Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Group to Visit Gaza Strip to Oppose Israeli Pullout

June 5, 2005, New York Times

Charles Finkelstein, a lawyer in Brooklyn, is not usually much of a globe-trotting activist. But he has cleared his calendar of personal-injury and criminal cases and, no less significantly, secured the permission of his wife and four children.

And tonight, after attending a rally and concert in Central Park, he and 124 like-minded people clad in orange T-shirts intend to board a plane for Israel and insert themselves in a matter of domestic politics there. They will spend three days visiting Jewish settlers on the Gaza Strip to let them know that they oppose Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to remove them this summer.

"Sometimes mere words are cheap," said Mr. Finkelstein, 40, "and you need to do a little action. We're not going to get arrested, just to say to our brothers and sisters, 'We're with you.' "

The unilateral pullout from Gaza, which Israel has occupied since 1967, has been hailed in most corners as a courageous step toward peace in the Middle East. Most Israelis, weary of the costs of protecting the 9,000 Jews who live among the million Palestinians of Gaza, support the pullout. The Bush administration supports it. The largest Jewish organizations in the United States support it, and so does the international community, most of which regards Israeli settlements beyond the 1967 boundaries to be illegal.

But there is a core of skeptics, most of them, like Mr. Finkelstein, Orthodox Jews, who say that the pullout - whether because it rewards Palestinian terror, defies the will of God, or forces thousands of civilians from their homes - is a historic mistake.

A poll of American Jews conducted in March by Yeshiva University found that 65 percent supported the Gaza pullout and 21 percent opposed it. But the Orthodox, who make up about a quarter of the Jews who belong to synagogues, oppose it 56 percent to 31 percent, other surveys have found.

And as the August date of the forced relocation draws closer, the American opponents of disengagement, as Mr. Sharon calls his policy, are mobilizing.

Organizers of the Salute to Israel Parade up Fifth Avenue today generally avoid taking a stance on Israel's fractured politics.

The annual Israel Day Concert in Central Park, also to be held today, is organized by opponents of the pullout and features a band from Gaza; it is expected to draw thousands of people. Included among them, no doubt, will be many of those who protested against Mr. Sharon last month when he came to New York to court Jewish support for his plan.

(Mr. Sharon, who, in his more hawkish days, spoke at the first concert, in 1994, and called on American Jews to wage a "Jewish jihad" for Israel, is not expected to attend this year.)

The opponents are also matching their words and actions with dollars. A fledgling American charity, the Friends of Gush Katif, named for the largest Jewish settlement bloc in Gaza, has raised $3 million in its nine months of existence, its vice president said. The vice president, who spoke on the condition that his name be withheld because he did not want his office colleagues to know of his extracurricular work, said that the money was sent to Israel to finance a public-relations campaign against the pullout and to provide social services to the settlers.

The leader of tonight's trip to Gaza, Assemblyman Dov Hikind, whose Brooklyn district includes the Orthodox stronghold of Borough Park, said the settlers needed to feel supported.

"You can support Ariel Sharon," he said, "but how can you not feel for eight-and-a-half thousand people who were encouraged to move there and now face being thrown out of their homes, and not even as part of a peace treaty?"

Mr. Hikind, who led a similar trip to Gaza in March, added: "They've built beautiful communities. They've buried their dead there. What are they going to do, dig up the bodies?"

Assemblyman Hikind's contingent also includes an evangelical state senator from Brooklyn, John Sampson, who says he is going along to educate himself about Gaza, and five Baptist ministers from the middle of the country who believe that to support the pullout is to court God's wrath.

"In the Bible," said James Vineyard, a minister from Oklahoma City, "God told Abraham, 'I will bless them that bless thee and curse him that curseth thee.' If we become in any way a curse to the seed of Abraham, God's going to curse us. It's really very simple."

Malcolm I. Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which supports the pullout, said that while those who live outside Israel "should be careful not to exacerbate tensions there," he did not think that Mr. Hikind's trip would necessarily stir up trouble.

"People for and against have a right to express their views and the key is to do it in responsible ways," he said.

Several other Zionist organizations have led trips to Gaza, including Americans for a Safe Israel, which is currently there with a group of 45 people. In addition to more serious expressions of solidarity, the travelers are handing out hundreds of stuffed animals - specifically, Garfield the Cat - to children in Gaza.

"First of all he's orange," Helen Freedman, the group's executive director, said in a telephone interview from Israel. Orange and blue are the colors chosen by the Gazan protestors to represent their citrus groves and the sea.

"And orange is the color of protest and solidarity," Ms. Freedman said. "Also, Garfield doesn't move; he stays put. We made Garfield the symbol of 'We're not moving, we're staying put.' "

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home