The Left Won't Be Held Hostage by the Likud

More than 150,000 people took part last night in a mass demonstration in Tel Aviv, and called on the government to pull out of Gaza and start peace talks.

More than 150,000 people took part last night in a mass demonstration in Tel Aviv, and called on the government to pull out of Gaza and start peace talks.

The figures are not official and will probably be challenged by the right wing. However, the exact number of protesters is less important in this case. The rally, organized by the umbrella organization of all the left-wing movements, set out to bring a larger number of people than the Likud's 60,000 members who foiled Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan.

The throng that crowded into Rabin Square and spilled over into the surrounding streets gave an unequivocal proof they did. The terrorist attacks failed to get the peace camp out to the square. But the soldiers' deaths in Gaza, coupled with this public's sense of insult at being held hostage by Likud voters, drove the masses to the square.

Although recent events motivated the crowd to come, the spirit of the legendary rally of 400,000 after the Sabra and Chatila massacre 22 years ago, hovered in the air. The masses stood calling then defense minister Ariel Sharon a murderer.

For a brief time, beside posters of Peace Now, the Geneva Initiative, Labor and others, there was also one poster saying "Arik, the nation is with you." It quickly disappeared.

Sharon's aides told foreign journalists that both of these demonstrations were born of historical accidents - one in Lebanon, the second this week in Gaza.

In the 22 years stretching between the two rallies a new generation has grown up, but the composition of people in the square did not seem to have changed. "I am the silent majority who has been coming to every demonstration for 22 years," said Moshe Atzmon, a pensioner from Tel Aviv. For Yoram Gur, 38, of Kibbutz Givat Haim, this was the first demonstration in his life. He came to say that a minority cannot impose its will on the majority. With him was his nine year old daughter Roni.

The speakers at this rally were a little different from usual. Shimon Peres, Yossi Beilin and Tzaly Reshef were accompanied by Amir Peretz, Ami Ayalon and a bereaved father, Yinon Ashkenazi. Between the politicians' speeches, an Arab female student, a young man about to enlist in the army and a young resident of Sderot contributed their own statements.

"This is not a left-wing rally, this is a rally of the majority," said Peres to applause. "There are four times more people here than all the voters of the radical right."

The crowd loved him, even when he started talking again about the new Middle East. Amir Peretz was also received warmly. "We don't believe merely in disengagement but wish to add the values of equality and social justice," he said.

On the fringes of the crowd were the refuseniks, whom the organizers did not want at the center, as well as the women's movements calling to get out of Gaza.

People at the rally were already asking themselves how to continue the momentum created in the square.