Israeli public embraces refusal to let humanitarian aid into Gaza

Since mid-January, the group has held about 20 protests at Israel’s Kerem Shalom and Nitzana border crossings.

By Andrew Tobin, The Washington Free Beacon

Under pressure from the Biden administration, Israel has allowed humanitarian aid into Gaza. However, a nascent grassroots movement has channeled widespread public opposition to the policy.

Ishay Green, 45, an Israeli high-tech entrepreneur and former leader of protests against Israel’s right-wing government, last week helmed a convoy of vehicles from Tel Aviv to the Gaza border to block trucks carrying foreign aid from entering the Palestinian territory. Green told the Washington Free Beacon that the protests are as much about unifying the nation as they are about winning Israel’s war against Hamas, the radical Islamist Palestinian group that rules Gaza.

“As a people, this is something we can do that the government cannot do,” he said, pointing to the U.S. and international pressure on Jerusalem to ramp up aid to Gaza. “But this is just one small thing. The bigger story of Israel is how we unite. If we unite, we are going to win.”

Green is one of hundreds of Israelis who have traveled from across the country in the past month and a half to try to illegally obstruct aid from reaching Gaza. The rise of the anti-aid protests, led by an upstart group called Tzav 9, comes as the horrors of Hamas’s Oct. terror 7 attack have hardened Israelis’ attitudes toward both the Palestinians and the international forces that support their struggle against the Jewish state.

“There is almost a consensus in Israel against providing humanitarian aid to Gaza,” Nimrod Nir, a pollster at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told the Free Beacon. “It may seem shocking, but you have to understand that the reality has changed. Israelis see themselves as in a zero-sum conflict with the Palestinians—where helping them is a direct threat to our soldiers and our hostages in Gaza.”

According to Tzav 9’s leaders, the group has held about 20 protests at Israel’s Kerem Shalom and Nitzana border crossings with Gaza since the movement started in mid-January.

On Sunday, dozens of Tzav 9 protesters gathered at the Nitzana crossing, a maze of barbed wire and concrete barriers where aid trucks enter Israel from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula for inspection before heading to Gaza. The crowd waved Israeli flags, sang Zionist anthems, and prayed. Some held placards calling for the release of the 130 hostages whom Israel says remain in Gaza.

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“I want to applaud you, friends,” Reut Ben Chaim, the 37-year-old matriarch of Tzav 9, told the crowd. “You are stopping the supply from Hamas. It’s a great thing!”

Late last month, the head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, Ronen Bar, reportedly told the security cabinet that Hamas takes 60 to 70 percent of aid to Gaza. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Friday that 12 percent of the staff of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the main group responsible for distributing aid in Gaza, is affiliated with Hamas and the affiliated terror group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He said 42 UNRWA workers either participated or assisted in the Oct. 7 attack.

On the same day, David Satterfield, the top U.S. humanitarian envoy to the Middle East, said that Hamas terrorists have escorted and directed aid within Gaza. But he said Israel has not provided the Biden administration with “specific evidence of diversion or theft of assistance” by Hamas.

Ben Chaim—handing off her bullhorn and reclaiming her infant daughter, the youngest of her eight children—told the Free Beacon that the impetus for Tzav 9 was aid trucks rumbling by her house in Netivot, about 10 miles from Gaza, where her husband was fighting. When he was released from duty last month, the couple committed to stop the trucks. The name “Tzav 9” is a play on the Tzav 8 order that calls Israeli reservists like her husband to war.

“Israel always acts like this,” said Ben Chaim, who wore a leopard-print Jewish head covering. “We put our heads in the sand and say, ‘Let’s give them food and water.’ But it’s shooting ourselves in the foot. It’s hurting the soldiers, it’s hurting the hostages, and it’s hurting the residents of Gaza. Hamas is also bad for Gaza.”

“Now, I understand that the government can’t stop the aid because of certain pressures,” she added. “So that’s our job.”

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Yacov Rudman, 35, an event planner and father of four who came to the protest from Givat Ze’ev, a West Bank city near Jerusalem, told the Free Beacon that he saw Tzav 9 as helping the Israeli government resist international coercion.

“I think the government has an interest in what’s happening here because, to be honest, if they wanted to stop this, they could do it,” he said, gesturing toward a group of bored-looking Israeli soldiers and police officers. “They are opening one eye and closing the other—this kind of game. Everyone understands that.”

At the start of the Gaza war, Israel said no aid would be allowed into the territory. But Jerusalem soon began letting thousands of truckloads of food, medical supplies, fuels, and other items enter the territory. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has defended the aid as necessary to prevent a disease outbreak and denied that it weakens Israel’s leverage to force the release of the hostages.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration and other governments have continued to press Israel to facilitate more aid, warning of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The Israeli military late last month declared the Kerem Shalom crossing a closed military zone, and police detained 30 Tzav 9 protesters who violated the order. But all of them were eventually released.

“Israeli authorities are looking at this more from the moral side than the legal side,” Debbie Sharon, 60, a silver-haired criminal defense attorney from Yated, a town a few miles from Kerem Shalom, and a Tzav 9 leader, told the Free Beacon.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli government declined to comment on the protests. An Israel Defense Forces spokesman referred an inquiry to the Israel Police. The police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A number of right-wing movements have emerged in Israel to oppose the aid, but none have caught on in the same way as Tzav 9. Rachel Touitou, 32, a PR consultant in Ra’anana and a volunteer spokeswoman for Tzav 9, told the Free Beacon that a key to the movement’s success has been its singular focus. Opposition to aid, she noted, transcends Israel’s political divisions.

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“We organized a protest at Kerem Shalom last week, and you could see right-wing settlers dancing with leftists from Tel Aviv and survivors of the Nova festival [massacre on Oct. 7],” Touitou said. “You wouldn’t generally see something like that at any other protest or in any other situation in Israel. It was amazing to witness.”

Before the Oct. 7 terror attack—during which Gazan terrorists killed more than 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took another 140 hostage—less than a third of Israeli Jews were against humanitarian aid for the Palestinians, according to polling by Nir of Hebrew University.

However recent polls have shown the public overwhelmingly against allowing aid into Gaza. Nir’s omnibus survey of Israeli Jews, updated on Sunday, found 69 percent opposition. A poll released on Tuesday by the Israel Democracy Institute put the number at 68 percent.

Green, the Tel Aviv high-tech entrepreneur, said: “We need to win the war fast as possible, and we need it for the Palestinians themselves—not only for the Israelis. No one wants Hamas. Only Hamas wants Hamas.”

“Most of the aid is getting through,” he added. “But it doesn’t matter, because this is the right thing to do.”

The Palestine Red Crescent Society confirmed on Sunday that the Tzav 9 protesters had prevented any aid trucks from reaching Gaza that day through the Nitzana crossing. But 123 trucks entered the territory via the Kerem Shalom crossing, according to UNRWA.

Even some relatives of the 134 hostages who are believed to remain in Gaza have gotten behind Tzav 9. While the hostages’ families have generally pushed for compromise with Hamas to secure the release of their loved ones, they have grown increasingly frustrated with a lack of progress in negotiations.

Rudman said he was at Sunday’s protest in hopes of pressuring Hamas to release his friend who was abducted on Oct. 7. Rudman was accompanied by his friend’s brother, who asked to remain anonymous to protect the hostage.

“The thing is the hostages can’t wait any longer,” Rudman said. “We would not choose this step, but it is the best option we have.”