It was a snowy morning on 7 January 2009: the tenth day of the Israeli Defense Forces’ assault on Gaza. The death toll had already exceeded 600 – most of them civilians including many children. To divorce themselves publicly from this most recent abuse of Palestinian lives, eight Jewish-Canadian women ranging in age from mid-twenties to late fifties entered the Toronto Israeli consulate two by two.
The women were nervous that they would not get past the tight Israeli security. But they did. Once in the consulate waiting room they dropped their little pink service slips and declared their intention not to leave. It was the stunned silence that followed which surprised one of the younger activists, Jenn Peto: ‘Neither those waiting for consular services – many of them Israelis – nor the consular staff immediately reacted, as if the violence on the television was on a different planet and had nothing to do with the state that ran the office we were in.’
‘These are war crimes! Not in our name!’ the women yelled. Soon the security guards became quite hostile and several of the women were pushed around. One of their cameras was smashed before the Toronto police arrived on the scene to carry out their ritual arrest.
Other Jewish voices around the globe also made their opposition clear in quickly organized rallies. In Los Angeles protesters chained themselves to the consulate fence. In Australia a group calling themselves ‘Independent Jewish Australian Voices’ included two well-known writers, and Green and Labour Party politicians signed a statement expressing their indignation.
The protests have run the range of Jewish opinion, from the blackclad orthodox anti-Zionist Jews often seen at such protests, through younger activist groups (like the US -based J Street), to mainstream Jewish figures such as those in Britain who, although sympathetic to Israel’s position, feel the Gaza action is self-defeating. As Londonbased academic Shalom Lappin points out: ‘Relying on overwhelming military force to respond to terrorist provocations invariably imposes horrendous suffering on innocent Palestinian civilians, while entrenching the agents of terror in their midst. We have no alternative but to pursue rational, long-term political options that promote moderation and marginalize extremists.’
In Israel itself Gush Shalom (The Peace Block) and a coalition of 20 other groups held anti-war rallies in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square that drew over 10,000. Dana Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister’s own daughter, expressed her opposition to the Gaza slaughter at a rally outside the home of former Israeli Defense Forces boss Dan Halutz in the Tzahala neighbourhood in Tel Aviv. Internal repression in Israel has been unusually harsh, with 500 arrests of peace activists – almost all Arab- Israelis. An electoral commission, which included the hawkish Israeli Labour Party, attempted to ban Arab parties from running in February’s Israeli elections – in a bid to eliminate the 10 pro-peace votes in the Knesset (Israel’s legislature) – but the decision was overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court.