NATIVOT, Israel – In what is being billed the “greatest protest in Israeli history,” tens of thousands tonight made it to an overnight rest stop on their way to Gaza after breaching a barrier of thousands of security forces and running across thorny fields.
Police block marchers in field (WND photo)
The protest aims to halt next month’s evacuation of Jewish communities from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.
Earlier this evening, tens of thousands streamed into Nativot, a town about 20 miles south of Gaza, holding a massive rally that completely filled a dirt field 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.
The police today granted a permit for the Nativot rally but deemed the march illegal since it aims to enter Gaza, now a closed military zone.
But after the rally ended, the majority of those assembled marched on foot down Highway 25, which leads in the direction of Gush Katif, the main slate of Gaza’s Jewish communities.
The marchers encountered heavy roadblocks forcing them off the road onto empty fields, where they were greeted by a massive force of about 10,000 Israeli soldiers and police officers.
The security forces formed a human chain that blocked the marchers into a large area on the field.
Undeterred, the protesters sang songs, danced and chanted anti-withdrawal slogans. Some formed circles on the dirt field and played guitars and banjos they had brought.
Hundreds of groups formed quorums to recite evening services. Kids played games while teenagers shouted at troops to disobey orders and let them pass.
Several Knesset members and settler leaders, including Knesset Members Effi Eitam and Zvi Hendel, and settler leader Pinhas Wallerstein, were at the front of the group to ensure the protest remained non-violent.
After about an hour and a half, the crowd started chanting slogans louder and louder. The section at the front counted down from three, then charged through the human barrier the officers had formed, breaking free and running into the fields.
Police commanders charged through the field in vehicles, yelling on loudspeakers for officers to head the marchers off further on the fields before the protesters reached nearby Highway 25.
But the officers were powerless, unable to stop the slew of marchers who made it to the road after running across a section on the side of the field full of long weeds and thorns.
Singing victory songs, the marchers walked along the road and waved “goodbye” to the police officers, many of whom were quickly bussed from the scene.
Tired officers rest as protesters march on (WND photo)
Some soldiers and officers rested on the sides of the road, exhausted from chasing the marchers. Others scattered with the protesters as they watched the massive march continue down the road toward Gaza.
The marchers walked almost two more miles to the area designated for overnight stay, a town about 15 miles from the Gaza entrance. Many continued to sing and play instruments.
The massive crowd included people of all ages from many parts of Israel.
Ambulances tailed the march, ready to evacuate any protesters who fall ill. There were reports of three marchers who suffered minor dehydration.
Several Israeli media outlets reported a deal had been struck that allowed the marchers to reach their resting area on condition they don’t march to Gush Katif.
A senior leader of the Yesha Council, which organizes the march, told WND, “That is utter rubbish. The cameras recorded what happened. The police were overwhelmed. They were defeated. That’s the only reason we continued. Our spirits are high and cannot be deterred. We will march on to our besieged brothers in Gush Katif.”
The leader said the number of marchers would have been higher if police had not stopped protest vehicles reaching the area.
Police established roadblocks in several places in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to halt protesters before they neared the march’s start-point.
The Israeli media also reported the number at today’s rally to be 40,000, but that estimate was taken before many reached the area.
It was unclear what the marchers would do if they arrived at the entrance to Gaza.
Yesha leaders have called for marchers to use non-violent means to disassemble a large tent city erected earlier this month to house tens of thousands of soldiers who will take part in the August 17 Gaza evacuation.
There are some concerns of terrorist attacks against the marchers, particularly if they reach the Kissufim Crossing, the main checkpoint leading into Gush Katif. There have in the past been a number of shootings and attempted bombings at the checkpoint. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are active in the area.
Summing up the evening’s events, Yesha leader Bentzi Lieberman, who was with the crowd, told WND, “What the world is witnessing is history in the making. The people of Israel are speaking. And we are saying ‘no’ to the immoral [disengagement.] We will soon say ‘no’ in Gaza, where we will arrive, determined as ever.”
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