Land of Israel Supporters Buoyed By Human Chain - And By Its Success

Close to 200,000 people took part in a mostly unbroken hand-to-hand line stretching 90 kilometers to Jerusalem. The message: No to disengagement and expulsion, yes to the Land of Israel, Gush Katif, and the unity and faith of the People of Israel.

, | updated: 22:13

"Nothing can break this chain, because it is reinforced with the faith and unity of the Nation of Israel," marveled Al Nachom, one of several dozen Human Chain participants who came all the way from California. They, and 130,000 others, according to the police - other estimates put the number much higher (see below) - took part in a mostly unbroken hand-to-hand line stretching 90 kilometers (56 miles) from Gush Katif, along Israel's southern Mediterranean Coast, to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem yesterday. The message: No to disengagement and expulsion, yes to the Land of Israel, Gush Katif, and the unity and faith of the People of Israel.

From 5 PM, crowds of people gathered, lining the highways of Israel and streets of Jerusalem all the way to the Temple Mount's Western Wall. At 6:45, the myriads of participants clasped one another's hands and prepared for the singing of "HaTikvah" (The Hope), Israel's national anthem. At 7 PM, shofars (ram's horns) were blown at the Western Wall and elsewhere along the chain, as the words of HaTikvah echoed across the country.

Human Chain outside Jerusalem Old City walls

On the southern end of the chain were Yitzchak and Shlomit Shamir, residents of the original pre-state Kfar Darom community in the 1940's - a reminder that Jewish settlement in Gaza began long before the liberation of Judea, Samaria and Gaza in 1967. The Shamirs' granddaughter, 6-year-old Yael Better, now a resident of N'vei Dekalim, completed the chain by slipping a note into the Kotel (Western Wall) with a prayer asking the Creator to nullify the decree of expulsion of Jews from their homes in the Land of Israel.

Also at the Wall was bereaved father and husband David Hatuel, whose pregnant wife and four daughters were murdered in their car in Gush Katif on the day of the Likud referendum almost three months ago. Hatuel told reporters that he was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the event. "Sadly, I came alone," said Hatuel, "but the bonding I felt from everyone here on the eve of Tisha B'Av [the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av, a day of mourning for the destruction of the Temple - ed.] is really amazing. This will broadcast to everyone that we have the will to continue to pursue our lives in all parts of the land of Israel."

Human Chain along Jaffo Rd in Jerusalem

Several tourists from the U.S.A. arrived in Israel specifically to participate in the Israeli Human Chain. Most prominent amongst the overseas participants was Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Rosh Yeshiva (Dean) of Yeshivat Yitzhak Elchanan at New York's Yeshiva University. Rabbi Schachter, one of the leading Rabbinical figures in America today, joined as a link in the human chain at the Shoresh junction on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway. In the picture below, Rabbi Schachter is seen there giving an impromtu class to a group of yeshiva students from Bet El.

Rabbi Hershel Schachter joined the chain at the Shoresh junction

Another overseas participant, a woman from South Africa, told her family that what she would like for her birthday was a ticket to Israel for the Human Chain - and they bought it for her.

INN correspondent Ezra HaLevi stood beside the Old City in Jerusalem, at Kikar Tzahal (IDF Square) and described the scene on Israel National Radio's live broadcast of the event:
"I'm looking at more than a single-file human chain here. There are enough people here to make ten parallel chains. The atmosphere is one of exuberance. Everybody I talk to is just overjoyed that there are others, thousands of others, who, like them, refuse to believe that a retreat from Gush Katif is 'inevitable' or 'a done deal.' Every person I interview has the same underlying message: 'The Nation of Israel is proud and strong and willing to stand up for what is good and right despite the weakness of our elected leadership.'"

Former Cabinet Minister Rabbi Benny Elon (National Union) - fired because of his objections to the expulsion plan - stood nearby. "This chain is a form of prayer," he said. "On the eve of Tisha B'Av, the Jewish people have come together to cry out to Heaven against this latest attempt to expel us from our land."

Elon added that the Human Chain has great significance on many levels:
"First of all, the fact that we can link arms and divide the country in half, reaching from Gaza to Jerusalem, gives some perspective to Israel's situation and tiny size. Based on the amount of news that comes out of the Holy Land, most Americans don't realize that we can fit our tiny country inside Lake Michigan. Second of all, this chain is a tremendous show of strength. I think that this is just a prelude to what the people of Israel are capable of doing to demonstrate their refusal to relinquish parts of the Land of Israel."

HaLevi asked Elon, who was indicted - though never convicted - on charges of sedition for taking part in anti-Oslo demonstrations in the mid-'90s, whether he would like to see the human chain moved a few meters forward to the middle of the streets and highways so as to bring the country's traffic to a halt. Elon responded that the time for non-violent civil disobedience is drawing closer:
"If indeed Prime Minister Sharon is enabled to keep moving ahead with his plan, then I will be the first to engage in civil disobedience. I would sit in jail if that's what it takes. But I don't think the time for civil disobedience has arrived yet. We can still bring Sharon down with our fingers [i.e., by voting in the Knesset]. If only my friends and colleagues in the National Religious Party would join us. It is shameful that they refuse to act to bring down the government; with their help it could be done today."

National Religious Party Chairman MK Effie Eitam also stood nearby, separate from a crowd of pro-NRP participants. "What makes this incredible demonstration bittersweet for me is that the members of my party who remain in this government are a missing link in the chain," lamented Eitam. Though he and MK Yitzchak Levy resigned from the government two months ago, the NRP's four other MKs remain coalition members. "I hope that they will hear," Eitam said about his colleagues, "the strong voices of our young people who have come out together with all segments of Israeli society to say that we are strong and we are proud, and will then take the necessary steps."

A bus with the words "Americans For Gush Katif" emblazoned on it was parked next to City Hall. Members of the group dialed their home communities prior to the singing of the national anthem, and were put on speakerphones in synagogues and community centers across the United States. Al Nachom said, "I called my synagogue, the West Coast Torah Center in Beverly Hills, and could hear the crying on the other end of the line as those assembled heard thousands of their brothers here in Israel singing the Jewish national anthem."

Extensive photography of the event can be found at Jacob Richman's web site.