This account by Shulamit Har-Even appeared in Yediot Aharanot on February 14, 1983. It was translated from Hebrew by Israel Shahak. According to Shahak, who was present at the demonstration himself, the pro-Sharon crowd was made up of West Bank settlers (“Gush Emunim types”) and young yeshiva students of the Agudat Israel Party, both of these largely Ashkenazi, and a separate group of young Oriental Jews brought in on special buses from Beit Shemesh. Shahak observed that while the Peace Now crowd was continuously joined by new marchers, virtually no individuals joined the pro-Sharon group during the demonstration.

Last week, on Monday evening, the Kahan Commission presented its findings to the prime minister. The next day, Ariel Sharon declared that he refused to accept the conclusions, which imply his resignation. The government hesitated until Thursday, and then did not come out with a clear declaration accepting the report and its conclusions. The days between Monday and Thursday were the most critical days of Israeli democracy. The issue has not yet been fully settled. Maybe it has only begun.

I would like to say at the outset: The division is not an ethnic one. Adi Levi, a Yemeni Jew wounded by that hand grenade, was also cursed during the demonstration as an “Ashkenazi.” The demonstrators who came to join Peace Now from the slums were beaten as well. The line does not pass between the religious and the secular, either. According to Avi Ravitski, who belongs to Netivot Shalom, a peace group made up mostly of yeshiva men, they were beaten severely that night. The division was clearly political, between two worldviews.

This is what happened on Thursday [February 10] in Jerusalem: As the Peace Now demonstration left Zion Square on its way up through Ben Yehuda Street, it was clear to the demonstrators that this was no regular clash of opinions, nor the regular sort of fringe violence. Even before the Peace Now people gathered for the demonstration, organized groups of violent men were waiting for them. Now they were moving forward in an organized way into the marching demonstrators. Next to me, shouting, whistling, beating. A lot of beating. The police weren’t prepared for such a level of violence. Here and there a lone policeman was struggling against a wave of the hooligans…. They are shouting, “Begin, Begin, Begin, PLO, PLO, PLO, PLO. Arik, king of Israel, Arik, king of Israel, Arik is Arik. You PLO-ists, you scum. Your commission is scum. You formed a commission against Arik, you formed a commission against Begin. We shall kill you, we shall give you a Sabra and Shatila, we shall give you a Holocaust. Scum, scum, scum, scum.”

…A 16-year-old boy marches next to me. He is not an Ashkenazi and his face is very pale. This is his first demonstration, his first meeting with this sort of street. He came to defend the law, as he had been taught in school. The sign in his hand is torn to pieces, his shirt is torn to shreds; he had already been severely beaten. We tell him not to be afraid, to smile, that we are stronger than they, that democracy will win…. There are really many demonstrators, but I am frightened also when I see three hooligans beating Alon in the face — Alon who fought at Entebbe and in several other operations against terrorism not openly spoken of. They shout at him while beating: “Have you ever served in the army, you PLO man? Were you ever in the army?” The demonstration moves on slowly. Non-stop beatings, lots of spitting. Stones. They throw a burning cigarette into Amiram’s face. Anat is badly beaten. Later on one of them tries to extinguish a burning torch on the face of Tala Ziv, an artist from the Israel Museum.

This is not the usual fringe. Someone had organized them. A man dressed as a boss, definitely not the everyday hooligan, shouts at Naftali, who is blocking the attackers with his body: “Tell me, you traitor, what’s the difference between you and the PLO?” Naftali replies quietly: “The difference is that I have been fighting the PLO for 17 years now.” But the man does not listen, and continues to shout: “Scum, traitor! PLO!”

The demonstrators don’t respond, they don’t beat the attackers in return. We feel the street on the verge of civil war, and it must be prevented.

I can see Moram and Zohar and Alon and Emil and Amos and Shaul, all of them paratroopers, holding hands and building a thin line against the attackers, so that the demonstrators will be able to march on — so that Israeli democracy will be able to march on. The excited mob has reached the stage of sexual taunts; “Arafat will kiss your ass. Go fuck the PLO. Maniacs, homosexuals, you are scum compared to Arik. Begin, Begin, Begin, Arik, king of Israel.”

We pass a spot where I always remain silent: 36 years ago, serving in the Haganah, this is where I took care of the people wounded by a car bomb — my first taste of fire. Now, at exactly the same place, I am kicked. I don’t feel angry. I just feel grown up and sad: Is this the state we fought for? Someone says that the next day we will have to return our identity cards and queue for inhabitants’ cards, lt doesn’t even sound funny. Behind the professor Hava Lazaros tries to calm her frightened daughter. No one had expected so much violence.

We reach the Mashbir. The attackers are reinforced when Rabbi Kahane’s people join them. I can see Kahane carried on the shoulders of a supporter. This man, who never really received legitimization from the Israeli society, is now rousing his men, shouting that the demonstrators are traitors, a knife in the back of the nation. To me, most of the marching demonstrators seem the back of the nation and not the knife, but no one even dreams of the possibility to argue and to discuss. Then Kahane, who did not live through the Holocaust but exploits the Holocaust for his own uses, sends his men to beat a couple of elderly people from among the demonstrators, people who had lived through the Holocaust. Sadly, the photographers were on the other side.

“Begin, Begin, Begin. Arik, king of Israel. Arik, Arik, Arik.” Two high school girls walk under a rain of spit. I can see their mouths quiver. Democracy seems to have strange fronts these days. Apparently standing and being spat at is one of them….

At this point I leave the march for about a half an hour. When I rejoin it, along Hakirya Street, I am told what had happened meanwhile. Slowly they reached the end of Bezalel Street and were stopped: They couldn’t move on. The police lost control. A rain of stones from above, a classic ambush. At last they manage to move on but several people were badly hurt and had to be removed.

I think to myself: These are your supporters, Begin. You can’t dismiss them, or maybe you don’t want to. Prime Minister, did you really understand what these three fateful days of fatal hesitation did to the street, how the street interpreted them? You, the expert of the street, didn’t you understand that you had no time to hesitate? The ministers Hazan and Abu Hatzira, who listen to their people, told you clearly that the government must make a fast decision or else the street would decide! You shouldn’t have passed the decision to the street, not for three long days, not even for one hour, your duty was to decide at once, and you failed. This is no way to govern. This is no way to command. Any young officer marching here today can tell you this.

We arrive at the square opposite the prime minister’s office. The government is in session there. The shouting of “Arik, Arik” and “Begin, Begin” turns into mad dancing circles. There is a large presence of police and border police here, so the beatings stop. But it is still difficult to say anything. Tzali gives me a microphone and tells me to speak. I say, and I don’t know if I can be heard, that the government is not higher than the law, that a defense minister who does not take responsibility for his acts won’t be able to demand responsibility from any officer or soldier, that a government that won’t acknowledge the superiority of the courts won’t be able to demand of its citizens to comply with the law. Uri Simon takes the microphone and I think he is calling from the Book of Jeremiah, but I can hardly hear him because the shouts of “Arik, king of Israel” are louder than the Bible. On the steps to the Bank of Israel, by the light of a burning torch, I can see Emil, who was beaten badly during the march. He just returned from reserve army service in Lebanon the previous week and is now joking with a friend. He wanted to stay home this evening and finish his academic work about the essence of democracy. At this moment he still has eight or nine minutes to live.

The national anthem: “To be free people in our country.” Dispersing. The crowd mixes with the policemen. I walk down toward the Finance Ministry and pass by the dancing men. One of them shouts into my ear very loudly: “Lady, we will give you a Sabra and Shatila!” Amiram, who is walking behind me, tells me that one of those groups shouted at him: “Peace Now, this is your last demonstration without hand grenades.” The mark of the burning cigarette can still be seen on his face, or maybe it is another blow he received. Amiram gets into a car, I am waiting for friends. The night is torn by the evil explosion.

Mili Refaeli tells us later that she saw a group of young men standing and staring on the hill next to the steps, and she heard the cry, “Now!” She thought they wanted to spit on her, and she bent down. Then she heard the explosion. Later on, the police find the hand grenade’s safety catch on that hill, lt was an Israeli army hand grenade.

They carry Emil, who was hit above his heart and on his neck and is no longer alive. They bring several other people who were wounded in Galya’s car, which is covered with splinters. They are taken to Sha’arey Tzedek Hospital. The friends carrying them have all lived through wars and have already carried dead and wounded friends more than once, but this is different. Now they are attacked at the entrance to the emergency room of the hospital, inside the hospital. Five hooligans jump on Naftali, who still has the sign of a steward on his shoulder, and beat up David Gield, a physician from among the demonstrators who arrived together with the wounded and gave them first aid on the way. Naftali, together with Shaul and Yoram who came running, manage to control the hooligans for the time being. They discover that Avraham Burg, who helped bring in the wounded, was himself hurt by a splinter in his back, and has to remain for treatment. Yehoushua Shkedi is taken in for surgery. And while all this is done they hear the promise: “Next time we will finish you off. Next time we will kill more. Arik, king of Israel. A shame that only one went.”

The next day someone calls out from a car passing the funeral: “He was only the first!”

I love and respect the president, Navon. I also respect minister David Levy, who is very sane. I respect Peres’ coolness. They, and many others, now say that we must cool the atmosphere, that we need national appeasement. No doubt they are right. Appeasement is a good thing, and we need it like air. But those who understand the importance of national appeasement are not among the hooligans of Thursday; those who beat us on Thursday do not want it. All they want is to control by force. I very much fear that all these personalities and leaders who cried out are fighting a war of the past. Since last Thursday the rules of the war of the “Arik, king of Israel” men have totally changed, and it is not appeasement that will bring them back to sanity.

Those who don’t understand this, I fear, do not understand or grasp what happened last Thursday in the heart of Jerusalem opposite the cabinet meeting.

How to cite this article:

"The Peace Now Demonstration of February 10, 1983," Middle East Report 114 (May 1983).

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