Protesters at S.F. consulate condemn peace accords

Hours after the latest Israeli-Palestinian peace accord was signed last week, 10 protesters lined up shoulder to shoulder outside the Israeli Consulate in downtown San Francisco.

"We're here to be in solidarity with the majority of Israelis who are upset and angry with [Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin and his cohorts for not first bringing this critical issue, this life-and-death issue before the Israeli people," said Oakland-resident Justin Rosenthal.

The 400-page Oslo II accord, signed by Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat on Sept. 28 at the White House, extends Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank.

Under the agreement, Israel will withdraw its troops from six Arab-majority cities and another 450 villages in the West Bank. The document also allows Palestinians to elect an 82-member self-rule council.

But local protesters saw something else in the show of good will in Washington, D.C.

"The handshakes and smiles are a facade and behind that facade is blood and terror," Rosenthal said.

The demonstrators included Judy Balint, national director of the Coalition for Jewish Concerns-Amcha. The group is probably best-known for its outspoken national president, Rabbi Avi Weiss, who was arrested in Norway last year for protesting Arafat's Nobel Peace Prize.

Balint, who lives in Seattle, flew into San Francisco for the day to protest outside the Israeli Consulate, which covers the Pacific Northwest region.

"After all the trauma and bloodshed…to have all this [land] given away for nothing — it makes me terribly sad," Balint said. "And what is Israel getting? Nothing."

The demonstrators occupied the sidewalk in front of the Consulate's Montgomery Street building for 45 minutes during afternoon rush-hour traffic. They stood quietly, handed out literature and held placards. Handwritten slogans said: "Hamas/PLO, Different Names Same Goal" and "Thy Destroyers Come From Within Thee" — a quote attributed to the Bible's Book of Isaiah.

Few passersby paid much attention to the protest. One businessman shouted, "Too bad folks, too bad." A young man with shoulder-length hair yelled, "Go Arafat."

Though the demonstration was peaceful, more turbulent ones were taking place in Israel and the territories in the days following the signing.

At least 100 Jewish settlers marched through the streets of the West Bank city of Hebron, some shouting "Slaughter the Arabs." Two were detained after apparently throwing stones at Palestinians. Another 100 prevented traffic from crossing the Allenby Bridge that links Israel and Jordan.

The local dissenters, including members of organizations opposing the current peace process such as Americans for a Safe Israel, Women in Green and Victims of Arab Terror, hoped to light yahrzeit candles for the 149 Jews who have been killed in terrorist attacks since the Oslo Accords were signed in September 1993. But strong winds forced them to cancel that plan.

Though he didn't confront the protesters, Israeli Consul General Nimrod Barkan said afterward that "We think [Oslo II] is a good agreement. It leads to a…Middle East that is better for Israel."

Barkan added that he believes the relatively small demonstration indicates that "the majority of the community supports the agreement."

Protesters disagreed, saying that the event was small because they had less than one day to organize and that its size didn't matter anyway.

"For us to make the point to the Israeli Consulate doesn't take 500 people," Balint said.