Speaking to the mass crowd in Tel Aviv on Thursday, hardline settler leaders delivered instructions on how to try to disrupt the uprooting of all 8000 Jewish settlers from Gaza, to begin on 17 August.
“We will be physically there at the Kissufim crossing (between the Gaza settlements and Israel) from Monday and we will oppose the withdrawal without violence,” Bentzi Liberman, leader of the main settlers lobby, told the crowd.
“Nothing is over. We must go to the south, on the roads. God will hear us,” proclaimed Ygal Kamineski, rabbi of Gush Katif, the main Jewish settlement bloc in southern Gaza.
Chief settlers’ organisation Yesha said 250,000 people crowded into the landmark Rabin Square in the heart of Israel’s commercial capital, but reporters put turnout far lower.
The square was awash with orange, strung up with orange flags and balloons in the colour that has come to symbolise the campaign against disengagement.
Tens of thousands of men, women, families and children, packed into the square to listen to the rallying cries from settler leaders.
“We will be physically there at the Kissufim crossing and we will oppose the withdrawal without violence”
Amid the chorus of opposition, Bush welcomed Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to leave Gaza as “one that is going to be good for Israel,” in an interview broadcast on Israel’s Channel One network.
The president said that there had already been signs of a more hopeful future for the region, noting a drop in attacks by Palestinian resistance groups.
“First of all, the previous system wasn’t working. There was an intifada, there was death, there was killing. And if you notice, there’s been a calm in attacks,” he said, adding that “one attack is too many.”
Instead, the pullout – Israel’s first withdrawal from Palestinian territory – would encourage the emergence of democracy among the Palestinian people which would ultimately reap peace dividends for Israelis, he said.
“I think this will create an opportunity for democracy to emerge and democracies are peaceful,” the US president said.
Sharon has leant heavily on the support of Bush to silence domestic critics of the disengagement plan which will see Israel pull out all the 8000 Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip.
When first endorsing the project in April last year, Bush said it was unrealistic to expect Israel to give up all its settlement blocs in the West Bank where the vast majority of the 245,000 settlers live.
Abbas wants an orderly
“The settlement blocs will continue to exist. I will not negotiate on the subject of Jerusalem. The blocs will remain territorially linked to the state of Israel,” Sharon reiterated on Wednesday.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected Sharon’s comments and said that in “final status negotiations, we will give our word that these nos are rejected”.
Abbas has also ordered security services to protect foreign workers in the Gaza Strip after a string of kidnappings of employees of international aid agencies.
Although Israel is presenting the pullout largely as a unilateral move, officials are coordinating details with the Palestinian Authority, and two joint operations offices have been opened in the area around the Gaza Strip.
Israeli forces meanwhile completed a final joint army and police exercise for the pullout in southern Israel in order to counter any violence by the settlers.
Having banned entry to non-residents of Gaza on 13 July, authorities announced that they were further tightening restrictions and would no longer even approve special applications by relatives for entry in view of what it called the “illegal presence of a large number of individuals” who have gone there to act as human shields.