'Aiding the enemy is insane,' demonstrator says

Protesters hold up aid to Gaza, as government faces rising domestic pressure

Unauthorized rally at Kerem Shalom is the largest to date against measures meant to ensure international support for the war effort

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Israelis demonstrate at a protest action at Kerem Shalom border crossing on January 24, 2024. (Courtesy Reut Ben Haim)
Israelis demonstrate at a protest action at Kerem Shalom border crossing on January 24, 2024. (Courtesy Reut Ben Haim)

A queue of trucks carrying aid supplies, some of them flying Egyptian flags, idled for hours at the Kerem Shalom crossing Wednesday as hundreds of protesters blocked their entry to Gaza.

The demonstrators flew Israeli flags and chanted against aiding the enemy, in the largest rally to date against the government-approved transfer of fuel and humanitarian aid to Gaza since the outbreak of the war with Hamas on October 7.

Only nine out of 114 trucks made it through, according to the UN. Some were rerouted and managed to enter through Egypt’s Rafah Crossing, but only 153 trucks entered Gaza in total on Wednesday — well below what has been able to enter in recent weeks.

Attended by families of Israeli hostages being held in Gaza, the protest underlined the government’s narrowing room to maneuver as it faces growing international pressure to allow more humanitarian relief in Gaza, coupled with intense domestic pressure to both secure the release of the hostages and deliver military achievements in the protracted and increasingly deadly campaign.

“It’s an absolute disgrace, it’s as if October 7 never happened,” one protester, Reut Ben Haim, told The Times of Israel.

“I mean, it’s always insane to aid the enemy, but it’s especially crazy to do it today, one day after they killed 24 of our soldiers and as they’re preparing to continue to fire into our cities — even as they’re holding more than 130 of our hostages.”

Ben Haim, a mother of eight from Netivot near Gaza, has attended several smaller protests against transfers of aid to Gaza, which began about two weeks after October 7, when thousands of Hamas terrorists crossed the border, killed some 1,200 people in Israel and abducted more than 250.

Reut Ben Haim attends a protest action at the Kerem Shalom border crossing on January 24, 2024. (Courtesy Reut Ben Haim)

The protest against the transfer aid is taking place amid unconfirmed reports in the media of progress in indirect talks between Israel and Hamas on a ceasefire and second prisoner swap. The government is under considerable pressure, which manifests itself in weekly rallies and other actions, to prioritize the release of the more than 130 Israelis still being held hostage by Hamas over its military push to dismantle the terror group.

An earlier exchange of hostages for Palestinian prisoners took place over a weeklong truce in late November and early December.

In Israel, empathy with Gazans is limited as the nation mourns its own dead and grapples with the aftermath of the deadliest day of fighting yet this week, when 24 troops died in an explosion in the central Gaza Strip, bringing the death toll among troops in the ground maneuver to 219.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has defended the decision to allow aid into Gaza.

“The humanitarian aid is vital for ensuring international support,” he said at a press conference in November. “Without it, even our good friends would have trouble supporting us over time.”

Hannah Giat, an activist with the Combatants’ Mothers movement, which participated in the blockage Wednesday, called the convoys “a logistical supply route for Hamas,” which she said she felt compelled to help block. “Any aid to Hamas must hinge on the return of the hostages and disarming Hamas,” said Giat, whose two sons and husband are fighting in Gaza.

A truck carrying humanitarian aid on the Israeli side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing where it will undergo security checks before entering the southern Gaza Strip, on January 22, 2024, (Menahem Kahana / AFP)

Her group teamed up with several others, including the Tzav 9 organization of reservists, for the protest at Kerem Shalom.

On Sunday, Ela Ben Ami, whose father Ohad was abducted from Kibbutz Be’eri on October 7 and is presumed to be held hostage in Gaza, asked Netanyahu during a meeting with relatives of hostages why he is allowing aid into Gaza that she said may be used to sustain Hamas’s war effort. She later said that, at the meeting, Netanyahu had assured her that Hamas was taking at most 10% of the aid.

Multiple right-wing groups are planning a march next week in Jerusalem to the Knesset to protest the aid to Gaza. Despite the right-wing inclinations of several of the groups behind the protest – they include the conservative human rights group b’Tsalmo, Yehudit and the Chozrim Habaita group promoting a return of Jewish settlements to Gaza – the issue transcended partisan politics, Ben Haim insisted.

“We watch what we say here to observe unity,” she said. “This concerns everyone interested in Israel coming on top at the end of this terrible war.”

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