NATIVOT, Israel – Nearly 100,000 people have poured into a central meeting site several miles south of Gaza for a massive protest rally against next month’s Gaza evacuation.
One of two protest sites in Nativot, Israel (photo: WND)
The protesters will shortly begin marching to Gaza to halt the evacuation, while over 10,000 Israeli police and soldiers prepare to stop them.
The Yesha settlers council last month called for tens of thousands to meet for a rally today in the southern town of Nativot and walk the 20 miles to the main entance to Gush Katif, the large slate of Jewish neighborhoods in Gaza.
The rally was called for 4 p.m. local time but was postponed when only about 4,000 people were able to get past dozens of makeshift checkpoints on the roads leading to the area.
There were reports of police units turning around hundreds of buses. Sources in the West Bank told WND Israeli police blocked access roads leading to Nativot.
But after last-minute negotiations with the Yesha council, protest vehicles were eventually allowed through.
Gaza marchers arrive with provisions (photo: WND)
Thousands streamed into Nativot, completely filling a field that police estimate could hold about 40,000 people. A second adjacent field that could hold about 30,000 was nearly filled and a line of protesters could be seen walking to the rally from a quarter mile away.
The rally kicked off with a prayer service led by Israel’s former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu and other religious leaders. Speeches were given by Yesha heads and by former Knesset Speaker Dov Shilanksy.
Most at the rally arrived with backpacks and sleeping bags, indicating they plan to march to Gaza and not return to their homes. Protesters of all ages, many wearing orange t-shirts, are bracing for the three day walk in hot weather.
Soldiers, police await protesters (photo: WND)
Yesha announced guides have been placed throughout the route to direct the marchers. It said the organization will provide protesters with food, drinks, shaded areas and tents for overnight lodging. It also will set up first aid stations along the route, the council said.
The police today granted a permit for the Nativot rally but deemed the march illegal.
More than 20,000 soldiers and troops now are deployed along the route. Police commanders warned the marchers would be stopped.
Yesha leader Bentzi Lieberman told WND, “The march may have been declared illegal, but it will take place. We will get into Gush Katif.”
Protesters stream in to Nativot, Israel (photo: WND)
Lieberman said the police do not have the necessary manpower to stop the march.
Army leaders said this week they might not be able to halt the protest if more than 100,000 participate in the march.
With more buses currently streaming to the area, the protesters will begin marching at 9 p.m. local time.
If protesters breach the first two checkpoints, which have several hundred police officers deployed, they will be met at the third checkpoint – about two city blocks from the rally site – by a force of 12,000 officers fortified with heavy military vehicles and hundreds of horses.
Leaders said the march would be peaceful. But earlier in the day, the Yesha Council warned the blocking of the protest could send events “spiraling out of control.”
Soldiers awaiting protesters set up camp (photo: WND)