A year since Gaza pullout marked

Israelis flock to Western Wall for commemoratory prayer vigil.

By ETGAR LEFKOVITS
August 1, 2006 21:52
2 minute read.
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As Israel continued to fight on two fronts, thousands of Israelis flocked to the Western Wall on Tuesday night for a prayer vigil marking one year since the evacuation of the Jewish settlements in Gaza. The solemn evening prayer service, which capped a day-long series of events that began at the Israeli crossing into the Gaza Strip, took place as Israeli forces fought fierce battles with Hizbullah in Lebanon nearly three weeks into the war, and as Israeli military operations against Hamas in Gaza entered its second month. The predominantly religious crowd of former Gaza settlers and their supporters who quietly filed through the narrow cobblestone streets of the Old City of Jerusalem Tuesday night drew a direct comparison between Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza last August, and the current two-front war against Hamas in Gaza and Hizbullah in Lebanon. "What has happened from the moment we ran away [from Gaza] is Kassams and abducted soldiers," said Rabbi Yigal Kamintzky, who previously served as the Rabbi of the former Gaza settlements, at a central Jerusalem rally before the prayer vigil. "We showed we were running and abandoning, and this broadcast weakness," he added. "The disengagement exploded in the face of the residents of the Negev, Haifa, and the Galilee," said settler leader Bentzi Leiberman. Many of the thousands of people who walked to the Western Wall for the prayer vigil, which doubled as a prayer service for the well being of the soldiers fighting in Lebanon, carried orange ribbons, the color adopted by supporters of the former Gaza settlement movement. The prayer service at the Western Wall, which was attended by former Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira and Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, included the inauguration of a new Torah scroll with all the names of the 21 former Jewish settlements evacuated last year written on its curtain, which the organizers carried through the streets of Jerusalem. "Now it is my house which is in the line of fire," said 17-year Hadas Reichter from Haifa, who has been away from home for over two weeks now due to the Katyusha attacks from Lebanon. "We don't want to say we told you so - because this is a time for unity among the nation - but we told you so," said Na'ama Sasson, 19, of Kibbutz Meirav, when asked if she drew any parallel between the pullout from Gaza and what was happening in the country now. Sasson, who was doing her national service, noted that it was sad that the crowd was made up exclusively of religious people, adding that a way must be found to reach out to all the people of Israel. "This is a war about the existence of the State of Israel," said Larisa Dvorkin, 56, of Lod. Dvorkin, who immigrated to Israel from Russia a decade and a half ago, said that it was narrow-minded of settler leaders to focus on lamenting the fate of the Gaza settlements and thinking about returning to the densely populated coastal strip, when it was the whole state of Israel that was under attack. "A year ago it was 10,000 people who were displaced from their homes, and today it is one million people," she concluded.

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