Battalions march around Kfar Meimon, Israel (photo: WND)
KFAR MEIMON, Israel – After an intense standoff last night between tens of thousands of protesters and a massive police force, the Israeli march to Gaza to halt next month’s evacuation of the area was called off.
Meanwhile, about two thousand marchers still are attempting to reach Gaza and breach its main checkpoint.
Yesterday, tens of thousands of marchers rested in the Kfar Meimon farming community about 15 miles south of Gaza after pushing through a barrier of thousands of security forces who tried to halt their protest the night before.
The marchers awakened to find themselves completely surrounded by a force of over 20,000 police officers and soldiers.
By mid-afternoon yesterday, police entered the Kfar Meimon farm neighborhood and announced on loudspeakers buses had been brought in to take home protesters wishing to leave. No one budged.
Police barricade protesters in Kfar Meimon, Israel (photo: WND)
Instead, about 2,000 more protesters made it past heavy roadblocks, many traveling by foot, and joined the besieged masses, who pledged to march on.
Rallies were held at which anti-withdrawal leaders spoke. Many groups studied the Torah and broke into hundreds of quorums to recite morning and afternoon prayers. The mood was festive. Some protesters sang and danced. Children played on neighborhood playgrounds.
In the evening, leaders of the Yesha council, which organized the protest, announced the group would attempt to breach through the police barricades. They instructed the masses to be ready to continue marching to Gaza on a moment’s notice.
The leaders formed battalions of thousands of young men and women, who marched around the periphery of Kfar Meimon chanting anti-withdrawal slogans as police and soldiers looked at the seemingly endless crowd from their positions outside.
Marchers yesterday changed their chants from the previously repeated “Soldiers, refuse orders,” to “Soldiers, we love you. We are not the enemy.”
One soldier stationed outside Kfar Meimon told WND, “There are three or four of them for every one of us. I think if they try to get out, they may succeed.”
Police commanders warned there may be violence if the protesters tried to breach security lines.
After a four-hour standoff in which the police were on high alert and marchers seemed poised to attempt a breach, the Yesha council called of the march.
Yesha head Bentzy Lieberman said he did not want any clashes with the protesters, whose ranks included men, women and children of all ages from many parts of Israel.
“Tens of thousands came, and we created an all-encompassing platform. This is an ethical and public struggle for the heart of the nation, and it will continue until the expulsion plan is canceled,” said Leiberman.
After a mass gathering to recite evening prayers, the protesters sang Israel’s national anthem and filed out from the main entrance. The Israeli Defense Forces supplied hundreds of buses to shuttle crowds to Nativot, where the protest began. From there, many took privately chartered buses to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.
The evening capped off a three-day grass-roots effort to oppose Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to evacuate the Jews of Gaza and four West Bank settlements.
Protesters Monday streamed into Nativot, about 20 miles south of Gaza, holding a massive rally that completely filled a dirt field police estimate could hold some 40,000 people. An 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.
After the rally ended, the majority of those assembled marched on foot down Highway 25 toward Gush Katif, the main slate of Gaza’s Jewish communities.
One of two protest sites in Nativot, Israel, on Monday (photo: WND)
The marchers lived outdoors and endured the hot weather for nearly 70 hours.
Police on Monday told the media they estimated the crowd at 20,000, but that was before many could reach the protest site. Most media outlets quoted the police numbers throughout the last three days.
Yesha leaders put the crowd estimate at 80,000. Soldiers and officers in the field yesterday told WND the numbers are closer to the leaders’ estimate. A tour of Kfar Meimon confirmed the Yesha estimates.
Police the past three days have been blocking roads leading to Kfar Meimon to keep more people from streaming to the protest site.
Israel’s Supreme court is hearing cases regarding reports of more than 300 buses headed to the rally that were turned back by Israeli police.
The Yesha council is promising more protests next week, but has not yet released specific details.
“Whoever needs to take a breather,” Yesha council organizers said, “should do so, and return refreshed next week.”
Meanwhile, several hundred protesters are remaining at Kfar Meimon, pledging to strengthen their numbers. Police sources say about 1,500 of the marchers who streamed out with the departing crowds last night are making their way toward the Gaza entrance.
Last night, nearly 300 protesters from the march were arrested after trying to enter Gaza. Yesha said about 1,000 had reached the Gaza entrance.
Editor’s note: “ISRAEL BETRAYED?” – the July issue of WND’s acclaimed monthly Whistleblower magazine – is devoted entirely to an in-depth exploration of the controversial forced removal of thousands of Jewish residents from Gaza planned for August, and the likely creation of a Hamas-run terror state many believe will follow. Read more about “ISRAEL BETRAYED?”