Both the police and demonstrators declared victory this week following Monday‘s anti-disengagement sit-in demonstrations, termed a dry run for later this summer, that blocked 40 intersections in several cities and resulted in more than 300 arrests.
"I think this is the beginning of a spontaneous reaction of resistance by people who are fed up with the corrupt way the disengagement was conducted in the parliament," said Effie Eitam, a Knesset member who recently moved to the Gaza Strip in a show of solidarity with the settlers. "The disengagement plan is a symbol of danger to Israel as a democracy, its values and justice," he added. "I predict that in the next few weeks a huge number of people will demonstrate in all different kinds of ways and in different activities and initiatives. It will be a spontaneous reaction by people who believe their vote was kidnapped and that they were betrayed and cheated" by the government.
But Police Commission Moshe Karadi was quoted as saying the protestors "did not accomplish their goal to disrupt life in Israel, but from time to time they will succeed."
And Gideon Ezra, the Internal Security minister, told reporters that the police had not used force to disperse the thousands of demonstrators who blocked traffic. Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, said the last thing the police wanted to do was to generate sympathy for the demonstrators.
"The police did not take too hard a line, [fearing that] if they hit too hard they might get those on the sideline to join the demonstration," he said. "They didn‘t want to make these people into martyrs."
Gabriel Ben Ben-Dor, a professor of political science at the University of Haifa and director of its National Security Studies Center, said there has already been some backlash against the street demonstrators. He explained that until now the protests had been "non-violent, well within the rules of the game and civilized. That changed to some extent [Monday] and now they are testing the limits of tolerance. But the pictures on TV do demonstrate that the opposition [to the disengagement] is widespread and not just a right-wing fanatical thing."
Nevertheless, Ben-Dor said, he does not believe the demonstrators have great strength because the "great majority" of Israelis support the plan, polls have shown support to be about 70 percent.
Zalman Shoval, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and former Israeli ambassador to Washington, said there were some leaders of the settler movement who criticized the road blockages as "counter effective." "They stopped traffic but whether that created good will is questionable," he said. "People want to demonstrate and everybody says that non-violent opposition is legitimate and possible in a democratic state. Psychologically, if you let people let off steam, that is not such a bad thing either. The police dealt with it in an acceptable, liberal fashion, but from the point of view of what they wanted to achieve, I don‘t think they achieved anything positive."
Eitam said he believes that in advance of the mid-August Gaza withdrawal, the government will close all access roads to the Gaza Strip to prevent sympathetic Israelis from joining the settlers in resisting the evacuation. But he said supporters of the settlers "shall not allow that to happen and we shall call in hundreds of thousands of Israelis to join their brothers in Gush Katif. They will come as far as they can by car and walk by foot [the rest of the way]. I believe there will be 200,000 people … and no force in Israel" would then be able to carry out the forced evacuation.
Such a huge demonstration of people non-violently blocking the roads, Eitam added, "will be the beginning of a civilian resistance to the plan that will cause the government to fall and new elections to be held. … There is the smell of new elections in the air."
But Steinberg said he believes there is no way 200,000 Israelis are going to run to support the 8,800 Gaza settlers. The maximum support that could be expected, he said, would be about half of that.
"There is no sign that there has been any increased support or that they have lost anyone," he said. "There is every sign it will escalate. The big question is whether it will get violent."
Steinberg said he is seeing "deep internal splits" among the Gaza settlers, with some saying they are ready to leave in compliance with the disengagement order and others saying they will stay forever.
"The split will increase and may also become violent," he predicted.But Anita Tucker, 59, a former Brooklyn resident who has lived in Netzer Hazani in the Gaza Strip for the past 29 years, said she believes reports this week that 426 families in the Gaza Strip have signed up to move to the coastal community of Nitzanim between Ashkelon and Ashdod are fabricated. She put the true number at closer to 10 or 20 out of about 1,700 families and said the government is putting forth the 426 figure as a way to "divide and rule."
Tucker noted that Sharon had visited Nitzanim Tuesday and was upstate that little work appeared to have been done to build temporary homes for Gaza evacuees since he last visited a month ago. "Start working with all your might," he admonished contractors. "We can‘t afford to waste time."
Tucker said that when she learned that Sharon had yelled at the contractors, "we had a feeling that God was interfering." Steinberg said the true number might not be more than 400 but that it is "a lot more than 10."
"There is disinformation on both sides," he said. Shoval said he would not be surprised if many families have decided to move but are "waiting until the very last moment because it keeps up their own moral, political and ideological strength and in the hope of getting higher compensation and better conditions if they wait."
He added that he believes the government will sweeten the compensation package, which now totals about $300,000 a family.