Some 100,000 opponents of the disengagement plan gathered in Rabin Square in central Tel Aviv on Thursday evening for a protest rally over Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank.
Settlement leaders presented instructions for disrupting the evacuation of Gaza Strip settlements, set to begin in the early hours of Wednesday morning. The settlers' plan is called "Orange Dawn."
Participants received instructions on how to begin their protest after the Tisha B'Av fast, which ends Sunday night.
One of the key directives is for long convoys to arrive at the Kissufim crossing, the entrance to Gush Katif, and prevent any access to it by evacuating forces.
The Yesha Council of Settlements said that as Kissufim crossing is the main "oxygen pipe" into Gush Katif, tens of thousands of protesters preventing movement through it it would cause substantial delays to "the expulsion machine," as Yesha chair Bentzi Lieberman called the disengagement plan Wednesday.
On Thursday evening, Lieberman called for new parliamentary elections and said the settlers would have accepted a decision to withdraw from Gaza if it had been made democratically.
He called on pullout opponents to head for the Kissufim route, which will be used by IDF units during the evacuation. Lieberman also said right-wing activists will not make use of violence, will not harm IDF soldiers and will not cut through fences. The pullout opponents will remain in the area "even if they hit us," Lieberman said.
Settler leaders learned from recent events in Kfar Maimon and Ofakim, and decided on a change of strategy: they are beginning to part with the dream of bringing tens of thousands into Gush Katif but are opting to focus efforts on preventing security forces from reaching the settlements to be evacuated.
"The evacuating forces don't have other roads for getting into the bloc except the Kissufim route, unless they've decided to break through the perimeter fence. If they do that, we'll get to there too," Yesha Council spokesman Helik Navon said Wednesday night.
Rally participants were given instructions on where to report before heading out in convoys to Gush Katif as soon as the disengagement begins. The four main meeting points will be Ashkelon, Ofakim, Sderot and Netivot. The council claims there are several other locations that will not be revealed at present.
Protesters were also to receive details on how to enter Gush Katif easily despite the prohibition order from the army's GOC Southern Command.
"We're planning to make clear to the protesters that we won't make any use of force, will not breach the perimeter fence, and will not behave in an irresponsible manner," Lieberman said. "We will give orders ahead of democratic maneuvers that will be done, and as long as the candle is alight, one can act to correct."
"Our struggle is about to change its character," Yesha leader Pinchas Wallerstein said. "We will call on those who come to the assembly to violate the GOC order closing the Gush Katif region completely."
Wallerstein said one plan is to instruct right-wing activists to break through the checkpoints spread out along the Gaza Strip and reach the Kissufim route by any possible means.
"I prefer thousands remaining along the Kissufim route over the second option, of having those same thousands inside the settlements," he said.
At least 2,000 security officers and volunteers were deployed to Rabin Square and positioned on rooftops surrounding the area in case of violence.
Dozens of police and volunteers were also posted at the memorial to Yitzhak Rabin, the Labor prime minister assassinated by an extreme right-winger during a peace rally at the square in 1995.
Some 1,000 coaches were used to bus in protesters from all over Israel.
The Tel Aviv rally demonstration comes in the wake of a mass prayer protest attended by 70,000 anti-pullout protesters at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Wednesday evening.