Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders addressed on Saturday a joint Jewish-Arab rally in Tel Aviv against Israeli plans to annex West Bank settlements, saying that the plan "must be stopped."
Thousands gathered at Tel Aviv's Rabin Square to participate in the protest which was originally forbidden by the police due to fears over the coronavirus.
Sanders addressed the rally via video conference, expressing his support for the protesters and condemnation of Israel’s annexation plans. The senator said that he was “heartened” to see Arabs and Jews demonstrating together.
“In these difficult days … it has never been more important to stand up for justice, and to fight for the future we all deserve,” Sanders said. “It’s up to all of us to stand up to authoritarian leaders and to build a peaceful future for every Palestinian and every Israeli."
Sanders, who has criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right wing policies over the years added: “The plans to annex any parts of the West Bank must be stopped. The occupation must be ended and we must work together for a future of equality and dignity for all people in Israel and Palestine,” he says.
"In the words of my friend Ayman Odeh: The only future is a shared future," he added.
Odeh, Head of the Joint List alliance of Arab-majority parties also spoke at the rally, telling the crowd “we are at a crossroads. One path leads to a joint society with a real democracy, civil and national equality for Arab citizens ... The second path leads to hatred, violence, annexation and apartheid,” Odeh said. "We’re here in Rabin Square to pick the first path,” he said.
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“There is no such thing as democracy for Jews alone,” Odeh added. "Just like Martin Luther King and his supporters in the United States, we must realize that without justice there can be no peace. And there will be no social justice if we do not end the occupation,” Odeh said.
Among the other speakers at the rally were Muhammad Baraka, chairman of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee in Israel, MK Merav Michaeli, MK Tamar Zandberg, and MK Ofer Cassif.
After the official event ended, a number of protesters stayed and blocked traffic surrounding the square. Protesters lay down on the pavement surrounding Rabin Square, echoing protests taking place around the world against police brutality which were sparked by the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.
Netanyahu has set July 1 as the deadline for beginning the process of unilaterally annexing settlements established in the West Bank since 1967, including the Jordan Valley. This week, he sought to reassure settler leaders that annexation would be promoted independently of U.S. President Donald Trump's Middle East plan. In past weeks, settlers have opposed the conditions delineated in the Trump plan, namely a freeze on settlement expansion and the isolation of some 15 settlements inside territories of a future Palestinian state, which they also oppose the establishment of.