At precisely 7 p.m. this evening, more than 120,000 Israelis spread over 56 miles between Gush Katif and Jerusalem, to join hands and sing Israel's national anthem, Hatikva, or The Hope.
The human chain, the third largest such event in world political history, could be seen as a desperate attempt to impress upon Israel's political leaders and those pressuring them from abroad, that public opinion regarding the so-called disengagement plan is not overhwhelmingly on Arik Sharon's side.
Conventional wisdom here holds that one of the reasons Prime Minister Sharon is pursuing the unilateral pullout from Gush Katif is that he is responding to public demand to disengage from the area. Today's show of strength might just give hom a more balanced view.
The chain that was organized over the past three months, was divided into 8 parts. Each section of the way was designated for particular communities, so people knew where to stand.
In Jerusalem, the route snaked from the western entrance to the city down the length of Jaffa Road and on into the Old City, through Zion and Jaffa Gates and down to the Kotel.
At the beginning of the two hour chain, chaos reigned. Hundreds of people poured into Jaffa Road wearing the orange T shirts and baseball hats of the anti-disengagement campaign, or in regular clothes adorned with The People Are With Gush Katif stickers. Many carried large Israeli flags, or wore them as capes--but no one really knew what to do.
This was different than the mass demonstrations that had taken place many times before at this spot near Zion Square. This time there was no platform, no speeches, no music--just the power of the people. The 500 young men designated as ushers, ran up and down the streets filled with people with no idea how to get the crowd to stand in line and link hands. Crowds gathered at all the major intersections along Jaffa Road, but it took more than an hour until the idea caught on to actually spread out and show their strength of numbers.
"They just don't know how to do this kind of thing," bemoaned Chaim Rosenthal, a frustrated activist and immigrant from Boston. Rosenthal, a forty-something with the look of a 60s era hippie, recalled the civil disobedience of his youth. "We knew instinctively how to get these things going," he said.
Down at Jaffa Gate, things were slightly more organized, with rows of flag-waving Israelis joined by large numbers of tourists and Christian visitors. At the Kotel, the final stop for the chain, hundreds of people tried to figure out what to do with themselves, but in the end, things worked out.
Huge silver shofarot (trumpets) were blown and a note was placed in the wall by the last link in the chain, Gush Katif resident, six-year-old Yael Better, who placed her hand on the ancient stones of the Kotel while more than 2,000 people in the courtyard sang the Hatikva.The first person on the chain in Nissanit was her grandfather, Shamir Yitzhak, who was evacuated from the Gaza Strip when Egypt captured the area in the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948.
`I don't know if it will have any influence. But we at least want to show the government that this can't be given up easily," said Mordechai Better, Yael's father. "It's not something that can be removed in a minute. There are three generations here."
Also present at the Kotel was bereaved father and husband David Hatuel, whose pregnant wife and four daughters were murdered in their car in Gush Katif just a few months ago. He told reporters that he was overwhelmed by the unprecedented event. "Sadly, I came alone, but the connection I felt from everyone here on erev Tisha B'Av is quite amazing. This will broadcast to everyone that we have the will to continue to pursue our lives in all parts of the land of Israel," he said.
Back on Jaffa Road, the crowds swelled to five or six people deep as the 7p.m concluding hour approached. Buses and taxis continued to run down Jerusalem's main road, with many drivers honking their support to the demonstrators.
Press photographers perched on the back of motorcycles and drove slowly up and down the street to capture the scene.
Barbara Green and her two children dressed in Gush Katif orange were standing just west of Zion Square. The residents of Hashmonaim had returned just a few days ago from a two year sabbatical in Seattle. "We're here because we want the government to see that people are really upset about this," Green insisted. "We can't have another Yamit," she added, referring to the deliberate destruction of a Jewish town in the Sinai in the 1980s in the interests of peace.
Meantime, while the chain was in formation, Kassam rockets hit the community center in Neve Dekalim, the largest Gush Katif town. Six children were injured.
The human chain was the first item up on the evening news, with commentators noting that this first-of-a-kind manifestation of public opinion would go down in the annals of Israeli political history.
For those who stood together singing The Hope, it was the successful conclusion of yet another battle in the war to preserve Israel's integrity.