tel aviv -- jews and arabs, an estimated 10,000 of them from all over Israel, filled the large Tel Aviv Museum plaza last weekend for the largest peace demonstration since the start of this intifada. By the time veteran peace activist Yehudit Harel opened the ceremony, the crowd was already buoyed by one another's presence and a great deal of hugging. And then Yehudit's opening words in fluent Hebrew and Arabic set the tone for the evening: we Israeli Jews and Arabs together will no longer abide the crimes carried out by the Israeli government.
"There is only one flag held aloft here today," said Yehudit, "and it is the black flag of pain, mourning, death, bereavement and the immorality of war crimes that are being committed in our name." At her words, hundreds of black flags were raised high by the crowd.
This was a rally in which the young men who refused to serve in the army of occupation were the heroes of the evening, receiving ovation after ovation at every mention. Some of these brave young men have been stripped of their command, demoted and face court martial, but continue to answer to their conscience. "How can we serve in an army that kills children?" asked Yishai Rosen-Zvi, an Orthodox tank corps sergeant in the reserves.
The stage was shared by Arabs and Jews, women and men, Mizrahim and Ashkenazim, young and old, religious and secular. Shulamit Aloni, former government minister and perennial conscience of Israel, called out her message of hope: "All of you here are the harbingers of a mass movement that already has begun. We shall clean out the crimes of this country and fill it with peace!"
There were many moments that brought tears to my eyes. Singer Ahinoam Nini (known as Noa in North America) sang a Hebrew, Arabic and English version of John Lennon's Imagine. "You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.'
Then there was the transformation of a beloved Zionist song, Ein Li Eretz Aheret. Reciting this song in two languages, Hebrew and Arabic, infused it with new meaning: "I have no other country to go to. And even if the land is burning under my feet, this is my home." The song suddenly belonged to the Arabs in the crowd, too, and for the Jews it spoke of a land loved deeply by both.Gila Svirsky is a peace activist living in Jerusalem.