Ami Ayalon's campaign to promote support for the disengagement is meeting a wall of apathy. Meanwhile, in a confused country, right and left have exchanged symbols and attitudes.
On Tuesday evening, Dotan Berman stood at an intersection of main streets in Herzliya wearing an orange shirt. There was nothing unusual about his presence there at that hour, except that printed on his T-shirt was "Non-political orange." With great seriousness, Berman, 24 and a resident of Nofit in the Lower Galilee, explained that he wasn't acting in the name of the color alone. "My friends and I want to bring sanity back to the color orange, to release it from the bonds of politicization. We've printed 100 shirts, and we're left with 60. I know that this sounds odd, but the whole situation is odd."
Odd indeed. The real "oranges" flocked to him as if to an ally, trying to push orange ribbons into his hand to distribute. The "blues" smiled in relief upon reading the printed slogan, which subtracted him from the orange manpower. Only Roni, who lives in Herzliya, fully understood his intention. For a long time now, she has refrained from wearing the orange-colored clothes she loves so much and has been looking for a shirt that combines the two colors. She is a rightist, but she supports the disengagement, although the evacuation hurts her a lot. In the meantime, until she goes down to do reserve duty in a unit of volunteers at the roadblocks around Gush Katif, she would have been content with a temporary solution to the issue of her clothing. Without a doubt, a country in a state of disturbance, Israel has never sounded crazier or more tortured than over the questions the disengagement is raising, and longs for answers that the leadership is not providing.
In the background to this hallucinatory conversation at the street corner in Herzliya, final preparations were underway for a meeting of Herzliya residents with the leaders of the campaign "Leaving Gaza - Returning to Zionism." For the past week, its organizers - Ami Ayalon, senior reserve officers from the Council for Peace and Security, activists from the Shuvi women's movement, representatives of The People's Voice (Hamifkad Haleumi, an organization promoting the two-state solution), members of the kibbutz movement and young activists of the "Realistic Religious Zionism" movement - have been working on an information campaign throughout the country. Visiting locales for chats in the street, sitting in cafes for fraught discussions, holding a meeting in the evening hours, every evening, with inhabitants of the chosen locale.
Ayalon sets forth his philosophy about the return to Zionism and the necessity of redefining it; the retired generals talk about the security advantage in leaving Gaza, the Shuvi women tell about the distress of the soldiers who are collapsing under the burden of the violence and the curses of the settlers; the representatives of the kibbutz movement report on the aid they are giving the farmers and the People's Voice markets its wares as the solution to the day after.
The meetings are held in locales where the mayor agrees to host them. In Ra'anana, for example, Uzi Cohen refused to allow them a meeting in his jurisdiction. He has elections just down the road and doesn't need any trouble. A number of shopping centers that have happily hosted orange activities refused to allow events of the blue and white campaign. One might think that the disengagement was not an Israeli government plan, but rather some subversive plot by the left. So the participants in the campaign are mostly handing out blue and white ribbons at the intersections, competition to the orange ribbons. After all, there is no doubt that beyond the big words, this is the moment of the real fight: How many blue and white ribbons are moving along the roads of Israel, compared to the orange ones? Ribbon day.
The organizers define it as "a popular vehicle campaign from the north of the country to the south, of those who have decided to do something and show that there is a large majority here that wants to leave Gaza and wants a Jewish and democratic state." This is, at the moment, the only game in town for supporters of the disengagement. It is an expensive campaign, funded mainly by businessmen Dov Lautman and Stef Wertheimer.
But not all supporters of the disengagement are participating in it. Peace Now, for example, has not joined their campaign, its leaders claiming that Ami Ayalon doesn't really want them because he is afraid of their leftist profile. For their part, they are not enthusiastic about the warm embrace Ayalon is giving the Jewish settlers in the territories in his every statement. Most of them do not share this swelling empathy. Therefore, they are focusing on their own activity of distributing blue ribbons.
Ayalon says that in fact he did want Peace Now. It is a fact, he says, that the definition of his campaign is "a blue and white campaign," and not "blue-white," like The People's Voice. ("Pay attention to the `and,'" he says).
As usual in the peace camp, even when the subject of the debate is yes ribbons or no ribbons and what color they will be (there were those who argued there is no need to be roped into the settlers' methods and imitate them), they did not manage to bridge the abyss between blue and blue and white, and each is clinging to the rightness of his own path.
The campaign on Tuesday opened in the morning, at Zikhron Yaakov. One couldn't have asked for a more suitable stage setting for a discussion about the roots of Zionism. But even in the pastoral pedestrian mall, the conversations were fraught with pain and fear. "I see the blue and the orange and I'm in shock," declared Moti Choucroune of Zikhron in a conversation with Ayalon. "We mustn't make the rift even deeper between the soldiers and the settlers. Everything should be done quietly."
"I in fact think that a black ribbon should be put next to the blue and white," proposed Suzanne Ben-Haroush, extremely proud of the idea she has proposed. Her husband, Yehuda, is altogether suspicious that the whole thing is nothing but an election campaign for Ayalon. At the regular parliament at the local cafe, where Ayalon set forth his philosophy, they gave him respect, they listened, but they weren't really convinced. Only when he speaks with great empathy about the settlers and the distress of the soldiers does he win full agreement.
The settlers have succeeded. In the first phase, when they were scattering threats of refusing to serve in the military and uncontrolled violence under the slogan "We have love and it will be victorious," they lost points in public opinion. Now, when the violence is perceived as being used by both sides ("You saw how the soldiers are shoving them, how the police are violent toward them," is a recurring argument), they are enjoying sweeping popular affection, even by supporters of the disengagement. Very many supporters of the move are refusing to fly the blue-white ribbons, for fear that in this small act they will contribute to deepening the rift. They are choosing to remain outside the game. The evacuation of the settlements is perceived as a cruel act that people, even the supporters, don't want to identify with openly.
The Arabs evinced understanding
Perhaps this is why the popular campaign is not really sweeping the nation. Apart from the activists of the various organizations, few of "the people" are connecting to it. "We answered the advertisement because we wanted to be a part of the historic move," said Sima and Diti Assayig, a mother and daughter from Hadera, among the few representatives of the people who answered the call.
"I came to the campaign because it really seems to me abnormal that my son will evacuate people by force and that all the time it is necessary to beg the settlers, `don't harm the soldiers.' He participated in the confrontation at Kfar Maimon, and he said that in front of them they saw only orange and behind them no one," related Etti Ofek from Haifa.
But the campaign is above all an action by tough men, who are accustomed to exercising authority by virtue of their rank and have suddenly been dragged into an emotional debate. "We have a lot of generals, but few soldiers," is how one young left-wing activist summed up the situation.
"I've learned a chapter in the phenomenon of Israeli citizenship," Ayalon said, summing up the first days of the week-long campaign. "Had the government retreated from the disengagement plan, half a million would have come out to Rabin Square. In the current situation, people prefer to repress the reality of crisis in which they find themselves and it's hard to get them out of their air-conditioned living rooms. They think that by paying taxes and serving in the reserves, they are fulfilling their civic duties. I am giving them pangs of conscience and arousing anger."
But even in the degree of anger, there has been erosion. People are confused, not exactly angry. One taunt of "Nazi" and one of "homo" are the sum total of the heckling Ayalon has heard as he skips among the cars speeding down the road. Not many though, since the epithet "Nazis," which had been reserved for the left, is now directed at the soldiers, while the left is just an irritant.
"I suggest that all the strength that has come here be organized to help settlers with the exit," proposed Gershon, proprietor of a stationery store in the commercial center of Gan Shmuel, when representatives of the campaign arrived. "The blue-white ribbon you are offering me is like saying that I have two sides, when the truth is that I have one side that has to be allowed to protest peacefully. There is no need to help the government evacuate them."
Yossi Alpher of the Council for Peace and Security argued that the settlers do not want help, that they want to be seen being dragged away by force. But his views did not make an impression. Gershon had in fact identified himself as a supporter of the disengagement: This is what the support looked like.
The intersection at Givat Shmuel brought together, physically, students from the midrashot (religious schools) and activists of the Realistic Religious Zionism movement. Two groups who drank from the same well and are now on opposite sides of the political fence. So much so, that from within the rift in the religious Zionist camp voices are heard that have never been heard before. Until now, the threat of leaving the country had been the exclusive weapon of the left; now it has also come to the religious right.
"I'm considering leaving the country," declared Matan Holander, 17, a student at Midreshet Noam, in a conversation with Ayalon at the busy intersection. "The disengagement is a stinking move that will lead to a civil war." All of Ayalon's talk about a democratic Jewish state did not reconcile him. Nor did the conversation with Elazar Davidowitz, a hesder yeshiva student from Realistic Religious Zionism who was handing out blue-white ribbons. "I'm worried," said Davidowitz in pain. "I'm asking myself where religious Zionism will go with respect to faith after the disengagement that the rabbis have promised them won't happen."
Sometimes the reactions were even more surprising. At a shop in Hadera, Yossi Chen, formerly the head of a department in the Shin Bet security service, most unexpectedly encountered reservations about evacuating the settlements from two residents of the Arab village of Jisr al-Zarka. They told him that the evacuation reminds them of how their grandfather was uprooted from his home.
It's hard to figure out this reshuffling. People from the left who refused to serve in the territories are prepared to go out and evacuate settlements; peace organizations that until now saw the Israel Defense Forces as the cruel arm of the occupation regime are going out with deliveries of food for the soldiers in Gush Katif, and the colors blue and white have for the first time been requisitioned from the right and pressed into service for the other camp. And there are those for whom this color combination has become the enemy's colors.
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