inconceivable that such a basic principle and promise to [Likud] voters will not be voted upon by the faction," Danon said. Netanyahu rejected the request, saying the decision was made in the "managing echelon." As the faction meeting was closing and Netanyahu prepared to meet the visiting Italian foreign minister, he quipped to his faction members, some of who were slated to speak Wednesday evening at the demonstration, "you must go out and protest against me, so we'll finish early." "We are not protesting against you but against the decision," Danon fired back. "If you change it, we won't need to protest." Gil Hoffman and AP contributed to this report