500 Return to Defense Ministry to Protest Ongoing Gaza Operation

About 500 people demonstrated yesterday for the second consecutive day in front of the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. The demonstration was organized by Peace Now and attended by members of refusnik organizations, the Yahad Knesset faction, the Yahad youth movement, and leftist student groups.

Yahad chairman Yossi Beilin called for an immediate evacuation of the Gaza Strip, saying Prime Minister Sharon's plan to evacuate the Strip in stages would mean getting stuck there. An unusually large police contingent was present but unlike the previous day's demonstration, it passed without disruption.

At a hearing on a police request to release with limitations two minors arrested during Wednesday's demonstration, Youth Court judge Ruth Ben-Hanoch said: "The court must warn against using court procedures to silence protesters or limit their rights to express their opinions." Judge Ben-Hanoch had harsh words for the behavior of the police in holding the minors overnight at Abu Kabir lockup.

Attorney Gabi Laski will submit a complaint to the police investigations unit in the Justice Ministry with regard to one minor who needed medical care after an injury by police during the demonstration. In an unusual move, all attorneys for the eight people arrested during Wednesday's demonstration were denied access to their clients at the Yarkon region police station, although ambulances had to be summoned for three who were injured.

Among the six adults arrested in Wednesday's demonstration were David Zonshein of Courage to Refuse, and Yonatan Pollack of the anarchists' movement, who were released yesterday. The Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court refused a police request to limit their approach to within a one-kilometer radius of the demonstration area, and all six returned to demonstrate yesterday.

Yonatan Shapira, among the signatories to the pilots' refusnik letter, and his brother Zohar, who signed the Sayeret Matkal refusniks' letter, said that police officers threatened to kill them if they did not let go of the four-meter-long black flag they held during the demonstration.

Zami Ben-Horin, of Kibbutz Ga'ash on the coastal plain started a protest march yesterday from Rabin Square in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Ben-Horin, who is calling for an Israeli evacuation from the Gaza Strip, is accompanied by his wife Sigal, his son Gal, age 14, and his daughter Orian, age 12. Ben-Horin, who described himself as "not one who demonstrates in the squares" said the deaths of the 12 soldiers in the Gaza Strip last week brought him out of his apathy.

Yoel Marchuk of the Kibbutz Movement, who provided logistical support for the march of social activist Vicki Knafo, is also assisting Ben-Horin, who said that he didn't believe that the failure of Knafo's march meant that his would also fail.

"Everyone marches in his own niche," he said. Marchuk said he doubted Ben-Horin's march would become a mass movement. "When the soldiers are fighting, it's hard to get people out for a struggle like this," he explained.

Meanwhile, the High Court of Justice scheduled an urgent hearing on the petition of Israeli human rights organizations, demanding, among other things, to be allowed to assist Palestinian medical organizations working with Rafah residents injured during IDF actions in the area.

The groups are demanding, among other things, that the IDF allow Palestinian medical teams and ambulances to reach the wounded in Rafah to evacuate them to hospitals in Rafah and elsewhere in the Gaza Strip without prior coordination with the IDF humanitarian assistance officers.