SHIRAT HAYAM, Gaza – A group of Americans here to protest Israel’s evacuation of Jews from Gaza yesterday made it past the heavily guarded main checkpoint leading into the area with assistance from an Arab general.
The move highlights a growing trend among Israeli soldiers to quietly facilitate anti-withdrawal protesters’ entry to Gaza despite its official closure.
About 20 Americans flew from New York to Israel this week hoping to infiltrate the Gush Katif block of Gaza’s Jewish neighborhoods scheduled to be evacuated Wednesday. The American mission was denied entry into Gaza when it arrived Wednesday afternoon at the Kissufim Crossing, the main checkpoint leading into Katif.
But according to Leib Schaeffer, organizer of the American group, a Druze Arab Israeli Defense Forces general stationed at Kissufim boarded the bus and told the group to return to the checkpoint at 8:30 a.m. Thursday morning.
“We were totally surprised and didn’t know what to expect,” Schaffer told WND.
American protesters on Gush Katif beach. Photo: WND
Yesterday morning the mission arrived at Kissufim as instructed and the general once again climbed into the bus.
“He told us Israeli soldiers don’t want to be here and they don’t want to be a part of the evacuation,” Schaeffer said. “We were shocked that he said it openly. Then he announced, ‘Welcome to Gush Katif,’ and he let the bus through. He told me to be sure we stick together inside and that I was responsible for seeing to it we all leave as a group. But he didn’t tell us when to leave. It was clear he wanted us to help stop this disengagement.”
Leib’s mission, composed mostly of middle-aged American Jews, first talked their way through several other makeshift checkpoints that have been set up on the way to Kissufim.
“At every checkpoint, we told soldiers we were Americans who wanted to visit holy sites, and Gush Katif was just part of our itinerary. I think they knew what we were really there for and they let us pass.”
The Americans yesterday visited most Gush Katif neighborhoods, where they told residents the American Jewish community is largely against the Gaza evacuation. They wore yellow T-shirts reading, “Americans oppose Jewish expulsion.” Some wrapped themselves in American flags.
The group plans to sleep in tents in Neve Dekalim, the most populated Katif town.
A few hours before the American mission gained entry, State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, D-N.Y., infiltrated Katif with a friend.
“I was able to somehow get in. It wasn’t easy but I’m here,” Hikind told WND. “This plan is evil and it stands against everything Americans should care about. No other country would be allowed to get away with kicking out Jews just because they are Jewish. [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon is going to create a rogue state in Gaza that will be the center of world terrorism. It is against U.S. interests.”
Hikind wouldn’t comment on how he managed to sneak into Katif. “What’s important is that I am here. That I am able to do a little something to oppose the expulsion.”
An estimated 5,000 protesters are currently camping out in Katif to make the withdrawal more difficult for Israeli forces to carry out. Many protesters are sleeping in tents set up along the beach and in the backyards of local residents. Some are living in community centers and bomb shelters.
“We’re not planning any violence whatsoever,” Amy Rothchild, a protester from Jerusalem and leader of a group of 30 others, told WND. “It’s peaceful passive resistance. The more bodies the police have to evacuate the more difficult their mission becomes.”
Many protesters said they arrived with the help of Israeli soldiers.
Gush Katif activist Nadia Matar, head of Women in Green, a grass-roots resistance movement, told WND: “A lot of the protesters coming in described to me how they were helped by Israeli troops. I don’t want to give out the details, but it’s clear that’s what is happening. The soldiers don’t want to uproot their fellow Jews.”
Matar last month set up a tent village in the seafront town of Kfar Yam, housing hundreds of protesters, many of whom are teenagers.
In July, Sharon ordered the Gaza Strip and towns in the northern West Bank completely closed, declaring the areas military zones in an effort to thwart plans by protesters to flock here. The order permanently banned all non-residents from entering, but allowed residents to apply for 72-hour visitor permits for family and friends.
Yesterday, the IDF canceled all non-resident permits and decreed only residents could enter the area. The army said at least 1,000 credentialed visitors have stayed past their 72-hour time limit.
An army statement announced, “This policy change was decided upon in light of the illegal presence of a large number of individuals who have remained in Gaza long after their entry permits expired. These individuals disrupt the daily life of residents and aim to prevent the implementation of the disengagement plan.”