TC JERUSALEM -- A crowd of tens of thousands of Israelis opposed to peace with the Palestine Liberation Organization gathered in the biblical Valley of the Cross last night to chant and dance as their leaders exhorted them against the government's proposal and the government itself.
The demonstration, a modern echo of the ancient rallies held on these same hills, was called by Israel's right wing. It was one of the largest protests held in modern Israel.
Perhaps only the booming speakers and giant video screen made this gathering different from those thousands of years ago. The rhetoric was heated as if by the same Middle East sun.
"If we stand firm, the government will fall," vowed Ariel Sharon, a former defense minister in the government replaced last year by one promising to bring peace to Israel. Eleven years earlier he had ordered the Israeli army into Lebanon to wipe out the PLO.
"The government is giving you lie after lie. They are giving the country away," said Binyamin Netanyahu, the opposition leader who wants to be head of the next government.
Police gave an early estimate of 50,000 at the demonstration but then refused to offer any guess as the crowd swelled. At least 100,000 were there; Mr. Netanyahu claimed 300,000.
Despite fears of violence, there were only a few arrests. Some of the protesters vowed to stay for 24 hours and block access today to the office of the prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin. But after nine hours the number of protesters dropped to a few thousand and they were dispersed by police using water cannons.
It was an impressive demonstration of the popularity of the opposition to the proposed plan to give Palestinians greater autonomy, beginning in the Gaza Strip and Jericho.
Mr. Rabin has publicly scorned the opponents of the plan, and the prime minister is widely believed to have the votes needed for approval in the Knesset, Israel's parliament. But there can be no doubt of the political appeal of the opponents; a crowd of 100,000 is more than 2 percent of the country's population.
The opponents have said they will step up protests against the accord with the Palestinians, and the subsequent agreements that might restore the Golan Heights to Syria. Already, buildings throughout Israel are festooned with sheets painted with the slogans, and the sides are waging competing rallies.
"We will mobilize, and we will succeed in stopping this danger," said Mr. Netanyahu.
A demonstration held by those supporting the proposed agreement in Tel Aviv Saturday brought out between 40,000 and 70,000.
Last night's protest was organized by the opposition Likud bloc, members of the right-wing Jewish settlements, and Chabad, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish movement.
Most object to relinquishing control of any of the Arab territory seized by Israel in the 1967 war on the grounds that it is land given to Jews by God. Others fear the pact will lead to a hostile Palestinian state virtually tucked into the geographic belly of Israel.
"According to Jewish law, it is forbidden to give away this land," said Rabbi Yosef Aronov, a leader of the Chabad movement, part of the Lubavitcher Hasidic sect, which follows a spiritual leader in Brooklyn, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
'This is our land'
"This is our land and our homeland," said Rabbi Aronov, who came to Israel from Toronto 18 years ago.
The protesters overflowed the knoll that overlooks the prime minister's office, and spilled down the ravine named for a monastery built on the supposed site of the tree from which Jesus' cross was made.
"Rabin go home," they chanted, although the prime minister apparently already was at his home in Tel Aviv. He left behind more then 2,500 police and border guards who stood shoulder to shoulder in two lines before the protesters.
They had reinforcements: Officers on very big police horses remained inside the office compound; a helicopter hovered overhead, stabbing the crowd with its searchlight; a row of water cannons were parked at the nearby Israel Museum in case they were needed.
The sea of demonstrators was decorated with a froth of signs attacking the proposal and Mr. Rabin. Many said, "Israel is in Danger." One read, "In every generation there are those who rise up to annihilate us."
Mr. Rabin has lately taken to insulting his opponents. He recently called the settlers "crybabies." he has said he would not be moved by their protests.
"The Likud is trying to frighten us. This is a ghetto-like mentality, Likud, not Israeli," he was quoted in yesterday's Hebrew daily Yediot Ahronot. "I'm embarrassed when I hear leaders in Likud and on the extreme right compare our situation now to the period of the Holocaust. What kind of nonsense are they talking? It doesn't move me one bit."
"I'm skeptical that anything influences Rabin," retorted Knesset member Rafael Eitan, a former hard-nosed military commander and now leader of a right-wing political party, Tsomet. "He's not responsible for his action. He's under the control of [Foreign Minister Shimon] Peres and the left wing."
The rally was a demonstration, if nothing else, of the passion with which many Israelis hold their politics.
Bringing the family
Itay Zeman, 23, brought his wife, Ronit, 22, and their 2-month-old baby to the crowded affair.
"I was brought up to love the entire land of Israel," he said. "I'm not crazy about Gaza, but if you start giving up land, you lose all of it."
Galia Teman was holding a huge sign. She said she attended because her son was kidnapped and killed by Arabs eight years ago.
"Arabs know only murder. They don't have human intelligence," she said.
A young man who held up a sign for Kach, a political group espousing the 'expulsion of all Palestinians, said he could not explain his preference.
The man, who was prevented by a colleague from giving his name, said he was an immigrant from the former Soviet Union and had arrived in Israel five months ago.
Israel and the PLO's Declaration of Principles on Palestinian self-rule envisages a 10-month period leading up to elections for a Palestinian Council. The declaration officially goes into force a month after it is signed, and this timetable then unfolds:
* Authority transferred from Israeli military government and civil administration to "authorized Palestinians" in five spheres: education and culture, health, social welfare, direct taxation, and tourism. The Palestinians will have authority in the West Bank and Gaza, but it is not clear what authority they will have in East Jerusalem.
* Palestinians start building police force. Core will be PLO fighters from outside West Bank and Gaza.
* Joint Israeli-Palestinian Liaison Committee formed.
* Israeli-Palestinian Economic Cooperation Committee established to work on water, electricity, energy, finance, transport and communications including Gaza seaport, trade, industry, labor relations, training, environmental protection and the media; an internationally supported economic development program for the West Bank and Gaza; and a regional economic development program.
* Jordan and Egypt invited to join Continuing Committee to decide on procedures for admission of Palestinians displaced from West Bank and Gaza in 1967 (estimated at about 800,000 people including dependents) and measures to prevent "disruption and disorder."
END OF MONTH 2
* Israel and Palestinians sign agreement on Israeli withdrawal from Gaza Strip and Jericho area and detailed arrangements for Palestinian control of the two areas.
* Israelis immediately begin withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho.
* Five-year interim period of Palestinian self-rule officially begins.
END OF MONTH 6
* Latest date for Israelis to complete withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho.
END OF MONTH 9
* Latest date for elections for Palestinian Council. An interim agreement reached by then will specify the council's structure and powers, including its executive and legislative authority, arrangements for transfer of authority to the council, and details of independent judicial organs.
* Israeli military forces, already withdrawn from Gaza and Jericho, will redeploy outside populated areas in the rest of the West Bank by the eve of the elections at the latest. Israeli forces will remain responsible for security of Israeli settlers.
* Israeli military government withdrawn and civil administration dissolved.
END OF MONTH 26
* Latest date for talks to start on permanent settlement.
END OF MONTH 62
* Permanent settlement takes effect.