Israel's color war over Gaza pullout

The great Israeli color war of 2005 is not being held in any mere summer camp. Instead, it is being waged up and down the country's streets, highways, and intersections. Two teams are pitted against each other - "silent majority" blue versus the brash vocal underdog: pumpkin orange. And I, who had no intention of entering the fray, am like many others drawn willy-nilly into the melodrama.

The orange camp represents the unprecedented grass-roots success of the right-wing movement. With simple unequivocal symbolism, orange equals opposition to Israel's planned disengagement from the Gaza Strip after 38 years, set to begin Aug. 17. Blue means just the opposite - finally, an end to the Gaza occupation. Although the majority of Israelis agree with the pullout, the visible orange team is hogging the limelight.

Supporters of the few thousand settler families living in Gaza first started waving their impromptu orange ribbons a few short months ago; they have spread like wildfire, successful beyond anybody's wildest dreams. Ubiquitous orange ribbons stream from car antennas from the Galilee in the north to the Negev in the south. They are tied to bicycle handlebars, exhaust pipes, hat brims, shopping carts, handbags, motorcycles, and baby strollers. Orange T-shirts manufactured by the thousands are sported defiantly by people eager to wear their politics on their sleeves literally.

A garish shade - neither apricot nor mango - it's the harsh hue of an angry jack-o'-lantern. Its very palette screams intransigence: "Just you try and get in our way!" And its wearers have marshaled such fanatic antigovernment support that close to 45,000 soldiers and police are expected to be deployed to assure the peaceful evacuation of a few thousand men, women, and children - the forces outnumbering evacuees 5 to 1.

In fact, orange has become a red flag. For example, I heard on news radio that anyone wearing it these days has been barred from entering the Israeli parliament building and the entire corps of public road crews and traffic police have had their reflective orange vests replaced by politically neutral yellow.

When my husband, wearing a salmon- colored sports shirt, told me a few weeks ago he thought people were giving him funny looks, I dismissed it with a laugh. But I ate my words a few days later - in my orange tennis cap, I suddenly knew exactly how conspicuous he felt. Not wanting to be pegged as opposing the disengagement, I yanked it off.

Although it is a popular color around the world this season, on the Israeli fashion scene, orange is "hot" in a whole new way. It is now simply impossible to wear even a pair of orange sunglass frames without making a statement. An employee of the cellphone company "Orange," its logo the same color as the right wing, stammered to me with embarrassment, "No, purely coincidence.... nothing political intended."

In an unlikely coalition, the peace camp and supporters of Sharon's Likud government have begun distributing blue ribbons at intersections. Politics may make strange bedfellows, but in this instance it seems like too little too late.

Many are reluctant to tie a blue ribbon on their cars for fear of finding an antenna broken in two by angry orange ideologues.

In short, the country has been color-coded to the hilt, and the two camps are fighting with no holds barred. And in this color war, blue looks to be coming in a weak second. However, as the countdown to the disengagement rolls on, it seems inevitable - I hope - that even if the vocal orange team is winning all the battles, when Israel quits Gaza, the blue team will win the war.

Then, after the orange has declared unconditional surrender, I'll smugly pull my saffron-colored cap firmly back on my head.

Helen Schary Motro is the author of 'Maneuvering between the Headlines: An American Lives Through the Intifada.'

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