Israeli and American Orthodox opponents of the Gaza disengagement plan are stepping up efforts to sink the initiative.
New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, an outspoken Orthodox lawmaker who represents the ultra-Orthodox sections of Brooklyn, is leading a mission next week to Gaza in support of Jewish settlers there. Hikind told the Forward that the 43-person mission, which will include several New York Supreme Court judges and government employees, represents the beginning of a major mobilization effort by Orthodox Jews in America who oppose the disengagement plan of Israeli Prime Minister Sharon.
“I believe it’s going to be the start of a massive move to get thousands of people to go to [Gaza] to show solidarity,” Hikind said, adding that he expected 1,000 rabbis to go on a solidarity mission to Gaza in late April, after Passover.
Next week’s three-day trip to Gush Katif, the Jewish settlement block in Gaza, begins Monday with a ride to the disputed region in a bulletproof van.
The mission comes as two former Israeli chief rabbis, Avraham Shapira and Mordechai Eliyahu, have declared March 17 a religious fast day to protest Sharon’s plan to evacuate, in July, 8,000 Jewish settlers from 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza and four in the northern West Bank. They announced this week that the fast is being held from sunrise to sundown on the sixth day of the Hebrew Month of Adar II to correspond with the day that Sharon is set to bring his budget to parliament for final approval. If it fails to pass, new elections would have to be called and disengagement would likely be delayed.
“For the first time in the country’s history, great rabbis of religious Zionism have called a day for fast and prayers, by the authority of Jewish law,” West Bank settler leader Emily Amrusy told Reuters, adding that the goal of the fast is to “destroy the expulsion order.”
The National Council of Young Israel, a New York-based group representing more than 150 Orthodox congregations in North America and Israel, will encourage members to fast March 17, according to the group’s executive vice president, Rabbi Pesach Lerner.
“I personally will be joining the fast,” Lerner said. “I believe there’s a crisis going on in Israel, and part of our response has to be prayer and fasting.”
Other Modern Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox organizations, including the Orthodox Union, the Rabbinical Council of America and the Agudath Israel of America, have not endorsed the fast.
Orthodox women who support the settlers are calling for Jewish women to recite Psalms during the Fast of Esther, on March 24, the day before the Purim holiday. The goal, according to a statement issued by organizers, is to “cry out together with the women of Gush Katif… and cry out to [God] to reverse the evil decrees against [the Land of Israel].”
Israeli security experts have issued warnings regarding the potential for violent resistance from fundamentalist settlers who oppose any Israeli withdrawal from Gaza or from the West Bank. Several pro-settler rabbis have issued decrees that Sharon’s disengagement plan violates Jewish law.
Hikind insisted that participants on his mission are not “talking about physically confronting authorities, but we have a right to show our support.
“We want to feel [the settlers’] pain. These are fine people, pioneers. They are not wild or crazy. Ariel Sharon wakes up on [the] wrong side of the bed one morning and proposes a unilateral withdrawal, which is not part of the peace process, and not Bush’s idea,” Hikind said. “Can you imagine people living in their homes and not knowing what their future is, not knowing what’s going to be in a couple of months?”