Street theater overtakes the Hague as fence hearing arouses fervor

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

the hague | Holland turned into a staging ground for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict this week, as demonstrators converged on The Hague to talk about Israel’s security barrier and Palestinian terrorism.

As the International Court of Justice held hearings on the West Bank security fence, thousands of Israel supporters from across Europe, Israel and the United States gathered in the streets outside The Hague’s Peace Palace.

On Monday, Feb. 22, the same square used by about 3,000 pro-Israel demonstrators later became the site of a pro-Palestinian demonstration of slightly smaller size. For the most part, Dutch police managed to keep the two groups apart, but the police’s efforts did not temper demonstrators’ vehemence toward each other — and for their cause.

To make their argument more poignant, Israel demonstrators brought with them an Israeli bus mangled in a Jan. 29 Jerusalem suicide bombing, in which 11 people were killed. Demonstrators said a hush fell over the crowd when the flatbed truck bearing the shattered bus rolled in.

In a disturbingly familiar image, 10 members of Zaka, the fervently Orthodox rescue and recovery service that collects victims’ body parts after terrorist attacks in Israel, stood around the bus in their yellow work suits.

“After the lessons of Durban and Johannesburg, one cannot leave the street to the Palestinian propaganda,” Michael Jankelowitz, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency, said, referring to the virulently anti-Israel demonstrations at the U.N. conference against racism in Durban, South Africa, in the summer of 2001.

“And it worked,” Jankelowitz said. “There is balance only because of the power and feeling of the street that the Palestinians do not control the street anymore.”

The bulk of the activity outside The Hague occurred Monday, Feb. 22, with a series of marches and news conferences on both sides.

Zehava Vider, who lost members of four generations in her family — including her husband and daughter — at the Passover bombing of the Park Hotel in Netanya in March 2002, said, “I am not filled with hate.”

Vider, who was severely burned in the attack, said she donated her husband’s organs to four people, including a Palestinian mother of five. “This is the way me and my husband raised our children,” she said. “And I hope all the world will raise its children in this way.”

A Dutch demonstrator, who wore a kaffiyeh, said Monday he “had hesitated all day whether to participate in the pro-Israel or in the pro-Palestinian demonstration.”

“I have a double loyalty towards both the Palestinians and the Israelis,” said the man, who refused to give his name. “I have lived in Israel for two years as a volunteer, and I love both of them.”

Ultimately, he said, he chose the Palestinian side. He then walked off shouting, “Sharon is a terrorist.”

JTA correspondent Rachel Levy at The Hague contributed to this report.

Toby Axelrod

Toby Axelrod is JTA’s correspondent for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. A former assistant director of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin office, she has also worked as staff writer and editor at the New York Jewish Week and published books on Holocaust history for teenagers.