Withdrawal Protests Relied on Teenage Activists In Israel, "the kids in orange" are young Orthodox Jews who were at the forefront of the resistance to Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
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Withdrawal Protests Relied on Teenage Activists

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Withdrawal Protests Relied on Teenage Activists

Withdrawal Protests Relied on Teenage Activists

Withdrawal Protests Relied on Teenage Activists

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In Israel, "the kids in orange" are young Orthodox Jews who were at the forefront of the resistance to Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

In the Gaza Strip, thousands of young Orthodox Jews were at the forefront of the struggle against the Israeli withdrawal. These young Israelis loudly proclaim their belief that Gaza is part of the Biblical land of Israel, which God promised to the Jewish people. As NPR's Linda Gradstein reports, now that the withdrawal is over, many of these young people feel alienated from the Israeli government and, in some cases, from the state itself.

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

Seventeen-year-old Leah Belgrade(ph) was one of the Orange Kids, after the color adopted by the opponents of the Gaza withdrawal. She spent her summer doing everything she could to stop the Gaza pullback. Three times she tried to sneak into the Jewish settlements in Gaza, defying a ban on entry to non-residents. The third time, she succeeded.

Group of Children: (Clapping and singing in foreign language)

GRADSTEIN: For a week, she lived in the largest settlement of Neve Dekalim. Three days before the forced evictions of the settlers began, she and some 700 other teen-age girls holed up in one of the synagogues. The boys were in another synagogue nearby. They spent the days praying, singing and listening to the sermons of rabbis.

Group of Children: (Clapping and singing in foreign language)

GRADSTEIN: She says it was an intense religious experience.

LEAH BELGRADE (Orange Kid): We're singing there, and we felt like we were way above there emotionally and spiritually, very, very high. It was very, very special.

GRADSTEIN: Leah says she believed a miracle would happen at the last minute to save the Jewish settlements in Gaza. But there was no miracle, and Leah and all of the other girls in the synagogue were dragged out and put on buses that took them out of Gaza.

Yossi Klein Halevi, a senior fellow at a conservative Jerusalem think tank called the Shalem Center, says these youths were raised to believe that the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza are a fulfillment of God's will. He says that the fact that the state of Israel has now evacuated Gaza threatens many of their core beliefs.

Mr. YOSSI KLEIN HALEVI (Senior Fellow, Shalem Center): This is a crisis on every conceivable level for them: psychological, personal, familial and, above all, ideological and national.

GRADSTEIN: Sixteen-year-old Ya'ir Adler(ph) from the West Bank settlement of Efrat spent the whole summer in Gaza. His parents rented a house there and brought Ya'ir and three of his siblings. His mother says she wanted the kids to experience life in the Gaza settlements. Last week, when the soldiers came to evacuate Gaza, Ya'ir refused to leave and had to be dragged out. Some teen-agers went even further, throwing oil, flour, lightbulbs filled with paint and even caustic soda at the troops.

A few dozen youthful protesters remain under arrest, and Israel's defense minister says he does not want them to be drafted into the army. But most of them, like Ya'ir, will join the army. In the past, Orthodox soldiers made up a high proportion of officers, but that may be changing now. Ya'ir says some of his friends say they will refuse military service, not wanting to be part of an army that evicts Jews from their homes, but Ya'ir disagrees.

YA'IR ADLER (Orange Kid): I'm against that. I think I'm going into the army, because I feel that I could change something there. And I'm not going to fight my fellow Jews. I'm going to fight to protect the land that I live in.

GRADSTEIN: Ya'ir says that if, as a soldier, he is asked to help evacuate settlements in the West Bank, he will refuse. He also says he has lost faith in the government of Israel and especially Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who, he says, ignored the will of the people. Yossi Klein Halevi of the Shalem Center says the Orange Kids' anger and frustration seems to be directed primarily at the Israeli government rather than the army.

Mr. HALEVI: I don't see them severing from the army, most of them. I do see them--and this is more worrying to me--becoming deeply cynical toward the democratic institutions of the state.

GRADSTEIN: Some of the parents are also worried. Leah Belgrade's mother, Daniella(ph), says she supported her daughter's decision to go to Gaza and join the struggle there. But she says she is concerned that Leah lied to the soldiers to get past the checkpoints and broke the law by staying in Gaza.

DANIELLA (Mother of Leah Belgrade): They get into their heads that under certain circumstances, you can break the law. It's very dangerous, and it's something that we're very aware of, and we feel that that's something that we really have to work on.

GRADSTEIN: But, Daniella says, it's also up to the Israeli government to restore these kids' faith. She says any future withdrawals from West Bank settlements should first be put to a national referendum, one she's sure would fail. Linda Gradstein, NPR News.

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