After activist attacks on Gaza aid trucks, some Israelis step in to guard convoys

Video of supplies being vandalized encourages anti-war group Standing Together to protect shipments: ‘We cannot allow these lunatics to operate in broad daylight’

File - Protesters block the exit of Ashdod port to stop trucks they claim are carrying humanitarian aid destined for the Gaza Strip, in Ashdod, February 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
File - Protesters block the exit of Ashdod port to stop trucks they claim are carrying humanitarian aid destined for the Gaza Strip, in Ashdod, February 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

JTA – When a group of right-wing activists gathered last week to trash an aid shipment bound for Gaza, they believed they were working toward a goal supported by most Israelis — to block supplies that, they believe, will end up in the hands of Hamas.

The activists gathered again on Sunday. But their tactics — captured last week on video that showed them tearing open bags of flour, puncturing tires and throwing food to the ground — have sparked controversy and proven divisive even among their putative allies.

Tzav 9, the main group organizing to block aid shipments, disavowed the riot. It said in a statement that it is “conducting a reassessment of our continued activity’ and that it would pause operations for a week. Spokesperson Rachel Touitou said she can “understand” the motivations of the rioters — but cannot condone their actions.

“People have hijacked our own actions and the past few days have been hell,” Touitou told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in a phone call. “I’m in no way justifying violence. It is a disservice to our actions and to Israel internationally.”

For months, Tzav 9 has gathered at Gaza border checkpoints to block aid from going in. While global health groups have said the territory faces a dire humanitarian crisis, and Israel has heeded global demands to expand aid delivery, Tzav 9 says the aid is being stolen by Hamas and serves to sustain the terror group.

The group includes relatives of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. And a recent poll found two-thirds of Jewish Israelis oppose the transfer of humanitarian assistance to Gaza.

An Israeli protester damages a Jordanian convoy of flour earmarked for Gaza on May 1, 2024. (Screen capture/X)

The government has since fortified the Gaza border crossings, preventing Tzav 9’s actions — and shifting the focus to the more radical activists who were caught on video last week.

The video also sparked a countermobilization from the left: When the activists organized on Sunday on a highway in the West Bank to disrupt another shipment of aid, they were met by members of Standing Together, a Jewish-Arab group that opposes Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.

“Are we going to be a society that allows hunger and destruction in Gaza?” Alon-Lee Green, Standing Together’s co-director, told JTA at the scene. “We cannot allow these lunatics to operate in broad daylight like this.”

Activists from the Standing Together organization help reload cartons of humanitarian aid destined for Gaza thrown off a truck by extremists opposing the supply of aid to Gaza at the Tarqumiyah Crossing in the West Bank, May 19, 2024. (Courtesy Standing Together)

Noa, a teenager at the crossing who gave only her first name, disagreed. She said she and the other right-wing activists had “no choice” but to destroy the supplies. “I would prefer they go to needy families in Israel,” she said. “But to send them to Hamas and to civilians who supported the massacre of our people? I’d rather make sure no one gets them.”

Green portrayed Standing Together’s action on Sunday as a decisive victory: All the trucks carrying aid managed to get to Gaza despite the efforts of the rioters.

The relatively smooth passage of the aid trucks marked a contrast from the scene last week, when scores of protesters surrounded the convoy in the West Bank and hurled boxes of food supplies onto the highway while puncturing the tires of aid tricks, setting at least two of them ablaze. One driver was taken to a Palestinian hospital after sustaining head injuries from stones thrown at him.

Right-wing activists look at damaged trucks that were carrying humanitarian aid supplies on the Israeli side of the Tarqumiyah crossing with the West Bank on May 13, 2024, after they were vandalized by other activists to protest against aid being sent to Gaza while Israeli hostages are being held there by terror groups. (Oren Ziv/AFP)

Green said his group also aims to hold police accountable for protecting the shipments, which is itself a controversial idea among some Israelis. The Haaretz daily reported that Itamar Ben-Gvir, the far-right national security minister who oversees the police, last week assailed Commissioner Kobi Shabtai for assigning special police units with thousands of officers to protect the convoys.

Local politicians have also expressed support for the protesters. In southern Israel, Mitzpe Ramon Council Chairman Elia Winter joined the group blocking the aid convoys near his city, saying he was “outraged that we are feeding terrorists.”

Yair Maayan, the mayor of Arad, a southern city that also straddles the convoys’ route, fumed at Ben Gvir for allowing the deployment of municipal police officers. “Our city’s employees will not be a partner to this while our hostages are languishing in captivity,” he said.

Ben Gvir on Sunday called on a halt to the aid but added that “violence is not the answer,” according to i24 News.

“They have the right to demonstrate,” he said. “I am against the fact that they attack and burn trucks.”

File – Israeli police prevent activists from blocking trucks carrying humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip at the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and Gaza, in southern Israel, January 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Despite Tzav 9’s disapproval of the far-right activists, Touitou said the group still opposes aid heading to Gaza. She cited reports that Hamas is hijacking a large portion of the aid.

“We are sending our sons to fight on the one hand but on the other we are helping our enemy,” she said. “Americans were not asked to feed the Taliban. Or in Mosul. It’s something that is only asked of Israel.”

Standing Together activists faced disruption and epithets from passing cars on Sunday, but Green said they planned to maintain a presence in the area in the coming days, taking shifts to ensure the aid trucks were constantly monitored. Other supporters of humanitarian aid also showed up to the scene.

“I have no hope. I see which way the political-social winds are blowing,” said Iris Ronen, a self-described “radical leftist” who said she was not affiliated with Standing Together. She added, “Israel bears full responsibility for its ongoing apartheid and for the genocide in Gaza” — an opinion often found among pro-Palestinian protesters internationally that is rarely heard in Israel.

“I want to fulfill my right to volunteer, to refuse, to express my opinion in all this horror,” Ronen said. “I have a responsibility as an Israeli.”

File – Activists from the ‘Standing Together’ movement fill a truck with food aid, at the parking lot of a shopping center of the southern city of Ashkelon, before driving in a convoy toward the border with the Gaza Strip on March 7, 2024, in a symbolic show of support for Palestinians. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Standing Together’s members are updated in real time on a WhatsApp group about the whereabouts of both the trucks and the right-wing protesters. But even that has proved a messy business.

Right-wingers have infiltrated the WhatsApp group and sent messages intentionally misdirecting activists to nonexistent looting locations. Some have also sent expletive-filled messages accusing the activists of aiding rapists and murderers.

One of the right-wing activists who met the trucks on Sunday, Tomer Sar Ari, said he had no interest in clashing with police or left-wing activists.

“At the end of the day, they’re our brothers,” he said. “But if aid wouldn’t have gotten inside Gaza, we would have defeated Hamas long ago. Now look, we sent in fuel and the rockets have started again.”

Despite his efforts, however, the aid trucks continued to roll.

“Good news,” one Standing Together activist announced through a megaphone further down the road. “Because of our actions today, all the trucks managed to pass and all the supplies will get to their destinations, and those who are hungry won’t be lacking.”

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