Young Israelis block aid to Gaza while IDF soldiers stand by and watch

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KEREM SHALOM, Israel – It’s getting close to 1 a.m. Yosef de Bresser, 22, is in the thick of planning.

He takes calls from the car as it zips along dirt roads just outside southern Gaza near Egypt.

“Are there people?” he asks. Around 40, it is said.

He taps a WhatsApp message to gather more: “We sleep tonight in Kerem Shalom and ban aid and fuel to Hamas! Do you want to sleep here with us? Shuttles are running all day and night.”

Before Hamas attacked Israel on October 7 and the war that followed, Kerem Shalom was the main commercial crossing between Israel and Gaza. Today, it is one of only two entry points for food and life-saving medicine to the besieged maze, where aid groups say civilians are on the brink of starvation.

But De Bresser and his three companions are determined to keep any trucks from getting through, and they don’t care if innocents suffer: “War is war,” says De Bresser flirting. The United States did not care about civilians when it blew up Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “Who will help his enemy?”

Scrawny and wearing a T-shirt outside, De Bresser appears as an unlikely leader. But he has qualifications. He has been living in Yitzhar, a West Bank settlement known for its violence against neighboring Palestinians, and has been arrested a dozen times, including demonstrations supports Israel’s controversial legal review.

Tattooed on his neck is a fist raised against the blue Star of David, the emblem of the Jewish Defense League, which was founded in New York by terrorist Rabbi Meir Kahane and designated by the FBI as a terrorist organization. The group launched bombs against Palestinian and Arab targets in the 1970s and ’80s but is now largely inactive.

“It’s old school,” explained Bnayahu Ben Shabat, 23, a friend of De Bresser, before they started their journey. Ben Shabat heads special projects for Im Tirtzu, a right-wing Zionist group.

Special projects such as their current early Wednesday morning.

De Bresser and Ben Shabat have been opposing the aid for several weeks. Camping is a new idea.

The Israel Defense Forces have – apparently, at least – made Kerem Shalom a closed military zone since late January. But there are no checkpoints at night, making it easier to bring in busloads of protesters. Still, Ben Shabat wants to take the winding roads through the farmland, to stay on the right side of the court order that bans it from some parts of the area.

When the group finally reaches the crossing, a motor coach full of campers is already waiting.

A lone police car sits just inside the open gates, its blue and red lights flashing. But teenagers inside are unconcerned, streaming off the coach and through the open gates, screaming with delight.

Inside, they shake hands with soldiers and begin lining up their tents.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, visiting this month, called on Israel to ensure that aid to Gaza goes through Kerem Shalom. But there doesn’t seem to be any effort here to stop the teenagers.

One asks a soldier if he can drive his car into the crossing. The soldier says he is fine with it but he is not sure if the police will stop him. “I don’t think they will,” he says. “Bye. Turn on your lights.”

A voice over a loudspeaker tells protesters to grab sleeping bags and tents. “Welcome to anyone who came,” he says. “Champions – really, champions.”

At 3am, Tahel Attar, 17, offers around soup. “The army is with us, the police are with us,” she says. “They don’t want us here, but they get it. They let us. We’re talking to them, we’re having fun with them, we offer everything they need.”

Some pose with soldiers for a photo. “The Yisreal Chai!” they shout. The people of Israel are alive.

Explosive energy inside Gaza is reaching the camp. Blessings and pride go up. Rafah, the border town where Israel has said it is building a new offensive, is less than five miles away.

De Bresser updates in his WhatsApp group.

“The door is open! You can get by car straight to the intersection (just move the car far after). Trucks will be banned. “Victory!”

The teenagers, and the population in their twenties, have come from all over Israel. They say that humanitarian aid to Gaza is helping Hamas, and they will block it even if it means that innocent people are starving.

Ben Shabat argues that sugar and flour can be used to make bombs. “When you mix flour with potassium nitrate you get explosives for a warhead,” he says. “Every pound of sugar and flour that goes into Gaza from Israel, we get it back through a rocket that will kill our children.”

The technique is also about hunger. “When a soldier is hungry, he doesn’t fight as well.”

And the children? “Nobody can say kids are bad,” he says. But “children of the past were killing and raping and stealing” on October 7.

Others say the support isn’t even necessary.

“We’ve heard that they’re giving them things they don’t really need,” Attar says. “Like strawberries. I don’t think people there are crying for straws.”

Loveday Morris at the Post saw Israeli protesters at the Kerem Shalom Israel-Gaza border crossing on February 7 preventing trucks from bringing aid into the Gaza Strip. (Video: Joe Snell/The Washington Post)

In Gaza, families eat animal food to survive. Eighty-three percent of the population of more than 2 million are facing “critical levels of hunger,” a UN-backed coalition said in late December.

Hadas Kremer, a 17-year-old with curly blond hair from the Orthodox settlement of Otniel near Hebron, explains that unhappy and hungry Palestinians in Gaza should leave. Israel pays to leave, she says. In reality, most Gazans have no way to escape.

At dawn a new busload of demonstrators, ultra-orthodox children and teenagers arrive from northern Israel. They tie on the tefillin and pray. Some people dance. A group with a guitar singing songs about the army. They use the bathrooms across the border. No one wants them to go.

Every explosion in Gaza raises cheers.

“Arabs dead, dead, dead,” one camper shouts as a volley of fire erupts. Then she is aware of the presence of a reporter. “Hamas,” she corrects herself.

In the morning, aid trucks stretch along Israel’s border with Egypt. Amid sudden panic that a delivery could enter through a gate that is usually used as an exit, the protesters moved their tents.

Israeli soldiers look forward. “Man, don’t you feel like shooting a round over there?” he asked one witness, looking out to Egypt.

“I don’t want them to shoot you,” replied the soldier. “You are more important.”

But the new condition of some of the tents appears more humiliating for the Israeli army. At 10 am, a group of high-ranking officials arrive. Among them are Brig. Gen. Yossi Bachar, who was the chief of the general staff, is now a curator.

“We will leave here when there is a video of General Yossi Bachar saying that not one truck will pass through this gate today,” De Bresser says. The demonstrators are sure that no goods will be allowed to enter as they move back from the border fence.

They do that. The lazy trucks.

The IDF referred questions about why the protesters were allowed to stay at the crossing to COGAT, the Ministry of Defense agency that oversees Palestinian civil affairs and crossing points. COGAT did not respond to requests for comment. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said it could not provide data on how many trucks were broken at the crossing. The office has no presence at the border.

By early Wednesday afternoon, many teenagers have left for school and family. However, the remaining dozen or so children, with a few adults, are able to maintain any support for entering Gaza.

A group of children who moved barbed wire and logs to create a barrier in front of their tents are beginning to turn back.

The children burn electronic music. Load Gaza with gunfire.

Earlier demonstrators had “folded up” and gone home, De Bresser said. But he promises to stay on.

After blocking the entrance to the crossing for four days, the police tried to move what was left of the camp on Saturday, De Bresser says. He released a new application for activists on WhatsApp.

“All the people of Israel should keep coming!”

Judith Sudilovsky in Jerusalem contributed.

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