Rabbi Faces Off With Protesters

By Yair Ettinger, Ha’aretz

Published August 19, 2005, issue of August 19, 2005.
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Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, a prominent leader of Israel’s religious Zionist camp and a staunch critic of the Gaza withdrawal, found himself in a violent tussle — with other opponents of the pullout.

The trouble started Monday night at about midnight, when hundreds of youngsters in Neve Dekalim came to the entrance gate and blocked Gush Katif’s main road. Several of the protesters stopped an army jeep, then proceeded to smash the vehicle’s windows and puncture its tires. The frightened soldiers fled in the sputtering vehicle, but not before their assailants had burned classified aerial photographs. Community leaders watched in silence.

Then another army vehicle arrived. As it was forced to slow down at the entrance, a familiar hiss was heard. One tire was punctured, then two more, then a fourth. The work was done by at least two local boys, joined by a few of the thousands of youth residing illegally in Neve Dekalim. As hundreds of ecstatic youngsters surrounded the vehicle, the soldiers inside froze. The leaders of the protest responded. First, Knesset member Uri Ariel of the hawkish National Union Party got onto the hood of the vehicle: “Guys, stop this. There’s no need to hurt them. It’s standard security.” But someone in the crowd shouted: “Guys, go on,” and the mob went on.

Then Aviner, an orange ribbon wrapped around his hand, climbed onto the vehicle: “You can’t wage this struggle with two heads; we can’t fight among ourselves. There are rabbis in these settlements who decided against puncturing tires, so don’t puncture tires. If you won’t listen to rabbis, then do you expect the state’s leadership to listen to rabbis? Please, let this vehicle pass.”

Several youngsters backed off, but others stood their ground. “My rabbi told me not to move,” someone shouted. Someone shoved Aviner, who shoved back. Sweaty and red faced from rage, he grabbed one young man and shouted in his ear: “Do you obey the rabbis or don’t you?” Then Aviner charged another youth who refused to back down. They wrestled. One young man, trying to defend the dignity of the rabbis, shouted for “all the yeshiva boys to come here.” With their help, the protesters blocking the road were removed, and the army vehicle clunked away.

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