Gaza Plan Inspires Standoff in Israel A standoff is emerging between Israeli police and protesters opposed to government plans to withdraw Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip. Thousands of protesters want to march to Gaza -- a plan the government says it won't permit.
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Gaza Plan Inspires Standoff in Israel

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Gaza Plan Inspires Standoff in Israel

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

There was a standoff today in a small farming village in southern Israel. It was between police and thousands of demonstrators protesting the government's plan to withdraw Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip. The protesters want to march to the main settlement block in Gaza, about 10 miles away. The government says they will not be allowed to pass. There were some scuffles during the day, and more than a dozen protesters were arrested. But so far there has been no major violence. NPR's Linda Gradstein witnessed the daylong standoff, and she joins us now from Jerusalem.

And, Linda, describe the scene for us. What'd you see?

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

Well, first of all, there was a lot of orange. Orange is the color that the protesters against the Gaza withdrawal have adopted. And everywhere you looked there was orange: orange ribbons, orange clothes, orange baby strollers, orange water bottles. I mean, there was just orange all over. And the atmosphere, at least earlier in the day, was almost--one commentator described it like an `Orthodox Jewish Woodstock.' It was very relaxed, very laid back. People had been there since yesterday. They had slept in sleeping bags and in tents. And there was a lot of young people, lots of teen-agers. And at times they were singing; I saw some guitars.

Then later in the evening, things did get tense when the police surrounded the entire farming village. And at the front gate there was police on horseback, and it seemed that they were about to break in and to disperse the protesters. And then things did get very tense.

BLOCK: Well, what did you hear from the protesters about the goals that they have for this march?

GRADSTEIN: Well, they said that they really hoped to change Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's mind; to cause a sort of mass movement in Israel against the withdrawal. Many of them said that they thought this is really sort of the last chance to stop the Gaza withdrawal. It's supposed to start in just under a month. And, you know, one woman, a woman in her 50s, who had been traveling for, you know, about 10 hours, told me that--she said, `If my children or my grandchildren ask me what did I do to try to, you know, save the Jewish settlements in Gaza, I want to be able to tell them that I did everything I could.' I spoke to another family with four little boys, and they had come from a Jewish settlement in the West Bank. And they said, `Well, you know, we came because, first of all, we think that the prime minister is making a very big mistake.' And they said, `And, secondly, if it's Gaza today, it could be our homes in the West Bank tomorrow.'

BLOCK: Well, tomorrow the protesters say they--they're vowing to go ahead with this march. The police are saying, `No way. You're not going to be allowed to pass.' What could happen?

GRADSTEIN: Well, if the protesters do go ahead, there will be violence. I mean, I saw it today when there was a rumor that the police were going to go in, and the settlers rushed to the front gate. And you had a human wall of police standing opposite these about 7,000 protesters, many of them young. Now the settlers, most of them, do not have guns with them. The police do not have guns with them. But the police do have water cannons, and they had some mounted police. So there certainly is the potential for violence. And neither side, at this point, really seems willing to back down.

BLOCK: Linda, thank you very much.

GRADSTEIN: Thank you.

BLOCK: NPR's Linda Gradstein in Jerusalem.

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