The left-wing rally in Tel Aviv last night, with a smaller-than-expected group of pro-expulsion protesters, was billed as a “peace” rally, but some of the statements were rather militant. Chants and signs reading, “A settler is not my brother,” were prominent. Left-wing leader Yossi Sarid has responded to those who warn of a civil war - literally, a “war of brothers” in Hebrew - that, "settlers are not my brothers."

Some of the banners calling to "evacuate" Gaza were particularly crass.

Not all left-wing organizers agreed with the rally’s militant message. Maj.-Gen. (res.) Ami Ayalon harshly criticized the slogan, “A settler is not my brother.” He said it is unacceptable to attack the residents of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, and that they should rather be shown empathy when they face forcible removal from their homes.

Yossi Verter reported in Haaretz prior to the rally that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's strategic advisors took part in formulating the messages to be delivered at the demonstration. One such placard read, "Sharon, the nation is with you - continue."

Interior Minister Ophir Pines-Paz addressed supporters of a national referendum, saying he would not allow them to "torpedo" the withdrawal from Gaza and the northern Shomron. "We don't need a referendum,” Pines-Paz said, “because the majority supports a withdrawal from Gaza."

The numbers belied his claim. Though his audience was only about 10,000 or fewer, according to police estimates, recent anti-withdrawal rallies have drawn from 100,000 to 200,000 protesters from across the country.

Among those in attendance last night were some young people visiting Israel from abroad. These included a busload of Australian youngsters in Israel with the left-wing Habonim Dror youth movement.

Not all attendees at last night’s rally were welcomed, however. A group of young people were hustled away from the demonstration “for their own safety” by police. Several young kippah (skullcap) wearing activists, demonstrating for the release of Jonathan Pollard, were told by the police that they must leave the premises - though the bare-headed activists among them were permitted to remain.

The activists say police told them that their kippot identified them with the “right wing,” and as a result they should leave the area of the demonstration so as not to be harmed.

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