Israeli protesters on Tuesday succeeded in stopping a convoy of aid trucks at the Kerem Shalom Crossing between Israel and Egypt.
The demonstrations, which began two and a half weeks ago, have pulled together Israelis from across the political spectrum who are incensed at the idea of allowing aid into the Gaza Strip, the majority of which ends up in the hands of Hamas, while the terror group continues to hold Israeli hostages.
“It is impossible, on the one hand, to fight Hamas to return the hostages and, on the other hand, to send it food and fuel,” Rachel Touitou, a spokeswoman for Tzav 9 (“Order 9”), the group behind the protests, told JNS. “We cannot both fight Hamas and feed it.”
On Tuesday, protesters blocked 132 trucks from entering Kerem Shalom, located at the southern tip of the Gaza Strip.
The success was a shot in the arm for Tzav 9, a reference to the Israel Defense Force’s “Order 8” used to call up reservists. (The protesters see themselves as reporting for duty, a kind of “citizens’ reserves.”)
According to Touitou, one of the reasons Tzav 9 is enjoying widespread support is that it is “apolitical.” Most of the organizers don’t belong to any political party and the group is careful not to involve politicians. “We are really a grassroots movement,” she explained.
The group has blocked aid trucks at the Kerem Shalom and Nitzana crossings. (The group is not behind similar protests at the port of Ashdod, but supports all efforts to stop supplies entering Gaza.)
One of Tzav 9’s leaders, Reut ben Haim, who lives in Netivot, a city about 10 miles from the Gaza Strip, posted a celebratory video on Tuesday.
“What a dizzying success. Today it happened and it’s thanks to you,” she said, pointing at the trucks behind her. “The trucks stand here full of food, water, supplies, everything that Hamas needs. But today they won’t reach the hands of Hamas because we’re here and we stopped it …, and today, Hamas goes to sleep hungry.”
It should be noted that Ynet, citing government sources, reported late Tuesday that the trucks did eventually go through. Touitou said that if they did, it wasn’t through the inspection point at Kerem Shalom, where protesters kept an all-night vigil, but she conceded it is possible the government used an alternate route.
Israeli opposition to humanitarian aid for Gaza is growing. A recent Channel 12 survey found 72% of the public is now against it. Touitou said comments made by Ronen Bar, director of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), at the end of January to the effect that Hamas steals between 60% and 70% of the aid jolted Israelis.
Following Tuesday’s success, young protesters camped out overnight at the crossing. Protesters say they will remain there 24/7. Tsav 9 is also planning other activities, including a motorcycle and SUV convoy on Friday under the slogan “Cut Hamas’s engine.”
Tzav 9 says the pressure needs to be kept up until the government gets the message that no more aid goes in until every hostage returns.
The message may be percolating upwards. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told a Likud faction meeting, “I have asked to examine the suspension of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip to prevent it from reaching Hamas, I asked the IDF to present alternatives to this as quickly as possible.” The Prime Minister’s Office would not confirm to JNS the accuracy of the report.
“Our activity is receiving an echo in the Knesset and the government,” Touitou said. “They see there is growing support for our actions and that they have a problem with an entire public that doesn’t understand why we are doing this—shooting ourselves in the foot.”
It would mark a shift for Netanyahu, who has defended the transfer of aid.
On Jan. 27, Netanyahu, in reaction to the protests, said that the aid was critical to the war effort as it preserved international support. He said the IDF chief of staff was “instructed to deal with the blockades because we need to ensure this minimal supply.”
Tzav 9, in a statement the same day, said that the prime minister wasn’t sending humanitarian aid, but essentially anti-humanitarian aid. “The hundreds of supply trucks to the Gaza Strip that enter the Gaza Strip every day are not humanitarian aid, but immediate supplies and oxygen for the murderous terrorist organization Hamas, which is fighting us.
“We understand that the prime minister is under heavy pressure to open the Kerem Shalom crossing for supply trucks and aid to Hamas. Our role as a nation is to push for exactly the opposite,” the group added.
Noting that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is again in Israel, and expected to push for additional humanitarian aid, Touitou said she would tell him that it’s unacceptable that Israel should be pressured to do things that no other country would be asked to do.
“The U.S. didn’t feed the Taliban. It didn’t feed its enemies in Mosul. It simply defies logic,” she said.
On one thing, at least, the protesters and the government see eye-to-eye. UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine, must go. “Israel hands the aid over to UNRWA and UNRWA says, ‘Whoops, Hamas took it,’” Touitou said.
At the Prime Minister’s Office briefing on Monday, Avi Hyman, spokesperson at the National Public Diplomacy Directorate, told JNS, “The prime minister himself has said that the time has come to replace UNRWA if and when possible. We need a situation by which aid goes to those needing it and not to the Hamas war machine.
“There are agencies, U.N. agencies and others, that deal with these problems. So the notion that there has to be one refugee agency for the Palestinian people, and another agency for everyone else on earth, is a notion that we’re definitely looking into at the moment,” he said.
The protesters hope the government is taking a firmer stand. Touitou said that from Tsav 9’s perspective, if the government had adopted the approach of “humanitarian aid for humanitarian aid” from the beginning, that is, demanding at the very least the humane treatment of Israeli hostages as a precondition, and not bowing to U.S. pressure for the immediate entry of aid to Gaza, then all the hostages would already be back home.