It’s a crisp sunny Saturday morning as our crew prepares the automobile for the drive from Jerusalem to Haifa to cowl an anti-war rally. Spirits are excessive as I place my digicam tools within the boot of the automobile. Then we focus on footwear.
Stefanie, our correspondent, has chosen to put on snug white trainers, anticipating the probability of violence to be low. Nonetheless, Luke, whom we’ve employed to supply safety, and I’ve plumped for sturdy boots in case issues get heated.
That is the primary anti-war protest to happen in Israel because it started its conflict on Gaza following the Hamas assaults of October 7.
Since, it hasn’t been straightforward for the anti-war voice to make itself heard. The organisers of this rally, Hadash, a left-wing socialist occasion that helps a two-state answer, had been initially banned from gathering and needed to take their request to the Supreme Courtroom.
A protester shouts right into a megaphone on the anti-war rally [Alasdair Brenard/Al Jazeera]
For us, even discovering the protest location proves troublesome. As we close to the sq. in Haifa, our GPS begins sending us in circles. We lastly park at a mosque the place an area explains that the Israeli military has scrambled the GPS sign in northern Israel on account of safety issues.
The authorities had been probably eager to let the protest go forward on a Saturday when there’s no public transport, which might make it tougher for individuals to achieve the sq..
As we make our approach to the sq., we cross a big contingent of police in blue uniforms in addition to what seems like border guards in darkish inexperienced. They appear to be having a last-minute pep discuss earlier than the protest.
Little question they’ve issues as to what is likely to be about to occur. They’re armed with rifles and pistols, and so they have utility autos, the infamous “skunk water truck” and officers on horseback.
I’m beginning to really feel vindicated by my alternative of footwear.
Round noon, we’re ready for the rally to start out. Police create a hoop of metal across the space, erecting metallic barricades and blocking the close by highway with vehicles. They’ve additionally positioned an armed spotter on a roof overlooking the sq..
An area photographer explains to me that the police will not be completely satisfied the protest goes forward, that the anti-war message shouldn’t be one they’re prepared to listen to.
“They’re going to impress violence from the demonstrators to show that it shouldn’t have gone forward,” he warns me solemnly.
Our guard is now up. We begin to survey the coming protesters for indicators of hassle or potential counter-protesters which will have been planted to attempt to whip up confrontations.
Luke spots a person reaching into his internal jacket pocket in a really suspicious method. The person glances round and pulls out… a packet of cigarettes. False alarm, however you possibly can’t be too cautious.
Extra individuals begin to present up – about 500, lots of them younger – and a few aren’t sporting sneakers. I can’t assist however really feel that the police might have overestimated the hazard posed by this explicit group of protesters.
They’re banging drums, shouting slogans via loudspeakers and giving speeches on the significance of reconciliation and the failure of conflict to carry lasting safety.
It’s refreshing to listen to an alternate message in Israel and to see Israelis and Palestinian Israelis standing collectively in hope for a peaceable future.
One of many audio system, Maoz Inon, whose dad and mom had been killed by Hamas fighters throughout Hamas’s assaults on October 7, speaks of forgiveness: “My father cultivated the land. He grew wheat and he additionally introduced me as much as imagine in a superb future.
“My message to the world is don’t select a facet, Israeli or Palestine, however please select humanity.”
In the meantime, police have gotten more and more twitchy. They swoop in on the gang and pluck a person from it, then lead him away to a close-by automobile because the protesters, police and press surge forwards and backwards within the confusion.
Thankfully, the state of affairs doesn’t escalate and issues quickly settle down.
However there are different occasions. At one level, whereas I’m filming Stefanie speaking to the digicam, a Palestinian-Israeli man and his teenage daughter strategy us. He apologises for interrupting us earlier than telling us he’d been shoved within the again by a police officer whereas watching the rally. He’s upset and pissed off, and feels focused for merely exhibiting up on the rally.
Close to the tip of the protest, the police make one other transfer. This time, the supply of their ire is a paper mâché fighter airplane with cardboard bombs dangling beneath. It’s a quick battle earlier than the mannequin airplane is snatched away.
Regardless of the airplane incident, the protesters stay upbeat.
When the rally finishes and folks start to file off in several instructions, Stefanie stays a bit longer to speak with Maoz. In the meantime, a counter-protester movies him after which tries to start out arguments with the those who stay.
For now, these protesting right here right this moment are within the minority. Based on current polls, the vast majority of Israelis nonetheless assist the conflict in Gaza.