“The police questioned them and told them that the Gaza Strip is a closed military zone,” said Ruth Lieberman, one of the people waiting to greet the group in Ben Gurion International Airport. Others in the group confirmed this, though in fact it is not true that Gaza is a closed military zone. When visitors arrive at the Kisufim Crossing to Gush Katif, the soldiers stationed there recommend a military escort, but this is not required.
Assemblyman Hikind said that the police took the passports from some of the group members, and detained them for approximately a half-hour.
Helen Freeman, of Americans For a Safe Israel, wore an orange shirt supporting Gush Katif and told Channel One TV about the welcome she received from the Israeli Police: "They said, 'You have to be detained. ' I said, 'That's a disgrace, why should I be detained?' And they said, 'Well, because of your shirt.'"
The group members were undeterred. "These are people who are very dedicated to the Land of Israel," Hikind said, "and you see that they took off a whole week to come here on this solidarity trip. It was harassment, pure and simple. But they won't stop us. I'm working right now on plans to bring over another 1,000 people, all at once, to come to Gush Katif."
The group traveled directly to the Erez industrial zone last night, and later met with local school principal Itzik Amitai. They continued to the town of Elei Sinai, on the northern Gaza coast, and watched the sun set on the beach in the fishing town of Dugit.
The visit is the first in what Hikind is calling a "campaign of unity" to strengthen and support the Israeli majority “that defeated Amram Mitzna’s ‘Gaza First’ platform…and is now being shunned as an extreme minority... It would be radical and extreme to allow them to feel isolated.”
The 40 professionals, dignitaries and Jewish educators taking part in the solidarity trip represent the beginning of a full-fledged campaign by rabbis and Jewish organizations to send a steady stream of congregants and delegates. "We will to let the world know that not even Jews have the right to throw Jews out of their homes based on their religion," Hikind said. The assemblyman expects the activities to continue and to increase as the targeted date set for the expulsion nears.
Asked by reporters whether this or future groups plan on opposing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal plan by breaking the law, Hikind replied, “We are coming from a democracy. In the American tradition, we admire the right to civil disobedience. It's not called sedition or violence, but rather civil disobedience and that is what we are coming to be a part of.”
The group ate dinner last night in N’vei Dekalim with Pinchas Wallerstein of the Yesha Council and Gush Katif spokesman Eran Sternberg. The group spent the night there, and visited several other towns in Jewish Gaza today. They met with Chana Bart of Netzarim, who was paralyzed from the waist down in a Palestinian terror attack, and are to dine tonight with David Hatuel of Ganei Tal, who lost his wife and four daughtes in a terror attack ten months ago. They will take part in a panel discussion on the disengagement with local residents this afternoon.
See photos here.