The withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon in 2000 was brought about in part by increasing public pressure to pull out.

_41922100_antiwar-rally-in-haifa-203.jpgBut, just six years on, Israelis stand almost unanimously behind the decision to wage a new war across the country’s northern border.

According to recent opinion polls, as many as 90% of Israeli citizens approve of the offensive against Hezbollah and want it to continue.

“The situation with Hezbollah and Iran created a siege mentality among the Israeli people,” said veteran Israeli pollster, Rafi Smith.

“Whenever Israel is attacked, people are always more patriotic and support the government, which is why so many people support this war.”

Voices of dissent are scarce, but despite overwhelming public approval for the campaign, there is still a small number of Israelis who have come out against the conflict.

In Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Saturday night, some 2,000 protesters, both Jews and Arabs, held a demonstration against the war, and – unusually in Israel – the country’s alliance with the United States.

Yoav Bar
The Israeli government thinks by bombing Lebanon they will make peace, but they did it many times before and it didn’t work
Yoav Bar


“[Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert and Bush have struck a deal, to carry on with the occupation,” demonstrators chanted.

Others called on Israeli soldiers to refuse to do their duty.

One of the protesters, Prof Galia Golan, acknowledged that opponents of the war are in a tiny minority, but said she expected their numbers to grow.

“It’s very hard for an Israeli to demonstrate in time of war – the people who are dying and fighting are our kids and neighbours – it’s a very difficult thing.

“We saw this in the first Lebanon war of 1982, when it took the public three weeks to react against the war and I think we’re going to see the same thing now.”

‘Ceasefire now’

Several anti-war protests have also taken place in other parts of the country.

In the northern port city of Haifa, which has suffered dozens of missile strikes, around 50 demonstrators held a road-side protest on the corner of Lebanon Gate street, under the watchful eye of the border police.

People curse us and call us whores, but it makes me feel stronger to be with people who believe in peace and want to pursue it
Ornat Turin, teacher

The protesters, some of them teenagers, waved placards and shouted slogans such as “Unconditional ceasefire now” and “Get out of Lebanon”, as passing motorists honked their horns in rebuke and yelled abuse out their windows.

“The Israeli government thinks by bombing Lebanon they will make peace, but they did it many times before and it didn’t work,” said protest organiser Yoav Bar, 51.

“In a few months, no one will admit they were ever for this war,” he predicted.

Across the road, a lone counter-demonstrator held aloft a sign reading: “State of Israel, exchange these people for our kidnapped soldiers!”

Simcha Sherer

Opinion polls show most Israelis support their government’s actions

“I also want an end to the war,” the protester, 54-year-old architect Simcha Sherer told me.

“But what can we do, let Hezbollah kill us? These people are in a minority, but Israel is a democracy and they have the right to say what they want, even if I don’t agree with them.”

Outside one of the city’s hotels where foreign media are encamped, a 20-strong group of women gathered to try to generate publicity for their anti-war campaign.

The protesters I spoke to said they had received a hostile reaction from other members of the public, but that they were determined to make a stand.

“People curse us and call us whores, but it makes me feel stronger to be with people who believe in peace and want to pursue it,” said 41-year-old teacher Ornat Turin.

“We might be a minority now but the spiral might grow day-by-day.”

‘Not 1982’

However, opponents of the war remain outside Israel’s conventional peace camp.

Even the anti-settlement movement Peace Now has not come out in their support.

Haifa anti-war rally

Anti-war protesters say their numbers will grow

“The anti-war protesters are very far on the fringe,” said Gerald Steinberg, professor of Political Studies at Bar Ilan University.

“Even people who are on the Israeli Left have been very active in condemning them because they don’t seem to care about the value of Israeli lives.”

Prof Steinberg says it is wrong to draw comparisons between this conflict and the 1982 Lebanon war, against which the tide of public opinion ultimately turned.

“I think there was some expectation on the part of Hezbollah and others that the Israeli opposition would rise up in the way it did in 1982, but this is an entirely different war and the 1982 analogy is not applicable.

“Israelis understand the stakes, which are the survival of the State of Israel and the potential for a confrontation with Hezbollah and Iran in the future, and the stakes are far too high for that.”

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