Approximately 200 settlers took to the road Wednesday evening, marching from Efrat towards Jerusalem to protest long morning waits on the Tunnel Road leading to Jerusalem and claiming that security arrangements there were part of a government policy to marginalize West Bank settlements.
Organized by The Land of Israel Faithful, the Action Committees of Efrat-Gush Etzion and Kiryat Arba-Hebron, and Youth for the Land of Israel, the march was meant to be the first in a series of activities that organizers said were meant "to broadcast the clear message that we will defend our right to travel, to walk and to live in our own homeland, in the entire Land of Israel."
Speakers at the march included Nadia Matar of Women in Green, Boaz Ha'etzni, son of former MK Elyakim Ha'etzni, and Neveh Daniel resident Haim Makovsky.
Ha'etzni made waves last year when he termed the disengagement from Gush Katif a "crime against humanity."
In her speech, Matar accused the government of trying to slowly break down the settlers' will to oppose the Olmert government's convergence plan of partial withdrawal from the West Bank.
"The poison-cookers of the disengagement and the convergence have already begun to put some of us into a pot. The fence is being built before our eyes, but it does not mean that we should allow ourselves to fall asleep and become disillusioned," she said.
"They tell us that the traffic jams, the new arrangements at the checkpoints, are all for the purposes of security. We cannot fall victim to this fraud, and just accept it. During the second intifada, during the worst terror attacks, they never made us suffer through the traffic jams and checkpoints and walls and fences and racist stickers on our cars. So what happened? They're cooking us up - slowly but surely - the convergence plan."
Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shaul Goldstein said he too was worried about the traffic on the Tunnel Road, which sees about 1,100 cars an hour. He added, however, that he didn't believe a protest was the right way to address the problem.
He denounced claims by the protest organizers regarding the political nature of the problem.
"It's a lie to say that the government wants to divide and sacrifice Gush Etzion," he said.
"Nothing could be further from the truth given that it is working with the council to address the problem." Goldstein did not participate in the protest and told The Jerusalem Post he believed other area leaders were absent as well.
Goldstein said he had been out on the road many times studying the problem and had been working to improve the situation with the police and the IDF.
Part of the problem is that improvements needed to be made to the road, Goldstein said.
The IDF is also working on making changes to the roadblock to improve the traffic flow, Goldstein said, but warned that traffic was about to get worse - not better - since construction is about to start on another bypass road.
In response to the protest, the IDF said that the checkpoints examined all people without discriminating, and that they had no ulterior motives, but that their only intent was to carry out security inspections.
Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.