Israel's left-wing residents gather to add their voice against the assault on Gaza [AFP]
Amid cries of "Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies!" and banners reading, "Enough!" thousands of Israelis took to the streets of Tel Aviv on Saturday night to protest against the country's war on Gaza.
Protesters called for an immediate end to the Israeli attacks, in which more than 450 Palestinians have been killed and around 2,100 injured since air assaults on Gaza began last Saturday.
Organisers, a coalition of groups such as Gush Shalom, the Hadash party and the Coalition of Women for Peace, were encouraged by the turnout.
"We have experience from the last war, in Lebanon, and this time the public outcry is much quicker and much bigger," said veteran Gush Shalom campaigner Uri Avnery.
"It is a cynical war, for political reasons and people are very much aware of that."
Palestinian-Israelis who demonstrated alongside Jewish co-nationalists waved the Palestinian flag, as police attempt to ban such a practice before the protest was overruled by the Israeli high court.
Earlier on Saturday, about 10,000 demonstrators, predominantly Palestinian-Israelis, protested in the northern Galilee village of Sakhnin.
Many of the demonstrators expressed a desire show another side of the Israeli equation amid overwhelming public support for the current attacks.
"There are people who think differently," said 24-year-old Iya Michlin, from Tel Aviv.
"It is important that the world, and especially the Arab world, sees that."
Others were clear in their requirements from the Israeli government.
"I want them to start talking," said Raquel Mendelson, 65, from the central Israeli town, Rehovot.
"You can't continue to believe that you can fight attacks with more attacks. It's time to talk, not to die - not here and not there."
Some demonstrators were critical of the Hamas government in Gaza, but argued for a sense of balance.
"It is pathetic that Hamas provoked Israel," said Ada Bilu, 46, from Jerusalem.
"But there is no proportion and no equality in the power relations, of what Israelis can do and what Palestinians can do. Gaza is a terrible place to live and Israel has a lot more responsibility for that than it would like to take."
A group of counter-demonstrators also attended the event and were cordoned off from the main demonstrations by police on numerous occasions.
The event sporadically turned into a contest of slogans, as counter-demonstrators shouted "Shame on you!" and "Let the Israeli army win!" while anti-war protesters responding with "The army is a terror organisation!" and "Children in Gaza and in Sderot want to live!"
Such demonstrations by the Israeli left-wing are typically dismissed as unrepresentative within Israeli society. According to a poll commissioned by Haaretz newspaper days ago, 53 per cent of Israelis believe that the air force should continue its assaults on Gaza, and only 19 per cent thought the government should negotiate a ceasefire as soon as possible.
The poll also showed low support – 19 per cent – for a ground invasion of Gaza.
|Israeli police arrest a demonstrator [AFP]
Analysts suggest that this figure reflects public sentiment about the defence forces, which are more at risk in ground attacks.
"The value of a soldier’s life is perceived as worth more than a civilian," says professor Tamara Hermann, co-author of a monthly peace poll monitoring Israeli public opinion.
"There is an understanding in the public discourse that Israeli soldiers are all our children – that is why they are so dear to us."
But it is concern over residents in southern Israel, 700,000 of whom are now within range of rocket attacks from Gaza, that has kept some left-wing groups silent over the current Israeli assaults on the strip.
"There is a lot of solidarity and empathy with the people in Gaza and all the talk is of Israeli action being disproportionate," says Yael Patir, Israeli co-ordinator of the Peace NGO forum, a Palestinian-Israeli affiliation group established to campaign against the current war.
"But there have been internal arguments inside our camp, because some say that, if Qassams [rockets] are falling on residents in the south, we can’t claim that Israel shouldn’t attack Hamas at any price.
Israelis don't want to see other Israelis bombarded by Hamas and this is causing a serious dilemma."