Rocket threat disrupts Schalit protest

Hundreds of activists converge on Gaza crossings calling for Red Cross access to abducted soldier.

gaza aid trucks kerem shalom 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
gaza aid trucks kerem shalom 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
The IDF evacuated pro-Schalit protesters from the Erez crossing on the Gaza border Tuesday, after receiving reports that Hamas was aiming rockets at the area. Some 70 protesters who had been there since the early morning, left quietly around 1 p.m. Some joined the demonstration at the Kerem Shalom crossing, close to where Gilad was kidnapped on June 25, 2006. "It was pretty quiet," reported protest organizer Arele Sadan, speaking about the evacuation. "At first we thought it was just an exercise of the police and the army, but then we realized that we were in real danger." They were among hundreds of activists from the Movement to Free Gilad Schalit, the Kibbutz Movement and the Im Tirzu student organization who blocked the three crossings into Gaza - Erez, Karni and Kerem Shalom - calling on the Red Cross to be given access to the abducted soldier, who as of Thursday, will have been held by Hamas in Gaza for three years. Watch clip from demonstration Since he was taken, the Red Cross has not been allowed to visit him. His family has received a cassette and two letters from him during his captivity. The last letter arrived in June, 2008. Gilad's father Noam visited Kerem Shalom during the morning and thanked protestors for coming out, saying that he didn't take their participation for granted. In the afternoon, at the Erez crossing he said, "They've held him for three years without any human rights. I think the people...are sick and tired of this situation." All day, activists, clad in t-shirts that read "I've enlisted for Gilad Schalit," converged on the three crossing, which have been closed to all but humanitarian aid since Hamas violently took over Gaza in June 2007. Protesters said they were able to keep 100 trucks laden with goods from entering Gaza through Kerem Shalom. At Karni crossing only six trucks showed up to try and pass through the blockade. "The truckers were warned by police so hardly anyone showed up," said Ella Hefez, a main organizer from the Movement to Free Gilad Schalit. "That doesn't mean we didn't prove our point," she continued. "Our purpose was that today, no trucks or diplomats would enter Gaza and we achieved that goal." The Office of the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories could not comment on how many trucks entered Gaza on Tuesday. At Kerem Shalom, truck drivers could be seen wearing Gilad Schalit t-shirts and outwardly proclaiming their support for the protest. "I knew about the protests before, but I decided to bring my truckers anyway," said trucking company boss, Shlomo Hallel. Hallel told the Jerusalem Post that even in the current situation, he was prepared to stay at the crossing for at least a month in protest. On the Gaza side of the Erez crossing, more than 100 Palestinians gathered to demand the release of the roughly 8,000 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. Demonstrators hoisted Palestinian flags and banners calling for an end to the Gaza blockade. "We call for the capture of more soldiers to exchange them for our prisoners," one sign read. "They must all be released," said Fadwa Shehada, 55, whose son Imad is serving a 30-year prison sentence in Israel. "We are calling on everybody to release our beloved people." Shehada would not say why her son was imprisoned. Speaking to The Jerusalem Post at the Erez Crossing, Arele Sadan said that he witnessed interactions between protesters on the two sides. According to Sadan, Israeli protesters let a Palestinian woman and her son who needed medical treatment at an Israeli hospital pass, adding that they had known about her in advance. "This is the difference between us and you," he told the woman. "Your child needs help and we're allowing you to leave so that he can get to the hospital and get help. But we need to know what's going on with Gilad. We need to send help if he needs help and we don't even know that." On Thursday evening, a large protest is scheduled to take place outside the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, demanding that the government do more to release Gilad. The family plans to speak, and former chief Azhenazi Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, former captive Hezi Shai, Karnit Goldwasser are also set to address the protesters. Goldwasser's husband Ehud, along with Eldad Regev was killed by Hizbullah along Israel's northern border in July 2006. Hizbullah held their bodies for two years and returned them through a prisoner swap in July 2008. Tovah Lazaroff, and AP contributed to reporting