TEL AVIV – Over 15,000 Israelis marched here Feb. 16, from Rabin Square through the main streets to a rally in Museum Plaza, across the street from Israel’s Defense Ministry. The theme of the demonstration was “Get out of the Occupied Territories – Get back to ourselves!”

The demonstration took place during the Middle East’s bloodiest weekend in 17 years. On Feb. 19, Israeli troops killed 15 Palestinians in retaliation for an earlier attack that left four Israeli soldiers dead.

The rally followed a similar one at the same site the previous Saturday, called by 28 peace groups and those opposed to the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The Feb. 16 march was organized by the Peace Now movement, which did not participate in the earlier demonstration, maintaining that too many left-wing radicals were among the initiators. But most of the 28 organizations participated in the Peace Now rally for the sake of unity in action of the peace forces.

As the rally opened, news was received of another suicide bomb attack, perpetrated by a Palestinian in the Jewish settlement Keren-Shomron in the occupied West Bank.

Two teenagers were killed and about 30 settlers were wounded. The rally opened with a moment of silence for the victims.

Peace Now Chair Didi Remez, remarked that this latest atrocity again showed that Sharon’s hard-line military aggression against the Palestinians and their leadership would bring Israel neither the longed-for peace nor security, but only more victims, both Israelis and Palestinians.

Remez welcomed the activists of the other peace groups who joined the march.

He mentioned especially those from the Gush Shalom peace bloc, the Coalition of Women for Peace, the Jewish-Arab Ta’ayush (Arabic for together) group, which organizes solidarity convoys to blockaded Palestinian villages.

Remez stated that the aim of the peace forces was to fight for a political solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will break the present cycle of violence.

He referred to protests that drew up to half a million demonstrators in the early 1980s and led to Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon and the end of the Lebanon war.

“While we marched through the streets, we felt the public mood,” he said, “which showed that it is only a matter of time before hundreds of thousands will fill the Rabin Square again.”

A highlight of the rally was the address delivered in Hebrew by the Palestine Liberation Organization’s representative for Jerusalem affairs, Dr. Sari Nusseibeh.

He stressed that the path to peace necessitates Israel’s complying in principle with international law and U.N. Security Council resolutions, which demand withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders, including in Jerusalem.

Furthermore, he said, the path to peace also demands the return of the Palestinian refugees to Palestine, and the return of Jewish settlers to Israel proper.