Some 1,500 Israelis and Palestinians attended a rally for coexistence and equality in downtown Jerusalem Saturday night.
The demonstrators called for an end to the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, which they believe is a root cause of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian violence that reignited earlier this month. Many held signs saying “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies” and chanted peace slogans that rhyme in Hebrew, such as "Money for the neighborhoods / Not for the settlements."
Noa Levy, 30, a human rights lawyer and activist with Hadash, a radical Jewish-Arab political party, came from the Israeli city of Jaffa to attend the event.
“We are calling for an end to the occupation and to racism and to remind our fellow Israelis that there is an alternative situation,” Levy said. “We can live in peace and understanding.”
“Occupation and colonialism has ended all around the world. Israel is the place where occupation is still going on,” she added. “We want to live in this place, we are patriots and we want to live in it peacefully together.”
Levy said that the curfew imposed on Palestinian East Jerusalem had limited the number of Palestinian attendees, but she knew of at least one bus of Palestinian citizens of Israel from the north of the country who came to participate.
Since the beginning of October, seven Israelis have been killed in a series of attacks by Palestinians, many of them teenagers using knives or other crude objects. At least 36 Palestinians have been killed over the same period, according to The New York Times, including some 16 suspected attackers shot by Israelis and 20 other Palestinians killed during confrontations with Israeli security forces.
The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has questioned the necessity of killing some alleged Palestinian assailants, who they say were no longer dangerous when they were shot.
The latest round of violence began when Israel restricted Palestinian access to the Al Aqsa Mosque for what it said were security reasons. That prompted Palestinian fears that Israel was attempting to change the current agreement prohibiting Jewish prayer on the hallowed site, which is considered sacred by Jews and Muslims alike. The Israeli government denies those claims.
The government has responded to the wave of violence, primarily centered in Jerusalem, by implementing checkpoints and curfews in Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and increasing the presence of security forces of all kinds throughout the city.
Saturday’s demonstration is part of a new campaign called "Standing Together" run by a broad array of left-leaning political parties and civil society groups to promote Israeli-Palestinian coexistence. The organizers decry Israeli government policies they say are escalating violence while failing to address its underlying causes. They are planning similar gatherings in Haifa, Tel Aviv and other cities in the coming weeks.
Israeli Knesset members from Meretz, a progressive Zionist party, and leaders of the advocacy group Peace Now joined more radical activists at the Jerusalem demonstration, according to reports.
Meretz party leader Zehava Galon used her speech at the rally to demand that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accept a French proposal in the U.N. Security Council to send international observers to the Temple Mount, an area in Jerusalem's Old City that includes the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, Haaretz reported.
"At a time of unceasing and explosive tension when the national dispute is about to become a religious conflict, the government needs to take steps and back international initiatives to restore quiet and enable a calming of passions in advance of dialogue," she said.
The participating groups are normally divided on questions like the Jewish character of Israel, but given the circumstances, they have bridged those differences to promote their shared goals, Levy said.
“We all respect the Palestinians’ right to independence,” she said. “In the current situation, this what is important.”
Also on HuffPost: