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On Jerusalem's streets, it's orange ribbons vs. blue

Associated Press
Published June 28, 2005

JERUSALEM - Tens of thousands of orange-clad activists lined major highways Monday in a nationwide protest against Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, disrupting traffic, shouting slogans and drawing noisy honks of support from motorists.

With tensions running high as the withdrawal nears, Israel has descended into an emotional color war. Jewish settlers and their supporters have embraced orange. On the blue side are peace activists and other backers of the withdrawal. Each side's weapon of choice: ribbons - tied to cars, backpacks and even wedding bouquets.

Emily Amrusi, a spokeswoman for the settlers, said they adopted orange in imitation of the prodemocracy struggle in Ukraine. Settlers accuse Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of using nondemocratic methods to push his plan through Parliament.

The propullout activists chose blue and white because they are the colors of the Israeli flag, said Ami Ayalon, a former head of Israel's Shin Bet security service now among the blue team's top brass.

Those symbols were on vivid display Monday. Protesters wore orange T-shirts, held orange placards and sold orange ice cream.

Beyond the colors, of course, lies a much deeper struggle over Israel's future.

The planned pullout from Gaza and four small West Bank settlements would mark the first time Israel has withdrawn from territories occupied in the 1967 Mideast War and claimed by the Palestinians for a future independent state. The operation is scheduled to begin in mid August.

Sharon believes that exiting Gaza, where 8,500 settlers live in tightly guarded enclaves surrounded by 1.3-million Palestinians, will boost security by ensuring the country's Jewish majority and consolidating control over other parts of the West Bank.

Opponents fear the pullout is only the first step in a larger territorial handover to the Palestinians. They accuse Sharon of rewarding terrorism and betraying their religious beliefs.

"Jews were given possession of the land of Israel by God and it belongs to us. Only God has the right to give it away," said Yiscah Schechter, 45, who moved to Jerusalem 16 years ago from Miami.

Monday's demonstration was organized by the main settlers' council, and most of the protesters were Orthodox Jews.

Opinion polls show backing for disengagement has dropped from a high of nearly 70 percent to just around 50 percent. Opposition has risen from 27 percent to 38 percent.

Meanwhile, photographs of a New Jersey-born Israeli soldier being dragged away by fellow soldiers Sunday from demolition of a Gaza settlement appeared on the front pages of Israeli newspapers Monday.

Cpl. Avi Bieber, 19, was pulled away after he shouted support of settlers. He became the first to refuse to take part in Israel's evacuation. His father said Monday that he was motivated by his love for the land "given to the Jews by God."

It is unclear whether he will face a court martial.

Court finds Israeli soldier guilty in activist's death

JERUSALEM - An Israeli military court on Monday found a former army sergeant guilty of manslaughter in the shooting death of a British peace activist in the Gaza Strip more than two years ago.

It marked the first time during 41/2 years of conflict that an Israeli tribunal has found a soldier guilty of shooting a foreigner.

Thomas Hurndall, a 22-year-old member of a pro-Palestinian group known as the International Solidarity Movement, was shot in April 2003 and died after months in a coma. The former soldier, Wahid Taysir Hayb, was found guilty by a three-judge tribunal at the army base of Kastina, in southern Israel.

--Information from the Los Angeles Times was used in this report.

[Last modified June 28, 2005, 01:47:08]

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